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Oct 9, 2012 09:22 PM

Feedback on my Chicago Itinerary - Researched

Visiting Chicago in a few weeks with a friend. We are both in our mid 30s. Looking for places that have a fun atmosphere, (would actually prefer to eat at the bar if possible). Definitely not looking for a romantic dinner type of place. We are trying to check out as many places as possible (have 1 drink and eat something small then move on to the next place). Looking for input on my itinerary.

Check in to Hotel around 7pm (staying at the Sheraton)
Roof at the Wit
Maudes Liquor Bar
RM Champagne Saloon
Will send email and try to get in to Aviary at 10PM
Piece Brewery
Violet Hour (Big Star while we wait for the call from Violet Hour)
Revolution Brewing
Also have a reservation at GATG at 11:45PM, not sure we if we'll make it though.

Any cool late night spots we can check out?

I was thinking Mexique for brunch Saturday morning. Wanted the contemporary Mexican without the long waits of Frontera Grill (from what I read here) A lot of places to check out, I don't want to spend a lot of time waiting in line.
Some site seeing
pick up a bottle of wine at Hart Davis then head over to Ruxbin before they open (is this a good choice)

Nothing planned for Sunday. Flight leaves 6:30PM.

Other spots I plan on checking out
J Parker
Barrelhouse Flat
Signature Room
The Drawing Room
The Whistler
Danny's Tavern
Quenchers Saloon
Local Option

I was in Chicago with my wife a few months ago and visited Publican, The Purple Pig, Sable, David Burke's Primehouse, so want to try something new.
Anything I should take out/add?

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  1. My liver hurts just from reading your Friday itinerary. My feet hurt from trying to get to all of those places. But enjoy!

    1. It seems like you've made lots of plans for Friday, but not much for Saturday night and Sunday. I haven't been to Ruxbin but I've heard good things; note that they open at 5:30 so you'd be eating pretty early since you plan to get there before they open to avoid the long waits to be seated.

      For Sunday, there are a lot of places in Chicago that do terrific Sunday brunch, which would still give you plenty of time to stop back at your hotel and then go to the airport. Places for Sunday brunch tend to fall into two categories: (a) breakfast-focused restaurants, most of which do not take reservations and where waits to be seated are typically 30-60 minutes between 9:30 and 1:00, and most of which do not serve alcohol; and (b) dinner-focused restaurants, most of which do take reservations and offer a full bar. My favorites in the first category include M. Henry / M. Henrietta, Jam, Southport Grocery, and Walker Brothers. My favorites in the second category include Shaw's Crab House and Cafe des Architectes.

      HTH - enjoy your visit!

      15 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thank you for the recommendations. I will look up Shaw's and Cafe des Arhitectes.

        Any recommedations for a place to get a quick bite to eat (lunch or late night) without a long wait? Thanks for the reply.

        1. re: skjax

          >> Any recommedations for a place to get a quick bite to eat (lunch or late night) without a long wait?

          Portillo's, on Ontario. They have good representations of our local specialties of Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs, as well as burgers etc.

          Also, your hotel has a restaurant called LB Bistro that's open for breakfast and lunch. It's interesting because it's run by a world pastry chef and the quality and creativity are unusually high. They have a great breakfast buffet with really creative fresh-squeezed juices, oatmeal creme brulee, stuff like that.

