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Three Days on Magnicent Mile this Coming Weekend

Thanks to some great recent posts I've been able to come up with a list I'm looking forward to putting a dent in, but I'd appreciate a few refinements:

Restaurants:

Frontera
Pizzeria Uno or Lou Malnati's for deep-dish
Garrett's Popcorn (though it seems pretty darn pricy for fancy popcorn)
Bongo Room
Purple Pig-probably lunch, don't want to spend time in line, rather see the city
GT Fish & Oyster
Portillo’s for the dogs and Italian beef
French Market, any suggestions for stalls appreciated.
Ralph Lauren Restaurant
Billy Goat Tavern or Mity Nice Grill to have a few beers and watch some sports - I see the local ball games are are at night.

Grocers: (must be able to get sport peppers - any other Chicago specialty suggestions appreciated)

Fox & Obel
Potash Market

Food Trucks: Suggestions? Couldn't find any that stood out

Obviously we won't get to try all of the above, and any additional Chicago must-trys are appreciated.

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  1. There are no really "stand out" Food Trucks in Chicago because the city ordinance forbids cooking food on board. So whatever you purchase was prepared elsewhere and is just being kept warm in the truck. Somewhat convenient for office workers but certainly not destination-worthy for visitors.

    If you want "street food," rather than food trucks you should just go to storefront restaurants that feature foods like Italian beef, etc.

    1. I think you've got a good list so far. Get to Purple Pig early for lunch (they open at 11:30), otherwise the waits can be pretty long, although not as horrendous as dinnertime. I assume you've made reservations for GT Fish; they are popular and it's not the best place to walk in without one.

      Recommended stalls at the French Market include Vanille for pastry, Fumare for Montreal-style smoked meat, Pastoral for cheese and sandwiches, Saigon Sisters for banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), and Lillie's Q for barbecue.

      1. Not sure if your three days are Sat/Sun/Mon or Fri/Sat/Sun, but Frontera is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Do you have a reservation? If you don't want to spend time waiting for a table at Frontera (assuming you don't have a reservation), I'd get there before they open.

        You can also try to dine at the bar but the bar gets busy as well; if you do snag a bar seat, you can order off either the Frontera Grill or Topolobampo menus.

        Frontera's hours are:
        Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday
        Saturday Brunch: 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
        Dinner hours: 5:20 to 10 p.m. Tuesday; 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kathryn

          Good info from kathryn. Incidentally, Frontera gets busy for ALL those meals, even Saturday brunch (when waiting times to be seated can exceed 90 minutes).

        2. Food trucks don't amount to much here due to city regulations but you can get quite a show of Mexican street food at the Sundays only Maxwell Street market (google for directions). Ladies are hand-making corn tortillas, need I say more. Also, the same people that do Frontera run Xoco which at breakfast offers a Spanish street food, churros (long doughnuts) con chocolate (exotic kinds of hot chocolate).

          1. Thanks to all for the suggestions, Chicago is a terriffic destination for food, not to mention just walking around town, taking tours. Three days was not enough. Fortunately we'll be back in the fall.

            Went to Howells & Hood the first night. Great sports bar with a terriffic menu for such. Very good charcuterie and excellent beet salad. Only bad thing was not one of the 40 or so TV's there could get anything but the Bulls game. Odd.

            Frontera has excellent food and service, but we should have sat in the bar area, much better ambiance. Next time.
            Beers at House of Blues in the afternoon. Neat place, will go for music at night, again, next time.

            Purple Pig. Purple Pig. Wow. Sat at the bar in front of the line chefs, for lunch. They are frantic, what a show. It is chaos behind the bar, except for the bar manager who is an oasis of calm making all the pieces fit seamlessly. Well almost. They were 45 seconds late with one of the plates we ordered, so they tossed in another one for free. Pricy, but absolutely worth it.

            GT Fish and Oystyer. Fantastic food, very personal service, sitting again, at the bar (Mrs Scary's preferred seat because you seem to see more of what's happaning) The Bar manager is one of the best I've ever encountered. Complete menu knowledge, is able to quickly make specific recs for each diner, for example he picked up on the nationality of the couple beside us and made what I thought wer pretty good suggestions. They took his advise and seemed really pleased. He also has an encyclopedic know ledge of baseball and golf. He knew my team (The Blow Jays) better than I did. In fact he knew more about the home Series win than I did, and I was there!

            Portillos, better than expected.

            Bill Goat Tavern. Walked in almost by mistake, never realizing it was of SNL Cheezborger Cheezborger fame. Great nostalgia.

            Lou Malnattis, well I finally put one to bed, I'm just not a deep-dish guy.

            Can't remember the name, but went to a crappy faux Irish pub for a beer. Wish I could, I'd warn you to stay away. Wait, just Googled it. The Kerryman. Avoid.

            BTW, The Art Institute - fabulous. The people of Chicago are very fortunate to have it. Could spen days there alone.

            And the shopping scares me, it is too good. Reminds me of Paris, seriously.

            Oh, went to a couple of the downtown markets and couldn't find sport peppers. Rats.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Scary Bill

              Thanks for the feedback! Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Let us know if we can help with suggestions the next time you visit!

              1. re: Scary Bill

                Thanks for the report! You ate well! As for the Bulls game - that was the weekend they were playing the Heat in the playoffs. No way would the game be turned off! We are passionate about our Bulls. :)

              2. The best and definitely the biggest grocery downtown is now festive Mariano's, less than a year old. From Michigan Avenue walk east on Randolph a couple of short blocks (stop to admire the water garden in front of the Aon Building). Cut slightly left into a little plaza and there is huge Mariano's, two floors with the top floor about 75% dedicated to ready-to eat stuff: tavola calda, pizza, paninos, salad bar, sushi, wood-fired pizza, gelato, and everything else---indoor and outdoor tables for eating. Bakery, produce, meats, fish & seafood, cheese, candy, flowers, and deli are on this floor too. "Normal" groceries are on lower level, also big liquor department, international, special dietary products, and BTW bathrooms.

                Also, if you don't have Trader Joe's at home there is one downtown, Near North on Ontario between Rush and Wabash. Most items are on their own label so there are hundreds of uniquely TJ products---TJ is a very fun place to shop.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Querencia

                  IMHO Mariano's is nothing special, comparable to the many smaller supermarket chains throughout the city and suburbs like Fresh Market, Fresh Fields, Garden Fresh Market, etc. Not all that big, and with quality and selection that is only a small step up from the bigger supermarkets like Jewel and Dominick's. Its main advantages are geographical convenience, if you're in or around the northeast corner of the Loop, and a fair number of items packaged in individual portion sizes for the lunch crowd.

                  >> less than a year old.

                  It's been open more than a year and a half, according to this guy: www.chow.com/topics/814267 :)

                  Incidentally, retail in that area, just south of the river and east of the Loop, has been struggling. One of the restaurants that opened there last year recently closed. Apparently they found that despite a huge number of residential high-rises nearby, many of the units are not occupied during the colder months when owners are in their other homes in warmer climates.

                2. Sport peppers, as well as giardiniera (another Chicago specialty condiment) are readily available at our mass-market supermarkets, Jewel and Dominick's. See this post, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/904462, for the locations of the Jewel and Dominick's closest to the Loop. (And I'm not in anyway intending to criticize Querencia's recommendation of Mariano's but if your quest is simply sport peppers there is no need to go there if it is out of your way.)