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Returning to Chicago (and nearby) to eat more!

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Hi,
We will be back in Chicago and the area and are of course looking to eat our way around again.
Our plans:
Please bear with me- our first days will be in Gurnee and Milwaukee, then downtown Chicago.
Days 1&2
We arrive @8:40am at mdw
Will take Orange Line to the loop, to do what, idk
Lunch at Berghof (we really didn't get enough last time!)
Check out the French Market
Hop on Metra for 2hr trip to go to 6 Flags with family. Yay. ;)
While in Gurnee, planning on eating at Culvers and getting delivery from Malnatis for deep dish fix. Two nights in Gurnee. Dining looks very bleak.

Day 3
Traveling to Milwaukee for one night. Staying at Schuster Mansion.
Plan to eat lunch at Old German Beer Hall, try to catch a brewery tour at Lakeview Brewery, dinner res at Hinterland before concert at Marcus Amphitheater. Whoosh.
Lunch the next day at Alem Ethiopian or Coquette. Can't decide.

Day 4 Chicago!
Arrive back in Chi, staying at Hotel Felix.
Wondering about dinner. Some ideas: purple pig, Ing, Maude's liquor bar, avec/publican/blackbird.
We'd really like to make it out to Violet Hour again. It has become our favorite, most memorable from last trip despite doing Chef's Table at Aviary and Office! Seems hard to fit it in on CTA and us staying downtown this time.

Day 5
Breakfast: southport? M Henrietta? This will be a weekday.
Next, trip to Chinatown. Maybe Lao Sze Chuan? Ba Le? What else should we look for?
Dinner: ?? We'll be back to hotel in between Chinatown and dinner and then we have a concert at the Metro on Clark. Anything nearby or off bus line 22?

Day 6:
Weekend breakfast. Help! Maybe just a quick or light bite.
Off to Green City Market and LP Zoo. May try Nhu Lan new location or eat at market.
Dinner: no clue

Day 7:
Looking for a brunch on a Sunday. Our flight leaves MDW at 1 so we need to leave downtown area around 1030, I'm guessing.
We loved Chicago so much we made it a point to come back this year again! (We never do that!) But we want to try new places, since there are so many good ones, so any suggestions are welcome! Thanks!

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  1. Sounds like a great trip!

    >> While in Gurnee, planning on eating at Culvers and getting delivery from Malnatis for deep dish fix. Two nights in Gurnee. Dining looks very bleak.

    Check out Inovasi, in Lake Bluff, not far from Gurnee. It's an outstanding moderately-priced casual contemporary American bistro. Reserve in advance, as it's very popular.

    >> Wondering about dinner. Some ideas: purple pig, Ing, Maude's liquor bar, avec/publican/blackbird.

    I would avoid Purple Pig. The food is great, but waiting two hours for dinner is ridiculous. Especially when there are other excellent places nearby where the food is also great, but they accept reservations. My top two picks near your hotel are Sable and GT Fish & Oyster. Both feature a small plates format, and both offer top-notch craft cocktails. And both accept reservations. You might also try one of our excellent tapas restaurants; Café Iberico is near your hotel but doesn't accept reservations (and can get busy), and Mercat a la Planxa is at the other end of the Loop (a little over a mile away) and accepts reservations.

    Another dinner option is our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza, in case you don't get to it while in Gurnee. Your hotel is roughly equidistant between Lou Malnati's on Wells, Pizano's on State, and Uno and Due at Ohio and Wabash.

    >> We'd really like to make it out to Violet Hour again. It has become our favorite, most memorable from last trip despite doing Chef's Table at Aviary and Office! Seems hard to fit it in on CTA and us staying downtown this time.

    Well, you can get there pretty easily via CTA, since it's right at the Damen stop on the Blue Line - either by walking from your hotel south to Clark and Lake to catch the Blue Line, or (for less walking) taking the #66 bus west on Chicago Avenue and transferring to the Blue Line. If you do the latter, make sure you get a fare card for the trip; otherwise, if you pay cash for the bus, you'll have to pay a separate full fare for the el continuation. You can also cab it, of course.

