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Validate my Eatinerary, Please?

This will be my first time in Chicago, BF has been here before, and we're very excited! I'm into anything/everything, BF somewhat, but not always. (He wouldn't be into Alinea, for instance, drat him.) We live in San Francisco, so we have good Mexican, good Italian/pizza, and excellent Cal/Medi/locavore type-places (we also have really good gastropubby, small-plates places are calling to me. i've researched this board, as well as Eater 38, and have come up with the following:

Wed., 4/24, arrive at 3:00 P.M.
The Bristol. Dinner, 8 p.m. (have res.)

Thurs., 4/25, Purple Pig, Late Lunch, 3ish

Fri., 4/26, Xoco - Lunch (or any other day)
Yusho 7 p.m. - Dinner (have res.)

Sat., 4/27, Al’s Italian beef/Portillo’s Hot Dog - Lunch (or any another day)
Naha, 8 p.m., Dinner (have res.)

Sun., 4/28, North Pond, 1:00 p.m., Brunch (have res.)

Mon., 4/29, Nothing scheduled

Tues., 4/30, Nothing scheduled

Wed., 5/1, leave at 1:00 p.m.

I've deliberately left a lot open for wandering/discovering purposes, and to accomodate the BF's desire to eat more casually (i.e., cheaper) at times. (and we do plan to hit Malnati's for deep dish pizza!) We are staying at The Allerton at 701 N. Michigan. We'll be hitting the Art Inst., other museums, galleries, probably the aquarium, checking out all your groovy architecture, hitting divey bars at night, and sleeping in. We are walkers/public transpo people, including cabs if need be. Not big breakfast folk, preferring to save our appetites for later in the day. Also, I have a friend who lives in Chicago i'll be seeing one night during the week for eats/drinks so that will be in the mix too.

My fear is that I've scheduled too much of one type of dining experience? For the places I have reservations, it's early enough that I can change them/cancel if you tell me I'm doing it all wrong/have better ideas.

other places in contention:

Sable
Dragon Ranch (BBQ)
Publican
Avec
Au Cheval
Mercat a la Planxa
Irazu

Oh, and the BF would love a good steak, not necessarily dry-aged, not necessarily IN an actual steakhouse, but not averse to that. I've looked at many of the steakhouse options, read reviews here, but if anyone knows where there is just a kick-ass, delicious rib-eye elsewhere, please let us know!

TIA for all your help! I'll be checking back here often, as we've got about 5-6 weeks before our trip. Thanks again!

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  1. You've done excellent research. I wouldn't change a thing. On your supplementary list, I would endorse everything except Dragon Ranch. Take the Blue Line train out to Smoque for better BBQ.
    Sounds as if your boyfriend wants a more casual place for steak. I'd suggest Wildfire at 159 W. Erie, even though it is part of a mini-chain. The steaks are very good.

    4 Replies
    1. re: camusman

      I disagree about Xoco not being a good choice. The tortas, churros, and hot chocolate are first-rate. You do have the option of getting nearly identical fare at O'Hare at Rick Bayless's Tortas Frontera in Terminals 1 and 3. Maybe a good choice for a carry-on lunch for your flight home. Just allow some time, as the food is cooked to order.

      1. re: camusman

        That's not the point. The food at Xoco is pretty good, but it consists of Mexican "street foods" that are all readily available in the SF area. Whereas the contemporary Mexican cuisine at Topolobampo and Frontera Grill is not, as a glance at their website menus will show.

        Do lunch at Topolobampo or Frontera Grill; the food is a unique experience you can't get back home. Plus, it's easy to get a lunch reservation at Topolobampo for late April right now. And if you like, you can still stop by Tortas Frontera at O'Hare on your way home.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I'm not missing the point, because you've made it often before. I love Xoco. So do others. I've been to San Francisco, and I don't find the Mexican street food any better than Chicago's. No need to bash other's opinions. I've given mine, and you've given yours. The OP can decide.
          Mariacarmen, if you do try Xoco, be aware that there's a long line from about 11:45 to 1:15.

      2. Agreed about Dragon Ranch -- Smoque is a much better alternative for BBQ. But if you're going to be in the River North area, Bub City (next to Dragon Ranch) wouldn't be a bad idea. It's a bit gimmicky (lots of Southern-fried kitsch) but it's a lively, fun atmosphere with respectable BBQ. Maybe the bar downstairs will be open by the time of your visit, Three Dots & A Dash. It's going to be a Tiki bar (without the irony) from one of the city's best bartenders. It should be a good time.

