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Toronto Hound in Chicago- 1ST TIME!

Hi all,
I have been trying to plan a trip to Chicago for ages but it has all been pending an Alinea reservation. Well, I finally got it and now I am left to plan the rest of my trip. I have now spent weeks reading your board and think I am ready to ask for help. Here is what I can tell you:
-I will be there for 3 nights, 4 days (Thurs-Sun in mid June)- it will probably Thurs Lunch, Thurs Dinner, Fri Breakfast or early Lunch, then small snack, then Friday Dinner (Alinea at 915), then Sat Brunch/Lunch, maybe snack, Dinner, Sunday breakfast, then later lunch.
-Price is no object. We want the best, just as long as it's worth it.
-I have booked a dinner at Girl and Goat, and I have Alinea as well, and Topolobampo for now b/c I wanted to snag it before its too late but I am not sure that Topolo is the best choice for my last dinner (this is up for debate)
- Don't really want to do Asian
- prefer reservation places but I understand some really must-go to places dont take them so if we are going to wait.. i want to wait the least amount of time possible (i.e. lunch maybe).

So here are the things I am considering. I need to basically slot them into the meals:

-Topolobampo (keep dinner or change to lunch?)
-purple pig
-publican
-the bristol
-naha
-north pond
-dragon ranch
-MUST DO a chicago pizza (uno, due, pizanos, lou malnotis or other??)
-MUST DO a hot dog (gene and junes, hot dawgs or other??)
-MUST DO a chicago beef sandwich (johnnys, chuckles, Als or other?)

If I am missing something remarkable to Chicago, please let me know.
I really appreciate your help and cannot wait to get to your city!

Abbey

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  1. Clearly you've done your research - sounds great so far!

    >> Topolobampo for now b/c I wanted to snag it before its too late but I am not sure that Topolo is the best choice for my last dinner (this is up for debate)

    >> -Topolobampo (keep dinner or change to lunch?)

    I think this is a terrific choice, not only because contemporary Mexican is delicious and a specialty here, but also because there isn't much Mexican in Toronto. And I think you would be better off leaving it as a dinner, because so many of the other places you'll be visiting are excellent choices for lunch - because they consist of lighter fare (hot dogs, Italian beef), and because they serve the same food at both lunch and dinner (pizza, Purple Pig). However, dinner at Topolobampo is significantly more expensive than lunch. You might want to take a look at Topolobampo's lunch and dinner menus on their website to help you decide.

    >> -purple pig

    The waits are horrendous at dinner hours (5-10) and only somewhat better at lunchtime. But you may be able to squeeze it in choice for a light meal, either mid-afternoon (say, between 2 and 4 pm) or late at night.

    We have some other small plates places that are also excellent, and which accept reservations, including Sable, GT Fish & Oyster, and Mercat a la Planxa.

    >> -publican

    Publican has its fans, but I'm not one of them.

    >> -the Bristol

    I haven't been there, but I've heard good things.

    >> -naha

    I think Naha is a terrific restaurant for contemporary American cuisine in a fine dining atmosphere. That being said, I'm not sure where you would slot it in; they are open for weekday lunches and dinner six days, closed Sundays.

    >> -north pond

    I think North Pond is a great choice for Sunday brunch - not only for the brunch itself (and Chef Sherman's delicious food), but also for the daytime view of its exquisite setting in the park and the city skyline. Of course, the nighttime view of the skyline is also beautiful too!

    >> -dragon ranch

    Seems like an "out of the blue" choice; apparently it's a barbecue place from the folks behind Rockit and Sunda. A quick web search shows that they had a fire in January and are temporarily closed.

    Chicago has some decent barbecue places, but that's not what I'd do in three days here on a first visit.

    >> -MUST DO a chicago pizza (uno, due, pizanos, lou malnotis or other??)

