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Some of Chicago's best restaurant

I know - kind of a lame topic - but I'm visiting Chicago in a couple of weeks and we have reso's at Alinea and Grace -

Others we're considering:

Goat and the girl
GT Fish
Schwa (if possible)

Leaning towards Goosefoot/Frontera and/or G&G - but are there any strong reco's, or anything that we shouldn't miss?

We haven't been to Chicago before and this will be our first visit.

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  1. You have a nice list there. Regarding Goosefoot, it is currently the hardest reservation to score in Chicago - far more difficult than Schwa and even Next, so that might take some effort. It is however outstanding.

    Other restaurants I really like that are not on your list would include Sixteen, Boka, The Lobby at the Peninsula, Senza, Moto, El Ideas and Elizabeth.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gonzo70

      I forgot to mention one of my other favorite venues, Embeya.

    2. > Leaning towards Goosefoot/Frontera and/or G&G - but are there any strong reco's, or anything that we shouldn't miss?

      You've chosen two of the most popular restaurants in Chicago where getting a reservation can be a pain if you don't plan months in advance.

      Frontera Grill takes a very limited number of reservations, most of its tables are for walk-in patrons, resulting in long waits. Typically they'll book 8-10 weeks ahead for dinner. Weekday lunch is easier (but not Saturday lunch). Also they are closed Sundays and Mondays. It's a very boisterious restaurant and quite popular -- I was there for Friday lunch last week, and every single table was taken both the dining room and the bar area, and people were actively hovering over / poaching bar stools at the bar. I had an OK meal there last week, not amazing. But I was able to get a reservation for weekday lunch a few weeks in advance -- call ASAP if you want to do.

      GATG opens its books 6 months ahead, and is likely to be fully booked for your dates. Dinner only. They are extremely popular and book months in advance. How long are you willing to wait? If you are OK with a bar seat, or a lounge table, then you can probably wait around until one becomes free. You can order food from the bartender at the bar, and the lounge tables have servers just like the regular tables. Those two areas are first come, first served. However, if you must have a normal table, I'd get there before 4:30pm, especially if you don't want to sit at a communal table. Some of the main dining room is reserved for walk ins. I've asked one of the managers there and they said before 5pm or after 10pm is best when walking in. The food is excellent and very reasonably priced for the quality, especially any wood fired items. I love the place, but it's not always the easiest/most convenient to get into.

      Pre or post GATG, make reservations for cocktails at the Aviary (also by Grant Achatz, only open Tues-Sat).

      I also really love The Purple Pig if you happen to be downtown near Magnificent Mile. No reservations, go for lunch or in between meals, to avoid 1-2 hour waits.

      Also in the West Loop near GATG are Publican & Publican Quality Meats. Publican is not too hard to grab a reservation for and is known for their raw bar, beer selection, charcuterie, seafood, and local produce dishes. The Publican has a fun European beer hall vibe. Publican Quality Meats is more of their deli/lunch/takeout spot. The Publican is also known for their brunch.

      I've also had excellent breakfast/brunch/lunches at Longman & Eagle, Jam, Southport Grocery, and Big Jones. nsxtasy's brunch posts are also very helpful, do a search.

      Au Cheval is also really fun, kind of an upscale, hipster diner. Amazing foie gras and scrambled eggs, as well as a great burger. There can be waits, though, even on a weekday for lunch, but the ones I heard quoted last Thursday weren't too bad (30 min).

      I think you should consider a meal at Yusho. Creative small plates inspired by Asador Etxebarri and Japanese yakitori, helmed by a Charlie Trotter vet. And they've got a great cocktail bar, too, called Billy Sunday, that is a short walk away. Billy Sunday is doing some really interesting things like housemade Zima, a "Cocktail" with ambergris, a great obscure scotch collection, and more.

      See also this "First Time Visitor" post:

      1 Reply
      1. re: kathryn

        Great advice all, thanks very much. The SO and I are more than willing to sit at the bar, we often actually prefer it - so good to know there is some opportunity even though I've not booked any of the other restaurants as yet. Will also study the other thread you linked to. Thanks Kathryn!

      2. Have you thought about trying a chicago style pizza? Lou Malnati's, Pizano or Pizzeria Due do a good version of it. Maybe do a late lunch or snack in the afternoon then go to Girl and the Goat around 9:30ish and see if you can grab a couple of seats? The times I've been to GATG, they seem to have more seats available or at the very least, a much shorter wait after 9:30. If you like strong flavors, you'll love Girl and the Goat.

        5 Replies
        1. re: sunbrace

          Heading to Chicago tonight. Very excited. I'm I've read about Lou Minalti's a few times, is it the place to go for Chicago style pizza? We ended up leaving later than anticipated so we'll probably just opt for pizza tonight when we land.

          1. re: justxpete

            Yes, Lou Malnati's is one of the top examples of Chicago style pizza. They have several locations in the downtown area. It makes a fine, casual dinner.

            1. re: masha

              Thanks Masha. Any others for comparison?

              1. re: justxpete

                Absolutely there are others. Chicago-style deep dish pizza was invented in 1943 by Ike Sewell s at Uno's Pizzaria. It has remained essentially unchanged at that location since then. If you have seen or tried or heard of the Uno's chain or the frozen abomination of the same name, please know that the recipe is entirely different. A sister restaurant, Due, is a block away.

