Chicago = Overrated?
Am I missing something? Is my palate that off? I’ve enjoyed food in many different countries and different states. I just don’t get it. I moved here from San Diego a year ago and have been trying to immerse myself in all the great restaurants that Chicago has to offer. In my opinion, Chicago has a reputation of a great foodie destination just behind New York and San Francisco. Yet, all the hyped establishments have not lived up to their accolades. I am not trying to start anything, I am simply trying to enjoy great food. Good food does not have to equate to fine dining either. Please offer me some establishments that will fit the bill. Just to give you an idea of some of the establishments that I have visited and enjoyed outside of Chicago and ratings for Chicago restaurants.
• French Laundry (Napa) – Great food, plating, and service
• Bazaar (LA) – Inexpensive tasting menu that was awesome
• Toque (Montreal) – Foie Gras was great here
• Jean George’s (NYC) – Best service hands down
• Gotham Bar and Grill (NYC)– Fresh and tasty food
• San Tung (SF) – Dry fried chicken wings and black bean sauce noodles!
• Binkley’s (AZ) – Sloppy joe the size of a dime!
• Ink (LA) – Great innovative food
• Cut (LA) – Wagu steak
• Tacos El Gordo (San Diego) – Adobada tacos
• Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas) – Best thai food in the us!
• Oklahoma Joe’s (OKC) – Best bbq
Yum in Chicago (Would revisit)
• Francesco’s Hole in the Wall – Homey atmosphere with great food with a great price
• Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand – Taste better than Hot Doug’s but less selection
• Garrett’s Popcorn – Chicago Mix is weird but damn tasty
• Gino’s East – Not a huge fan of deep dish, but if I were to get one this would be it.
• 90 Miles Cuban Café – Puerco Rostizado had such deep flavors, Ropa Vieja was good too
• Millie’s – Fresh juices and great breakfast
• Nhu Lan – Banh Mi
• Chi Café – Tasty cheap chinese food
Eh (overrated) in Chicago (May revisit)
• Alinea – Good and solid food. Service was good, but not great. I thought Jean George’s (NYC), Bazaar (LA), Gotham Bar and Grill (NYC) were all better.
• Tru – Similar to Alinea except with worse service. For that type of establishment service should be outstanding yet I observed servers rolling their eyes at each other due to waiting for each other to serve.
• Hot Doug’s – Duck fat fries were dry and tasteless, hot dogs were creative but nothing special.
• Big Star – Their tacos although good can’t be compared to San Diego tacos.
• Xoco – San Diego Mexican food is better
• Irazu – 90 Miles was much more flavorful.
Yuck in Chicago (Would not revisit)
• Girl and the Goat – Every dish was so salty that the whole meal was comped. Even if the next meal was free, we wouldn’t go back.
• Big Jones – There was no flavor in any of their dishes and the batter for their friend chicken was too coarse. Too much use of corn meal. I mean Mariano’s fried chicken was better.
• Crisp – Bonchon in NYC or LA is far superior
Well, others have detailed everything that I would (except that I would dissent with Gonzo and nsxtasy on Grace being 2nd best—every other fine dining place they list would probably go ahead of it based on my tastes).
But I'll go beyond and say that I live in San Francisco and actually look forward to traveling to Chicago three times each year because the restaurants are more memorable overall (Alinea, Next, Schwa, El Ideas especially). I used to live in Chicago and over the past several years, I think Chicago has pulled ahead of San Francisco by matching it's strength in this category of casual/neighborhood-places-to-take-friends. I'm not just talking about complaints that SF places are all the same or just doing the "fig on a plate," though I think Bayless did kind of have a point.
A lot of others have also commented that San Francisco is really best at "good but not best-meal-of-your-life" restaurants that are not super expensive and just solid neighborhood options with great ingredients. Yeah, we have Saison and Benu (I don't think as much of Coi or Atelier Crenn), but I even tell friends to avoid the TFL and the Meadowwood and just fly to any number of 2-star places in Paris or London or Japan and Italy for the same cost.
But I will say San Diego has better tacos.
