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Are reservations needed for The Aviary? (and other suggestions for weekend visit!)

My friends and I are meeting in Chicago for a weekend of eating in a few weeks. It's been exciting (and overwhelming) to look through all the great options.

We have reservations at Blackbird and Girl & The Goat for dinners. Will probably also try to go to XOCO for breakfast/lunch (or maybe Frontera Grill if the line-up isn't crazy), Little Goat for breakfast, and Purple Pig for lunch of a snack.

Our reservation for G&TG isn't until 10:15pm, so I thought it might be nice to get drinks and a bite at The Aviary before. I'm trying to see if I could convince my group to go for Kitchen Table (if there are even spaces available), but I see that they take reservations for parties of 2 or 4, and unfortunately we are 3. Do we need a reservation if we do not go for the Kitchen Table? What is the wait usually like?

Any other suggestions for food? We only have the 2 dinners in town, but could cram in lots of snacks/lunches/drinks. For reference, we are from NYC, San Francisco, and Vancouver, so we will likely skip on Asian food, and we are pretty adventurous eaters.

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  1. Reservations at the Aviary would be a good idea.
    I think all of your choices are excellent, although of course others will disagree.
    Try to hit Purple Pig outside of the standard lunch rush hours.
    For some Chicago classics, hit Franks 'n' Dawgs for fancy hot dogs and Al's Beef or Portillo's for an Italian beef. Get great tacos at La Chaparrita.

    4 Replies
    1. re: camusman

      Thanks, camusman!

      What are the usual lunch rush hours for Purple Pig?

      I assume that regular reservations for The Aviary can be had for a 3-top (instead of 2- or 4-)?

      Have added the other places to my map!

      1. re: twinkienic

        11:30 - 1:30 at least for Purple Pig; maybe even 11-2 if we're talking the weekend.
        BTW, I'm partial to the Ahogada torta at Xoco with a regular hot chocolate on the side. And maybe a churro too. Come to think of it, another place with a long lunch line. But worth it, and not as bad a line as PP.
        Also note that Bayless has Tortas Frontera outlets at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 at O'Hare. Food is cooked to order, so don't expect to be able to grab something in 5 minutes on the way to the plane.

        1. re: camusman

          The Ahogada is great, second the recommendation.

          To the OP: I assume you guys know that Xoco is only open Tues-Sat.

        2. re: twinkienic

          Get a regular reservation at the Aviary (I highly recommend them for weekend nights), they take them for all sized parties. Also what you might want to do is request the Office for 6pm, start there, eat from the food menu there (which is more substantial), and then move up to the main Aviary area, which is much bigger.

          Email the Aviary as soon as possible, just in case. Even though their site says "same day" only, their Facebook indicates that they appreciate the earlier heads up.

      2. In the off chance Aviary has the kitchen table available, they may very well accommodate your party of three. There is just one table and the seating times are 6pm and 10pm; expect the experience to take around three and a half hours. While the timing would work out with G&TG (if you are able to get the kitchen table), unless you have a massive tolerance you may not be in the mood for going out afterwards. It is ten cocktails per person plus several small snacks. By the end I was fairly full, definitely intoxicated and ready to go home. Really fun, unique experience, but for most not good as a pre dinner activity.

        On a weekend Aviary can become busy, so try e-mailing them the morning of the day you want to go there for a reservation if you decide not to try for the kitchen table, but just want a regular table. It is fine having a party of three for this. In the event you are not able to score a reservation and the wait is too long as a walk in, there are other fun places for a pre dinner drink and snack in the area you can shoot for such as iNG (they have some flavor changing cocktails where you take a miracle berry to make sour taste sweet), La Sirena Clandestina, Maude's Liquor Bar, Nellcote, Au Cheval and others (all within a short walk of Girl & the Goat).

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gonzo70

          I agree -- Kitchen Table at the Aviary followed by GATG is going to be a marathon of eating and drinking that you might end up regretting.

        2. For your lunch, I'd recommend making a reservation in advance (i.e. now) at Topolobampo, as a way of avoiding the long waits at Frontera Grill. At lunchtime, the prices are similar at both. And lately it's been pretty easy to get lunch reservations at Topo a few weeks out, including on Opentable. This would work for any weekday, Tuesday-Friday. On Saturdays, Topo isn't open for lunch, and Frontera gets slammed for their Saturday brunch; waits of 90+ minutes are common. For another brunch alternative close by, consider Meli Cafe, on Wells.

          I'd also try to squeeze in lunch at one of our best places for deep-dish, such as Lou Malnati's or Pizano's.

