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Nov 23, 2012 05:16 PM

eat in south loop or drive to ?

We're picking up a friend at Hilton on South Michigan next Saturday to go to dinner. We can park at Hilton and then go to dinner. Or we could drive a short distance. Interested in good food but not necessarily expense account high priced. And would like to be able to make reservation. Our visitor is European and would like to show him midwestern approach to food as opposed to Asian or Mexican. Any suggestions?

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  1. There are two good options in the South Loop, but both are European cuisines: Gioco for Italian, and Mercat a la Planxa for tapas. With the recent closing of Custom House Tavern, there's nothing right in the South Loop to show off contemporary American cuisine. (Other than Acadia, which is pretty high priced *and* a bit too far to walk from the hotel area of the South Loop.) So assuming you'd want to avoid those two European places, your best bet is to drive.

    There are lots of nearby choices where you can go for excellent contemporary American fare without spending a fortune; examples include Sable, in River North; Nightwood, in Pilsen; and Boka, in Lincoln Park. If they enjoy seafood, I would also consider GT Fish & Oyster in River North.

    FWIW, most Europeans don't get a chance to experience much Mexican cuisine, let alone the contemporary Mexican style that has flourished here in Chicago (as well as south of the border). So I wouldn't rule out places like Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen.

    None of these is horribly expensive, but Boka is a bit more than the others I've mentioned.


    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      What I love about Gioco is the olive oil that comes with the bread. I could sit there are feast on bread and olive oil.

      1. re: nikkib99

        As I noted above, I think Gioco is very good; I had some amazingly tender veal there earlier this year. It's also underappreciated IMHO, probably because it's been around for a while; while newer restaurants get all the media hype, Gioco is still turning out consistently high-quality food.

        However, one downside to choosing Gioco in this particular situation is that Italian food (especially high-quality Italian food) is something that visitors from Europe can find all over when they're back home.

      2. re: nsxtasy

        I recently had my first experience at El Milagro in Little Village on 26th St as research for soon-to-visit family people that adore Mexican food. I kept reading here and there that El Milagro is "autentico". My report here is that the food is very home-made tasting but the ambience and service are pretty basic, however, immaculate. Food is on a steam table behind glass; you choose your meal and pay for it, they give you a number, you go sit at a table, and they bring you the food. Portions are gargantuan---the meat in a steak taco is the size of a good-sized shoe (a poor analogy as the meat is fork-tender). My food came steaming hot. Prices are rock-bottom (homemade tamales are $1, for instance). Everything is bilingual and the staff was kind and courteous. A perq is that next door is the Tortilleria El Milagro that supplies the whole city---you can buy the world's best and freshest tortillas (corn or flour, small or big) as well as masa and corn shucks to make your own tamales. If you're not driving, the 60 Blue Island bus starts on E Randolph near Mariano's, turn south on Michigan, turns west on Madison, and proceeds via Little Italy and the IIT campus then stops right outside of El Milagro. On balance, I would say that El Milagro is the diametrical opposite of anything Rick Bayless does but all are wonderful in their own way.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          >> there's nothing right in the South Loop to show off contemporary American cuisine. (Other than Acadia, which is pretty high priced *and* a bit too far to walk from the hotel area of the South Loop.)

          I had dinner at Acadia last night, and it's a great choice for what you're looking for. First, I need to take back the "high priced" part - not that it's inexpensive, but it's attractively priced for one of Chicago's very best restaurants, with appetizers in the teens ($10 soups) and entrees in the high twenties. Still in its first year, it was awarded one Michelin star and could easily have received two. The food was amazingly delicious, with one "wow" dish after another, and the service was superb and flawless. Reservations are available on Opentable as well as over the phone and at least so far, you don't have to reserve months in advance. It's a mile south of the Hilton along a stretch of Wabash that's not very busy; note that it has no outside signage and the outside door sticks a bit.

        2. Just to echo one of nsxtasy's recommendations above, if 2.5 miles is short enough for you (worth mentioning that cabs are relatively cheap in Chicago and are easy enough to find), I'd strongly consider Nightwood, located just to the southwest of the hotel. Great farm-to-table cooking that really highlights local ingredients. Flavors are bright and fresh with great execution and really highlight what the Midwest has to offer. Very good cocktails and a nice wine list, the room is also very stylish and warm. It looks like there are still some reservations available for next Saturday, though it depends on how early or late you're willing to eat. I'd consider calling the restaurant directly in case they hold back tables at peak times.

          1. Within walking distance of the Hilton is Miller's Pub. It's decidedly midwest American, not touristy (even though it's next door to the PalmerHouse) it's a popular lunch and dinner place ith people who work in the loopIt's large menu ranges from sandwiches to complete dinners and has a good bar.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Jane Stone

              Miller's Pub is a good place, and convenient to the hotel. But other than its longtime presence here, it's really not "Midwest" American in any way. It's more a mainstream American restaurant, specializing in steaks, burgers, ribs, etc., the kind of place you can find anywhere in the country, from big cities to smaller towns. It's not really a place to show off the creativity of contemporary American food or menus with local and seasonal components, the way places like Sable, Nightwood, or Boka would. So it all depends on what you're looking for - the stereotypical "comfort food, supper club" type place, or one that is more focused on developing new approaches to American cuisine using local and seasonal ingredients.

            2. Hi,

              Wife and 3 colleagues heading to Chicago this morning from Florida.They are staying at the Hilton on Michigan, for a conference at McCormick Place.

              They will likely be most interested in dinner Fri night and Sun night, and perhaps a breakfast on Sun or Mon. Open to anything not too expensive and fairly "mainstream".

              Probably will want to dine near hotel not convention center.