    I would definitely do one of those, with a preference for Malnati's or Pizano's (both of which permit you to phone ahead with your pizza order so they'll have it ready when you get there). Each has multiple locations downtown. Where are you staying?

    I would do pizza for lunch. Just be aware of the portion sizes. Deep-dish is VERY filling, and when they tell you how many people each size feeds, they're not kidding.

    >> -MUST DO a hot dog (gene and junes, hot dawgs or other??)
    >> -MUST DO a chicago beef sandwich (johnnys, chuckles, Als or other?)

    You mean "Italian beef". I would go to Portillo's, which has good representations of both Chicago-style hot dogs as well as Italian beef. That would make another lunch.

    >> If I am missing something remarkable to Chicago, please let me know.

    You haven't mentioned our vibrant scene of breakfast-focused restaurants. One of these would be great for Friday breakfast/brunch, since they don't accept reservations, and waits can be lengthy on weekends, non-existent on weekdays. If you want to do one on the weekend, get there when they open (usually 9 a.m.) to avoid long waits. None of these are downtown, but most are convenient to public transit. Jam is my top pick because it has the creativity of a high-end fine dining restaurant, but with the casual atmosphere and low prices of a breakfast-focused restaurant. It's right near the Logan Square stop on the CTA Blue Line. Bongo Room specializes in sweet pancake dishes (such as pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce); their closest and most convenient location to downtown is at the Roosevelt/12th stop on the CTA Red/Green/Orange lines. And M. Henrietta is at the Granville stop on the CTA Red Line.

    Also, don't miss Garrett's Popcorn, which has terrific caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or the "Chicago mix" of the two. They have numerous locations throughout the downtown area, as well as in Terminals 1 and 3 at O'Hare, perfect for grabbing some for the flight home.

    Bottom line, I'd keep Topolobampo as one of your three dinners (along with Alinea and G&TG), do at least one breakfast/brunch (Jam etc) plus your Sunday brunch at North Pond, and deep-dish and Portillo's for two lunches. Which doesn't leave a whole lot of room for much else, but if you have the ability to squeeze in some lighter fare, then consider Purple Pig or Sable.

    5 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you so much!
      Ill be staying at the four seasons.
      I will check these suggestions out.
      With regards to portillos, is it a great and authentic representation of both Chicago hot dogs and italian beef?
      Does anyone else have opinions re: publican and Bristol ?
      I noticed re: purple pig, their brunch on weekends goes until 3 pm - any idea how late I could get there before I'm not let in? What kind of waits are we talking about for lunch and brunch 2 ppl)?

      1. re: hungryabbey

        >> Ill be staying at the four seasons.

        Then for deep-dish, Pizano's on State is two short blocks away, and Lou Malnati's at State and Rush is five short blocks. Both are excellent.

        >> With regards to portillos, is it a great and authentic representation of both Chicago hot dogs and italian beef?

        Yes, absolutely! Of course, there are folks who will tell you that some other place is even better at one or the other, but Portillo's does a great job at both. And it's a 10-15 minute walk from the Four Seasons.

        >> I noticed re: purple pig, their brunch on weekends goes until 3 pm - any idea how late I could get there before I'm not let in? What kind of waits are we talking about for lunch and brunch 2 ppl)?

        Either you're referring to a different place, or I'm not aware of what they're doing at the Purple Pig (either of which is possible). As far as I'm aware, the Purple Pig doesn't have special hours for brunch; they serve from the same menu all day long, from when they open the doors at 11:30, through lunch and dinner service, into the wee hours. So you can walk in and they'll seat you all afternoon long (with a possible wait, of course). On weekdays, there are no waits if you walk in at 2 pm. I suspect that might not be true on Sundays, when the whole world goes out for brunch, but you'd have to try it and see (or just call ahead and ask them how long the waits are).