>> A lot of others have also commented that San Francisco is really best at "good but best-meal-of-your-life" restaurants that are not super expensive and just solid neighborhood options with great ingredients.
You make a very good point about "good but *not* best-meal-of-your-life" restaurants! Those are just as important, maybe more so, to the quality of a city's restaurant scene, particularly for residents living in those neighborhoods, rather than visitors who may be seeking out the best place in town. After all, few of us dine in expensive special occasion restaurants all that often, and rely on the less expensive, more casual restaurants for much of our restaurant meals.
Unfortunately, those less expensive restaurants are often overlooked on Chowhound, where many discussions consist of queries from those staying in downtown hotels and typically looking for places close to where they're staying and spending time. Chicago has many such inexpensive, high-quality restaurants in city neighborhoods and suburban towns away from downtown. Examples include Deleece in Lakeview and Anteprima in Andersonville, both on the north side, Campagnola and Found in north suburban Evanston, and Sergio's in west suburban Itasca. Of course, there are many more, but these are a few that come to mind.
Thanks for the catch on "good but *not* best-meal-of-your-life." That is what I meant—and I've edited the message to reflect it.
While I am not as familiar with the suburbs, I totally agree with everything else and wish my that some of my friends who visit would be more adventurous about getting out of the loop.
>> I totally agree with everything else and wish my that some of my friends who visit would be more adventurous about getting out of the loop.
I really don't mind when visitors from out of town don't get the chance to experience the restaurants in the outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. While many of those are excellent, there are plenty of excellent places downtown too. When I visit other cities and I am evaluating restaurants in downtown vs outlying locations, I'll travel if there's something outlying that I can't get downtown. But much of the time, there are comparable places downtown, with the only distinguishing feature being that outlying places may have somewhat lower prices (some of that cost differential being wiped out by transportation costs to get there and back). Furthermore, when my time in a city is limited to a few days, I would prefer not to spend a good chunk of that time traveling back and forth. Again, as long as there are comparable places downtown where I'm staying.
In Chicago, most of the high-end places are downtown. There are moderately-priced, more casual places downtown as well as in the neighborhoods and suburbs. For certain types of food, going to the neighborhoods (and suburbs) is a must; these include many of our ethnic restaurants of various types, as well as our best breakfast-focused restaurants.
"Jean George’s (NYC) – Best service hands down"
My experience there was exactly the opposite!!! Last year, I met up with fellow S'pore chowhounder 'fourseason' and a foodie friend of his at NYC and had a two day mini-chowmeet. The meal we had at Jean George was underwhelming. Service was snobbish and inattentive! Maitre D was border line 'rude'.
On the other hand, our next meal at 'The Modern' was filled with 'wow' factor. Starting off with the incredibly friendly, smiling and attentive service!
re: Charles Yu
Oh man. Things have changed! Yeah, last time I was there the service was impeccably timed so that all servers would serve the dishes, unveil the dishes, and walk away at the same time. It was truly art in motion. The food matched the service too.
Never been to The Modern. I'll make sure to add that to my list. I can't wait to try out the Chef's table at Brooklyn Fare too.
I'm not a current resident of Chicago, I visit 2-3 times a year. You've got more current experience with Chicago restaurants. That said, here's what I'd suggest you try in Chicago:
Frontera is more varied and interesting than Xoco. If San Diego Mexican is better, than San Diego has some very good Mexican indeed. But it's probably not so much better that it's worth the plane ticket to improve your evening's Mexican food experience.
Purple Pig (the food is good and the wine list with varying sizes available is really fun).
Explore Korean and Thai and South Asian (Indian, Pakistani) food in Chicago if you like that sort of thing. It seemed to me there's an awful lot of it available. Some of it's bound to be good.
Overall, I don't think I'd rate Chicago ahead of LA...the growing season favors LA.
I'm thinking I'm going try out Topolobampo first, but I appreciate the recommendation. Also, I was originally from San Diego so that's what fueled my craving for some good mexican food :)
I've been to Purple Pig once and didn't really enjoy the food. And it's funny, Purple Pig gets a lot of mixed reviews so it just depends who you speak to. I'll have to go again to see if anything changed.