        Irazu is all right. It's fine if you're in the area, but I wouldn't consider it destination-worthy. They are BYO (and there's a decent wine store across the street, too). A few blocks to the Northwest is a place called Belly Shack -- Puerto Rican/Korean, broadly speaking, Just as casual as Irazu and they are also BYO (you can also order food to go and bring it into the bar next door, Green Eye, which is a decent dive-ish bar with good beer and cheap shots of whiskey).

        For one of your other dinners, I'd take a look at Nightwood, in Pilsen. It's one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the city (though it's more casual than, say, Naha or even North Pond) while still being very chic. The Skylark is next door, one of the best dive bars in the city (they are also known for their tater tots).

        Another strong suit here in Chicago is Thai food. Aroy Thai is a favorite of mine (ask for the Thai Classics menu if they don't provide it), but there are other options, as well (Sticky Rice and TAC Quick come immediately to mind - it might depend on how far you want to travel).

        Broadly speaking, I think you'll find some of the better dive bars in the Wicker Park/Bucktown/Logan Square neighborhoods (home to Bristol and Yusho). Also some of the better cocktail destinations (The Whistler and Violet Hour come to mind). Big Star is great for people-watching and cheap whiskey drinks (their tacos are good, too).

        Andersonville is a fun neighborhood, too, and since you'll be in town for so long it might be worth the trip (ti's about ~8 miles north of downtown, accessible via the red line but it's not a short trip). Big Jones is great for Southern/coastal/low country cooking (and bourbon). Not far from them is a great bar, Simon's (look for the neon fish), as well as one of the best beer bars in Chicago (Hopleaf - they also serve up pretty good, Belgian-ish food). If you're a fan of gin, Vincent is close, too - one of the new places where you get a decent glass of genever and a plate of herring (if that's your thing).

        11 Replies
        1. re: danimalarkey

          >> Agreed about Dragon Ranch -- Smoque is a much better alternative for BBQ. But if you're going to be in the River North area, Bub City (next to Dragon Ranch) wouldn't be a bad idea. It's a bit gimmicky (lots of Southern-fried kitsch) but it's a lively, fun atmosphere with respectable BBQ.

          More info on the logistics - Smoque is on the northwest side, about halfway to O'Hare. It's going to take you 45-60 minutes each way by public transportation (either the CTA Red Line or the #66 CTA bus, then transfer to the CTA Blue Line, which you'll ride to the Irving Park station), and then there can be a long line in which to wait before placing your order. Bub City, which just opened recently, is a 10-15 minute walk from your hotel, and you can make a reservation, including on Opentable.

          Another option for barbecue is Lillie's Q and the French Market. Lillie's Q is a good barbecue place in Wicker Park, and they also have a booth in the French Market in the downtown commuter train station just west of the Loop. The French Market is a lot of fun and has some of the very best food places of their type, also including Pastoral (cheese and sandwiches), Fumare (smoked meats including Montreal-style pastrami), Saigon Sisters (banh mi/sandwiches and pho/soup), and Vanille Patisserie (pastries including entremets, French macaroons, croissants). More info at www.frenchmarketchicago.com

          1. re: danimalarkey

            thanks for all this - especially the Nightwood idea. I'll look it up, since more casual may be something i might want to do, for the BF, but still chic, for me.

            1. re: mariacarmen

              If you'd like to do a casual, neighborhood bistro place, I'd also recommend Deleece on Southport. The food leans towards contemporary American (but not too "out there") and is consistently outstanding, and moderately priced too.

              Deleece is in the Lakeview neighborhood on the North Side, not far from Wrigley Field. It's easy to get to from the Allerton by public transit; you can catch the CTA Red Line at Chicago/State and take it to Addison, or the #22 Clark Street bus.

              I like Nightwood too - they are both excellent neighborhood bistro type places, with similar type food and price points - but Deleece is a lot easier to get to by public transit, and there's more nightlife in the area.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                thanks, nsxtasy - i'll check it out!

                1. re: mariacarmen

                  I have to respectfully disagree about Deleece. As a very longtime resident of the Southport Corridor and someone who has probably eaten at Deleece 50+ times, it's fine as far as neighborhood joints go, but hardly a destination from downtown in my opinion. The service can be very spotty, and I've had some great meals there, but also some really not great meals there.

                  One of my favorite places for sharing and good drinks is Maude's Liquor Bar. Roast chicken is the best, and your man can get a steak. If you're looking for a true steakhouse, Chicago Cut is a perfect place to get the traditional Chicago steakhouse menu/experience without completely breaking the bank (I'm looking at you, Gibson's...)