          1. re: skjax

            If you time it right there are plenty of places that serve excellent food (lunch or late night) without a wait. Your list of venues is all over the map so, perhaps, you have a car? If not cabs or the EL are the best bet if walking doesn't suit. Within easy walking distance I like The Gage (gastro-pub), The Purple Pig (go after 2:00pm and before 5:00 pm or after 9:00pm for no wait) ((you mentioned you have already been but the food changes seasonally and I just love this place)). Bar Toma (I am not in love with this place but they do a few things pretty well - arancini springs to mind - and it is fun), Frontera Grill and/or Topolobambo (go at about 1:30 pm they seat till 2:00 and you should have no wait for either restaurant), Cafe Spiaggia, Avec - yummy food and unusual beers particularly the 5 grain beer (go at 3:30 to 5:00 pm for minimal waits) and the list could go on and on depending on what interests you and what you find appealing. Personally nsxtasy's suggestion of Portillo's is a non-starter for me. It is the place I do the drive through for when I happen to be stopping at the Walgreen's across the street and am suddenly famished. It is a now corporate chain restaurant (40 something locations) that serves okay fast food but is certainly not destination worthy. It is not worth a visit from an out of towner who sampled Publican, Purple Pig, Sable and David Burke's Prime House and picks places like Hopleaf, The Violet Hour, Aviary, Girl & the Goat etc. as must tries.

            1. re: KateBChi

              Portillo's really depends on what you're looking for. You've asked for a place to get a quick bite to eat for lunch without a long wait, and for that it's perfect. It's a local institution that started out with a single location and grew from there, and is very popular among Chicago residents. If you're looking for a place to sample our local specialties of Italian beef sandwiches and/or Chicago-style hot dogs, it's as good as any. And if you're looking for a place where you can get food quickly, they really have this down, as they serve literally hundreds of people at lunchtime at each of their locations, and it's amazingly quick and well-organized. Even during the lunch peak, you'll place your order within five minutes and receive your food in another five minutes. It's so popular among locals who have a limited time to take lunch from work that many of the locations have cops directing their traffic during lunch hours on weekdays. No, it's not a "destination worthy" sit-down restaurant - but those won't fit your follow-up request. You've asked for a place that's quick for lunch without a long wait, and again, FOR WHAT YOU'VE ASKED, IT'S PERFECT.

              From the Sheraton, Portillo's is just under a mile, walking or driving. A place that's even closer, for a quick lunch, is the original Billy Goat Tavern, the place whose "cheezborgas" were made famous by Saturday Night Live. It's two blocks west of the Sheraton, an easy five-minute walk. No, it's not "destination worthy" either, but again, you've asked for a place that's quick for lunch without a long wait, and for that, it too is PERFECT.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Portillo's is quick so in that respect it is "PERFECT" if you enjoy pedestrian fast food that can be had almost anywhere in Chicago, the same could be said for McDonalds which is less than a stone throw away. But from the OP's preferred picks as mentioned in the original post my guess is it would be a huge let down.. For way better quality food that's fast I'd suggest a trek to Big & Little's Seafood on Orleans about a mile from corporate chain Portillo's. It has creative and generally good food and some of the specials have been absolutely great. It's pricier than Portillo's but you get what you pay for. If you want a transcendent hot dog experience and don't mind a non-chain sit down place try the dog at Allium in the Four Seasons Hotel. It costs $14.00 and is worth every penny. House made all beef hot dog (juicier than you can imagine) with house made everything (bourbon balsamic ketchup, pickle relish, dill pickle, sesame seed bun, mustard and fries). There is no wait here. As for quick, well, you may be tempted to order the pappardelle with pancetta, mushrooms and chicken thighs or the Wagyu skirt steak with cheese fries (excellent both) which may cause you to linger a bit more than "quick" might entail. Allium is food for lunch or dinner, late or otherwise).

                As to Billy Goat Tavern, now also a local chain, made famous by Mike Royko (Chicago newspaper columnist) and John Belushi's sketches on SNL in the mid to late 1970's it is also "quick" but the food isn't very good.

                1. re: KateBChi

                  There are trade-offs between a "quick, no wait" lunch and a fine dining lunch. Portillo's is a UNIQUE LOCAL experience and is nothing at all like McDonald's, which serves the same thing worldwide. Portillo's has local specialties like Italian beef sandwiches that you won't find at McDonald's, and Chicago-style hot dogs that you won't find at McDonald's. And it's very very quick - you'll get your food much quicker than Big & Little's, and you won't have that extra travel time either. Portillo's is EXACTLY WHAT THE OP HAS REQUESTED - good food for a quick lunch without waiting, with the added bonus that it's a local institution serving local culinary specialties, one of the most popular places for lunch in the entire Chicago area.