        Or are you thinking of a different place? Maybe Jam, which closes at 3? If so, I don't know what time they wouldn't let you in. I'm sure you can walk in at 2:30 and get served, and you can't at 3:30, but whether that means they'll seat you at 2:59 and not at 3:01, I don't know. On Sundays, the wait at most of our breakfast/brunch-focused restaurants tends to diminish after 1:00 and is usually non-existent by 2:00. If you go at prime brunch hours on a Sunday - say, between 9:30 and 12:30 - I would expect to wait 45-60 minutes, although I could be off, either way, and that could also vary with weather. They only have enough room for around 6 people to wait inside, so if the weather's bad, the wait is shorter, but you'll be standing outside. I ate there a few Sundays ago when it was raining, and the wait was very short the entire time. Nobody wants to wait around outside in the rain. Again, though, if you make Jam one of your weekday meals, you won't have to wait at all.

        And for Sunday brunch, I still strongly recommend North Pond. Chef Sherman's food is fantastic, and there is no other place with the uniquely Chicago experience of sitting in the middle of the park, looking out at the Chicago skyline. (When you make your reservation, include a request to be seated in the front room, with the full-length windows facing the pond and the skyline. The rear room, with its open kitchen, is fun too, but the front room with the view is the preferable one.)

        You're not going to be able to go everywhere you mention in a three-day visit. The places you've mentioned that I would absolutely not miss are Alinea, Topolobampo, North Pond, and Malnati's/Pizano's.

        1. re: hungryabbey

          Since you asked for other opinions . . .
          I much prefer the Publican brunch to North Pond. My last two experiences at North Pond have been decidedly mediocre. People will talk about James Beard awards, Michelin stars, etc., but when it comes to Chicago dining these awards seem to be distributed arbitrarily and have little meaning.
          Also, Chicago barbecue is quite good. If you're adventurous and have a car, try ribs at Lem's. If not, go for brisket at Smoque.

          1. re: hungryabbey

            I think The Bristol is very good and it's in a great neighborhood for eating/drinking (and shopping, for that matter). Dinner at The Bristol followed (or preceded!) by cocktails at the Violet Hour (very chill cocktail lounge) or even Big Star (very lively pseudo-country western taco joint with amazing whiskey and tequila drinks) would be a great evening.

            The Publican is easily one of my favorite restaurants in the city. While the meat dishes are often very hearty and rich, the seafood options are great, too. The whole place reminds me of European beer halls and brasseries and their menu that highlights the best the Midwest has to offer.

            I could be wrong, but I don't think The Purple Pig has a separate brunch menu. They open at 11:30am and serve the same menu until the kitchen closes (again, I could be wrong - I'm usually there for an early dinner after work and stay away on weekends). Are you asking about brunch at the Publican? They accept reservations for brunch so waiting shouldn't necessarily be an issue.

          2. re: nsxtasy

            >> Publican has its fans, but I'm not one of them.

            Just to elaborate... as noted above, the atmosphere is that of a European beer hall. The room is VERY LOUD; we found it difficult to hear each other at our own table of six without shouting. The food was variable in quality; some of the dishes (notably the seafood) were quite good, others were nothing special (like the pork rinds), and the desserts were not good at all (such as the very ordinary waffle). About half the seating consists of a couple of long communal tables; when making a reservation you can express a preference for your own table (for up to six) or for the communal seating, and they will accommodate your preference if they can. As I noted, some folks like it a lot, especially if you seek out long beer lists and you don't mind shouting to be heard, but everyone in our group found the food and the room disappointing, with no desire to return. Different strokes...

          3. Thanks all! I must have been messing up the websites.
            Well I for sure will want a meal at purple pig maybe it would make a good late lunch/ early dinner before our flight since we probably won't get a full meal in for dinner before our flight, and as for Sunday brunch, lets vote on sable, publican or north pond?

            I will go through the itinerary and see of there are still other meals to fill.

            30 Replies
            1. re: hungryabbey

              >> as for Sunday brunch, lets vote on sable, publican or north pond?