    >> Breakfast: southport? M Henrietta? This will be a weekday.

    Weekdays are perfect for our breakfast/brunch specialty restaurants, since you rarely have to wait to be seated. My favorites do indeed include Southport Grocery (Red Line to Addison, or transfer at Belmont to the Brown Line to Southport) and M. Henrietta (Red Line to Granville), as well as Jam (Blue Line - see above - to Logan Square) or Bongo Room (Red Line to Roosevelt). If I had to pick only one, it would be Jam, because it's so unique, with the creativity of Jeffrey Mauro's background (Charlie Trotter's, etc). But I love all four of these.

    >> Next, trip to Chinatown. Maybe Lao Sze Chuan? Ba Le? What else should we look for?

    I'll let others chime in on this. However, thanks to GW below for mentioning the Red Line el being under construction and closed south of the Roosevelt station. I'll also add that I've been to the Lao Sze Chuan location in Uptown and was disappointed. It wasn't dreadful, but for a short trip to Chicago, I wouldn't include it (or any other Chinese places) on the itinerary. We have okay Chinese but it's not a cuisine that Chicago excels at.

    >> Dinner: ?? We'll be back to hotel in between Chinatown and dinner and then we have a concert at the Metro on Clark. Anything nearby or off bus line 22?

    Deleece is a terrific casual moderately-priced contemporary American bistro and it's only a 5-10 minute walk from Metro. Another possibility is Mixteco Grill, for contemporary Mexican cuisine (it's BYO). It's a couple short blocks west of Clark, a little over a mile north of Metro, so it's either a long walk or a short ride on the 22.

    Below GW mentions the Andersonville neighborhood that lies along Clark Street a couple miles north of Metro. One of our very best Italian restaurants is there, right on Clark Street; it's called Anteprima. It's extremely casual, extremely friendly, just the best cozy bistro type place, and the food is fantastic.

    >> Weekend breakfast. Help! Maybe just a quick or light bite.
    Off to Green City Market and LP Zoo. May try Nhu Lan new location or eat at market.

    If you just want something light, eat at Green City. There are numerous vendors selling interesting ready-to-eat food.

    >> Dinner: no clue

    First, I'll again mention places I already mentioned above: Sable, GT Fish, Café Iberico, Mercat a la Planxa, Deleece, and Mixteco Grill. If you don't hit Mixteco before Metro, you might do one of our other contemporary Mexican restaurants, such as Mexique or Frontera Grill or Salpicon. (The latter two are walking distance from your hotel; you can take the #66 bus on Chicago Avenue to Mexique.) It doesn't sound like you enjoy more upscale places, but if you do, consider North Pond (with its exquisite location in the middle of the park) or Naha (right near your hotel).

    >> Looking for a brunch on a Sunday. Our flight leaves MDW at 1 so we need to leave downtown area around 1030, I'm guessing.

    That sounds about right.

    Places offering breakfast/brunch on a Sunday break down into two categories: (1) our casual breakfast/brunch-focused restaurants (like the ones you mentioned above), which are open for breakfast-brunch all week long and don't accept reservations, and (2) our dinner-focused restaurants which are open for brunch only on weekends and accept reservations. Most of the places in the latter category only start seating at 10 a.m. or later, so they won't work for your departure for the airport. Many of the breakfast-brunch places open at 9 a.m. and start getting busy, with waits to be seated, around 9:15-9:30. So my suggestion is to go to one of those breakfast-brunch places and get there before 9:00, and you shouldn't have any trouble being done by 10:00-10:30 and to MDW in time for your flight.

    Here are two specific suggestions. (1) Bongo Room is at the Roosevelt station which includes the CTA Red Line (which you can take from the hotel) and the CTA Orange Line (which you can take from there to MDW). They specialize in creative pancakes, such as their pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce. A standard portion size consists of three ENORMOUS pancakes, but they also offer one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at reduced prices, so you can try multiple dishes. They open at 9:00 on weekends; I've been there then, and I've walked right in at 9:00, seen lines forming at 9:15. (2) Meli Café has a location on Wells, four blocks from your hotel, and they open early (6 a.m. I believe). Their offerings include many omelets, frittatas, and various versions of French toast. So you could walk over there for, say, a breakfast at 8:00-8:30 before the mobs hit, then return to your hotel to get your bags and head to the airport.