          For a snack, stop by Garrett's Popcorn. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, and the "Chicago mix" of the two. You can stop by one of their stores in the Loop and on the Mag Mile, and/or get some at O'Hare Terminal 1 or Terminal 3 on your way home. It's freshly made at all their locations.

          1. Thanks, it's helpful to know that we would not be able to enjoy Girl & The Goat immediately following the Kitchen Table. It sounds like fun, but I guess it'll have to wait for another trip.

            So I've sent off an email asking for a reservation starting at The Office and then moving to The Aviary. Are they really going to just let me make a reservation for The Office by email? I thought it was supposed to be uber exclusive by invitation only with secret phone numbers and such. Oh well, I figure an email can't hurt. Fingers crossed!

            We don't have any weekend lunches so Topolobampo is out. Thinking about showing up to Frontera Grill about 20 min before opening on Saturday lunch to see what the wait is like. If the wait is bad, we'll duck around the corner and see how XOCO's lineup is. Thanks for the tip on the Ahogada torta too.

            Has anyone been to Little Goat? That's our front runner for Sunday breakfast. Then maybe Purple Pig around 1:30pm for a snack? We have to be at the airport by about 4pm that day, sadly. Will it be too much of a rush? Should we ditch Little Goat and have Purple Pig for an early lunch?

            The Garrett's popcorn is already on my map - LOVE the cheddar cheese & caramel mixes! Might have to bring an extra bag to bring some home ;)

            8 Replies
            1. re: twinkienic

              I wouldn't cut it that close with your return flight. Sunday afternoons at O'Hare are pretty busy because of all the business folk flying out at that time. The traffic can get backed up on the expressways.
              If you're doing Girl and the Goat, I see no reason to do Little Goat. I'm partial to the Southern brunch at Table Fifty-Two.

              1. re: twinkienic

                The Office does have a number you can text for availability but it's not really secret IMO if Chef Achatz has tweeted it.

                The Publican is famous for their brunch and they take reservations.

                1. re: kathryn

                  I was about to suggest the Publican myself by kathryn beat me to it! They open for brunch at 10am and accept reservations. Personally, I'd pick a somewhat later time, order a lot of food, and I'd be set for the afternoon.

                  1. re: danimalarkey

                    We're going to try for Purple Pig when we get in on the Friday instead of cramming it into Sunday.

                    Would going to Publican be too much of an overlap with Blackbird in the same way that Little Goat is an overlap for G&TG?

                    Big Jones looks good, but it might be more convenient to have brunch near our hotel (Westin Chicago River North) on the day we're leaving.

                    1. re: twinkienic

                      Publican is not much like Blackbird.
                      Many people put Publican in their top five Chicago restaurants, so probably worth checking out. I find the food (along with G&TG's) pretty salty, but people seem to like that level of seasoning.

                      1. re: twinkienic

                        >> Would going to Publican be too much of an overlap with Blackbird in the same way that Little Goat is an overlap for G&TG?

                        Yes, in several ways. Both are from Paul Kahan, and both feature organ meats among the appetizers. They're not exactly the same, but they're similar. You may want to check out their website menus to see the similarities and differences. OTOH Blackbird has a more upscale vibe, whereas the Publican vibe is more of a beerhall/gastropub type place. Also be aware that the banquette tables at Blackbird are thisclosetoeachother. Another option would be to switch your Blackbird dinner to the Publican, and go elsewhere for brunch.

                        Personally, I've consistently liked the food at Blackbird, whereas I've found the Publican only so-so, with a few hits (seafood) and many more misses (pork rinds and desserts), but others like it. It also has a great beer list. And it's VERY LOUD. If you go, you can make a request on your advance reservation whether or not you want to be seated in the communal seating (vs your own table) and they will try to accommodate it.

                        >> Big Jones looks good, but it might be more convenient to have brunch near our hotel (Westin Chicago River North) on the day we're leaving.

                        Big Jones is indeed in the wrong direction if you're then going to either airport. (It's not even close to an el stop.) Shaw's is two blocks from your hotel; Purple Pig is six blocks. If you'd like another candidate for a really good brunch near the hotel, Sable is five blocks away. And again, Jam is on the way to O'Hare (and may be the most unique brunch in town), and Nightwood is on the way to Midway.

                        If I were you, I'd go for a bit more variety for brunch. Since you already have meals from Kahan (Blackbird), Izard (G&TG), and Bayless (Frontera) in your plans, I'd try to add another of our top chefs, such as Mauro (Jam), Bannos (Purple Pig), Terhune (Sable), or Hammel/Vincent (Nightwood).

