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Quick First Trip to Chicago

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my F-I-L and i are doing a spontaneous road trip from houston to chicago. after a night stay in STL we should arrive in town around noon on tuesday, july 2nd. we plan to leave in the early evening on july 4th to make it back to STL for the night before we hightail it back to houston. i've read some of the other theads started by first-timers and there is some really good info there. we are staying in the river north area near state street and erie. we are parking the car in a garage and i'm not sure how in-out privileges work, so i'm hoping most of our travels will be possible via public transit.

so far, i've got lou malnati's for pizza, and portillo's for a dog and beef. btw, is that pronounced to rhyme with armadillo, or like "por-tee-yo"?

i know there are some great steakhouses that i'd love to hit, but i don't think we plan to bring anything dressier than jeans and a polo shirt. are there any great steakhouses we could visit dressed thusly that we wouldn't look like bums? in houston, you can get away in 99% of the restaurants with jeans and a polo, but i know not every town is so casual. what would you recommend for that?

also, i've seen high recommendations for the bayless mexican restaurants, and i'll consider those, but i'm more keen to try food that is harder to get in houston (we have both great tex-mex and mex-mex). should i look at some old school italian? is there a great chinese (particularly sichuan) place we need to hit? how about a hole-in-the-wall mom and pop place with great food that belies its humble surroundings? or a new upstart that is doing something new and exciting we have to try?

also, since the cubs are going to be away, we'll only be able to catch a sox game. i'm leaning toward the afternoon game on the fourth, which will let us grab a bite to eat and maybe some brews before the game and then after the game head back to the car and head out of town. what do you recommend within walking distance from the stadium that will allow said consumption? i saw one recommendation for the pleasant house (looked good) but it looks kind of far to walk from the metro. is it?

thanks a bunch!

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  1. It's Por-till-oh. I would not be concerned about wearing jeans to most establishments save for a very few of the high-end spots (although on my last visit to Alinea the table next to ours had 2 people wearing jeans with sportcoats, so if your credit is good you can probably get away with it).

    3 Replies
    1. re: ferret

      the two steakhouses i've heard of the most are gibson's and gene and georgetti's. would jeans and polos work there? are they ones you'd recommend to an out of town visitor? thanks!

      1. re: goags2005

        >> are they ones you'd recommend to an out of town visitor?

        No. Those two are known primarily for their atmosphere ("celebrity sightings" at Gibson's, "old school" at G&G) rather than their steaks, although the steaks are pretty good at Gibson's. For the best steaks in town, skip those and instead go to David Burke's Primehouse or Chicago Cut Steakhouse.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Agreed w/nsxtasy re: steak houses.

    2. >> my F-I-L and i are doing a spontaneous road trip from houston to chicago. after a night stay in STL we should arrive in town around noon on tuesday, july 2nd. we plan to leave in the early evening on july 4th to make it back to STL for the night before we hightail it back to houston.

      Wow, that's a lot of driving in a short time!

      On the 5th, if you're still in St. Louis at 10:30 a.m. when they open, consider going to Bogart's Smokehouse before you leave town. Best barbecue ever! www.bogartssmokehouse.com

      >> so far, i've got lou malnati's for pizza, and portillo's for a dog and beef. btw, is that pronounced to rhyme with armadillo, or like "por-tee-yo"?

      It rhymes with armadillos.

      >> i know there are some great steakhouses that i'd love to hit, but i don't think we plan to bring anything dressier than jeans and a polo shirt. are there any great steakhouses we could visit dressed thusly that we wouldn't look like bums? in houston, you can get away in 99% of the restaurants with jeans and a polo, but i know not every town is so casual. what would you recommend for that?

      I like to rely on details in the Opentable listings to determine what's acceptable. There, David Burke's Primehouse shows the dress code as "smart casual", in which a polo shirt and decent jeans (including blue jeans but not ripped ones) is typically acceptable. That's consistent with my observations there. Chicago Cut Steakhouse shows the dress code as "business casual", where you won't generally see blue jeans but you might be able to get away with designer jeans or black jeans. So Burke's might be the better bet. You could always chat with them over the phone to confirm.

      However, if you're not a steak aficionado, there are so many other types of food we do well, and you can get a good steak anywhere, so on a short trip here, I think you could do better. See below for Mexican, Italian, and small plates recommendations.

      >> also, i've seen high recommendations for the bayless mexican restaurants, and i'll consider those, but i'm more keen to try food that is harder to get in houston (we have both great tex-mex and mex-mex).

      I think you'll find that the contemporary Mexican cuisine at Frontera Grill or Topolobampo or Mexique is unlike the Tex-Mex and Mex-Mex you have back home. Don't rule them out until you have a chance to check out their menus at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants and www.mexiquechicago.com to aid in your decision. Blue jeans are fine at Frontera Grill and Mexique, not Topolobampo.

      >> should i look at some old school italian?

      I wouldn't, for the same reason as steakhouses: you can find old school Italian *anywhere*. Instead, I'd consider contemporary Italian (near your hotel are Piccolo Sogno Due - www.piccolosognodue.com - and Coco Pazzo - www.cocopazzochicago.com - both excellent, both listed as business casual). Or one of our "small plates" restaurants, such as Sable ( www.sablechicago.com ) for contemporary American or GT Fish & Oyster ( www.gtoyster.com ), which are both outstanding and a short walk from your hotel, both listed as casual. All of these accept reservations in advance, including on Opentable.

