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Sep 12, 2012 09:45 AM

Chicago - September 20 to 26 - First Time

Howdy everyone.

I'll be making my first stop in Chicago next week. I would love the trip to be centered entirely around food but I'll be visiting with two other travelers who are making the trip for sporting events. We already have tickets to baseball games on Friday (1PM) and Tuesday (7PM), as well as Bears tickets on the Sunday at noon. My companions may even have more games lined up, but I can't keep track of all the options for sports in Chicago at this point. We are staying at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago and do have a car available if required. I realize the town is full of great eats, so I'm hoping for any solid selections you feel 3 Canadian fellows should chow down on. I should add that one of our crew is a vegan.

Some things I'd like to see;
Bread - I bake a lot of sourdough and after a recent trip to San Francisco I'm still on a bread high. Any suggestions for good bread.
Pizza - Does the classic Chicago experience require a pizza trip to one of the big boys (Gino's, Lou's etc..). Should we go elsewhere?
Coffee - What's the roaster scene like (besides Intelligentsia) Is there a good selection? Passion House/Metropolis come up in Google. I love bringing back 4 or 5lbs of coffee when I visit places.
Vegan Diner - Our vegan friend loves diner food (think Triple D). Is there some options for a greasy spoon style vegan joint.
Beer - A few suggestions for great local beer spots would be awesome. Preferably specializing in local micro brews.
Nice meal - Any thoughts around one great nice meal for the trip.
Burgers - How about a great medium rare burger....bonus points if we can get a vegan option.
Mexican - With so many options, is it easy to stumble across great tacos...

If there is anywhere in particular that serves offal that I should definitely go to, I'm more than willing to divert a meal (or two) for myself as my travel companions know at this point that I will travel for food.

Price point can vary a bit, but low to mid would be great for most I think. A few high dollar recommendations are welcome.


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  1. I can take a stab at a few of these:

    Pizza: I'd skip Gino's but go for Lou's, Pizano's, and Pizzeria Uno/Due in that order of preference.

    Vegan Diner: Handlebar in Bucktown. Great food even for carnivores.Easy to get to via CTA Blue Line.

    Beers: Check out Goose Island by Wrigley. Also, Hopleaf. Semi close to Wrigley. Easty to get via CTA #22 bus. Amazing beer list and food.

    1. Coffee -- my favorite roaster in the city right now is Dark Matter coffee. You can find it in the Loop at Do-Rite Donuts (one blend; whole beans to take home not available, I think) but if you have the time/car/interest, I'd head to their storefront (which is also on a major bus line, so it's not too hard to get to without a car). It's a coffee shop called Star Lounge and they have 6-8 different roasts available at any given time; usually 3 types available in urns; and they can do pour-overs for anything else. Very well-priced, lots of small batches so it's rare to get anything older than 1 week.
      Star Lounge
      2521 W. Chicago Ave

      Beer -- Check out this recent post of mine for some ideas: . In particular, make your way to Revolution, in Logan Square. They do a great burger and have lots and lots of vegetarian/vegan options. Food menu here: . I would also check out the Publican -- this could easily cover a nice meal, offal and beer, all in one spot! Expect a raucous, lively atmosphere in a 'European beer hall by way of the Midwest' type setting. Lots of hearty, meat-filled dishes -- your vegan friend may struggle to find much he/she can eat (check out the menu online here :

      Vegan options -- another casual, vegan-friendly option is Mana. Lots of small plates, I love their black bean burger sliders. The website seems to be down at the moment, though rest assured, they're open!
      1742 West Division Street

      Burgers -- In addition to Revolution, other beer-friendly burger spots include Kuma's (expect a huge wait and lots of heavy metal) and Bad Apple. Both places excel at topping burgers with a crazy, but usually effective, mix of extra ingredients. British-inspired gastropub Owen & Engine also has one of the best burgers I've ever had in the city, but there's really just the one burger on the menu.

      1. Bread:
        Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafters near North Michigan Avenue
        Red Hen in Wicker Park
        Damato's on Grand for Italian bread

        You can combine tacos and offal at two great store-counter places: Tierra Caliente and La Chaparrita.

        One great nice meal: Tru.

        1. For the very best breads, go to Fox & Obel, our premier gourmet food store. They were named one of the ten best bakeries in the country for bread by Bon Appetit, and they deserve it. I love their rustic fruit and nut bread, their brioche loaf is excellent, and don't miss the rich cinnamon swirl rolls.

          I agree with lbs on pizza. When she says "Lou's" she means Lou Malnati's, which has locations all over the city and suburbs. The location at State and Rush is only a few blocks from your hotel.

          Our creative contemporary Mexican restaurants will open your eyes to way more than tacos! Check out the website menus for Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, and Salpicon, all of which are excellent. Salpicon is a few blocks from your hotel.

          Go to breakfast at Bongo Room at Roosevelt (12th) and Wabash before the Bears game, then walk there. Allow plenty of time because waits to be seated can be 30-60 minutes on Sundays unless you get there when they open at 9.

          If you go to Wrigley for a day game, have breakfast beforehand at Southport Grocery. Bread pudding pancakes, yum!

          1. Can't come to Chicago without getting an Italian beef, or better yet, a beef /sausage combo dipped with hot peppers. Try Johnnie's beef in Elmwood park. That will require a bit of a drive from downtown, but is worth it. They also have great Italian ice.


            If not there, Portillo's is pretty good also. They have a location downtown.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jonberto

              Going to Johnnie's would take one fairly close to Caffe Italia where they roast their own coffee. They have a small wholesale business, mostly to Italian restaurants. Beans are available for house blend, decaf, espresso roast and Harlem Avenue dark.
              Caffe Italia
              2625 North Harlem Avenue
              Chicago (on the Chicago side of Harlem; other side is Elmwood Park)