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Weekend with 17-month old recommendations

Hi everyone,
My husband, daughter and I will be in Chicago July 18-22. Looking for some places we can take our daughter. We are from Toronto and take her out often enough to say thatshe is generally comfortable in restaurants and we are usually able to find her something to eat.

We will be staying near the Magnificent Mile and are looking for the following:

1- good coffee! i think intelligentsia is a must, but where else can I get good third wave style coffee? anything near the magnificent mile?

2- good bakery or simple takeout style places for yummy snacks . i've never been to chicago, but some places ive enjoyed are bouchon bakery in ny and sofra in boston, to give some point of reference

3- toddler friendly lunches and suppers - places that are casual but still fun and delicious. daughter eats almost anything so no worries there.

4- please tell me more about lettuce entertain you. i may be getting a gift card for their restaurants but am unfamiliar with them. my husband loves bao and chinese and i noticed wow bao and big bowl but not sure if those are good or if i should skip lettuce altogether.

Thanks for all the suggestions!

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  1. >> 1- good coffee! i think intelligentsia is a must, but where else can I get good third wave style coffee? anything near the magnificent mile?

    See these discussions:

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

    >> 2- good bakery or simple takeout style places for yummy snacks . i've never been to chicago, but some places ive enjoyed are bouchon bakery in ny and sofra in boston, to give some point of reference

    Unfortunately, the best bakeries (Floriole, Vanille) aren't around the Mag Mile. Fox & Obel isn't too far from the south end of the Mag Mile, though, and they have great baked goods, especially their cinnamon swirl rolls. Toni Patisserie isn't far from the south end either, and it's quite good. I haven't been all that impressed with Hendrickx, but it's convenient to the north end of the Mag Mile.

    >> 3- toddler friendly lunches and suppers - places that are casual but still fun and delicious. daughter eats almost anything so no worries there.

    Deep-dish pizza! Lou Malnati's at State and Rush near the north end, Pizano's on State near the Water Tower, and the original Uno and Due near the south end.

    Also, Portillo's on Ontario is a good place for Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef, and burgers.

    >> 4- please tell me more about lettuce entertain you. i may be getting a gift card for their restaurants but am unfamiliar with them. my husband loves bao and chinese and i noticed wow bao and big bowl but not sure if those are good or if i should skip lettuce altogether.

    Lettuce Entertain You has a huge variety of restaurants, many of which are near the Mag Mile. They include everything from the casual Asian restaurants you mention, to other "cheap eats" like foodlife, to some of the very best haute cuisine fine-dining restaurants in Chicago (TRU, L2O, Everest), to many in-between restaurants like Shaw's for seafood, Joe's for steaks, Bub City for barbecue, Nacional 27 for Latin fusion, Petterino's and Wildfire for steaks, etc. The quality is consistently very good. If someone has to give you a gift certificate, one for the Lettuce restaurants offers maximum flexibility, and many of their restaurants are among the very best in their respective categories.

    1. I'd agree that Fox & Obel is your best bet for a bakery and it has pretty good coffee and sandwiches too, if kind of pricey (like Bouchon, you're paying a bit more for the name compared to what you could get if you ventured further out).

      If your husband has had bao or any Chinese food in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur etc., then I would steer you away from Wow Bao and Big Bowl. They are not as bad a chain as Sbarro or anything, but even some of my colleagues who had never left the Midwest didn't think the food measured up and would refuse to order anything from there again.

      1 Reply
      1. re: W42

        >> I would steer you away from Wow Bao and Big Bowl

        I agree. Not that they're bad, but some of the Lettuce places are geared towards moderate prices and convenience rather than terrific food, and these two are among them. If you do get those Lettuce gift cards, I would use them at other Lettuce places rather than those.

      2. One of the newer coffee roasters in Chicago is called Bow Truss (I believe it was started by folks who used to work at Intelligentsia) and they recently opened a store in River North (just near the Merchandise Mart at 406 N. Wells St). Depending exactly on where you're staying, it may be worth checking them out. They don't have quite the selection of Intelligentsia but they are definitely committed to single-origin/seasonal and can brew coffee to order via different methods. They tend to have a variety of baked goods/pastries from local bakeries, too. Also, they're closed on Sundays and are only open from 9am-4pm on Saturdays (otherwise it's 7am-6pm).

        1. I would really recommend Greek Town (specifically Greek Islands) for a lunch or dinner. Very family friendly, loud so you don't have to worry at all about bothering other patrons, good food, inexpensive, and they LOVE babies/toddlers.

          1. great suggestions! thanks everyone!

            daughter loves greek food and pizza, so i will definitely try to include those suggestions!

            is big star good or overrated? any good mexican places?

            which lettuce restaurants would you recommend with baby? casual places preferred. we have been to singapore and hk so maybe we will skip big bowl and wow bao!

            3 Replies
            1. re: bunnylicious

              I think Big Star can be a lot of fun -- but it's not worth going if you want Mexican food. It's more of a bar with great people-watching and decent tacos that can soak up the delicious cocktails and beer. If you do decide to go, just call first and ask about their under 21 policy -- I think I've seen children before, but they may not allow people under 21 after certain hours.

              As for Wow Bao, it may not be great but I wouldn't say it's terrible. If you're walking around downtown and find yourself in front of one of their stores and and want a quick snack, I think you could do worse. Granted, that's about as lukewarm a recommendation as you could get...

              1. re: bunnylicious

                >> any good mexican places?

                Yes! Our best include Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Mexique, Mixteco Grill, and Salpicon. I'd probably skip Topolobampo with a toddler, but the others should be fine. Frontera Grill accepts only a limited number of reservations, and only over the phone; without one, you could get there 15-20 minutes before they open the doors, otherwise expect to wait one to two hours to be seated. It should be relatively easy to get a reservation at any of the other three, either on Opentable or over the phone. Salpicon is a short walk from the north end of the Mag Mile.

                >> which lettuce restaurants would you recommend with baby? casual places preferred.

                I mentioned foodlife above; it's a food court concept, in Water Tower Place, on the Mag Mile. Their more casual concepts include Bub City (barbecue), Café Ba-Ba-Reeba (tapas, in Lincoln Park, a couple miles north of the Mag Mile), M Burger (in the Loop), Maggiano's* (Italian), Pizzeria Via Stato, and Scoozi (Italian). A toddler would also be acceptable at Shaw's, Wildfire, or Petterino's, although at these places an early seating might be a good idea.

                *Maggiano's is technically not part of Lettuce Entertain You - Lettuce started the concept, then sold it off to Brinker International - but they still honor Lettuce gift cards.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Thanks everyone for the suggestions :) turns out hubby booked a table at frontera for my birthday. looking so forward to visiting chicago!