                Lou Malnoti, a family member, was one of the original managers at Uno's and his version of deep dish pizza is very similar. The same family also founded the Pizano's pizza chain.

                All three are very good versions of the original deep dish pizza.

                There are other versions around, but these three are the truest and many believe the best.

                1. re: chicgail

                  Thanks Chicgail. We had Lou's last night. Despite a rather long wait for the food (it was slammed and we lucked out on a bar seat), the pizza was spectacular.

        2. I would definitely do the bar at Frontera. You can order off both menus there and enjoy the Margaritas, Mexican wines, Mezcal or Mexican or local beers. Xoco next door does great breakfast, lunch or dinner.

          Have you looked at MK? They have been around awhile but they always deliver.

          1. While the burger at Au Cheval may be the best I've ever had. The roasted bone marrow with beef cheek marmalade stopped all conversation at the table. Jaw dropping good!

            May I also suggest Nightwood. I sat at the kitchen counter with family and we practically sampled all of the menu. Best meal I had this year.

            1 Reply
            1. re: oysterspearls

              So many options. We should stay longer!

            2. Alinea was amazing. Everything was perfect. Service, timing, food, presentation, everything. The one thing I will say is that the premium wine pairings, despite a couple of highlights, weren't worth the price by any measure ($250pp).

              Grace was great but there were definitely some misses, including a $75 truffle risotto supplement that was absolutely over-whelmed by the mushroom nage in the dish, definitely not what you want when you're paying $75 for a truffle dish. The server was also rather stingy with the truffles. Neither the SO or I enjoyed it, and we were glad we had not ordered two of them. We initially did not include it in our menu, but after the first few amazing courses, we thought it would be a great inclusion. A Per Se price, but a juvenile delivery. Mentioning this to the server served no purpose, as no subsequent action was taken. Anything would have been better than nothing. Service, otherwise, was impeccable, and the kitchen's timing matched our pace exactly (we tend to eat quicker than most).

              Glazed's donuts were too sweet for us (even though I have a sweet tooth).

              Frontera wasn't as good as I would have expected, given the rave reviews. I thought it was really good, but I didn't find it to be overly exceptional. Perhaps we ordered wrong - but our server was supportive of our order.

              Publican Quality Meats was good, but under-whelmed. We ordered the "hot meat charcuterie" and were served three massive sausages (why wouldn't they just call it a sausage plate?). Presentation was lacking - and I know it's really just a butcher cafe at heart, but some effort would have been appreciated. Accoutrements were inadequate (we ordered all three charcuterie plates), thinking that'd be the way to go.

              Loved Lou Minalti's.

              Next visit will hopefully include some of Goosefoot, Next, Topolobampo, G&G, and Schwa.

              11 Replies
              1. re: justxpete

                Thanks for the report! You have some great places in mind for next time, but definitely start the planning early - those are pretty much the hardest reservations in Chicago.

                1. re: justxpete

                  You mean Publican Quality Meats, right? Not The Publican.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    Indeed... not the Publican. They had a 45 minute wait and we had a flight to catch. Sorry for the misnomer. Corrected.

                  2. re: justxpete

                    If you didn't like Frontera, why would you want to spend money on their pricier restaurant, Topolobampo? Wouldn't it be wiser to spend it on something that you might enjoy more? I personally didn't care much for Frontera and that did stop me from going to Topo in the future. On the other hand, I enjoyed my meal at Next in the past and it was a deciding point for me to try Alinea.

                    As a fellow sweet tooth, may I suggest Firecakes or DoRite or even the Doughnut Vault for your next visit? I find the last one to be pretty addictive and tend to limit my visits there because of it:).

                    1. re: sunbrace

                      Because of the accolades he receives. Surely they can't all be wrong. I also tend to prefer higher end places - but alinea and grace was pricey enough for one visit.

                      Btw, I've since learned that Pequods is the place to go for Pizza. Any comments?

                      1. re: justxpete

                        Even though I used to work close to LP, I've never eaten there yet so I can't comment personally. I have heard good things about it. It's in my to do list for this year, or next year, or the year after that. ;)

                    2. re: justxpete

                      Topolo is an entirely different beast from Frontera which is more Mexican street food. Topolo is a fine dining experience. I would highly suggest one of their tasting menus.

                      1. re: TTownFoodie

                        I agree that Topo is awesome. I had the privlege and delight of eating the menu that won Bayless Top Chef Masters and it rocked.

                        But I wouldn't call Frontera Mexican Street food. Xoco is for sure.

                        Frontera does have tamales and quesadillas and taquitos on the menu, but they are highly elevated versions of those dishes.

                        I just wouldn't call entrees like "garlicky wood-grilled day-boat catch, squash blossom crema, with roasted poblanos & charred tatume squash" - or "achiote-marinated Gunthorp Farm suckling pig roasted in banana leaves with black beans & habanero salsa" - street food.

                        1. re: chicgail

                          You're right, it really isn't street food, it just isn't quite a sophisticated as Topolo. I think some could eat at Topolo and, other than the spice level, would not think it was Mexican. Frontera serves food that is more recognizeable as Mexican.

                        2. re: TTownFoodie

                          I ate at Topolo several years back and I found it sublime. Honestly, it ignited my interest and love of Mexican food. Fantastic meal, excellent service. I highly recommend.