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Jan 10, 2013 11:01 PM

Fun and Food for an 11 hour O'Hare Layover!

Hi Everyone!

I have an 11 hour layover at O'Hare, arriving at 8pm and leaving the next morning at 7am. I feel like I have time to really hang out and eat in one neighborhood for the night, so I was looking for suggestions. I am looking to wander from one restaurant/bar to the next, drinking and eating the night away with a friendly crowd. Any thoughts on neighborhoods and corresponding food/drink? I'm in my late-twenties and on a little bit of a budget if that narrows anything down.

Thanks for all your help!

P.S. Is it true I have to eat Chicago hot dogs, beef dip sandwiches or deep dish pizza?

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  1. Hi seanrp,

    If you're looking for a neighborhood for casual walking around in, eating and bar hopping, you can take the CTA Blue Line from O'Hare to the Damen stop. That will put you in the heart of the Wicker Park neighborhood which is dense, walkable and bar-saturated. The crowd is mostly mid-20s hipsters and the establishments around there cater to that crowd. I'm not a Wicker park expert but I know Big Star just south of the Damen stop has excellent tacos and a good beer selection, while Violet Hour just across the street is a speakeasy-styled underground bar with excellent cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere.

    If you feel like wandering around downtown, take the Blue Line a bit further and get off at the Clark/Lake or Washington stop. The Loop tends to clear out at night so there isn't much nightlife, but you may enjoy walking around anyway.

    Chicago dog is worth trying just so you can say you did. Definitely seek out a good Italian beef, dipped with hot peppers. Skip the deep dish if you don't have time for it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RealMenJulienne

      Wow, thanks for the suggestions RMJ! Wicker Park sounds cool, and Big Star keeps coming up on my internet searches. Same with some place called Jay's Beef, also in Wicker Park, which I assume is an Italian beef joint? Love the idea of hitting a speakeasy-style joint too.

      1. re: seanrp


        Jay's is a decent 2nd tier beef, but not a destination sandwich. It's probably the best one in Wicker Park though. For a top-tier beef take the Blue Line to the UIC-Halsted stop and walk to Al's Beef on Taylor. This is also a very nice walking and drinking neighborhood with a college town feel to it. Another must-try in this area is Jim's Original on Union, where you can enjoy a shockingly cheap Polish sausage with a great view of the expressway and skyline.

    2. There are many, many, MANY food-oriented neighborhoods in Chicago. Some of the best include the West Loop (lots of restaurants/bars have opened there in recent years), River North (the luxury hotel district, with the biggest concentration of restaurants in the city), neighborhoods running north (Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview) and northwest (Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square). There have been entire discussions about the "best" neighborhoods for food, such as the one at

      If I were you, I would do searches and read through posts here based on whatever you're looking for. You may find that there are one or two restaurants that you feel you *must* visit, and that would make your decision for you.

      As for our local specialties, I don't think you *have to* eat them, although you can if you want. Another local specialty that isn't as well-publicized is our contemporary Mexican cuisine. We're not talking the same old tacos and enchiladas as everywhere else. For example, take a look at the menu at Mexique, which is located in West Town, to get a better idea of what this is all about. Personally, I love deep-dish but Italian beef - that's what it's called - and hot dogs don't wow me, so if I were here for only one meal, it would probably be either Mexican or deep-dish (although deep-dish is very filling and doesn't leave much room for anything else). But hey, we have just about everything here, so you can get whatever you like. If you love tapas, or Thai, or whatever, and that's what you like to try everywhere, go for it!

      One other consideration - if you're landing at O'Hare at 8 pm, you're going to be eating rather late. There are a lot of restaurants open till around 10, but not so many open later than that. Some of the best places open later than that include Sable, the Purple Pig, GT Fish & Oyster, Cafe Iberico, and Quartino, all in River North; all of these offer small plates (and are inexpensive) which may be a nice way of dining in multiple places. Pizano's, in River North and the Loop, has good deep-dish and is open VERY late.

      5 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thanks a bunch Nsxtasy, so much to consider! I will be coming back from Mexico, which is why I have the layover, so I think I may skip the Mexican food, although Mexique had a great looking menu. The small plate thing is an interesting way to go as well, although something tells me I will be stuffing food in my bag for my flight back to Canada anyway, so a few extra slices of deep dish wouldn't hurt. Looks like I'm going to have to come back to Chicago for a legit vacation soon, so much good food.

        1. re: seanrp

          >> something tells me I will be stuffing food in my bag for my flight back to Canada anyway, so a few extra slices of deep dish wouldn't hurt.

          Deep dish isn't going to travel well. The one exception may be if it's frozen. I think there's been a shop at O'Hare that sells frozen deep-dish pizzas, but I don't know whether it's still there and I don't know whether it's open early enough for a 7 am departure.

          If you want to take a local specialty home, get some Garrett's Popcorn at O'Hare. They have shops in Terminals 1 and 3, and they open at 6 am. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, and a mix of the two.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Most Lou's locations sell frozen pizzas, so if the OP ends up in the vicinity of one, he's good to go.

            1. re: ferret

              >> Most Lou's locations sell frozen pizzas, so if the OP ends up in the vicinity of one, he's good to go.

              But they're not open in the morning when he's flying out, so at best his pizza is going to thaw for a good 7-8 hours before he ever gets on the plane, plus the rest of the trip. That's why I only mentioned the ones at the airport (and only if they're available before his early departure).

            2. re: nsxtasy

              DEFINITELY get Garrett's Popcorn. Get the Chicago Mix.

              Worse comes to worse, you can ship a LOU.. we've done this for family friends and they loved it.

              But it's at the airport, so enjoy regardless!

        2. You have received some good food and drink suggestions. I'd like to add some info about your timing, as it seems that you haven't been to Chicago. If you are due to arrive at 8pm, on an international flight, you'll have to clear customs, then pick up luggage if you check it, purchase a train pass, and probably won't realistically be on a train until at least 9, maybe later. Depending on where you are heading, you'll arrive possibly by 9:30, perhaps not until after 10. Similarly, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get back in the morning. For a 7am flight, I would plan to arrive by 5:30, some people might say 6 but that doesn't allow time for something to go wrong (a train delay, a longer than expected security check), which isn't uncommon. Also, review the train schedules, because some lines don't run overnight, and if they do, they don't come as frequently. So now you're talking about having maybe 9:30pm-4:30am or so to explore. It can certainly be done. Chicago isn't a 24-hour town the way New York, Vegas, and New Orleans are, but with good research you'll have an enjoyable stay.

          Along the Blue Line, which is the train that serves O'Hare, and given your age, ambition and budget, I'd most strongly recommend the Wicker Park (Damen or Division stops, and you can easily walk between the two via Milwaukee Ave) or Logan Square ("Logan Square" stop) neighborhoods. Although knowledgeable tourists do seek out these locales, they aren't as common to visitors as the Magnificent Mile/River North and the Museum Campus (nothing late-night at the latter). The clubs in River North are also more likely to have a higher priced drinks, a stiffer entry policy, and a longer wait (there are exceptions in both areas, I'm brushing broad strokes). I would save those areas for a future, longer, daylight trip. Have fun!

          1 Reply
          1. re: GourmetWednesday

            To build on GourmetWednesday's fine points, you might consider taking a cab from O'Hare to wherever you decide to explore. Cabs aren't cheap but at least by 8PM the traffic may have eased up and you can go directly to your destination. Personal choice which, of course, is up to you.

            Chi is a fab food town, and the extra bucks to get you to the nabe/table of your choice might be worthwhile.

            Money, time, food...can never have too much of any, but ya never do!