              Rather than letting other people make the decision, I think you ought to look at the menus on their websites, read the posts describing them, think about which kind of place appeals to your own preferences, and then decide for yourself.

              1. re: hungryabbey

                I'll vote- Publican without a second thought. Best brunch anywhere. No contest whatsoever between the three. Enjoy!

                1. re: Bdav1818

                  Okay. How does this look:

                  Thursday check in at 1130 AM
                  Lunch Purple Pig
                  Dinner Girl & Goat 9 pm

                  Friday Breakfast (early) at Jam
                  Lunch: Portillos
                  Dinner: Alinea 915

                  Saturday Brunch Publican
                  Snack: Garrett's Popcorn
                  Dinner: Topolobampo 8 pm

                  Sunday Brunch North Pond
                  late lunch/early dinner before flight: Pizano's OR Lou Malnati's

                  Fly out around 7 PM

                  Thoughts?

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      Thank you all so much for your help!! I will report back!

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        Oh yes, one more thing- so are there any foodie-related activities I should look into in the city? Markets or events that are worth checking out?

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          There are two markets in the city that are worth visiting, and they are very different from each other.

                          The French Market is a permanent indoor structure with dozens of food-related booths, including some of the very best vendors of their kind in the entire city: Vanille Patisserie for pastries, Pastoral for cheeses and sandwiches, Lillie's Q for barbecue, and lots more. It's just west of the Loop in a concourse of a commuter train station. www.frenchmarketchicago.com

                          The city has a lot of farmers markets. The Green City Market is the most well-known of these, with lots of support of local chefs, etc. It's outdoors on Wednesdays and Saturdays May through October, indoors on Saturdays the rest of the year. www.greencitymarket.org

                          Lincoln Park is a park which extends for several miles along the lakefront. Green City Market is at the south end of the park, a little over a mile north of the Four Seasons. North Pond is also in Lincoln Park, a little over a mile north of where Green City Market is. Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free, is located between Green City Market and North Pond. The adjacent neighborhood to the west of the park is also called Lincoln Park.

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            That's great! I will check those out!

                            1. re: hungryabbey

                              Hi again,
                              Okay so I tried to map out my route and noticed Jam sticking out like a sore thumb.
                              Its abotu a 15 min cab ride to get to an early morning Friday breakfast at Jam, but then we have to treck basically back to the Ritz Carlton for lunch at Portillos?
                              It would be a 1 hour 40 min walk between Jam and Portillos which is totally fine, as long as it's an interesting walk or there is something to do in between. Any thoughts?
                              Failing that, any other breakfast recommendations that are equally amazing as Jam (not TOO hearty.. something unique, really delicious but lighter maybe) that is maybe closer.
                              Also, which location of which restaurant is closest to the Ritz, Pizanos or Lou Malnatis?
                              Thanks again.

                              1. re: hungryabbey

                                >> Its abotu a 15 min cab ride to get to an early morning Friday breakfast at Jam, but then we have to treck basically back to the Ritz Carlton for lunch at Portillos?

                                That's correct. They are 5 miles (8 km) apart.

                                You can also get to Jam by public transit. From the Four Seasons, walk to the CTA Red Line at Chicago and State, take a southbound train to Jackson, from the platform walk DOWNSTAIRS to the tunnel to the CTA Blue Line, and take a train towards O'Hare. Exit at the Logan Square station and you're just across the park from Jam, about a block away. Door to door, hotel to restaurant, it's about a 40-45 minute trip that way.

                                Two of our other breakfast-focused restaurants are near Red Line stations so they don't require a change of trains. M. Henrietta is at the Granville station north of the hotel, and Bongo Room is at the Roosevelt/12th station south of the hotel.

                                Unfortunately, our most interesting restaurants for breakfast are not in the downtown area. If you want one that's near the hotel, the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue (3 blocks from the Four Seasons) is very good (especially for their apple pancake). A bit further, you can also walk 1 mile to Meli Café on Wells, and Yolk's locations on Ohio and on Wells, which are both about 3/4 mile from the hotel.