      Another option is tapas. It's a 5-10 minute walk from your hotel to Café Iberico, which is casual; they don't take reservations but on the night before a holiday, they might not be that busy. Mercat a la Planxa accepts reservations but it's a mile and a half away and it's listed as business casual.

      >> is there a great chinese (particularly sichuan) place we need to hit?

      No.

      >> how about a hole-in-the-wall mom and pop place with great food that belies its humble surroundings?

      We have those, but they tend to be located away from downtown where your hotel is. One example is Anteprima, for terrific Italian in a neighborhood storefront setting. It's about a 45-minute ride on the #22 Clark bus from your hotel. www.anteprimachicago.net

      >> also, since the cubs are going to be away, we'll only be able to catch a sox game. i'm leaning toward the afternoon game on the fourth, which will let us grab a bite to eat and maybe some brews before the game and then after the game head back to the car and head out of town. what do you recommend within walking distance from the stadium that will allow said consumption? i saw one recommendation for the pleasant house (looked good) but it looks kind of far to walk from the metro. is it?

      First, note construction on the el (that's we call our subway - not the metro); the Red Line is not operating till October, so you'll need to take the Green Line to get to the Cell. Pleasant House is not very convenient, but to answer your question, to get there from the hotel via public transit, the best way would be to take the Orange Line from State and Lake to Halsted and then transfer to the #8 Halsted bus to 31st Street. It's then a 1.4-mile walk from to the ballpark, and it's east-west and north-south so public transit would involve transferring from the #8 Halsted bus to the #35 35th St bus. I think you'd be better off having brunch near your hotel (such as at Meli Café or Yolk) and then heading to the game. Another option is to take the el (Red Line) from Grand/State to Roosevelt, have brunch at Bongo Room, then take the el (Green Line) from Roosevelt to the ballpark (35th). Bongo Room features creative pancake dishes, such as pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce. Tip: the standard portion size consists of three GIGANTIC pancakes, but you can also order one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at reduced prices, which lets you try more than one menu item.

      IMPORTANT NOTE 1: You can find public transit info at www.transitchicago.com In particular, note the rules on transfers. For an extra 25 cents, you can transfer for up to three rides within two hours, but to do this you have to be using a fare card, which you can buy at any el station. If you pay cash for the bus or el, for a second ride you can't get a 25c transfer and you'll have to pay a second full fare.

      IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Since July 4 is a holiday, call in advance to any place you're considering eating during your trip (even if it's a place that doesn't accept reservations), to make sure they're open the day you plan to eat there.

      4 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        lots of great info, thanks for taking the time to reply. i'll be looking into all your recs.

        yes, lots of driving. we both had some extra vacation, and he mentioned he "had" to do a roadtrip to use it productively, and i said maybe i'd tag along. well, we decided to do chicago. his sister (my wife's aunt) live in STL so we can stay there for free on the way there and back. we've visited st. louis numerous times in the past.

        one other thing, i'm big a ice cream and frozen custard fan (love ted drewes in STL) any must hit places in chi-town?

        1. re: goags2005

          Great! Just FYI, I've added some notes here and there to my previous post above.

          >> i'm big a ice cream and frozen custard fan (love ted drewes in STL) any must hit places in chi-town?

          There isn't a single "must hit" place for ice cream here - not the way everybody talks about Drewes in STL and Kopp's in MKE - but there are some interesting places doing creative things. Here are some links to articles about them:

          The rebirth of the cool:

          www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/...

          http://articles.chicagotribune.com/20...

          5 new Chicago ice cream makers worth seeking out:

          www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/...

          Weird yet wonderful ice cream flavors:

          www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/...

          http://articles.chicagotribune.com/20...

          1. re: goags2005

            By far my favorite ice cream venue in Chicago is Black Dog Gelato. Interesting flavors and only really high quality, fresh ingredients are used (and it shows). They have two locations in Chicago:

            http://blackdogchicago.com/

          2. re: nsxtasy

            >> the Red Line is not operating till October, so you'll need to take the Green Line to get to the Cell.
            ...
            >> Another option is to take the el (Red Line) from Grand/State to Roosevelt, have brunch at Bongo Room, then take the el (Green Line) from Roosevelt to the ballpark (35th).

            Sorry, in the above post I mischaracterized the CTA's plans during construction of the Red Line tracks. The Red Line is still operating south of Roosevelt (12th), but it does so on the Green Line tracks and stations, which run roughly parallel. So you can take the Red Line or the Green Line to get to the ballpark, and you can pick up either train at the 35th St Green Line station for your return. Hope that makes sense.

          3. http://scoops1.com/

            1. just wanted to say thanks for the recommendations!

              lou malnati's was great. truly different than deep dish found elsewhere in the country.

              i really enjoyed my chicago dog and italian beef at portillo's

              my steak at david burke's was delicious, and the aging room "tour" was a fun addition

              breakfast at yolk was good, the breakfast at eggsperience was even better (nutella and strawberry french toast)

              i wasn't impressed with the ribs at twin anchors. at the risk of sounding harsh, they were no better than those found at chili's. the atmosphere was fine, though.

              chicago is a beautiful city, and i'm sure i'll be back to explore the more "foodie" oriented spots, and of course to get another hot dog and more lou malnati's.