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Mid-Saturday afternoon great meal

A best food-friend is flying into town and will stop-over on a Saturday in January at 12:30 at O'Hare. I will pick her up and want to take her to some place wonderful for a leisurely mid-afternoon meal. She has to be back at O'Hare by 6pm.

Where can we have a truly great, and leisurely, Saturday ?afternoon meal? It is such an odd time.

Last time she came to visit, we went to L20. If she was here at a normal dinner time, I would probably try to squeeze in to El Ideas. I love to eat out, but do so rarely because of financial reasons. The last 3 Chicago restaurants I went to in Chicago over the past few years are Purple Pig, Girl and Goat, and Alinea. My staples eating out otherwise are cheaper but delicious ethnic food (Indian, Japanese etc...).

Any suggestions? My friend comes from NYC/Boston.

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  1. Well, the good news is, it's an off hour so you can walk in just about anywhere without reservations. You just have to find a place that's open all afternoon. Also beware, some places are open all afternoon but only have a "bar menu" (snacks) between lunch and dinner service; you might want to phone any place you're considering to verify that they have a full menu (at least their lunch menu) available all afternoon.

    Since you're picking her up at O'Hare, let's start with places that aren't all the way downtown. There are choices in the "cheap eats" category like Lou Malnati's for deep-dish (I think the Elk Grove Village location is closest to O'Hare), and Portillo's for Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs (their location on Dempster in Niles is close). Gibson's Steakhouse in Rosemont is close to the airport. Same for Hugo's, their seafood restaurant in the casino in Des Plaines. Lula is in Logan Square and open all day, and it's only partway downtown. So is Hot Doug's, although they're only open till 4.

    Among downtown options, you mentioned having enjoyed Purple Pig, and that's an option; they're open all day. Other decent downtown options open all day on Saturdays include Shaw's Crab House (seafood), Cafe Iberico (tapas), Quartino (Italian small plates), and the Gage (gastropub).

    Yes, ethnic food is another option; you could go to one of our ethnic food neighborhoods like Chinatown, Greek Town, Devon Avenue (Indian/Pakistani), Argyle Street (Vietnamese), etc.

    9 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Always appreciate your expertise nsxtasy. But I think I'm not looking for the classic Chicago staples, but something a bit more sophisticated and unique. We'll also definitely not go to the burbs and likely downtown, although part of me now thinks a neighborhood that can allow some afternoon exploring is not a terrible idea. Like North Pond, then Lincoln park wanderings etc..

      1. re: violin

        Unfortunately, the more sophisticated restaurants are generally not open all afternoon; lunch service typically ends by 3:00, and dinner service typically doesn't start till 5:00. The ones I listed are the best ones I could come up with that are open all day.

        However, here's another idea. Assuming the flight isn't horribly late, you could probably get downtown in time for a 2:00 seating, which then opens up the possibility of places that accept 2:00 lunch (or brunch) reservations but don't serve all afternoon. Such places include Bar Toma, Cafe Spiaggia, GT Fish & Oyster, Mercat a la Planxa, Mexique, Mixteco Grill, the Publican, and Sixteen. Of this group, I think the choices that are the most sophisticated and unique are Sixteen, GT Fish, Mexique, and Mercat a la Planxa. I think those four are the best fit for what you're looking for. You'll then have plenty of time after lunch/brunch to stroll around and then make it back to the airport in time for her flight.

        You may want to review the sample menus on the restaurant websites to get a better feel for what they offer for lunch. Some will serve from a lunch menu, while others may serve a brunch menu on weekends. If it's not clear which menu(s) are available when, call them and ask.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thank you again nxstasy. You make very good points. I will try to narrow down her arrival info, as she is flying international so it wasn't clear to me how long it would take us to get out of the airport and to a restaurant. It actually didn't occur to me that they would actually seat us as late to 2pm, but I will make some phone calls to check.

          Thank you for all your recs. I will look into them.

          1. re: violin

            As long as they take a reservation for a given time on Opentable, that should mean that they seat that late. Some of the places I listed above as open only for lunch even accept reservations for later than 2:00. According to Opentable, GT Fish and Mexique both seat diners as late as 2:30, and Mercat a la Planxa at 2:45.

      2. re: nsxtasy

        I would go ethnic. Xoco. Irazu. Mercat a la Planxa is also an excellent suggestion.

        1. re: apack

          Thanks apack. I thought about Xoco, which is open all afternoon. Haven't been there, but was wondering if it was too small/casual for us to be there a couple hours. Appreciate the other recs though. Mercat is new to me. My friend and I have been to Barcelona before and ate very well, so this is intriguing..

          1. re: violin

            Nobody's going to bother you if you hang out in Xoco for a couple of hours, but... the atmosphere is sort of like a Starbuck's or Panera, fast-food-ish and not overly comfortable. (Think plasticky molded seating and tables.) Also the food is only okay, nothing special IMHO - similar to Mexican "street food" you'd find in any city this side of the border. It can be convenient if you want a quick snack, but it's not going to impress anyone from NYC/Boston. Or even Chicago.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Thank you nsxtasy. I will definitely visit, but will save Xoco for another time.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Xoco is definitely a casual place, but I think the food is excellent -- it has a richness and intensity of flavor well beyond typical.

                Irazu is even more casual, so if you're looking for a formal setting then that also won't be suitable.

                Mercat seems like it should be nigh ideal.

          1. re: uhockey

            Thanks for the replies uhockey, as I would like to go to both of these. But they are only open to 2/3pm, and that's probably around the time we would be sitting down to eat leisurely. I guess I am looking for a place that is open all afternoon... and is along the lines of a Publican/Avec etc..

            Actually, it looks like Avec opens at 3:30pm on Saturdays..... maybe that's a possibility, as the small plates idea is always wonderful.

            Any other ideas of places? I look into quartino/Iberico, as I am less familiar....

            1. re: violin

              Avec could be a great choice - and although Publican "closes" between brunch/dinner service people linger there throughout - we did so ourselves after brunch there and dinner at Next. The El Bulli service started at 5:30 and our reservation at Publican was at 1:00 - walked from one right to the other at 5:00.

              http://endoedibles.com

              1. re: uhockey

                Oh my goodness! I cannot even imagine that wonderful day of eating. I would not have been able to enjoy the Next meal after eating so close in time. I am impressed by your endurance.

                Thanks for letting me know that Publican lets you hang.

                Would you believe, that my friend who is visiting actually had a reservation to the original El Bulli a few years ago and invited me to join her? Sadly, I couldn't go, and that is a great regret.

                1. re: violin

                  Publican is great, but I have found it to not be the best place for conversation -- it is often so loud that you have to shout to be heard by your dining companions. Not the best for sitting around and chatting. However, I imagine that this might be quite a lot better in the afternoon, and might then be a nice place to hang around.

                  1. re: apack

                    ...and Xoco isn't loud with the blarring music and blabbering tourists? I don't know - we sat near the front windows with the early-spring breeze blowing in and it was quite lovely - and not so loud.

                    http://endoedibles.com