                                It's up to you whether or not to travel further for more unusual and creative food. It may help to check out the menus on their websites:

                                www.jamrestaurant.com
                                www.thebongoroom.com
                                www.mhenrietta.com
                                www.originalpancakehouse.com
                                www.melicafe.com
                                www.yolk-online.com

                                >> Also, which location of which restaurant is closest to the Ritz, Pizanos or Lou Malnatis?

                                Perhaps you somehow missed my reply below, which I posted last Monday morning. After you mentioned that you're staying at the Four Seasons, I posted, "Then for deep-dish, Pizano's on State is two short blocks away, and Lou Malnati's at State and Rush is five short blocks. Both are excellent."

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  Thanks for your response. Yes, my apologies. I missed that clarifications on the pizza.
                                  As for breakfast spots.. I love the menus at all of those places, but if we aren't feeling up for Jam ( I will play that one by ear), I am thinking something much more casual/simple/light- not a full out brunch breakfast type meal, more of a pastry and coffee place. But really good pastries, and something unique. I was perusing other threads and saw a reco for Do-Rite Donuts, how is that in your opinion? I do love doughnuts, especially fun ones.
                                  Any other recommendations like that would be great. Something unique, casual and lighter than a full out breakfast spot, preferably semi-close to our hotel (within a mile if possible).
                                  Thanks again.

                                  1. re: hungryabbey

                                    >> I was perusing other threads and saw a reco for Do-Rite Donuts, how is that in your opinion? I do love doughnuts, especially fun ones.
                                    Any other recommendations like that would be great. Something unique, casual and lighter than a full out breakfast spot, preferably semi-close to our hotel (within a mile if possible).

                                    Several creative donut places have opened in the downtown area, and feature extreme freshness along with some unusual flavors. I'm not sure I would consider any one better than any other one, except that some (e.g. Doughnut Vault) seem to have long lines and sell out quickly. And, of course, when one is a block from your hotel, and the others are all a mile away, that would seem to make it an easy choice. :) The downtown locations, starting with the one that's a block from the Four Seasons:

                                    Glazed and Infused - Raffaello Hotel, 201 E. Delaware Place - www.goglazed.com
                                    Firecakes - 68 W. Hubbard - www.firecakesdonuts.com
                                    Doughnut Vault - 401 1/2 N. Franklin - http://thedoughnutvault.tumblr.com
                                    Do-Rite Donuts - 50 W. Randolph - www.doritedonuts.com

                                    You can read more about our local donut shops at http://chicago.metromix.com/stories/1...

                                    There are several places for great pastries in the downtown area. Toni Patisserie in the Loop is excellent for French pastries, croissants, etc. So is Vanille in the French Market - and the French Market also has Beavers Donuts (see my other post about the French Market). Fox & Obel has some great baked goods, such as their heavenly rich cinnamon swirl rolls. All three of these are roughly a mile from the Four Seasons. Hendrickx Belgian Bakery is right around the block from the Four Seasons; I don't think it's as good as the first three, but it's got geographic convenience in its favor. So if you'd like a decent croissant within a two minute walk from the hotel, that's the place!

                                    Like any city, we also have plenty of coffee shops. Intelligentsia is our biggest and best-known local roaster; their closest coffee shop is on Randolph, a mile south of the hotel. For closer coffee shops, see these topics (the Four Seasons is right near the Drake and the Water Tower):

                                    Looking for coffee around the Drake Hotel - www.chow.com/topics/892206
                                    Great espresso near Water Plaza? - www.chow.com/topics/803183

                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                      Amazing, that's very helpful. Thank you so much!

                                      1. re: hungryabbey

                                        i always appreciate nsxtasy trying to help people using public transport, but you're staying at the Ritz and worried about a $12 cab ride (including tip) up to Jam? I would jump in a cab and not waste an hour on our rather average public transport. if you took a cab from hotel on every jaunt during your entire trip (excluding airport) you'll spend less than $100. Much better money spent than wasting hours on public transport.