I have tried out Korean at San Soo Gab San, Indian on Devon Ave, etc and although good, the prices are just insane. I guess I'm just used to Cali prices.
The easiest way to understand the difference between the creative contemporary Mexican restaurants in Chicago and the conventional Mexican food served in most cities this side of the border is by looking through the sample menus on the websites of places such as...
Well, I must say that I am starting to see the light thanks to fellow chowhounders! I was lucky enough to try out El Ideas and iNG this weekend.
El Ideas was one of my best experiences! The consistency of each dish that came out was amazing. Not only was the presentation unique and beautiful but the flavors were crisp, deep, and perfectly matched. And as you may come to notice, I believe flavors outranks everything. As if that wasn't good enough, Chef Foss and his team are true superstars. Their motto was to present fine dining without the pretentious and stuffy atmosphere. Well, they certainly accomplished that. In between servings we walked to the designated section where you can interact with the team and watch them perform their magic. Not only were they approachable and fun to talk to but they were very open and honest. I mean Chef Foss even let me see their walk-in refrigerator. I know, I'm weird, but how often can you see the pro's refrigerator? haha
iNG had a fun and whimsy atmosphere. The food was very creative and the pairing drinks matched. I opted for non-alcoholic pairings since I don't drink and the concoctions they made were very tasty and unique. One that stuck out in my mind was the orange juice with cinnamon and maraschino cherry juice. Okay back to the main topic, their food. I wish I had a good review to present but all I could muster was an eh review. The food was fun, the miracle berry was a very unique experience, but the consistency of dishes was just not there. The first dish blew us away but then it went down hill from there. One dish was even too salty to finish. Oh well, maybe we got them on an off night.
I think the current internet fad of needing to "rate" everything is itself somewhat over-rated.
It's down to individual taste. The "ratings" I've consulted on the interwebs are so far wrong often enough (on the good _or_ bad side) that one can no longer take any of them very seriously.
Second Next, Yusho, Topolobampo, Jam, Publican/Publican Quality Meats, Purple Pig, Southport Grocery.
I would also look into LTHForum's Great Neighborhood Restaurants list.
This is a fascinating conversation as I'm a NYer who flies to the Midwest regularly to visit family and eat. We prefer Alinea to Jean Georges, Del Posto, The Modern, Le Bernardin, etc. (maybe not Eleven Madison Park). I also think that Chicago has a strong cocktail scene (The Aviary is one of a kind). And the doughnuts are much better in Chicago than NYC (maybe not the West Coast though).
I have felt that Big Star has been declining the last few years. When in Wicker Park we now go to Antique Taco.
I completely agree re Big Star. It's still great for drinks and people-watching and the food is certainly fine (but not great). I'd suggest Takito next time you're in town -- a few blocks south on Damen, it's another fancy taco place, but perhaps a half-step up from Antique Taco (ie. Takito has table service).
L'Patron, in Logan Square, is the next great thing for hole-in-the-wall taquerias.
Fat Rice and Masa Azul, though not taco-centric (the former not at all) are well worth trying, as well. Mott St., a new concept from the team behind Ruxbin, will be open in a few weeks and I have high expectations. They'll be at 1401 N. Ashland and their menu will be late-night street-food-style snacks. Their bar program will be run by a Longman & Eagle vet.
They don't sell slices - only whole pies (and I completely agree, Coalfire is wonderful). The only place I can think of that approaches "NY style" would be Santullo's, in Wicker Park. But I've found the quality to be pretty spotty when ordering by the slice (whole pies are great). Also, I'd just as soon walk ~150' to the East and eat at Piece (which is New Haven style -- also not available in slices, though you can get a killer individual-sized portion until 5pm; their beer is very good, too).