                  Also, I recognize your handle - you were an amazing help when I was planning a Napa trip last fall. Thanks for your recs!

                  1. re: thelegalfoodie

                    well, good to know that i could help! you are very welcome.

                    hmmmm, you're giving me pause about Deleece, for sure.... i'll take a look at Maude's. We're already booked into Bavette's for steak, which looked really good to me and was OK'd by the BF, but ....

                    i think i also wanted to check out that neighborhood at night. what do you say about that? our res is at 9:00.

                    ETA: The Maude's menu looks great! but only one steak, and it says it's limited availability. and, that doesn't look very close to our hotel either... maybe i'll have the BF decide.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      I totally disagree with the above poster. Granted, I haven't been to Deleece 50+ times, but I've been there on a regular basis, maybe half a dozen times in the past couple of years, so I've gotten plenty of experiences there. And every single time it has been absolutely solid, with the food ranging from very good to outstanding, and the service reliably friendly and helpful. It also has a nice neighborhood vibe, and it's quite affordable too. I consider it a true "hidden gem", a place with great food that doesn't get the media hype and isn't overrun with out-of-towners. That's why I keep going back there, even though it's not in my own neighborhood. I highly recommend Deleece, if it's the kind of place you'd like to keep in your itinerary.

                      1. re: mariacarmen

                        The thing with Deleece is that it's FINE. Better than most places in that neighborhood, and it's two blocks away from my condo (which is the prime reason I've been there so much). But it's nothing that special, and it's definitely not close to your hotel.

                        The surrounding neighborhood is nice, but most of the bars are your run of the mill Irish/faux Irish pubs. That said, if you'd like to explore our neighborhood, I'd recommend dinner at Coobah (Latin fusion, great short ribs and the Uva Caribe is my favorite cocktail, ever) followed by pints at Cullen's (the most authentic of the Irish pub set).

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          Also - Maude's and Bavette's are both Sodikoff restaurants with some menu crossover, so you should def keep Bavette's!

                            1. re: thelegalfoodie

                              All of the Sodikoff places have a bit of crossover, but having now been to all of them they are definitely each their own experience. That being said, every single dish I've had at any of them has been a perfect preparation of that dish, thus my suggestion to anyone is to look at Gilt Bar, Au Cheval, Bavette's, and Maude's the decide what dish(es) you're in the mood for and go there expecting good things.

                              The Foie and Eggs and Mille Feuille at Au Cheval
                              The Chicken and Meatloaf and Brandade at Bavette's
                              The Foie Terrine and Cassoulet at Maude's
                              The Gnocchi and Sticky Toffee Pudding at Gilt bar

                              All are highlights.

                              http://endoedibles.com

                2. So far so good! You have a lot of great choices, and clearly you've done a lot of research. In particular, kudos on your timing for Purple Pig, kudos on your dinner res at Naha (one of our very best restaurants, and one that doesn't get as much hype as many others), kudos on your brunch plans for North Pond. I would change just one thing, and add a few comments/suggestions...

                  >> We live in San Francisco, so we have good Mexican
                  >> Fri., 4/26, Xoco - Lunch (or any other day)

                  Our contemporary Mexican cuisine is unlike what's available in the SFBay area, so you really need to experience it. However, I would not recommend Xoco for this; Xoco has Mexican "street foods" like tortas (sandwiches) and caldos (soups), which are easy to find back home. Two much better choices are Xoco's sister restaurants around the corner, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill. (Check out the menus on their websites to understand the differences.) Topolobampo is more upscale than Frontera Grill but the prices for lunch are quite similar at both places. Topolobampo accepts reservations on Opentable and they are easy to snag for lunch (Tue-Fri). Not only is the food better, more creative, and more unusual at Topolobampo than Xoco, but with a reservation, you can avoid Xoco's long waits in line, too. So keep it on a Friday, but switch it to Topolobampo and grab a res.

                  >> We are staying at The Allerton at 701 N. Michigan.

                  Since you're keeping your schedule open, one place you might consider squeezing in is Cafe Iberico for tapas. It's just a few blocks west of your hotel. It's open from lunch till late at night. They don't take reservations and waits can be long during dinner hours (although not crazy long like Purple Pig); you can avoid waits by going at other times. They have their regular menu on their website; they also offer a menu of "tapitas" (even smaller portion sizes) of many of their items for $2.50-3.00, which are on display at the bar. Compared with Mercat a la Planxa, our more famous tapas restaurant, I actually like the food better at Iberico, although the menu at Mercat is more unusual. And it's very close to your hotel.

