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First time in Chicago...

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Been reading a ton of posts and have reservations at Girl and the Goat, The Publican, and Yusho. Looking for one more great dinner, preferably something that is truly Chicago that I can't get in any other major city. Only caveat is that they have to take reservations (Fri night over Memorial Day weekend).

I've been considering a Bayless restaurant, but just looking for other advice.

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  1. This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

    first time Chicago - www.chow.com/topics/693477

    I think one of the Bayless restaurants - specifically, Topolobampo or Frontera Grill - would be perfect, because you really can't get contemporary Mexican cuisine in most other cities in the country. Topolobampo starts accepting reservations (including on Opentable.com) exactly three months to the day ahead of time, and they fill up quickly, so mark your calendar for later this month (February). If for some reason you can't get a reservation at either one, I would consider one of our other best places for contemporary Mexican: Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mixteco Grill, or Salpicon.

    Another option, if you don't mind the expense and attire required, is Alinea, widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. It's truly the food experience of a lifetime.

    One other possibility - and one worth switching to from one of your other choices, IMHO - is North Pond. The cuisine is contemporary American (and it's excellent, from James Beard Award winner Chef Bruce Sherman), but what makes it "truly Chicago" is its location in the middle of the park, with its view of its namesake pond and the city skyline looming over the opposite shore.

    I'd also add our quintessential local specialty, deep-dish pizza, but you can squeeze this in as a lunch. Lou Malnati's and Pizano's have several locations in the downtown area.

    Options you might also consider for lunch include our best small-plates restaurants: Sable, GT Fish & Oyster, and Purple Pig. For a lighter, more casual lunch, you might also consider Portillo's for chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.

    The Purple Pig, Portillo's, and the pizza places are the only ones mentioned here that do not accept reservations; the Purple Pig has horrendous waiting times at dinner, somewhat long but not as bad at lunchtime.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks.

      While I would LOVE to do Alinea, my recent trip to EMP in NYC has left me a little broke, lol. I could go there, but then I'd have to only have cheap eats the rest of the weekend, and I'd much rather experience a bunch of restaurants.

    2. Actually just realized that Yusho was a bit further away from our hotel then I wanted (we're staying at the Hyatt Regency Chicago downtown).

      We're definitely going to try for dinner at Topolobampo or Frontera Grill on Friday night, so now I just need something for Sunday relatively close to downtown (no more than a short cab ride).

      5 Replies
      1. re: Corporate_40

        Yusho (Logan Square) is a fairly quick train ride from the downtown area and offers that aspect of local flavor as well.

        1. re: Corporate_40

          >> We're definitely going to try for dinner at Topolobampo or Frontera Grill on Friday night

          As I mentioned above, Topolobampo opens its reservations book exactly three months ahead of time, so mark down the date so you can make the reservation when they open it. The reservations policy at Frontera Grill is different; unlike Topo, it's not on Opentable.com and they only take a handful of reservations by phone, leaving most of the restaurant available for walk-in traffic. Without a reservation, waits are lengthy unless you arrive 15-20 minutes before they open the doors.

          >> now I just need something for Sunday relatively close to downtown (no more than a short cab ride).

          North Pond, recommended above, is three miles north of your hotel, 10 minutes by cab and 20 minutes by the #151 CTA bus. As previously mentioned, it features not only great food, but the uniquely Chicago setting in the middle of the park. When making a reservation, mention that you prefer seating in the front room with the view of the pond. North Pond is also open for Sunday brunch, so that's another way to experience it.

          The three "small plates" places I mentioned above - Sable, GT Fish, and Purple Pig - are a 5-10 minute walk from your hotel and you could make a dinner out of any of them, although I would avoid the Purple Pig for dinner due to their typical 90-120 minute waits to be seated. Another small plates place is Mercat a la Planxa for tapas, about a mile south of your hotel on Michigan Avenue.

          For excellent Italian, Piccolo Sogno Due is a ten-minute walk west of the hotel, and tesori is a 15-minute walk south of the hotel. For seafood, Shaw's Crab House is a five-minute walk. Shaw's also features a terrific all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch. For a high-end contemporary American experience with great food but without the high price tag of Alinea or TRU, consider Acadia, three miles south and a ten-minute cab ride away.

          All of these are open Sundays, and all except Purple Pig accept reservations including on Opentable.com

          1. re: nsxtasy

            This is great information, thanks so much. I didn't realize that Mercat a la Plancha was a Jose Garces restaurant. I'm originally from Philly, so I'm a big fan of his. That helped me make up my mind quickly for my last dinner.

            Thursday - Girl & the Goat @ 7:15pm
            Friday – Topolobampo or Frontera Grill
            Saturday - The Publican @ 8pm
            Sunday – Mercat a La Planxa @ 8pm

            With regards to Frontera Grill, for their limited reservations, do they take those 3 months in advance as well. Would you recommend FG or Topolobampo?

            I'm going to do brunch at North Pond and then check out the Lincoln Park Zoo, so that works out well. I also have Malnati's and Portillo's on the list for lunch as well.

            Again, thanks for all the help, this trip and food planning worked out perfectly with one last reservation to grab.

            1. re: Corporate_40

              >> I didn't realize that Mercat a la Plancha was a Jose Garces restaurant. I'm originally from Philly, so I'm a big fan of his. That helped me make up my mind quickly for my last dinner.

              Yes, it's nice to have him with a restaurant here too, since he's a native Chicagoan.

              >> With regards to Frontera Grill, for their limited reservations, do they take those 3 months in advance as well.

              I don't know. You would have to phone anyway.

              >> Would you recommend FG or Topolobampo?

              Topolobampo occupies a dining room inside Frontera. Topo is more upscale and expensive, particularly for dinner (their lunch prices are quite similar). Topo has a tasting menu in addition to the a la carte menu. It's somewhat less casual; jackets aren't required and business casual predominates, but it's not as laid-back as Frontera. So it may depend on what kind of experience you're looking for. You might want to compare their menus on the website at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants to help you decide.

              >> I'm going to do brunch at North Pond and then check out the Lincoln Park Zoo, so that works out well. I also have Malnati's and Portillo's on the list for lunch as well.

              Sounds great!

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Scored reservations for Frontera Grill on that Friday night, so I'm all set. Thanks again for your great recommendations...

        2. Recently I had a nice dinner at Sumi Robata, located in River North - it's worthy of comparisons to Yusho (I've been there before too), and much more convenient to your dining area.

          Nice place, recently opened, and fairly authentic Japanese cooking, including robata done on proper binchotan (charcoal).

          1 Reply
          1. re: RichInMV

            I, unlike some of my fellow chowhounders. agree wth you on Sumi Robata Bar. I really liked it as an authentic Japanese upscale pub/restaurant. Its not cheap, but neither is Japan, but I really enjoyed everything we ate and drank. I really felt like i was in Tokyo, just like a place i've been to in Ebisu a few times. Yeah, you can't get a dragon roll there, but hey you can't get thay anywhere in Japan.