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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. http://handlebarchicago.com/

    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. http://hopleaf.com/

    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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8657... . 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: http://revbrew.com/brewpub/pub-menu . 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 : http://thepublicanrestaurant.com/uplo...).

      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)

            2. Thank you so much for the suggestions. It's amazing to see so many options already. I've started to share my list with the group and one of them commented that we are going to have to eat 6 times a day!

              Sounds like it's pretty easy to get around on the transit system as well, so that's a plus.

              1. Fun vegan spot is "Handle Bar" which also has a decent beer selection and a bier garden out back. Its in Wicker Park.

                For pizza and microbrew, there's Piece in Wicker Park, but its not deep dish. Has tons of TVs for sports watching in between live sports.

                As for your "nice meals" options, perhaps narrow down cuisine type, and where you're staying, there are so many nice meal options!! There's Green Zebra in West Town that is majority vegetarian and very good. Recently took visiting vegetarian friend to Vera in West Loop which is spanish small plates + wine bar.

                1. Thought I’d report back to everyone;

                  First off, I had a great time in Chicago. It truly is an amazing city and one that would take a lifetime, it seems, to conquer.

                  Ended up at both Lou’s (first night) and Gino’s (last night) on the trip. I went with the spinach, mushroom, three cheese, and roma tomatoes pizza both times to try a bit of non-scientific comparison. Gino’s took the edge for me. The crust seemed more cracker-buttery, and the toppings seemed fresher and more amalgamated.

                  Our vegan adventures took us to Handlebar after the Cubs game, and then to the Chicago Diner for a late breakfast,/early lunch on another day. Handlebar was good, albeit very hip. Think dark, red glow, suspenders. We had vegan black bean nachos , which were solid. Can’t really mess up beans and nachos. I had the Sambal Tofu, while my companions had the Fried Avocado Tacos and Smoked Paprika Shrimp & Grits. We finished with an order of deep fried peanut butter and jelly pies. As a side note, our taxi driver almost rear ended someone, and then just missed a cyclist. Made for a scary ride to a decent meal and excellent dessert. Chicago Diner was all about going vegan. My shaved smoked turkey sandwich and sweet potato fries were good, but there was no doubt the meal was meatless. High regards though for the peanut butter and chocolate milkshake.

                  On the coffee front, I hit up 2 locations of Intelligentsia, Metropolis on Granville, and Asado on West Irving Park. We have a shop that sells Intelly back home, so that was more about seeing the stores. Coffee at Metropolis was great, while the experience at Asado was lovely. What a great little shop Asado is. Hot as Hades from the roaster, but as I was the only person in, it was very personally. The gentleman behind the counter shared a lot about life in Chicago. Ended up bringing back 6 bags in total from the 3 above roasters.

                  I was surprised that many locals on the ground didn’t have additional suggestions for bread (I even had two people suggest Einstein Bagel Bros.). So I ended up at Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafters. Not exactly cheap ($40/loaf), but a solid bread to tide me over during my trip. I went back twice, each time for ¼ hunks of bread. The treats looked great, but I’m not a sweets guy.

                  We did end up eating at the Bears, Cubs, and Sox games, so that took a bite out of our hunger. Food was pretty average at the parks. I have to say, the Bears game was quite boring (which came as a surprise to me), while the Cubs and Soxs games were both very enjoyable. What a contrast from each other.
                  Beer highlights included brews from Goose Island and Revolution. GI 312 and Sofie were my top hits, which is quite a change from my Guinness love back home.

                  Random eats included, Billy Goat Tavern for Double Cheezborgers; an unexpected medium rare burger, what with it being so thin. Ended up getting my Mexican fix at La Pasadita (chips, tongue, carne) and Carnicerias Guanajuato (tongue, carne, carnitas). Both offered something a touch different, but Carnicerias Guanajuato took the top spot for me. There seemed to be a better char and grill flavour to the meat. Wish I could have snuck in more, but just couldn’t. Hit up Ditka’s after the Bears game, and that was meh. Old school steak house feel, and we went more for the experience of saying we did than anything else. The biggest fail came from our visit to The Snuggery, where the beer was flowing but the food was dripping with grease. *shudder* The big surprise was probably Jake Melnick’s. A great beer menu, great wings, above average food, decent atmosphere and friendly staff. A great place to walk to from the hotel and just chat.

                  Think that’s about it. The city was, as I mentioned lovely. The locals were really friendly. Ended up with no car, so the L and CTA bus service were put into use. Both were quick and easy to use. Visited the Chicago Museum of History, John Hancock Tower, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Science and Industry Museum, a few farmers markets, as well as just random wandering north of downtown.

                  Phew...hope that all makes sense. Thanks again!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: raidar

                    Some photos.

                    1. re: raidar

                      Thanks for the report! Great to hear you had a good trip.