                  As for Billy Goat, again, it depends on how much time the OP has. The burgers are decent - not the best around, but not bad. If the OP wants a place for a quick lunch within five minutes walk, the Billy Goat will provide that, unlike all the other places mentioned here thus far. The OP wants a quick lunch and can decide whether they want a decent burger in a place that's two blocks away, or something else that's further away.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    I hate petty fights on this board, but here, I must agree with nsxtasy and say I don't understand KateBChi's comments other than being what I would call foodie 1%. For quick Chicago-style lunch, Portillo's is great and should not be mentioned along with McDonalds, which is significantly lower quality. Have you eaten an burger or chicken sandwich at Portillo's, I do at least once a week. Charbroiled on a high quality roll with fresh fixins is way beyond mcdonalds.

                    Also do not, and I repeat do not, miss the chocolate cake. KateB won't like it because it's not a $9 decadent dessert, but its my favorite good ole chocolate cake.

                    Billy Goat is really only good for the nostalgia, the burgers at Portillos are much better.

                    Big and Littles is an experiment in fattening greasy spoon food made with some flair, i live nearby and have stopped in. It's good, but not something I would go out of my way for and it's not "Chicago". Yeah they put grilled foie gras on top of some good fries. And the PoBoy was good, the remeloud was fancier than I find in NO, but not necessatily better.

                    We used to go for the Four Seasons lunch before it switched to Allium. It was always a great lunch bargain and quite nice, but its ladies that lunch and not fast.

                    1. re: jbontario

                      Thank jbontario. I'm doing my best to avoid all the pettiness also. It means I am posting way less often and keeping my blood pressure down.

                      And I do agree with you about Portillo's being a darn decent place for an authentic, inexpensive and quick Chicago lunch.

                      Billy Goat has really lousy greasy boring food in a fairly dirty environment. I wouldn't send anyone there who wasn't a rabid John Belushi fan. I haven't been there in years and have no plans or interest in going back.

                      I actually like Big and Littles. I had their fried (naturally) soft shell crab sandwich and truffle fries. It's more than a greasy spoon IMO, but I wouldn't go there if I wasn't in that hood.

                      Otherwise, I wish the OP well with all those great drinking joints that s/he plans to hit.

                      1. re: chicgail

                        I have 2 Portillo's Restaurants very close by (I live in Southern California). Funny thing is that I've never been there.

                        1. re: chicgail

                          Again, the primary reason I mentioned the Billy Goat is because it's only two blocks from the Sheraton, so it qualifies for a "quick lunch". I haven't been there in a while either, so if someone wants to chime in with a recent report, please feel free.

                          Also two blocks from the hotel is Fox & Obel, Chicago's premier full-line gourmet grocery store, with top-quality everything. There are several ways you can go for a quick lunch here. They have pre-made sandwiches and salads that you can walk in, pick up, and check out in a matter of minutes. You can do the same with many of their other prepared foods. In the rear is their cafe. You can stand in line to get items made to order for carry-out. They also have seating; they've changed the seated area so they have waitstaff who take your order - not as quick as getting items for carry-out. Also F&O has a terrific bakery department, particularly for breads etc - great bran muffins, croissants, brioche, and other items. Fox & Obel is open 6 am to midnight, seven days a week, so it's a great option for a quick lunch or late night (or breakfast or a light snack) as long as carry-out works for you.

                          So that gives you three options for a quick lunch within two blocks of the hotel: Fox & Obel, LB Bistro, and Billy Goat.

                2. re: KateBChi

                  The OP gets into town Friday night, so Topolobampo wouldn't be an option for lunch. They don't serve Saturday lunch.

