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First time in Chicago

Hi folks: Going to be visiting Chicago for the first time over 4th of July weekend and looking for good eats. Nice places, casual places and someplace for Sunday brunch. Any kind of food. We're staying at the Inn at Lincoln Park near the corner of Clark & Broadway. Would like to go places we can walk to easily or take public transport easily. Where do Chowhound foodies recommend?

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  1. If I were visiting Chicago for the first time, here's what I would pick, starting with the most "must have" experience and working down from there:

    1. Alinea. Yes, it's expensive ($210+ per person plus beverages/alcohol and tax/tip), and it's dressy. It's also one of the best restaurants in the world and the food experience of a lifetime. They sell advance tickets on their website and lately they're not too terribly hard to snag. Dinner only, closed Mondays/Tuesdays.

    2. Deep-dish pizza, a Chicago specialty. Lou Malnati's, regarded by many as the best in town, has a location on Wrightwood in Lincoln Park, a ten-minute walk from your hotel. This works for lunch or dinner. You can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    3. Contemporary Mexican. This is something that isn't found many other places in the States. I'd consider Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill or Topolobampo downtown, Mixteco Grill in Lakeview a couple miles from Lincoln Park (note - BYO), or Mexique in West Town.

    4. Garrett's Popcorn. This is a snack you can fit into your schedule; there are several locations downtown, or pick some up at O'Hare before your flight departure. Caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, or the "Chicago mix" of the two.

    5. Breakfast/brunch. Chicago has a huge selection of breakfast-focused restaurants. 2 Sparrows is a few doors down from your hotel, and Batter & Berries is a ten-minute walk away. Southport Grocery, about a mile north of your hotel, has bread pudding pancakes and adult pop-tarts. Jam, near the Logan Square stop on the CTA Blue Line, has the creativity you'd find at the high-end temples of haute cuisine. M. Henrietta, at the Granville station on the CTA Red Line, has lots of great stuff. Bongo Room, with three locations, has creative pancakes (e.g. pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce). Note, these places don't accept reservations and can have long waits to be seated on weekends. Which brings us to the perfect place for Sunday brunch...

    6. North Pond. This is a special place unique to Chicago. They have excellent contemporary American cuisine from James Beard Award winner Chef Bruce Sherman. What makes it unique is its exquisite setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. This is a five-minute walk from your hotel. Open only for dinner and Sunday brunch (reservations accepted).

    7. Small plates. Some of our very best restaurants right now specialize in small plates of one sort or another, and are moderately priced. Perennial Virant, for contemporary American cuisine, is a mile south of your hotel (and is another good choice for brunch, reservations accepted). Sable specializes in contemporary American cuisine and craft cocktails; don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee. GT Fish & Oyster specializes in seafood and craft cocktails. Mercat a la Planxa has tapas. All three of these accept reservations, for lunch or dinner. The Purple Pig has Mediterranean-ish cuisine, but does not accept reservations, and waits for a table are horrendous (120+ minutes at dinner well into the evening, not quite as bad at lunch); if you want to go without a long wait, go mid-afternoon or late at night.

    8. Anteprima. This small friendly neighborhood bistro is in Andersonville, three miles north of your hotel (just take the #22 Clark bus). The Italian food there is fantastic; even better, Sundays through Thursdays they have a prix fixe deal, any three courses for $29 (and they have the same thing for $19 on Sundays between noon and 3 pm).

    One last note - because of the holiday, it's essential to make sure any place you intend to go is open. Either make a reservation in advance, or at least phone them before heading out. Many of the places mentioned here accept reservations on Opentable.com which is an easy way to view at a glance what's available for any given day and time.

