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Aug 25, 2013 02:12 PM

One great lunch and dinner in Chicago (and what to do in between)...

Have never been to Chicago, have always wanted to and now the opportunity has come up but it's going to be one day only as we're flying in on a Friday and the next morning we're off to an event in Wisconsin that will take up the rest of the weekend.

We arrive late morning. Would like to have a great brunch or early lunch...not too heavy...see some sights and then have a great dinner. Open to just about anything. Love burgers and great craft brews, Mexican food (which is very hard to come by in our little Ontario town), sushi, fine dining...really anything that would be an experience. Price isn't too much of a concern but not looking to do anything kooky expensive, if you know what I mean. Definitely prefer quiet over loud but flexible on that.

We will be renting a car but would probably like to not do too much running around since this is going to be an exhausting whirlwind of a trip. I may get in hot water for asking this not-about-food question, but while I'm here, who better than discerning Chowhounds to ask a great place to stay and one or two great things to do? I'm thinking Art Institute..that's right up my alley, though the husband would probably balance it out with something else less cultural. Hotel and sights that are all kind of near each other, and of course centered around these two awesome meals we are going to have would be a plus. Who knows if or when we'll get to Chicago again, so any tips on making this an amazing but not too exhaustive day would be much appreciated.

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  1. For your lunch you may want to consider Rick Bayless' Topolobampo. Chicago does Mexican cuisine really well and this venue is widely considered the best. While dinner at Topolo is pricey, at lunch it is more easy on the wallet. You will want to book a reservation well in advance (can do so via Open Table). Blackbird is a fine dining venue that is also open for lunch with a very reasonable prix fixe. Embeya is a wonderful choice for lunch for Asian fusion.

    Dinner wise Chicago has so many outstanding options. Many of the gastropubs (where you will find the great craft beers and upscale pub food) are rather noisy. Publican and Bristol would be venues worth looking into if you want to go that route and can deal with the noise. If you would prefer more of a fine dining experience without breaking the bank, The Lobby at the Peninsula and Boka are nice options. Chicago is also at the forefront of modernist cuisine; venues that again are not too expensive but would provide you with a memorable and unique experience would be Elizabeth or iNG. Chicago also has had a flurry of wonderful modern Asian and Asian fusion venues open; my favorite is Embeya but Yusho and Kabocha are also excellent and I have heard great things about Juno (heading there next month for my first time). If you miss out on Topolobampo for lunch, your best bet for experiencing Chicago's Mexican scene at dinner would be Mexique (primarily Mexican but also has some French influence).

    1. With only one day I would head straight to Navy Pier as a starting point. The museums of Science and Industry and Natural History , Shed aquarium, parks, beaches of the lake, You don't get much better than late August for the weather. Lincoln Park zoo, everything is walking distance.,
      The Art Institute is further north and a bit farther away from everything I mentioned.
      I would head to a Portillo's for lunch, there must be one close by there.

      1. The mods frown on giving non-food tourist advice on this Board, so I will not. If you are looking for non-food ideas for what to do with one day in Chicago, go to the TripAdvisor Chicago forum and look at the sticky topics posted on the right:

        There is no Portillo's particularly close to the Art Institute, however. If you decide to go to the AI and want to eat nearby, consider going to Pizanno's for Chicago style pizza, or Cafecito for casual Cuban cuisine. Or, for craft beer and burger, go to the Gage on Michigan Ave., which is almost directly across the street from the AI. There are whole threads on this board on where to eat near the Art Institute, so just search if these suggestions don't suit your fancy (assuming you will be at the AI and/or Millennium Park which is just to the north of the AI) -- or alternately search "Palmer House," which is a hotel within a few blocks of the AI that has also generated lots of discussions.

        In addition to Gonzo's fine suggestions, another place for a nice dinner that would not be over-the-top expensive would include Perennial Virant in Lincoln Park (it also serves lunch).

        1. - Sounds like you'll probably want to stay in and around River North and the Loop to be close to Magnificient Mile, AI, etc.
          - Lunch at Frontera Grill, call and make a reservation ASAP. I suggest Frontera only because Topolobampo has a business casual dress code, and I'm not sure how you'll be dressed as you will probably want to be walking around and sightseeing for the rest of the day
          - The CAF architecture boat tour, buy tickets in advance
          - Hang out at Millennium Park, see Cloud Gate, Art Institute
          - OR check out the Shedd Aquarium, buy tickets in advance so you don't have to wait in line
          - Dinner at Lou Malnati's, there's one in the South Loop and another in River North
          - Nightcap at Three Dots & a Dash, Sable, or the Berkshire Room
          - For hotels around the Loop & River North, I'm fond of the Kimpton chain, especially Hotel Palomar because it's very close to Mag Mile, The Purple Pig, the Bayless restaurants, and has Sable inside