I have brooklyn grandparents but have lived in the midwest my whole life before going to NYU. For a Ben's-type slice, you're just not going to get it here. NYC Bagel on Dearborn has started selling "NY slices" but they're just not exactly right--pretty good in a pinch, but not it. I know this sounds crazy and I know somone is going to say that I should be stricken from this site, but have you tried Costco pizza? It's big-ass greasy dripping cheesy pizza with a nice soft crust. Can't make it at home since your oven doesn't get hot enough, so go to Costco buy four dozen rolls of toilet paper and have a slice.
I can't really comment on the "fine dining" as I prefer more hole-in-the-wall/ethnic places, but I will say Chicago seems to have a lot of the high end restaurants.
A couple places that are at the top of my list for Chicago:
Batter & Berries and Southport for brunch
Los Barrilitos for tacos, namely al pastor
if you like goat, Birrieria Zaragoza is excellent
I agree with you on some things though (I am not a fan of Xoco, and Big Star is just a hipster joint - though the al pastor meat is good there).
BTW, if you're looking for a California burrito, I've seen them around (I think Angelo's Burrito Style does them. I prefer mission burritos).
Oh, and I don't know if this is kosher, but I've found this board very good:
I was just at The Bristol. I've been three times and the most recent one was the worst. First, we called from the cab at the time of our reservation and told them we may be a bit late due to unforeseen traffic. We were told they only hold reservations for 15 minutes. If we missed that window they would give away our table and we would have to wait. They secured our reservation with a credit card, which is fine. But this 15 minute window thing was news to us. It was never mentioned and we didn't see it on their site. With the phone call I think they handled the situation very poorly.
The food was good as in we had no complaints. But we were over-sold on the food and ordered more than we needed. The room is incredibly loud which usually doesn't bother me but when they started cranking the tunes conversation was impossible.
It is off of our Chicago list now....
Eating at the Bristol is alternately incredible and infuriating. You sit down and look at the prices and your blood pressure starts to rise, but then they serve you a perfectly balanced cocktail and you calm down a bit. They have the gall to call a plate with five small ravioli on it a "sharing dish", but then the hand-made pasta has an excellent chewy skin with just enough bite to it. The roast half chicken is in my top five roasted birds for sure, crispy skin barely holding in a flood of savory juices, but it costs $21. For chicken. God damn even a fancy hippie-raised chicken only costs about $10 at the grocery store and I can do a pretty good job roasting it myself.
So in the end I wasn't sure if I was satisfied or pissed off when I walked out. If you are not a cheapo like me you will enjoy it more.
<<The food was good but the prices are pretty high for what you get.>>
That leaves me a little confused. Please explain what that means to you.
You say the food is good. I expect to pay more for "good" food. When you say the prices a high for what you get, does that mean that you think the portions are too small or the food isn't that good?
The Bristol happens to be a favorite of mine. I can't recall ever having gone home hungry, nor has it occurred to me as overpriced. I know of a lot of places where I could get a lot more on my plate, but it wouldn't be nearly as thoughtfully sourced or as well-prepared as The Bristol.
I think it's important to get a sense of what people are evaluating. There is quantity of food (I don't care about this). There is quality of food (I do care about this). There is a wide or narrow range of food options (a good thing, but not necessarily a deal breaker). There is noise level, which some people are sensitive to; others less so (rarely plays into my decisions). There is ambiance (I notice). There is wait time (too long with no rezs and I will avoid). There is a wine list and drink options (again, I notice). There are great desserts or great savories (savories every time). And, of course, there is service (it matters to me).
We all have different priorities and elements that matter to us. Can you say a little more about yours?
Sorry to post without explanation.
I concur that good food does not equate to large quantities. As it stands I think America serves too large of portions, but that's for another discussion. But let me dive into my experience at the Bristol and address your points...
Starters: monkey bread, duck fat fries, crunchy snap peas, beef heart tartare,
Pasta: chitarra, raviolo
Mains: poached cod, roasted half chicken,
Desserts: basque cake, and chocolate cremeux.
Overall I found the food to be prepared nicely with good flavors. The portions were a bit small to be considered sharing dishes but nothing unreasonable.
Food options: I found their menu to be the perfect size. Not too large as to cause paralysis by analysis, and not too small as to prevent you from finding your fix.