                  Sable, which you also mentioned, is another great choice to keep in mind for squeezing in a visit whenever it's convenient, for all the same reasons as Cafe Iberico. The food is outstanding, with half portions available on most items so you can try a lot of things. They also have terrific craft cocktails. And they're open late, as well as all afternoon. Again, just a few blocks from your hotel.

                  >> Oh, and the BF would love a good steak, not necessarily dry-aged, not necessarily IN an actual steakhouse, but not averse to that. I've looked at many of the steakhouse options, read reviews here, but if anyone knows where there is just a kick-ass, delicious rib-eye elsewhere, please let us know!

                  I understand that desire, as SF, where I visit regularly, is not a town for lovers of really great steaks. You can't go wrong with David Burke's Primehouse or Chicago Cut Steakhouse, the two places most often named as having the best steaks in town. Burke's is only a few blocks from your hotel. I also enjoy Burke's because its style is contemporary but casual, and doesn't have the stereotypical "men's club" atmosphere of many steakhouses.

                  P.S. I love your term "Eatinerary"! :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    My two fairly recent visits to Mercat have been exceptionally good and definitely a step up from Iberico. The chef's tasting is a good value.

                  2. thanks everyone, for your valuable input/validation so far!

                    nsxtasy, re the other two Bayless restaurants. I've read tons about them, poured over the menus, have friends who have been, have gotten good, bad and indifferent reviews, from CHers, from people who have been, people who live in Chicago, people who have visited, etc. i know they're a different animal than other Mexican, but i've had A LOT of Mexican, including in L.A. and in Mexico. and i do know that his food is even still not like what i've had in those places. i'm not ruling them out 100%, but i'm afraid the BF would be bummed (and thus, bum me) if we spent $$ on "tarted-up" Mexican food. now, please don't be dismayed at that characterization - this would be his attitude, not mine - i LOVE tarted up anything! i love elevating food and tweaking it so that the sum is greater than the parts. but i have him to think about, and i'm already stretching his limits on some of my other choices. while he likes good food, and has a pretty decent palate, he is indifferent to what he feels are foodie trends, and spending money on something he feels is no better than what he can get or make himself cheaper. i know, i know, Bayless is not a trend. Believe me, you're preaching to the choir.

                    all that said, it really may still happen. Lunch sounds like a very good option.

                    as for all other suggestions, thanks, keep 'em coming! not super hot about looking for ethnic places, especially Thai, as we have great Thai here - hell, i mean, not to brag, but we are lucky to have really great food in SF, of every stripe, practically, including great Korean, Burmese, and food trucks galore (you’re right tho, not GREAT steak.) the French Market is intriguing, I ran into that during my research. Glad to hear I have two good choices for Spanish tapas – Mercat and Iberico. I have a feeling my Chicago friend will weigh in on that one.

                    Thanks for the tip on Andersonville. And not to lead anyone astray, but when I say dive bars, I mean, the BF drinks double shots of Cuervo, period, at bars, and I’m fine with a few tanq and tonics. And a pool table would be nice. We’re not really beer drinkers, although a nice cold one at happy hour after a day of walking about is always welcome. I’ll have my artisan cocktails and good wines at dinner. He’ll have water. (who IS this guy?? Heh.)

                    thanks again, you all are really, really helpful.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      Sounds great - thanks for the additional insight!

                    2. Ok, y'all talked me into it. it helped that my friend who lives there in Chi-town (do you all hate that, the way San Franciscans hate Frisco and San Fran?) has never been, so she and her dude and me and the BF (who suddenly decided he was "intrigued" by the Topolobampo menu) have dinner rezzies on Tues., 4/30, our last night in town. wheeeeeeeee....

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mariacarmen

                        >> Chi-town (do you all hate that, the way San Franciscans hate Frisco and San Fran?)

                        I don't know about hate, but like those terms, it's not the way most people who live here refer to the city. Just the tourists. :)

                        That's great that you were able to get reservations at Topolobampo - the dinner ones fill up well in advance. Enjoy it! And if you get a chance afterwards, drop us a line and let us know how it all worked out.

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          If you enjoy cocktails, make sure to have one at Topolobampo. I really loved the Oaxacan Gold last time I was there: Wahaka Joven Espadin mezcal, wood-grilled pineapple, Mexican vanilla, fresh lime.

                          Yusho also has an excellent cocktail program.

                          If you find yourself in the West Loop area Tuesday through Saturday, try to stop in for a molecular cocktail at the Aviary. You may only want to have one due to the cost, but there is very little like it anywhere else in the nation.