    Website links:
    www.alinearestaurant.com
    www.loumalnatis.com
    www.rickbayless.com/restaurants
    www.mixtecogrill.com
    www.mexiquechicago.com
    www.garrettpopcorn.com
    www.2sparrowschicago.com
    http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...
    www.southportgrocery.com
    www.jamrestaurant.com
    www.mhenrietta.com
    www.thebongoroom.com
    www.northpondrestaurant.com
    www.perennialchicago.com
    www.sablechicago.com
    www.gtoyster.com
    www.mercatchicago.com
    www.thepurplepigchicago.com
    www.anteprimachicago.net

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Just made a Sunday evening reservation at Anteprima. Looking forward to it much. Thanks

      1. re: Iowaboy3

        Very nice.

        I love Anteprima. I don't even live near there, but I've eaten there more times in the past year than any other restaurant. And it is always wonderful, from the outstanding bread service all the way through the entire meal.

        Enjoy!

    2. Within walking distance of your hotel: If you walk north on Broadway to the corner of Barry you will come to a wonderful casual place, The Bagel, Jewish homestyle food as well as elaborate deli---the kind of place where they plop rye bread and dill pickles on the table before you order. Walking south on Clark you have the Vienna Cafe, which until recently was the Austrian Bakery, and a good Indian place, Hema's, and a wonderful Persian place, Reza's (excellence in grilled meat or seafood, great rice, lots of Middle Eastern specialties). Congratulations on your choice of neighborhoods---good restaurants everywhere.

      1. Thanks to you both for all the input. Thanks to nsxtasy for the links also. I think we're just going to see what we see when we get out on the street Saturday evening. It looks like we'll do well no matter what direction we turn. Looking forward to eating Chicago. I'll follow up with or selections next week. Thanks again Chowhounds.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Iowaboy3

          I wouldn't necessarily choose any place you happen to come across. Like most cities, Chicago has many restaurants that are just okay and some that are downright dreadful, mixed in with the gems. If you're willing to walk an extra half mile, or travel to other parts of the city, for restaurants that are highly recommended and whose menus appeal more to you, you are more likely to encounter food that is exciting, creative, and delicious.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            I think we're going to stay within walking distance (a couple of miles) but we're going to walk to Taste of Lakeside Sunday afternoon to hang out. we may have to try and get over to Hot Dougs also since I just saw it on "Food Paradise" and Independence Day weekend is kind of a hot dog weekend. Thanks again all.

            1. re: Iowaboy3

              Great - have a wonderful time!

              Incidentally, I think you mean the Taste of Lakeview. Lakeview is the neighborhood (technically, the "community area") along the lake just north of the Lincoln Park community area, extending from Diversey Avenue on the south (the street your hotel is on) to Irving Park Road on the north. It includes individual areas sometimes referred to as Lakeview East, West Lakeview, North Halsted (or Northalsted), Wrigleyville, and Boystown. Some of my favorite restaurants are in Lakeview, including Deleece (contemporary American), Southport Grocery and Café (breakfast/brunch), and Mixteco Grill (contemporary Mexican).

              1. re: Iowaboy3

                BTW, Hot Doug's is NOT open Sundays or for dinner. Since Friday and Saturday are duck fat fry days, the lines will be long. Cash only. Open Monday - Saturday, 10:30am - 4:00pm. They're pretty firm about closing at 4pm.

                1. re: kathryn

                  If ever you can't get into Hot Doug's, you can try The Peasantry on Clark just south of Diversey. It's just a few blocks from you and features a few dogs similar to what you are looking for. It's the sister restaurant of Frank n Dawgs in Lincoln Park which is similar in concept to Hot Doug's.

                  1. re: sunbrace

                    >> If ever you can't get into Hot Doug's, you can try The Peasantry on Clark just south of Diversey. It's just a few blocks from you

                    Actually, it's right around the corner, on the same block as the hotel. :)

                    >> and features a few dogs similar to what you are looking for. It's the sister restaurant of Frank n Dawgs in Lincoln Park which is similar in concept to Hot Doug's.