              Will St Patrick's Day events interfere with any of this (for example, is there a huge parade Sunday)?

              I am the Foodie who's in charge of research.

              Here's what I've come up with after looking at this board, including some quotes cut and pasted.

              Please review. TIA

              Your hotel is in the “South Loop” area, two blocks from Lake Shore Drive and one mile from Navy Pier.

              Your cross street is East Balbo Avenue

              Rule #1: Avoid the “720 Bar and Grill” in the hotel at all costs. Expensive and mediocre food.

              Nearby Top Recommendations By Many Experts and Locals:

              Mercat a la Planxa
              EXCELLENT Tapas restaurant, VERY close to hotel A very good $18 lunch special
              638 SOUTH MICHIGAN AVENUE, CHICAGO, IL 60605
              In the Blackstone Hotel

              Lou Malnati's Deep-Dish Pizza
              805 S. State Street, On State St., just south of Polk
              Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, and Uno/Due are all very good, and are all similar; this is not coincidence, as they share a family history. They do also have thin crust AND deep-dish pizza.

              For consistently high-quality Italian, moderate prices
              Gioco's menu offers rustic Italian dishes prepared with the finest available seasonal products. The menu features homemade pastas and wood-fired thin crust pizzas.

              1312 S. Wabash

              Bongo Room – Breakfast / Brunch
              At Wabash and Roosevelt, is close by, for breakfast.
              One of our best and most creative breakfast/brunch restaurants. Great choice. Tip: Their standard portion size consists of three GIGANTIC pancakes, but you can also order one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at reduced prices, which lets you try multiple dishes

              *** Further Walk or Cab Ride ***

              Vivere (the Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Italian Village complex


              Atwood Cafe (contemporary American in the Hotel Burnham)

              Petterino's (steakhouse)

              Nightwood - Great farm-to-table cooking. Flavors are bright and fresh with great execution and really highlight what the Midwest has to offer. The room is also very stylish and warm. Check OpenTable for reservations.

              4 Replies
              1. re: CFByrne

                That's an excellent summary.

                Here are distances of those places from the Hilton Chicago, to give you a better feel for geography:

                Mercat a la Planxa - 1/2 block north
                Lou Malnati's Deep-Dish Pizza - 3 blocks southwest
                Gioco - 0.6 mile south
                Bongo Room - 4 blocks (0.4 mile) southwest
                Vivere - 0.9 mile northwest
                Atwood Cafe - 0.9 mile northwest
                Petterino's - 1.1 miles northwest
                Nightwood - 2.3 miles southwest

                If you decide on Italian, I'd throw one more place into the mix: tesori, 0.5 mile north of the hotel. All three (tesori, Vivere, Gioco) are very good, though, and Gioco may be a bit less expensive than the other two. I think Vivere is closed Sundays.

                And just so you know, Petterino's is quite good, but it's not the best steakhouse in town. If your friends are true steak aficionados, you might steer them (steer - get it?) to David Burke's Primehouse or Chicago Cut Steakhouse, arguably our two best. But both are somewhat more expensive than Petterino's, so if you're looking for value, then Petterino's may be the better choice.

                If you go to the Bongo Room for breakfast on Sunday or Monday, you'll probably encounter a significant wait to be seated on Sunday unless you arrive around when they open at 9 am, but get seated immediately on Monday (they open at 8 am weekdays).

                If you go to Lou Malnati's for deep-dish, you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

                All of the above places other than Bongo Room and Malnati's accept reservations, including on , and making one is a good idea, especially for the Friday and Saturday dinners. By viewing availability on Opentable, you can also see your chances of getting in without a reservation.

                Enjoy your visit!

                1. re: CFByrne

                  The St. Pat Day parade is Saturday, not Sunday. It starts at Michigan & Balbo, pretty much right in front of their hotel, and then heads north. Here is a link with the parade route:

                  As usual, Nsxtasy has pretty much covered the bases in terms of suggestions. One additional locale that they might consider for dinner -- but perhaps it's not "mainstream" enough for them -- would be Chinatown, which is due west of McCormick Place. My personal favorite in Chinatown is Moon Palace.

                  Another Italian restaurant to consider would be Trattoria No. 10, which is close to Atwood Cafe & Petterino's in the heart of the Loop (at 10 N. Dearborn - hence it's name).

                  1. re: masha

                    Thanks Nsx and Masha... good stuff.

                    I am actually at home, my DW is the one on the trip.

                    (Big education conference in your town this w/e).

                    If you ever come to S Florida, be sure to post on the Miami/Fort Laud board, and I'll return the favor.

                    1. re: masha

                      Also, just to follow up on masha's excellent suggestion of Chinatown (where my favorite is Double Li), I'd note that it may be an even better place for lunch than for dinner, assuming you'll only be at McCormick Place during the day, and possibly stopping at the hotel before going to dinner. McCormick Place is 1.7 miles south of the hotel, so places that are walkable from one, probably aren't walkable from the other. Chinatown is 0.7-1.0 mile west of McCormick Place, depending on which building you're coming from. That's why it's good for lunch while spending the day there.

                      Just to throw another possibility out there... If you *are* going directly to dinner from McCormick Place, here's another possibility in the vicinity. As mentioned above, Acadia is an excellent, somewhat expensive fine dining restaurant, and it's about 3/4 mile from McCormick Place. But you don't have to spend $100/pp to dine there; they have a very nice bar with a moderately-priced bar menu. I hear they serve an excellent burger. Open Wed-Sun starting at 5 pm.

                  2. The Hilton is remote from the part of town that has the most restaurants, Near North Side. And since parking anywhere downtown is going to be expensive, consider leaving the car at the Hilton and taking a taxi--in the long run, it may cost less.