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Blackbird is much more of a traditional restaurant. On the current menu, none of the entrees feature organ meats.
                          Publican's website aptly compares its vibe to that of a European beer hall.

                  2. re: twinkienic

                    >> We don't have any weekend lunches so Topolobampo is out. Thinking about showing up to Frontera Grill about 20 min before opening on Saturday lunch to see what the wait is like. If the wait is bad, we'll duck around the corner and see how XOCO's lineup is.

                    That's a great strategy. And if you arrive around 10:10, 20 minutes before they open the doors at 10:30, you'll probably be seated immediately, along with all the other folks you'll be standing in line with. Note that on Saturdays they serve from their brunch menu, which has many items from their lunch menu, augmented by breakfast type dishes.

                    >> Has anyone been to Little Goat? That's our front runner for Sunday breakfast. Then maybe Purple Pig around 1:30pm for a snack? We have to be at the airport by about 4pm that day, sadly. Will it be too much of a rush?

                    I don't think so. Just allow a little extra time; the trip to O'Hare normally takes 25-30 minutes from the Purple Pig by cab on Sundays, and any traffic delays won't add more than 5-10 minutes to the trip at most. If you take the el, it should take around an hour or so. (From the Purple Pig, catch the CTA Red Line at Grand/State southbound, get off at Jackson, from the platform walk downstairs to the tunnel to the Blue Line, which you take to O'Hare.) If you arrive at Purple Pig around 1:30 and you get seated by 2:00, you'll be done by 3:00 and getting to O'Hare by 4:00 won't be a problem. The timing is similar if you're flying out of Midway; you just won't be able to get Garrett's or Tortas Frontera at the airport.

                    As an alternative for Sunday brunch before heading to the airport, I strongly recommend Jam, and it's right on the way to O'Hare. Jam is one of our most interesting and creative places for brunch; it's the kind of breakfast-focused restaurant that a truly creative chef with high-end training would create (and, in fact, chef-owner Jeffrey Mauro previously worked at Charlie Trotter's and North Pond). It's in Logan Square, two blocks from the Logan Square stop on the CTA Blue Line and convenient to the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94). They don't take reservations, but the waits to be seated will be winding down at 1:30 so any wait should be minimal. www.jamrestaurant.com If you're flying out of Midway, you might instead consider the excellent brunch at Nightwood, which is on the way and for which you can make a reservation. www.nightwoodrestaurant.com (My go-to place for brunch on the way to Midway is Mundial Cocina Mestiza, but if you make it to Frontera on Saturday, that would be overkill.)

                    As one more alternative for brunch, if you really want to stuff yourself before heading out, Shaw's Crab House, which is right near Purple Pig, does one of our very best Sunday brunches. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet, and many of the items are the best of their kind in the city, including their caramelized thick-cut bacon, crab cakes, king crab and shrimp cocktails, and creme brulee. They take reservations. $48/pp. www.shawscrabhouse.com

                  3. A tip re: G&TG: if you want to move your reservations to an earlier time, check frequently the night before on opentable. We originally had 10.45pm reservations at G&TG but the eve before, were able to snag a table at 9.30pm instead. So we went last night a little early (arrived around 9.15) but they were still able to seat us right away. So you can try doing that if you don't want to eat too late. We really enjoyed the confit goat belly!

                    1. I sent off an email to The Aviary nearly a week ago and haven't heard back yet. Does anyone know how long it usually takes? The website says "If randomly selected, we will contact you by 4:00 PM on the day of the reservation." Does this mean I have to wait until the day of to find out, or does it mean they'll contact me by 4pm on the day I emailed them (this may be wishful thinking)? I seem to recall seeing some Chowhounds report that they got an email reply far in advance of their reservation date.

                      Thanks for the brunch suggestion. Shaw's looks pretty tempting (though maybe a bit more than we intended to spend on brunch). How vital would reservations be, or could we make a last minute decision and walk in?

                      I also see that Publican gets suggested a lot... but on the website it looks like there is a separate brunch menu for Saturday (which looks great) and Sunday (which is less interesting). Am I reading that right?

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: twinkienic

                        The Aviary often doesn't respond until the last minute. Even though via their Facebook Page they say they are booking through June. Their site seems out of date vs on Facebook, as where reservations policy seems more fluid. Try emailing again.

                        Yes, The Publican has two separate brunch menus.

                        1. re: kathryn

                          Success! Secured a reservation for 6pm. Is there a time limit? Our dinner is not until 10:15pm.

                          Now our weekend looks like this:

                          Friday (arriving early afternoon)
                          Mid-afternoon snack: Purple Pig
                          Dinner: Blackbird
                          Post-dinner drinks: ?

