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Jul 10, 2013 09:15 AM

First Time in Chicago, July 18-22

I'll be doing a road trip from Texas to Chicago for the Pitchfork Festival this July. We're going to be staying at the Omni in the River North area, and commuting from there for a few days to Union Park and then we'll probably spend a day around the Art Institute/Millenium Park area. Where are some places we shouldn't miss eating at?

We have a baby, so I'm not looking for places like Alinea this time, but places we can go as a family and have great and memorable meals.

I'm definitely going to Frontera Grill, and also trying out one of the deep dish places, like Lou Malnati's. Some other places I'm considering are: Piccolo Sogno, Quartino, Urban Belly, and La Sardine, but I'm pretty overwhelmed with the amount of choices, frankly.

I'd really appreciate any other suggestions, especially some non-Italian ones, as there seems to be a lot that's good to choose from in that category. I love Thai food but can't swing Arun's this trip...any good authentic Thai places? Mostly looking for lunch/dinner...I don't usually have formal breakfast or brunch.

Thanks! I'll report back how the trip went and my impressions...

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  1. Chicago has so many really great places, it's hard to know where to start. Frontera is a good choice, but they don't take reservations and with a baby you will want to get there when then open so you don't have to wait. Another good option is Mexique, which is Mexican/French and easily accessible only by taxi, but not all that far.

    I know some people rave about Piccolo Sogno, but I had a very mediocre experience there so I don't recommend it. Quartino is very decent and reasonably priced but not "save this meal in a silver box" italian. Plus you did say you wanted suggestions for non-Italian.

    For authentic Thai, you do have to go outside the area you are staying in. Three places come to mind: Spoon Thai and Sticky Rice (northern Thai), both on Western Avenue, about a 15-20 drive away. And TAC Quick on Sheridan Road, about the same distance. can help you get there on public trans.

    Urban Belly is also out of the area, but easily reachable via the Blue Line - it's literally under the tracks.

    One stop before Urban Belly will get you to both Antique Taco and Big Star Taco. I think the food is better at Antique, but the people-watching is best at Big Star. From the same stop, you can easily walk to Hot Chocolate on Damen Ave. or Lillie Q on North Ave. for barbecue.

    10 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      Minor correction -- Urban Belly is on California, just south of Belmont -- Belly Shack is under the California Blue line stop (and I'd suggest Belly Shack over Urban Belly anyway since I find it to be a better value in addition to being more delicious).

      And just to give yet another Thai option, I'm a sucker for Aroy Thai, just north of the Damen Brown line stop.

      1. re: danimalarkey

        Sorry, Dani, you are absolutely correct. Sorry I mixed the two up - and I, too, prefer Belly Shack.

        1. re: danimalarkey

          Awesome...I am definitely going to try to check out Aroy Thai.

          1. re: grillo7

            I'm not sure about some of the other Thai places that chicgail mentioned, but I know Aroy has a "secret" menu with some of the more authentic dishes. If they don't offer it, be sure to ask for the Thai Classics menu, too -- there are some great dishes on that menu like the Issan and Sai Ua sausages, Fried Rice with Pressed Ham, Grilled Pork Salad and the Chou-chi Ground Pork. Aroy is also BYO (so is Belly Shack, for that matter -- of, if you like, there's a bar next door called Green Eye (very casual, feels like a dive, but cleaner and with better beer) and they don't mind if you bring food in).

            1. re: danimalarkey

              Spoon Thai no longer has a "secret menu" with all its authentic offerings. It's all out front on the menu. The same with Sticky Rice.

              TAC used to have a secret menu. I don't know the status of that one now.

        2. re: chicgail

          Frontera Grill does take a small number of reservations, but only via phone. I was able to squeeze in for a weekday lunch recently, and I only called about 2 weeks in advance.

          Definitely agree w/ your take on Big Star vs Antique Taco. The food's better at the latter, but the former is a lot more fun. Also, a great whiskey selection at Big Star.

          1. re: chicgail

            Thank you! This has already helped me out a lot...I'm excited to try one of the Thai places you mentioned. There's surprisingly not really any good Thai in Austin so I've been looking forward to some...

            Also, I didn't even know about Belly Shack...I'm choosing that one instead. And Antique Taco sounds great!

            What *would* be your pick for a "save this meal in a silver box" Italian place?

            1. re: grillo7

              Here are some of my favorites:
              Cafe Spiaggia (distinct from Spiaggia, but in the same location, same kitchen, same website, lower price point)
              Bar Toma for very casual Italian dining. Good lunch option.
              Antico in Wicker Park (not far from Belly Shack) is very authentic and excellent Italian
              Nellecote on West Randolph St.

              1. re: chicgail

                Wait, you're coming from Austin? ("Hook 'em" shout-out from this 1988 UT alum.) If I were you, I wouldn't spend my precious eating time on Frontera, Big Star, or Anticque Tacos. While Rick Bayless has done a tremendous amount for true Mexican food in Chicago and beyond, IMO, it really isn't any better than Fonda San Miguel or some other spots in Texas. Similarly, you can get great tacos down there, but probably not an Italian beef sandwich, so I'd go for that. Given that you have a baby (stroller or carrier, I assume?), you would probably enjoy getting to some non-touristy neighborhoods for a casual stroll, storefront shopping, and child-friendly eating with the locals. Some areas that are easily accessible via public transit from your hotel are: Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Andersonville, and Lincoln Square. You can also get your Italian meal on this trek, such as Anteprima in Andersonville or Due Lire in Lincoln Square.

                1. re: GourmetWednesday

                  Thanks, that's a really good point...Fonda San Miguel is still great if you haven't been in awhile, and there's some new interior Mexican places that are really good that have opened fairly recently. How are you managing to get your breakfast taco fix up there though? ;)

                  I definitely have a lot of Italian to check out between your and chicgails' recommendations, and that's pretty underrepresented in Austin as well, so I'm looking forward to to that. It's going to be hard to narrow it down!