                  Won't Frontera be a madhouse on Saturday for brunch?

                  Also both Frontera/Topolobampo are closed on Sundays.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    >> Won't Frontera be a madhouse on Saturday for brunch?

                    Yes. Their waits to be seated are usually 90 minutes or more throughout Saturday brunch, unless you get there before they open the doors at 10:30.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Why so stuck on Topolobampo and Frontera? If we're thinking Rick Bayless, Xoco fits the bill perfectly. Delicious food, relatively quick, and open on Saturdays starting at 8. I'd go to Xoco over Mexique any day.

                    2. re: KateBChi

                      No car. I got around just fine walking and by the EL last time. I like to walk a lot to burn off some the 10k+ calories we will be consuming daily while in Chicago. Mapped out everything using google maps.

                    3. re: skjax

                      Late night, you might want to try The Weiner's Circle, a dog place on Clark. The food is so-so, you go for the abuse the help heap on the late-night drunks. It's X-rated. And, you know, after a night out drinking, a double char dog and fries might hit the spot. Although you might regret it in the morning.

                  2. Wonder how much weight I'm gonna gain next weekend. My guess is 10lbs.

                    1. Your Friday is way too aggressive to be enjoyable. You'll be pounding drinks and running from one place to the next. Here's how I'd shuffle it:

                      Maude's (though be aware that it is NOT a bar, despite its name. Limited bar seating, and usually pretty booked up unless you go early)
                      RM Champagne
                      Hope to get into Aviary!
                      Girl and the Goat

                      I don't think Mexique is worth the hype. Grab something light, then do
                      Lunch at Xoco
                      Dinner at Ruxbin
                      Post-dinner drinks at Violet Hour
                      Big Star
                      Barrelhouse Flat
                      Drawing Room

                      Lunch at Piece
                      Beers at Revolution and/or Quenchers

                      IMO, The Whistler and Signature Room are way overrated. Quenchers is cool, but I don't know that it's a must-do. Hopleaf is fantastic, but not near any of your other options, and they don't open until 3, so not a lunch option.

                      Hope this helps!

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: thelegalfoodie

                        I don't think XOCO is worth the hype. It's just ordinary Mexican street food which you can get anywhere in the country. Stick with your original plan, and enjoy the delicious contemporary Mexican cuisine at Mexique. They'll be serving their brunch menu at lunchtime on the weekend. Or consider it for dinner; their dinner menu is equally wonderful. I've also enjoyed the contemporary Mexican cuisine at Mundial Cocina Mestiza and at Mixteco Grill. I've eaten several times at each of these three, including dinners and brunches, and every meal I've had has been outstanding.

                        As for the Signature Room, what makes it is the view; you'll be at the top of the John Hancock Center, looking out over the entire city from the 95th floor. I'd keep it in your plans if it's a clear day, go elsewhere if there's a low ceiling or poor visibility.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          I've not been to Mexique for brunch, but dinner (I've been three times) is consistently among the most disappointing meals I've had in Chicago. If Xoco is a no-go, I'd say move Big Star to the lunch spot, or do Piece for lunch one day and Revolution for lunch the next.

                          1. re: thelegalfoodie

                            Ok, takng Mexique off the list. Will go to Piece and Revolution on Friday. I loved the beer at Revolution my last trip.

                          2. re: nsxtasy

                            Actually, Xoco is delicious, and well worth the hype. I've eaten several times there, and every meal I've had has been outstanding.

                          3. re: thelegalfoodie

                            I have an 845 res at Maudes. Read somewhere that they do not charge corkage which I like. The Signature room we are only going up for the view. Have a quick overpriced beer than come back down. I've been there before but it's my friend's first time in Chicago.

                            Mexique was not my first choice but thought it would be an adequate substitute for Frontera/Topolobampo. Not willing to wait an hour to eat at one of those restaurants.