    Website links:
    www.inovasi.us
    www.sablechicago.com
    www.gtoyster.com
    www.cafeiberico.com
    www.mercatchicago.com
    www.loumalnatis.com
    www.pizanoschicago.com
    www.unos.com
    www.theviolethour.com
    www.southportgrocery.com
    www.mhenrietta.com
    www.jamrestaurant.com
    www.thebongoroom.com
    www.deleece.com
    www.mixtecogrill.com
    www.anteprimachicago.net
    www.greencitymarket.org
    www.mexiquechicago.com
    www.rickbayless.com/restaurants (Frontera Grill)
    www.salpicon.com
    www.northpondrestaurant.com
    www.naha-chicago.com
    www.melicafe.com

    6 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Wow! Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations.
      It's not that we don't enjoy fine dining, we've been to some of the best in several cities and we tend to look for the more original or quirky type places. We also love the whole nose-to-tail and charcuterie meat eating thing going on in Chicago. We probably also won't be packing the right clothing.
      Our interest in Chinatown lies in seeing some different architecture and eating Chinese food that is not readily available in our very homogenous Chinese restaurants back home. I ve eaten off the "secret" menus at your Thai restaurants before and that was quite worth it. Is there anything like that in Chinatown? Maybe we should just wait until we're in SF to do a Chinatown experience?
      Since we'll have a few hours near the loop before heading to Gurnee, any recommendations of what to do or see there? Figured the French market would be of interest, plus we board the Metra right there.
      Thank you for telling me about the restaurant near Gurnee, but we're kind of stuck with nieces and nephews and its out only time with them so I think we'll be lucky to just make it out of the park to eat :(
      Looks like Sable or Purple Pig will be our choice for thur night, maybe Bonga fri am, not sure about Chinatown now- maybe find a new area of town to bum around in, antiprima fri dinner, sat southport for breakfast, green city market (maybe Nhu Lan) and Maude's Liquor Bar for dinner. Sun Meli's looks perfect.
      Thanks to everyone's responses. Any advice still greatly appreciated!

      1. re: Kchaus

        Chinatown may still be of interest. Tony Hu's rapidly expanding restaurant empire includes individual restaurants each representing different regions of China. You might want to check out his group's website at www.tonygourmetgroup.com and then check out the menus.

        >> Since we'll have a few hours near the loop before heading to Gurnee, any recommendations of what to do or see there? Figured the French market would be of interest, plus we board the Metra right there.

        Yes, for food, the French Market is definitely worth your time. I'd also pick up some Garrett Popcorn before you board the train; one of their locations is in the Citigroup building that's part of the train station (Ogilvie). Other food-related stops in the Loop worth considering include Intelligentsia Coffee, Do-Rite Donuts, and Toni Patisserie, although those overlap with places you'll find in the French Market. As for places that aren't food-related, the Loop is home to everything from architecture tours to the Art Institute (our biggest art museum) and lots more.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Any thoughts on The Phoenix? We don't have dim sum at all at home and I read they offer it all days a week? Just looking for something different and a way to check out an interesting neighborhood. The boat ride might be fun too :)
          Thanks everyone!

          1. re: Kchaus

            I haven't been there in quite a while, but Phoenix is a good choice if you're looking for dim sum.

        2. re: Kchaus

          I happen to have a lot of experience with the Chinatowns of both San Francisco and Chicago, and I hate to say it, but both are pretty dismal. In both cities, most of the best Chinese restaurants are either downtown or out in the suburbs, where better-off Chinese families actually live.

          Specifically about Chicago: I haven't been to Phoenix in a few years either, but it was considered one of the better dim sum/Cantonese places. That said, I really didn't think it was particularly special—average or slightly below average (wait and save up for Yank Sing's dim sum in San Francisco instead). Shanghai Terrace in the Peninsula Hotel and Tony Hu's local empire of places are slightly better, but I would focus on other cuisines in Chicago.