Noise level/ambiance: I didn't find the noise to be overly loud or anything. Ambiance was nice.
Wait time: I made reservations easily and didn't have to wait to be seated.
Wine list/drink options: I don't drink so this didn't come into play.
Service: It was normal. Not great and not bad.
So why did I say "The food was good but the prices are pretty high for what you get." when they are doing many things right? I just found the food to be good but not good enough to justify their prices. I find that although their food is elevated from the everyday chains it wasn't elevated enough to come into the territory of fine dining (i.e. iNG).
One thing you haven't mentioned is what area (city neighborhood or suburban town) you're living (or working) in. Many of us develop a "regular rotation" of places close to home. Not all are destination type restaurants, and in fact, many are merely good, not outstanding, but worth returning to for things like a convenient location, low prices, speed, etc. But most parts of the city and suburbs have at least a few places that are indeed destination-worthy, and it's easier to hit those places first, since they're close to home. So if you'd like to mention a specific part of the city, we can direct you to chow-worthy restaurants nearby, to help you develop your own regular rotation.
Did I just sign onto Yelp? It's one to thing to say that you've been unimpressed with your food experiences in Chicago, quite another to declare that Chicago is overrated. Unless of course you've been to all of Chicago's restaurants (or at least all the notable ones) more than once. I'm not going to address your likes and dislikes, because everyone has a right to a subjective opinion (although your selection of Gino's East is a stumper - I'd go to any of Chicago's deep-dish specialists before setting foot into Gino's), but having traveled to nearly all of the great eating cities in the US, in my opinion Chicago holds its own quite well.
If you haven't paid attention to your own post, you're comparing one-off experiences at restaurants all over the country with a single city. There are few eating cities where you can even do that credibly, but saying "I had a memorable foie gras dish in Montreal" isn't going to effectively rule out all of Chicago's restaurants for providing a comparable experience. For example, I had a near-religious experience with Longman & Eagle's foie gras waffle on a couple of visits last year. That dish is gone and has been replaced on successive menus with preparations that didn't wow me as much as the waffle one. Does that mean that the restaurant that gave me such a memorable experience is now disappointing me? Hardly. There are other great dishes for me to enjoy and new opportunities to explore as they create new menus. It's the enjoyment of shared experiences that makes restaurants great, not nit-picking single meals.
Thanks for your input. Yeah, my list could have been better but I wanted to throw it out there and start getting feedback. My sentence summary was just to give you an idea of my palate and not the conclusion to the restaurant or a ruling out factor of Chicago restaurants. I could go in more detail, I could list more restaurants, I could do more but l just wanted to get pointed in the right direction. And I agree that the whole experience defines a restaurant but I was simply stating that my experiences haven't lived up to their reputation based on the public (yelp, awards won, etc).
Others have given me a fair amount of restaurants to try so I'm very excited to see how those experiences stack up.
If I had just moved to a city and I really wanted to enjoy some of the best food around, I'd start by making a list of food categories I'm interested in, and I'd start researching recommendations of the best places in town, and put them into the appropriate categories on that list. Then I'd use that list for ideas when I'm going out to eat. That way, you can vary the places you're going to - after all, most of us don't want fine dining five times a week, or burgers five times a week, either - and still hit some of the best places in town. For example, you might come up with lists for:
fine dining (all)
ethnic (this might include mainstream cuisines like Italian and French, as well as whichever of the other 100+ nationalities/ethnicities of cuisine are of interest, with subcategories for each)
Many of these kinds of cuisine have had extensive discussions here on Chowhound. And if you still have questions about which are the best places of any given type, we'll be happy to answer those questions.
This would be a much more structured and usable approach than just coming up with one list of dozens of names of restaurants from Beard, Michelin, or any of us here on Chowhound.
Since you like two of my favorites, Hole in the Wall and Nhu Lan, let me try to help. Here are some eclectic suggestions.
La Chaparrita measures up to San Diego tacos, in my book.
Make the trek down south to Zaragoza for birria. Also consider Los Gallos #2 for a bowl of carne en su jugo.