                    True, and a good thought. Come to think of it, you might want to consider going to Franks 'n' Dawgs rather than Hot Doug's, considering the distance and convenience factor. (Not only is Franks 'n' Dawgs closer - about two miles away - but you won't encounter waits of 90+ minutes there. Heck, you probably won't have to wait at all.) Franks 'n' Dawgs is really much more similar to Hot Doug's - a fast food type restaurant where the menu consists mostly of exotic sausage sandwiches, whereas the Peasantry is more of a nice sit-down restaurant with a complete menu (including only a few of those sausage sandwiches). Check out their menus at www.franksndawgs.com and www.thepeasantry.com

                    One more advantage of Franks 'n' Dawgs is, if you enjoy pastry, the two best pastry shops in the entire city IMHO, Floriole and Vanille Patisserie, are a ten minute walk from there.

                    HTH

                    1. re: sunbrace

                      Probably will skip Hot Doug's but I'll keep an eye open for Peasantry. Thanks.

            2. Sorry for the late reply. Here are some places close to you:
              South of Diversey:
              Aloha Eats: Hawaiian
              Molly's Cupcakes: I love the Remington which is a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter filling, but that's just me.
              North Pond: nice place
              Alinea and L2O: REALLY nice places
              Hema's Kitchen: like Querencia said

              North of Diversey:
              Dryhop: microbrewery. I don't drink but I was told that you can get a flight of 4 or 6 beers here. It's new and it's always packed.
              ChilamBalam: Mexican small plates
              La Creperie: French crepes
              Andy's Thai Kitchen: authentic Thai

              East of you: Two Sparrows: brunch place which closes at 3

              West of you: Kuma's Too: burger and beer

              1. Just wanted to give a follow-up report on our trip. We had a great time. Got into Chi. around 9pm Saturday evening and got checked into our hotel (Inn at Lincoln Park). We decided to try Hema's Kitchen which was only about 5 blocks from the hotel. Very good Indian food. We tried the Veg. Samosa & the Kheema(lamb) Samosa for appetizers and they were tasty but our entree's, my wife's Chicken Tikka Masala and my Shrimp Vindaloo had a complexity of taste that we don't find it the Indian restaurants around Des Moines. Their naan was very good too. I'd recommend Hema's highly.

                Sunday morning we got up and walked up Broadway to Hearty Boys near W. Grace St.. We got there around 10am and the crowd started rolling in around 10:30. I had a Bacon Mary while my wife had orange juice that she highly recommended. The applewood/maple bacon in the Bloody Mary was good but like everything we tasted at HB the flavors were subtle. I had the Morning Shepard's Pie and my wife had the basic two eggs (scrambled and she loved them) with a side of said bacon. I also ordered a side of the locally made Big Fork Bacon Sausage. Everything was tasty but as I mentioned the flavors were delicate. Herbs & spices came through clearly. I just am of the bigger and bolder school I guess.

                After eating we wandered by Wrigley Field and over to Ashland & Belmont for the Taste of Lakeview fest. About all we can say is ehhh??? We expected loud & crowded and even a bit exciting. EHHH??? One and a half blocks of crafts, uniform looking food stalls & loud band playing to empty streets. Now we were there wandering and checking out shops in addition to the fest for about two hours but it was dead. RIP Skip it or change it up Lakeview. EVERY food stand with uniform black & yellow signage and no personality what soever. Fix it or kill it.

                We took our time wandering down Lincoln and back over do Diversey checking out things and generally had a nice afternoon.

                Dinner Sunday was at Anteprima. First, is Clark St. the best "eating" road in Chicago? Let the debate begin. Anteprima is wonderful. A neighborhood joint (albeit Andersonville) with big, open windows to the street, families enjoying super hand-made food, a great eclectic wine list and super service. I wish this place was in my neighborhood. I'd be there a few times a month. The menu is extensive and changing regularly. Too many fun things to taste. We started with some house-cured olives and the much recommended grilled octopus. We also ordered the grilled Tropea onions w/Gorgonzola & balsamic vinegar. To go with the appetizers we ordered quartino's (250ml) of a Sardinian white & and Abruzzo rose. We liked the quartino size for experimenting with the fun wine list.