          If you're into nose-tail eating, then I would suggest Longman & Eagle, The Bristol, and the Publican. All three are very popular but don't have quite as bad of wait as the tourist hordes at the Purple Pig, and I think they all serve more memorable dishes.

          I love Maude's liquor bar, but I would do more of a before or after dinner snack there than a full meal. Also check out Publican Quality Meats for charcuterie and some great sandwiches.

          1. re: W42

            >> If you're into nose-tail eating, then I would suggest Longman & Eagle, The Bristol, and the Publican. All three are very popular but don't have quite as bad of wait as the tourist hordes at the Purple Pig

            The Bristol and the Publican both accept reservations, including on Opentable, so you can avoid lengthy waits at either. (And you'll find plenty of visitors from out of town at all of these places, not that that matters.)

      2. This looks like a wonderful, well-researched itinerary. Just a few quick thoughts:
        Day 4: All good options. (This is not with children, correct? If it is, there might be better ideas.) We had a wonderful meal last month at Maude's, so I'm partial to that one right now. Food, service, and drinks were all outstanding. There are three seating areas with very different vibes, depending on your mood and their availability: A communal table on the patio, a fairly rowdy and casual (plastic chairs IIRC) downstairs area, and a dimly-lit, leather-banquette-filled upstairs space.
        Day 5: This looks like a lot of jumping around from one end of town to the other and back. Also the Chinatown Red Line stop is closed until approximately October, so although alternate CTA options can be found, it is a far less convenient commute than usual. There is another Lao Sze Chuan location, in the Uptown neighborhood at 4832 N Broadway, about a mile and a half northeast of the Metro, and accessible via Red Line to the Lawrence stop. (Also in that area is Sun Wah BBQ, with great Peking Duck and other fare, and a stretch of good Vietnamese restaurants.) You could plan dinner there, and lunch somewhere closer to your hotel. You might also find that if you have a large breakfast at one of your options and Chinese for dinner, you might want a lighter lunch or just a snack during the day, unless you are intentionally cramming as many restaurants as possible. There are also some nice places on Clark in the Andersonville neighborhood, accessible via the 22 bus you mentioned, 1.5-2 miles north of Metro (off the top of my head, I like Hopleaf at 5148 N Clark and Jin Ju at 5203 N Clark).
        Day 7: Thank you for being one of the few visitors who mentions a plan for a reasonable amount of time to get to the airport! If people who post here stick to the timetable they say, I suspect a lot of Hounds miss a lot of flights.

        Have a great trip!

        4 Replies
        1. re: GourmetWednesday

          The water taxi goes to Chinatown.

          1. re: delk

            Another option, if you would like to try the Chinese cuisine of Tony Hu of Lao Sze Chuan fame, is Lao 18. It's his new restaurant that opens June 20. It's in River North, about a ten-minute walk south of Hotel Felix. www.lao18.com

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Read everyone's recommendations on Chicago Chinatown. With only one night of dining, and looking through storefronts twice, I found a fantastic meal at Lao Shanghai. With help from the waiter, I enjoyed salt and pepper fish with a side of hollow vegetables. As someone raised on L.A. Chinese food, I can attest that this meal was as good as some of the top ones I tried in Cali. Thanks for sharing!

            2. re: delk

              Good point, thanks for making it! That might also make criss-crossing town to eat more palatable, as the travel becomes a fun activity. Who doesn't like a nice, cheap boat ride in the summer!

          2. If you really really want to visit Chinatown(the southside one), you can go to Chinatown Square. There are 3 restaurants that I particularly enjoy there: Ming Hin, Ken Kee and Sweet Station. All three serve the usual Cantonese fare. Ming Hin also does some Macau style dishes and Sweet Station does some Taiwanese dishes as well.

            As others have mentioned, you can try Ba Le and Lao Sze Chuan in uptown instead. Both are accessible through the red line, Lawrence(for Lao Sze Chuan) and Argyle(for Ba Le)stops, then just walk a few blocks west.