Do the Beijing duck dinner with a couple of friends at Sun Wah.
Polish homestyle cooking at Smak Tak.
Neapolitan style pizza at Pizzeria da Nella.
Chopped brisket at Smoque BBQ.
Vietnamese at Nha Hang Viet Nam.
Other places: Aroy Thai, Vie, Santouka ramen at Mitsuwa, Khan BBQ
Hope you find some winners in this thread.
>> Where can I get a good NYC style pizza, a white pie more specifically, and a really good burger.
I can't help you on the NYC-style pizza, other than to note that it's been the subject of other discussions here. (Once I tried deep-dish, I was immediately won over, and swore off the NYC-style pizza I grew up with.)
There are a LOT of places with great burgers. I particularly love Edzo's, which now has two locations and was recently named one of the best burgers in the country. And you gotta love owner Eddie Lakin, who came from a fine-dining background but wanted to open a restaurant that would let him eat dinner with his family every night, which is why the original Edzo's location in Evanston is only open till 4 pm. www.edzos.com
Oh, and one of the nice things about Edzo's is that you have lots of choices. You can get their standard beef, or from one of their upscale beef providers. Those who prefer burgers that are smashed down on a flat griddle can choose those, and those who prefer burgers that are plump can choose those. They also have the best milk shakes on the planet, their "five dollar shake for which they charge $4", which buys you not only a nice-sized shake in a cup, but also the leftover refill in the metal container in which it was made. Yeah, they make great fries with lots of choices on those, too!
Edzo's etiquette: Don't claim a table until after you have placed your order.
To help you get those lists started, here are categorizations of places that have been mentioned in this topic so far:
Fine dining - Alinea, TRU, Grace, Moto, Goosefoot, Sixteen, Next, El Ideas, Elizabeth
Contemporary American - inG, Boka, Baume & Brix, Senza, the Lobby, North Pond, the Publican, Deleece, Michael, Tallgrass, Nightwood, Vie, Naha
Italian - Anteprima, Piccolo Sogno, Piccolo Sogno Due, Vivere, Campagnola
Tapas - Mercat a la Planxa, Café Iberico
French - La Sardine
Seafood - Oceanique, Parker's
Chinese/French - Han 202
Small plates - Sable, Inovasi, GT Fish & Oyster, Purple Pig, Perennial Virant
Japanese - Kabocha, Yusho, Mitsuwa
Contemporary Mexican - Topolobampo, Mexique
Burgers - Edzo's
Breakfast/brunch - Jam, Bongo Room, M. Henry, M. Henrietta, Southport Grocery, Batter & Berries, Walker Brothers
Pizza (white) - Jimmy's Pizza Cafe
Mexican (street) - La Chaparrita, Zaragoza, Los Gallos #2
Chinese - Sun Wah
Polish - Smak Tak
Pizza (Neapolitan) - Pizzeria da Nella
Barbecue - Smoque
Vietnamese - Nha Hang Viet Nam
Thai - Aroy Thai
Indo/Pak - Khan BBQ
Pizza - Lou Malnati's (deep-dish), Pizano's (deep-dish), Giordano's (stuffed)
My opinion of Blackbird is mixed. The food is consistently delicious, and of course that's the most important thing. Negatives include a very loud room, cramped seating (if you're in the banquettes on the left side of the room, you'll be thisclose to the tables on either side), and small portion sizes. Their prix fixe special makes it a great choice for lunch. For dinner, there are a lot of places I like better overall for contemporary American cuisine in the city, including Naha, North Pond, Sable, Perennial Virant, Acadia, Atwood Cafe, and MK. I mentioned the first three of these in my earliest post in this topic, and I would deem those three worthy of consideration for a first-time visitor to Chicago. I would also consider Blackbird in a trip itinerary, but only for lunch. Hope that makes sense.
I disagree right down the line. But it sounds like you have had very little exposure to the best Chicago restaurants, based on the handful you have named.
For fine dining, you have named only two restaurants, Alinea and TRU.
