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Planning a Chicago trip, need recs

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Hey guys, it's been a year since I've been to the city and it seems st there are a ton of new restaurants to check out! We're a group of mid 20 year olds who love good food and drinking. We've got thurs-mon.

I was thinking pizza (Lou's), big star, girl and goat, gilt bar, xoco or frontera, Avec, sushi (samba or sunda?), tapas (iberico?)

Obviously can't do all those but just some options I was thinking of. Any other spots you guys recommend? Looking for somewhere a little loud and not stuffy/stuck up. Lots of drinks too :)

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  1. Yes, new restaurants are opening here all the time, and many of them are worthwhile. Just beware, some places fill their reservations book months in advance, while others don't accept reservations and waits to be seated can be horrendous. Maybe you don't mind waiting as much as two hours to be seated, but if you do, a little advance planning and/or flexibility on what time you eat will enable you to avoid those waits.

    You also haven't mentioned where you're staying and/or spending time. The area comprising downtown Chicago extends for several miles, with worthy restaurants sprinkled throughout. So you may want to mention that to help focus on which places may offer a bit more convenience.

    Regarding the places you've already mentioned...

    For deep-dish pizza, you can't go wrong with Lou Malnati's or Pizano's, each of which has numerous locations including several downtown.

    Girl & the Goat, where I've eaten (I wasn't impressed, although some other people are fans), accepts phone reservations up to six months out and Opentable three months, and they fill way, way in advance. Without a reservation, you can walk in for immediate seating if you go before 5:00 (they open at 4:30), otherwise you'll be waiting a long time (90-120+ minutes) to be seated. I think you can do *much* better with a "small plates" format at Sable or GT Fish & Oyster, both of which have fantastic food and craft cocktails, and where it's not so difficult to get reservations, on Opentable or by phone.

    Frontera Grill accepts only a handful of reservations by phone, otherwise it's similar to G&TG - you can arrive 15-20 minutes before they open the doors, or you're looking at waits of 90-120+ minutes to be seated. (Xoco's food is not as creative and is not a lively place for drinking/eating; it's more like fast food, where you order food in line then go sit down, etc.) As an alternative, I suggest Mexique, which is a couple miles west of the Mag Mile - terrific food, lively, a little loud, and easy to get reservations.

    I would avoid Avec as well - they don't take reservations (seem like you have a preference for places where you'll have to wait two hours to be seated...?), it may be the loudest restaurant in the city (a little loud is good, when it's so loud you can't hear your friends it can be too much), you'll be stuck sitting with strangers (communal seating only), etc. Again, Sable and GT Fish are much, much better in every way.

    For tapas, I recommend Mercat a la Planxa over Café Iberico, although both are very good. Mercat accepts reservations (CI doesn't) and the food is a bit more creative and unusual. Both are very festive, good places for drinking/eating.

    Another cuisine you haven't mentioned is Latin fusion. Carnivale or Nacional 27 would be perfect places for your group - lively, a little noisy, great food.

    If you're going to make time for one place that doesn't accept reservations, I'd choose Purple Pig. Delicious food in a small plates format. Again, though, you're looking at waits of 90-120 minutes unless you go at an off hour (between 1:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon, or after 10:00 at night).

    You don't mention breakfast or lunch. Some places (e.g. Café Iberico) that are slammed for dinner are pretty easy for lunch, although others aren't open for lunch (G&TG, Avec) or are equally busy (Frontera).

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks for the ideas, really appreciate it!

      Yeah it sucks many of those places don't take reservations. I looked at Purple Pig and am thinking about checking it out. I will be staying on the mag mile, but will be able to travel around the majority of the city. As far as GATG, my friends have had luck getting reservations through the amex concierge, but I haven't talked to them yet. Also might just do a lunch at Xoco for the mexican fix, then possibly brunch of Meli's.

      1. re: Cubs87

        >> Yeah it sucks many of those places don't take reservations.

        Well, the fact is that Chicago has many, many terrific restaurants, and most of them accept reservations. So there's no need to spend hours of your limited time here waiting to be seated at those handful that don't, unless you feel that you absolutely *must* go to a specific place, even though there are plenty of other great places that accept reservations and are just as good if not better. It's easy enough to find alternatives that take reservations, so you don't have that issue at all. It's your choice, of course, but going to places that accept them is an easy way to avoid the problem.

        >> Also might just do a lunch at Xoco for the mexican fix

        For lunch, I think Topolobampo is the way to go. I'm sure you know that Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and Xoco are all at the same location. Xoco is more of a "street food" kind of place, with tortas (sandwiches) rather than more creative dishes. Plus, even though Topolo is more upscale and more expensive at dinnertime, it's a relative bargain for lunch, priced similar to Frontera Grill. And with a couple weeks notice it's easy to make lunch reservations at Topolo on Opentable. You really ought to check out their menus at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants to understand the differences and help you decide.

        >> then possibly brunch of Meli's

        I like Meli Café and it's close to the hotels in the Loop and River North. However, it's not all that unusual or creative like our very best breakfast/brunch-focused places - but all of those (including Jam, M. Henrietta, Bongo Room, Southport Grocery) are some distance from downtown. So the added geographic convenience of Meli Café may make it worthwhile, but the other places are worth considering too, despite the added distance.