                          Saturday
                          Brunch: Frontera (XOCO as backup option)
                          Mid-afternoon snack: a Chicago-style hot dog somewhere
                          Pre-dinner drinks: The Aviary
                          Late dinner: Girl & The Goat

                          Sunday
                          Brunch: Shaw's or Little Goat or Mercat a la Planxa or ?
                          Pre-flight afternoon snack: Bayless airport tortas

                          Also lots of stops for Intelligentsia coffee & Garrett's popcorn :)

                          1. re: twinkienic

                            I'd walk west a few blocks to Maude's Liquor Bar after Blackbird.
                            If you want to stay in the downtown area on Saturday, you can get your hot dog at Portillo's.
                            If you're hitting Girl and the Goat, no need to hit Little Goat the very next morning. Either of the other two places you mention is good for brunch.

                            1. re: twinkienic

                              No time limit at The Aviary except at the Kitchen Table.

                              1. re: kathryn

                                Thanks, all!

                                How much does an average cocktail cost at The Aviary?

                                1. re: twinkienic

                                  3 drink prix fixe for $45.

                                  A la carte, roughly $17 and up.

                                  They also do various flights/tastings. For example the Kyoto flight was 4 drinks for $60. Not sure about the Hunt flight.

                                  The 7 course tasting was $85 without bites, $125 with bites.

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    Ah, thanks for the information. I think my travelmates are feeling that's a bit too steep, so we'll probably look for more affordable drink options closer to the hotel. I'll have to be sure to check out The Aviary on my next trip.

                              2. re: twinkienic

                                Man, I would not be able to limit myself to a snack at Purple Pig, but I would make sure to order the butternut squash dish.

                                1. re: mdpilam

                                  >> Man, I would not be able to limit myself to a snack at Purple Pig, but I would make sure to order the butternut squash dish

                                  ...and the pork sweetbreads... and the lemon panna cotta... (I was less impressed with the octopus - not that it was bad or anything, but I've had better elsewhere.)

                            2. re: twinkienic

                              >> Shaw's looks pretty tempting (though maybe a bit more than we intended to spend on brunch). How vital would reservations be, or could we make a last minute decision and walk in?

                              I've been to Shaw's for Sunday brunch twice in the past year or so. Once, at their downtown location, it was about 3/4 full, so walking in without a reservation would not have been a problem. The other time, at their suburban location in Schaumburg, they were full from advance reservations and were turning away walk-ins without reservations. I'd recommend making one if you think there's a good chance you'll end up deciding to go; you can always cancel it if your plans change. If you don't have a reservation and you decide to go at the last minute, it might be a good idea to call ahead to at least ask whether there will be any problem as a walk-in.

                              As for the cost, you'll get your money's worth if you enjoy eating expensive dinner-type items like shrimp and crab cocktail and crab cakes, but maybe not so much if you're there primarily for breakfast dishes like bacon, eggs, and benedicts.

                              >> I also see that Publican gets suggested a lot... but on the website it looks like there is a separate brunch menu for Saturday (which looks great) and Sunday (which is less interesting). Am I reading that right?

                              Yes, you're reading that right. Of course, as with most restaurants, the menus are samples, and the menu you encounter on any particular day could vary from the one on the website.

                            3. We just went to the Aviary last weekend. Definitely make reservations, but it's a bit strange that they haven't gotten back to you as they always got back to us one day after we contacted them, first to make the reservations and secondly to change the reservation (I moved mine from Thursday eve to Saturday eve).

                              Also you can order the Kitchen Table menu without sitting at the Kitchen Table, which is what we did. For reference, here's a little blurb on our experience: we had 10pm Sat eve reservations for the Aviary.

                              On Friday we had dinner at Next but became confused so went to the door for the Aviary instead at 10pm (our reservaiton time) and saw a line to get in.

                              On Saturday we ended up getting a same day table for Alinea and so I emailed the Aviary to cancel our reservation. Our dinner at Alinea ended earier than expected so we went to the Aviary at 10.45 hoping they'd let us in anyways -- there was no line (maybe the bouncer told everyone to go away?) and they still had our name on the reservation list, so after we explained our situation they let us in. It wasn't that crowded inside, I think you can walk in if you didn't mind standing, but it's good to have a reservation.

                              There were six of us and we shared 3 Kitchen Table menus between us (we sat a normal table as the KT was occupied). However as we had just finished dining at Alinea, we were pretty stuffed and couldn't eat that much food, though the drinks were tiny (they're small portions). In fact we ordered 2 more drinks to share afterwards.