Alinea is one of the very best dinner experiences I've been to in my life, for food, presentation, and service. I would easily choose it over Jean Georges (whose food did not impress me much). And while I've been very impressed with Thomas Keller's places on both coasts, I'd still put Alinea above them as well, although they are different kinds of places. Every place else I've tried - most of the best restaurants in the country, including NYC, LA, and SF, all of which I visit frequently - doesn't even compete, with the sole exception of Joel Robuchon in Vegas.
TRU is solid, with outstanding service and excellent food. However, I also agree with Gonzo that Grace is even better than TRU.
We have other fine dining restaurants, some of which are excellent, but these three are the best of them. As Gonzo indicated, since you were not wowed by Alinea or TRU, I can't imagine what would impress you.
Beyond the high-end fine dining category, there are so many, many more restaurants in Chicago that are simply outstanding, and yet you have named none of them. Some of my favorites include Sable, Inovasi, GT Fish, Deleece, Topolobampo, Michael, Tallgrass, Anteprima, North Pond, Piccolo Sogno and Piccolo Sogno Due, Nightwood, Oceanique, Mercat a la Planxa, Café Iberico, La Sardine, Vivere, Campagnola, Parker's, Mexique, Purple Pig, Boka, Perennial Virant, Vie, Han 202, Edzo's, and Naha. That's a veritable assortment of cuisines, price points, and locations, with the unifying characteristic that all serve terrific food. Zero of which you've mentioned, and all of which you should try. Granted, I've also had disappointing meals at some of our most overhyped restaurants, a couple of which you mention, but I doubt that many of us enjoy every single place we try in *any* city.
You also haven't even mentioned our terrific breakfast scene - places like Jam, M. Henry, M. Henrietta, Southport Grocery, Bongo Room, Batter & Berries, Walker Brothers, and many others. Our breakfast/brunch-focused restaurants are the best collection of such places anywhere in the country.
As for the restaurants in other cities, other cities have their faults too. San Francisco has some good places, but overall, it's a significant step down in both quality and variety. For every really great dinner I've had in the SF Bay area and environs, I've also had a stinker at a place that is supposed to be excellent. And there are entire segments (e.g. steakhouses, contemporary Mexican) that they either don't do well or are missing entirely. That whole city is incredibly overrated in my book. New York City, too, has its share of so-so places along with the many great ones; you really need to do your research to avoid the clunkers, but there is a tremendous amount of great food there, making it the only place in the country that can equal (and possibly exceed) Chicago for food. And Los Angeles isn't even in the same ballpark as SF or NYC for many types of food, although it has been improving in recent years.
If you can't find terrific food of all kinds in Chicago, you're just not looking very hard.
I agree with you on certain points and disagree with you on some too. You are correct that I have more to try and these new experiences may flip my opinion on its head. I also agree that not every dining experience can be a positive one. But I have to disagree with you in regards to my effort. Although I have more to try, the handful that I have tried ranging from fine dining down to the hole in the walls have not lived up to their ratings on Yelp, James Beard, Michelin Star, etc. Yes, you will get dealt a bad hand here and there in NYC, Vegas, LA, etc. but I've never been dealt this many subpar cards.
Seeing that my daily job is not a taste tester it will take me some time to visit these other restaurants, but I hope I can be a huge Chicago supporter like you. And thank you for your suggestions!
>> the handful that I have tried ranging from fine dining down to the hole in the walls have not lived up to their ratings on Yelp, James Beard, Michelin Star, etc.
Huh? You've been to almost none of the restaurants that have been given James Beard awards or Michelin stars. I think the only winner of the James Beard award for best chef Great Lakes or best restaurant you have named is Alinea. You haven't mentioned North Pond, Naha, Topolobampo, etc. And you've been to only 2 of the 19 restaurants that were awarded Michelin stars this past year, Alinea and TRU (and only 1 of the 64 with the Michelin Bib Gourmand designation).
I don't agree with all the Beard or Michelin designations (and there are some glaring omissions in those lists), but if you actually try a bunch of them (not just one or two), you'll be getting exposure to some truly worthwhile places.