                The octopus was a texture like no other octopus I've ever tasted anywhere in the world. It didn't "pop". It was firm but soft and absorbed the flavors of the lemon, oil, chillies(mild), parsley & red onion it was tossed with. The crisp potato did the same and the texture played off the octopus wonderfully. This dish is a must-taste staple on the menu. The onions grilled with the blue cheese & the balsamic came together superbly also.

                For entrees my wife & I both had lamb. She had chops over polenta & greens. I had it as house made sausage spiced and tossed with their orecchietti(ears), bitter greens & chillies(mild). I brought a red from my cellar to go with my birthday dinner. No offense Anteprima. The 1997 Tignanello is in it's prime and drank wonderfully with both entrees. If anyone else has any in their collections drink it now and over the next 3-5 years. It's time.

                We decided to hold off on dessert until we walked off dinner a bit so we just hung out and lingered over our wine. The crowd included a number of families with kids, other couples and groups of twenty-somethings. Everyone was having a good ole' time, food & wine were flowing and the atmosphere was joyous. We'd recommend this place highly. On a final note; our server was great giving us space to look and take or time, there to answer questions or get us something, always within ear-shot. Thanks to him for making this meal as enjoyable as it was.

                Finding our legs still worked after this feast, we wandered up and down Clark a ways before settling in at the distinctly eclectic(and Andersonville thing?) Kopi (A Travellers Cafe) for coffee and dessert. Their coffee and coconut macaroons were the perfect end to a wonderful evening.

                Monday morning(I know this is getting long) my wife had business so I was on my own. Two doors down from the hotel was Chowhound recommended 2 Sparrows. Thanks Chowhounds, this place is fantastic. It's also just for breakfast & lunch. A fun, diverse menu offers many tempting treats. I tried the Corned Beef Hash (I'm on a hash mission to find the worlds best). This one rates highly. All chopped & mashed in a bubbling skillet, the grilled leeks & radicchio put this one over the top. The single poached egg on top wasn't enough so I had to order a second to meld all the flavors together. Soooo Goood. They make a mean cup o' Joe also. Go with the Schweik's Blend.

                After breakfast I had a couple of hours to kill so I wandered Broadway & Clark some more. Had a latte at Intelligentsia coffee which was very good as would be expected.

                My wife finished up her business at noon and we made plans to try Lou Malanatti's deep-dish pizza before getting on the road back to Iowa. Oops! Not open for lunch on Monday seems to be the modus operandi and not only Lou's but many Chicago restaurants. Lou's opens at 5 pm. Should we have known? Should we have checked? I hadn't even thought about it. So we're in front of LM and wondering what to do. (and NOT eating deep-dish after everything else I had all weekend was not the worst thing to happen to me) We start looking on our phones and we find Maza. Albeit closed on Monday. Finally we found a place called La Cuchara that had kind of a nouvo Mexicano vibe. We both had buritto's that were rich and filling but kind of heavy. They had pretty good flavor though.

                That's the scoop. Thanks for all the recs and help Chicago Hounder's. You've got an amazing city and the food's pretty good also.

                See ya' again soon,

                Iowaboy3

                3 Replies
                1. re: Iowaboy3

                  Thanks for the update. Your post about the fest spoke TONS to me about whether I should go there next time or not;). Many of the restos in the Lakeview/Lincoln Park neighborhoods probably don't open for lunch during weekdays since they're mostly residential, unlike the downtown area. Next time you go to Lou's, try their downtown location or their original location in Lincolnwood, just north of the city. Both locations open at 11 am based on the website.

                  1. re: sunbrace

                    Lou's South Loop location (State & 8th Streets) is also open 7 days/ week.

                  2. re: Iowaboy3

                    Once upon a time, street fairs were actually run by the neighborhood organizations. These days, most are run by the same "event coordinator" mostly because of insurance issues. Restaurants that would have great food opt out and sell drinks instead because it's far easier and way more profitable.

                    Taste of Randolph is still good, Taylor Street is also good. Mostly though, it's just a nice time to grab a beer and people watch!