                                        1. re: jbontario

                                          By all means, if you want to take a cab, take a cab! As already noted, the trade-off is 15 minutes vs 45 minutes, and $2.50 (per person) vs $12, each way. Public transit directions are provided to be helpful in case that's the option you choose. It's your money, your time, and your choice.

                                          1. re: jbontario

                                            My two cents: I would choose Original Pancake House. My one trip to Jam was very disappointing. I was served pork cheeks that were nowhere near fresh.

                                            1. re: camusman

                                              That's totally different from my experience. I've been to Jam several times, and every single time, I thought they were turning out the best, most creative breakfast food in the city.

                                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                                Hey all,
                                                Oh no, we would certainly take a cab. We rarely use transit here, so we likely wont even bother at all on our trip. Unless we feel liek an adventure and have time to kill :)

                                                I think we will just see how the morning goes.
                                                My concern is that we will be having lunch at Portillos, and I don't want to ruin our appetite too much for that.. especially b/c I don't want it to be too late since I want to be hungry and ready for Alinea that night!
                                                Hence why I started to think maybe a small pastry breakfast is best. So then I did a bunch of research and started to think hey maybe we would go do something fun and go to Beavers donuts, or a different doughnut shop (I just dont like the fact that some sell out etc. so I was thinking the Beavers in the market would be good).
                                                But I still really was intrigued by the menu at Jam- that's more my style of food than big massive servings of greasy diner fare.
                                                So I guess the question is, are the portions quite big at Jam? I don't want a full "brunch" breakfast kind of experience since I think we will aim to have lunch around 2 ish at the latest, and I don't see us getting to breakfast that morning until 9:30-10.

                                                1. re: hungryabbey

                                                  Portions are generous, but not gigantic. So long as you limit yourself to a single main dish per/person and do not add on pastries or sides you should leave full, but not stuffed. I have been to Jam three times in 2013 for brunch and it is outstanding! Really creative food, beautiful plating, high quality ingredients and well prepared.

                                                  1. re: Gonzo70

                                                    I agree with Gonzo - on the portion sizes (decent-sized, but not oversized) as well as the quality. It's a great place for a brunch where, as he states, you "should leave full, but not stuffed". (By comparison, you're much more likely to feel stuffed after eating at Bongo Room or Original Pancake House, although obviously it depends on what you order at each place.)

                                                    I'll add that if you're trying to avoid loading up, a light lunch at Portillo's could consist of a Chicago hot dog each, and an Italian beef split between the two of you.

                                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                                      Okay so the portions at portillos aren't large? I was picturing a massive dog and sandwich.

                                                      1. re: hungryabbey

                                                        Nope. A Chicago hot dog is a normal-sized hot dog, typically piled with lots of toppings, but still nothing huge. Similarly, Italian beef is a decent-sized sandwich (with a decent amount of meat) but not unusually huge.

                                                        Incidentally, photos taken at Portillo's were used for the Wikipedia entries for both sandwiches:

                                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_...
                                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_...

                                                        1. re: nsxtasy

                                                          ack, that beef sandwich looks humongous to me!
                                                          good to know, me & the BF can share on our upcoming trip.

                                                          1. re: mariacarmen

                                                            lol it looks big to me too. I guess we will just see how hungry we are and if we can each have a hot dog, or split one of each. Thanks all!

                                                            1. re: hungryabbey

                                                              The Wikipedia photo doesn't give a very good sense of perspective. The pics around the border of this page do:
                                                              http://www.alsbeef.com/
                                                              As others have said, it's big, but not that big.

                                                              1. re: camusman

                                                                you know better, as you've seen it in person. we'll probably split that and a hot dog. we'll be getting plenty to eat on our trip, so i'm not worried!