As for Yelp, well, the problems with relying on Yelp have been written about in way too many places already.
Good post, and to the point.
For foodie destinations in the US, I'd always rated NYC at the top, followed by SF and LA.
New Orleans used to figure somewhere up there, but heard there'd been some prominent closures and the dining scene is struggling:
While I agree completely that New Orleans does not have the diversity of cuisine that the big cities named here do (and remember, NOLA is a relatively small city), it has a much more varied food scene than that thread indicates. So far, none of the mentioned stalwarts have closed, but many, imo, are resting on their laurels. OTOH, there are many new and new-ish places--fine and casual--that are terrific. Plenty of choices for those willing to venture farther afield than the French Quarter.
But as to Chicago: as someone who travels there 2-3 times a year, I think it is a great food city. I admit that we often return to old favorites so don't try as many different places as we should. We love the three Bayless places we've visited over and over, love Naha, Purple Pig, Smoque. Like nsxtasy, prefer Blackbird at lunch--did not enjoy it at dinner last year nearly as much as we did several years ago. My husband adores Cafe Spiaggia and we both love an occasional splurge at Spiaggia, but we've also enjoyed many other delicious Italian and Spanish restaurants and many casual places of all stripes. Urban Belly is a favorite.
I've hit a number of clunkers over the years, most often on work travel in which I had little or no input, but in general, it's a question of too many places, only so many meals.
At any rate, I'm saving this thread so I can try some different places on the next trip in a few months.
You haven't been to many of my favorite venues in Chicago yet (or at least you did not list them), but if you were not wowed by Alinea it is hard to predict what would impress you. Restaurants you did not mention that I love include:
Grace: Only a few months old, but I already consider it Chicago's second best restaurant (after Alinea). Very different experience than Alinea, but wonderful all around - ambiance, service, food quality and presentation.
Moto: Similar style to Alinea, but more laid back and approachable. They have improved a lot this past year. I also really enjoy Moto's less expensive, more casual sister restaurant iNG - best value in molecular gastronomy around, awesome staff and you get to experience the miracle berry (makes acidic foods taste sweet, so they make most of their desserts with minimal or no added sugar, but they look and taste like regular desserts).
Goosefoot: Casual fine dining. Probably the best tasting food in Chicago IMHO. Only knocks are reservations are tough and menu changes infrequently.
Boka: Wonderful cocktails, food and service. Also would fall into the casual fine dining category.
Sixteen: Tasting menus that change completely each season and tell the story of the season through the progression of courses. Nice views of Chicago (it is on the 16th floor of Trump Tower), Nice mix of modern and classic techniques. Is well on it's way to becoming one of Chicago;'s top few restaurants.
Next: Alinea's sister venue; menu changes to completely different theme every four months. Have enjoyed some menus far more than others, but always a fun dining experience.
El Ideas: Very unique venue with casual dinner party like atmosphere, but amazing food. You can hang out in the kitchen between courses.
Elizabeth: Farm-to-table at it's best. Chef/Owner Iliana Regan plays a large role in procuring much of the food via hunting, foraging, growing or fishing for much of the ingredients she uses. Communal tables and three different tasting menus that change with the seasons.
There are also a couple of underground dinner clubs I would consider: Feast & Imbibe and Sous Rising I have attended multiple times and find outstanding.
A brand new venue (opens this weekend) also has a lot of potential - Kabocha (I loved the executive chef/partner's former venue Bonsoiree). This will feature modern Japanese cuisine with some American and French influence.
Other venues I like a lot include Yusho, Baume & Brix, Senza, Topolobampo and Mexique. Have heard great things about Embeya and the Lobby, but not yet been to them (though will soon).
For brunches I love Senza, North Pond, and Jam best. Publican, Bongo Room, M Henry are good options as well.
The Lobby's food has improved dramatically after the arrival of Lee Wolen. The bread and wine service have also improved. Although it doesn't have the panache of a tasting-menu based fine dining restaurant, the execution is certainly at Michelin one-star level.
For brunch, I also really like Yoshi's Cafe for its Japanese breakfast on Sunday.