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Mar 20, 2013 03:45 PM

Chicago in August

I've been in Chicago only once, and then just long enough for one dinner (Frontera Grill) and one lunch (the original Ba Le). I'll be back this August and I have to admit that I haven't got a clue where to start. I'll be staying at the Palmer House and my preferences are: anything but Indian cuisines (all of them) and I prefer to avoid steakhouses. My strong preferences are fish/seafood, creative, healthy. Will not have a car but don't mind taking the L or taxis. I don't mind expensive restaurants so long as the food is great.

Is that enough to go on? I will have time for three dinners, probably no lunches except in the immediate area of the hotel.

I tried reading recs made for others but it got overwhelming in a hurry. I really have no idea where to start.

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  1. Here's what I posted in another recent discussion (at ):

    First, just to get an overview of what Chicago has to offer, this discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

    first time Chicago -

    If I had 36 hours to spend in Chicago, here's what I would pick, starting with the most "must have" experience and working down from there:

    1. Alinea. Yes, it's expensive ($210+ per person plus beverages/alcohol and tax/tip), and it's dressy. It's also one of the best restaurants in the world and the food experience of a lifetime. They sell advance tickets on their website and lately they're not too terribly hard to snag. Dinner only, closed Mondays/Tuesdays.

    2. Deep-dish pizza, a Chicago specialty. Lou Malnati's, regarded by many as the best in town, has a location at State and Rush near the north end of the Mag Mile and on Wells west of the south end of the Mag Mile. Pizano's has a location on State north of Chicago Ave. The original Uno and Due are near the south end of the Mag Mile. This works for lunch or dinner. At Malnati's and Pizano's, you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    3. Contemporary Mexican. This is something you don't get back home and isn't found many other places in the States, either. I'd start with Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill or Topolobampo, both a short walk from the Mag Mile. Since your visit is soon, it's probably too late to get a reservation at Frontera Grill or a dinner reservation at Topolobampo. That leaves the following options. You may still be able to get a lunch reservation at Topolobampo. If you arrive at Frontera Grill 15-20 minutes before they open the doors, you won't have to wait. You can otherwise wait 90+ minutes to be seated at Frontera Grill. Or you can go to one of our other contemporary Mexican options: Mexique, in West Town (take #66 CTA bus two miles west on Chicago Ave); Salpicon, in Old Town (walkable from the north end of the Mag Mile); Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen (next to the 18th Street station on the CTA Pink Line); or Mixteco Grill (near the Montrose station on the CTA Brown Line). All of these are open for lunch or dinner.

    4. Garrett's Popcorn. This is a snack you can fit into your schedule; there's a location on the Mag Mile, or pick some up at O'Hare before your flight departure. (Currently open in Terminals 1 and 3, but their store in Terminal 5, the international terminal, won't be open till later this year.) Caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or the "Chicago mix" of the two.

    5. Breakfast/brunch. Chicago has a huge selection of breakfast-focused restaurants. Jam, near the Logan Square stop on the CTA Blue Line, has the creativity you'd find at the high-end temples of haute cuisine. M. Henry, at the Granville station on the CTA Red Line, has lots of great stuff. Bongo Room, at the 12th/Roosevelt/Wabash station on the CTA Red, Orange, and Green Lines has creative pancakes (e.g. pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce). Southport Grocery, near the Southport station on the CTA Brown Line, has bread pudding pancakes and adult pop-tarts.

    6. North Pond. This is a special place unique to Chicago. They have excellent contemporary American cuisine from James Beard Award winner Chef Bruce Sherman. What makes it unique is its exquisite setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. During the week, open only for dinner.

    7. Small plates. Some of our very best restaurants right now specialize in small plates of one sort or another, and are moderately priced. Several are a short walk from the Mag Mile. Sable specializes in contemporary American cuisine and craft cocktails; don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee. GT Fish & Oyster specializes in seafood and craft cocktails. Mercat a la Planxa has tapas. All three of these accept reservations, for lunch or dinner. The Purple Pig has Mediterranean-ish cuisine, but does not accept reservations, and waits for a table are horrendous (120+ minutes at dinner well into the evening, not quite as bad at lunch); if you want to go without a long wait, go mid-afternoon or late at night. After all, with only 36 hours here, you really don't want to spend a lot of time waiting for a table (avoid Avec too for that reason).

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Also, here are some discussions that will give you some ideas in the immediate vicinity of the Palmer House Hilton:

      For breakfast recommendations near the Palmer House Hilton, see:

      For lunch recommendations near the Palmer House Hilton, see:

      For dinner recommendations near the Palmer House Hilton, see:

      For cheap eats recommendations near the Palmer House Hilton, see:

      For late night recommendations near the Palmer House Hilton, see:

      For recommendations of new restaurants near the Palmer House Hilton, see:

      Although some of these discussions aren't that recent, most of the places recommended in them are still around. One exception is tesori, a new Italian restaurant that is excellent and nearby.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thanks - I really just need dinner recs, so I am glad you didn't have to retype that from scratch! There should be a way to pin super-helpful posts like that.

        North Pond soundsperfect. That goes on the list. I am planning on Topolobampo - my trip isn't until August. G&T also looks like my cup of tea.

        1. re: Just Visiting

          Great! Yes, I just copied it from my earlier post. Also note the reference to North Pond as "During the week, open only for dinner" was because the poster in that topic was only here during the week. North Pond is also open for brunch on Sundays, which is a great way to see it during the day.

          Regarding Topolobampo reservations - they make them available on Opentable three months in advance, to the day, and dinner reservations fill up quickly thereafter. So mark your calendar for the day in April that's three months ahead. Lunch reservations become available at the same time, but don't fill up quite as fast (you can usually still get lunch reservations 3-4 weeks ahead of time).