                                                                thanks for posting the pics.

                                                        2. re: hungryabbey

                                                          No, very civilized portions. The problem comes from having an Italian beef, cheese fries and a chocolate cake shake (yes, a slice of chocolate cake blended into a shake. :o)

                                                          1. re: TorontoJo

                                                            Woah that's intense lol well, I am happy to see those sizes. What we will do then is see how late were out at Girl and Goat (9 pm reservation), how early were up and if my SO wants a breakfast or a light snack.

                    2. re: hungryabbey

                      I'd say go for North Pond or Publican for your brunch. I've been to Sable a couple of times and honestly haven't been too impressed. Sable is great for cocktails, however!

                      Check the North Pond menu first--they're seasonal, and my husband only likes their fall menu, whereas I like them year-round!

                      1. re: yummymonkey

                        Yes as you can see above, I'm going to do publican AND north pond :)

                    3. Hey Abbey! As a Torontonian born and raised in Chicago (with family still there), I thought I'd throw some thoughts into the mix.

                      Given your stated interest in brunch, Mexican food and markets, I would suggest an adjustment to your Sunday itinerary. I'd start with breakfast at the Bongo Room on Wabash, then head a mile or so west to the Maxwell Street Market, a vibrant open air Mexican market -- neither has a real equivalent in Toronto.

                      North Pond is beautiful and a wonderful restaurant, but I would choose casual funky Bongo Room anytime for breakfast/brunch. A half order of one of their decadent pancake options (because a full order is more than a meal in itself), some really excellent bacon and a side of their potatoes smothered in melted cheddar cheese -- one of my all time favorite breakfasts that I still find myself craving after years away. I'd sell most of our Toronto breakfast spots for one Bongo Room.

                      Then walk a few calories off by heading the mile West to Maxwell St. Market and graze your way through the food vendors and feast your eyes on the goods in all the different stalls. It will be a nice companion to your dinner at Topolobampo -- Mexican fine dining and Mexican street food.

                      Portillo's is great for your hot dog and Italian beef choice. My rec is to get your Italian beef "wet" with lots of giardinara. And the cheese fries there are a total nostalgic guilty pleasure for me -- simple crinkle cut fries with cheese sauce on the side.

                      And I'll throw a vote in for Sable for afternoon cocktails and snacks if you have time one day. Love that place.

                      Hope you have a great trip to my old home town!

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        TJ, as another Torontonian I'll throw in an enthusiastic endorsement of your Bongo Room/Maxwell Mkt combo! mr bc and I visit Chicago a few times a year and unless it's bitterly cold, we always make this a stop.

                        With so much amazing food in Chicago the issue for us is never where to eat but rather, what must we eliminate this time.

                        Some faves include:

                        Girl and the Goat
                        Purple Pig
                        Spiagia & Cafe Spiagia
                        Piccolo Sogno and Due
                        Naha
                        anything RIck Bayless
                        Owen & Engine (w a must stop at Paper Doll)
                        Twisted Sister Bakery w my favourite Red Velvet cupcakes and corn/lime cookies
                        Sepia
                        Au Cheval for lunch

                        and the Signature Room for cocktails.

                        We've had hit & miss experiences at Sable but the cocktails are great and we do love the ambiance...oh & Pops for Champagne...

                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                          Thank you both SO much. So then, which do you think would be better then for my 2nd brunch, publican or north pond? And what are we looking at for wait time on a Sunday morning? That's my main concern w bongo. I'm trying to minimize the no Rez spots as much as possible bc my SO doesn't have my patience

                          1. re: hungryabbey

                            I would definitely choose North Pond over Publican. The food is much better and more creative, IMHO. And the setting in the middle of the park facing the skyline is absolutely lovely. I'd just rather spend part of my weekend feeling pampered in the middle of a park looking out at the skyline, than in a noisy beerhall type place.