                            How easy/difficult is it to walk in to one of the more popular restaurants and get a seat at the bar? This is my preferred way to dine when I am travelling. Always been able to get a seat at the bar at Gary Dankos in SF. Did the same thing at Eleven Madison Park and Minetta Tavern in NYC.

                            1. re: skjax

                              >> Mexique was not my first choice but thought it would be an adequate substitute for Frontera/Topolobampo.

                              It is. It's a great place, and you can make a reservation to avoid the possibility of waiting.

                              >> How easy/difficult is it to walk in to one of the more popular restaurants and get a seat at the bar?

                              It depends on the restaurant and what you mean by "more popular". If you mean one of the really hot spots where wait times for a table are lengthy (e.g. Frontera Grill, Purple Pig, Girl & the Goat), you may have to wait as long for seating at the bar as you would for a table. OTOH there are other restaurants where you can walk right in and sit at the bar. And of course, it depends on the day of the week and hour of the day too.

                              Also note that places that accept reservations are usually happy to give you a reservation for bar seating - reservations are not just for tables - so if you know there is somewhere you'd like to go and sit at the bar, you can request that when making your reservation, and avoid the possibility of a long wait to be seated that way.

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                Oddly, I had a sommelier friend in town a couple weeks ago. He was taking a class on Randolph Street. He asked about Girl and the Goat and I told him it would never happen. Anyway, on a Thursday at 7 pm, he walked by (they were staying at the nearby Crowne Plaza) with 5 of his classmates and stuck their heads in and were seated immediately. So, sometimes you might be able to get into a 'busy place'. I wouldn't hold my breath or go out of my way for the gamble though!

                              2. re: skjax

                                Where did you hear Maude's was no corkage? That would surprise me (they are as much a bar as they are a restaurant). I would encourage you to contact them about this (unless someone here knows for sure) before you bring wine there if you are expecting not to pay corkage.

                                I would not dismiss Mexique; I am in agreement with Nsxtasy that it is a great venue; I have enjoyed two fantastic meals there (both dinners though, have not been for brunch). No hassle like at Topolo/Frontera/Xoco with lines or difficulty securing a reservation.

                                As for bars at popular restaurants, that really depends on the venue. Some of the nicer Chicago restaurants have very small bars and tend to be at (or near) capacity on weekends, so their bar may be filled with people waiting for their table. Alinea does not even have a bar (aside from a very small one they set up for the EMP collaboration that like will be gone next week). Other places will be easier to grab a cocktail. A new cocktail lounge in the River North area (just north of downtown) just opened called The Grid that looks like it will be a lot of fun and have some great drinks; I dined at their sister restaurant that is upstairs from the bar (Baume & Brix) and had a great experience.

                                1. re: Gonzo70

                                  I read it on yelp. Here are three separate reviews that mention this.

                                  "An interesting thing they do, is if someone brings in a bottle of wine, rather than a corkage fee, the simply require that they share a sample with the next table over. "

                                  Maude's Liquor Bar (secret)?:
                                  You may bring your own wine. They have a unique corkage fee. Instead of a monetary fee, you must offer one glass of wine to someone else in the restaurant. We liked our server very much so we offered it to her.

                                  This isn't an easy reservation to get right now and it didn't take long for my friends and I to see why. Yes, this has been a hot spot but it was the menu and the corkage (just share some with the table next to you). So, we felt like kicking things big and having some fun.

                                  1. re: skjax

                                    Very interesting; I am really surprised a venue that likely makes most of their money via alcohol sales would do that! Thanks for posting this.

                                    1. re: Gonzo70

                                      FYI Restaurant called today to confirm my reservation tomorrow at Maude's. Asked about the corkage policy, she confirmed it. Share a little pour with table next to you or the waiter and you will not be charged a corkage fee.

                                      1. re: skjax

                                        Cool, good to know! Have a great trip!