                            You can make a reservation at either place (North Pond or Publican), but not at Bongo Room. At Bongo Room on a Sunday, you can walk right in if you are there by the time they open the doors at 9:00, but waits to be seated materialize by 9:15. On a Sunday, you can expect to wait 45-60 minutes between 9:30 and 1:00. I like Bongo Room, but I go there on weekdays or I get there when they open the doors on weekends.

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              Ditto on North Pond over Publican, as it will be a nice contrast to Bongo Room (if you end up going to Bongo Room). Take nxstasy's advice and just plan on going to BR when they open at 9 and you shouldn't have to worry about a wait. And to be honest, I've only ever gone on a weekday, and that was to the one in Wicker Park (my old 'hood).

                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                Just note that choosing North Pond may disrupt the combination of Bongo Room and Maxwell Street Market. If you do Bongo Room and North Pond on different days of the weekend, that means North Pond on Sunday (the only day they do brunch) and Bongo Room on Saturday. But Maxwell Street Market is only on Sundays. (OTOH if you're already doing breakfast/brunch elsewhere, I'm not sure there's much point in going to Maxwell Street afterwards, not for the food at least.)

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  D'oh. I didn't not realize that NP only did brunch on Sundays. Yes, that messes the suggestion up. :)

                                  I should also note that I haven't been to Maxwell Street Market in a couple of years. Curious as to the opinions about it these days. But keep in mind that in Toronto, our Mexican food options are extremely limited (though getting a teeny tiny bit better), so MSM is a gem for us Canuck-types. :)

                                  1. re: TorontoJo

                                    Hm I think I may just keep both publican and NP as is then because my dinner on Friday at alinea will likely go until 1 am and I don't think my SO is going to want to rush out to get in line at 9 am. But I still would love to see the market place so depending how far it is from NP, I will cab or walk there after breakfast.

                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                      Maxwell Street Market is 4.6 miles from North Pond. And it's more of a "flea market" which also has some food stalls, rather than a true food market like the French Market or Green City Market. Hours are 7 am to 3 pm on Sundays. More info: www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/d...

                                      1. re: nsxtasy

                                        Hm maybe I will stick to the other markets if its more of a flea market.

                                        1. re: hungryabbey

                                          It definitely is more of a flea market. It's eclectic and fun if you enjoy these things but I'm not sure I'd make a special trip to visit it unless you were looking for something in particular. We love the Bongo room and it's convenient to hit the mkt afterwards because it's so close by. It's a nice way to walk off brunch and we always enjoy ourselves but again, we only visit after our brunch.

                                          1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                            The actual pond at North Pond is probably the most amazing way to walk off a brunch! Plus zoo!

                        2. re: TorontoJo

                          Bongo Room in Wicker Park was heaven. One of my best meals in Chicago last fall.

                          Also good for breakfast was Meli Juice Bar and Cafe.

                          Tried lots of pizza but my favourite was Lou Malnatti's in Lincolnwood (the orginal location I later found out?).

                          My fave burger was at Paradise Pup. They also had a great tamale and I REALLY enjoyed their Italian beef.

                        3. http://www.greasefreak.com/

                          For you pizza....dog....beef meals....I do recommend Lou Malanti's above all else for Pizza...

                          1 Reply
                          1. I'm not a fan of Malnatis. I know, hush, you die-hards. I prefer somewhere like Carmen's. I do agree on Portillo's for Italian beef, but I'd send you to Poochies or herms or even Gold Coast Dogs for your hot dog. If at poochies or gold coast, ask for your cheese froes with Merkts cheese.

                            The big one to not miss is Smoque BBQ. Absolutely, ridiculously delicious. You won't be disappointed.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mmmpage

                              I was disappointed by Smoque, quite aside from the inconvenient location and long lines, although many others are fans. I think whether you like it depends on whether you prefer your barbecue basted in barbecue sauce during its preparation - I do - or smoked with a dry rub, which is the way Smoque makes it.