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10 Restaurants in 5 Days - MidWest Food Tour

My cousin and I are planning a road trip after Christmas this year. We plan on driving to 5 cities in 5 days, the whole point of the trip is to try to find the best spots to eat in each city. We aren't looking for fancy restaurants, we are looking for amazing food.
We plan on visiting at least 2 food spots in each city.

The Route:
Starting in Omaha.
1.) Minneapolis
2.) Green Bay
3.) Chicago
4.) St. Louis
5.) Kansas City

I would like to get some advice and/or opinions on what spots we should visit and what we should order. So far, I have been recommended to visit these spots:

Minneapolis: Tilia - Brasa
Green Bay: Curly's - Krolls
Chicago: Giordano's - Johnnie's Beef
St. Louis - Cunetto's House of Pasta - Amighetti's
Kansas City - Oklahoma Joes - Arthur Bryant's

I would love to hear some other suggestions and opinions.
Thanks!!

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  1. Are you looking for the "best spots to eat" or are you looking for good cheap eats? Chicago is home to some of the best restaurants in the USA (and one of the best in the world) - I have never heard of Johnnie's Beef and Giordano's is a pizza place with a pretty good reputation, but most wouldn't say it is even Chicago's best pizza venue, nevertheless one of the "best spots to eat" in Chicago. You might want to say a bit more about what type of place you are looking for, price range etc. so that people can provide you with some great venues that would appeal to you.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Gonzo70

      Thanks for the reply @Gonzo70, We don't really care about the price, if it's cheap, great, if it's higher priced, oh well. We want to find some of the most famous or best known or well liked places to eat, OR, even if it isn't a well known place, but happens to serve something amazing that just HAS to be tried, we will check it out. Any suggestions are good ones, if you have eaten something in any of these cities that we are going to, and you think we need to try it, we will check it out. :)
      We are just focused on trying something that we can't get anywhere else, or something that just isn't as good anywhere else.
      Thanks!

      1. re: JPEvansEats

        Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill would be one venue to consider; his style of regional Mexican cuisine is not being done in other US cities at that level so far as I know and Bayless is definitely a well known Chicago icon - and most importantly his food is outstanding.

        Chicago also does farm-to-table/nose-to-tail cuisine quite well. Girl & the Goat is the most "famous" of these venues, but Elizabeth, Purple Pig, Bristol and Publican are all highly respected and I feel even a bit superior.

        Chicago is also known for Deep Dish Pizza; the venues most often considered best are Pizano's, Lou Malnati's and the original Pizzeria Unos and Dues.

        Chicago is also home to Alinea - one of the worlds best restaurants featuring ultra modern cuisine (but is very expensive). If you want to experience molecular gastronomy (something Chicago does well) at a significantly lower pricepoint (and more casual setting) iNG is a wonderful choice; extremely fun venue with unique, whimsical but delicious food and awesome staff.

        Lots of other great fine dining in Chicago at a lower price point such as Boka, Senza and The Lobby (if coming before mid December - the chef is leaving at that point).

        Chicago also has some really good cocktail lounges; The Aviary (sister venue of Alinea) has whimsical, creative cocktails and The Berkshire Room has outstanding cocktails without the flair of Aviary.

        1. re: Gonzo70

          I've been hearing a lot about this "Chicago Mexican Food," that sounds bizarre, but I have heard Frontera Grill brought up a few times, as well as Topolobampo and Xoco, which are all Rick Bayless creations... Any advice on distinguishing between the three?

          1. re: JPEvansEats

            Xoco is casual, fairly inexpensive Mexican street food - nothing you have not seen at other Mexican venues, but done well. Frontera and Topolobampo are more upscale (but not stuffy or formal) and serve creative, upscale regional Mexican cuisine unlike most US Mexican restaurants. They are somewhat similar but Topolobampo (Michelin starred) is pricier and even more upscale.

            1. re: JPEvansEats

              Rick Bayless brought the world of regional Mexican cuisine to this country here in Chicago. All three restaurants are on the same block.

              Topo is high end. Tasting menus and a la carte. Forget burritos and tacos. Reservations not always easy to get. Extraordinary moles. Think "Wild Patagonian prawns, Baja bay scallops in lobster roe butter, herby tomatillo-xoconostle sauce, romanesco broccoli, sweet corn, “confit” lima beans." Entrees in the $30+ range.

              Frontera is a little more moderately priced, but still very excellent food. Lunch, Dinner, Brunch. More street-type food but very refined. Very few reservations; mostly walk-in. Entrees in the $20+ range like this: "Adobo-marinated pork loin in salsa negra-black bean sauce. Housemade crema, Moros y Cristianos (white rice, black beans), tangy collard greens, anejo cheese."

              Xoco is the best Mexican street food you've ever had. Churros beat any I've had in Mexico. Very good, fast, inexpensive breakfast, lunch or dinner.

              Hope that helps.

            2. re: Gonzo70

              OMG, you guys are so helpful!!! I really appreciate it! I think we will likely be heading to Frontera and Johnnie's Beef... Maybe Frontera for Breakfast, Johnnie's Beef for lunch, and For dinner: Pizano's, Lou Malnati's, or the OG Pizzeria Unos and Dues. Whichwould be the best dinner option?

              1. re: JPEvansEats

                Frontera has brunch only on Saturday. If that doesn't work out for you, the breakfast at Xoco is awesome.

                1. re: JPEvansEats

                  Go for Due for dinner. Xoco for breakfast is a good suggestion.

                  1. re: JPEvansEats

                    Unos, Due, Pizano and Malnati are all family members. The pizza recipe is very similar and all are good examples of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. In fact, deep dish pizza was originally invented at Uno's by Ike Sewell in the 1940s. Due opened later to handle the overflow crowds. Malnoti and Pizano were opened when family members decided to branch out.

                    And, just so you know, if you've ever eaten at the national chain by the Uno name or had the frozen pizza, they are NOTHING like the real thing. Uno sold the name, but not the recipe and the resulting product is frankly horrible.

                    1. re: JPEvansEats

                      Do note Frontera & the other Bayless restaurants are only open Tuesday through Saturday. Not sure what day of the week you plan to visit.

                2. re: Gonzo70

                  Gonzo, Johnnie's is located on North Ave. in Elmwood Park and does have a very devoted following. I don't like Italian Beef (I know, sacrilege, but there you have it) but I am told by those who do that Johnnie's is very good. I can tell you that there is invariably a line out the door whenever I drive by.

                  1. re: masha

                    Agreed that the OP should not get talked out of Johnnie's. Italian Beef is a Chicago classic and Johnnie's is one of the very best. Not too far from Johnnie's is another classic Chicago-area stop, Gene & Judes, which is famous for no-frills hot dogs and fries.

                    1. re: Polski

                      As good as Johnnie's is (and I am a livelong devotee), unless you are already out in the near western suburbs, you can do pretty darn well for Italian beef sandwiches (and Chicago-style hot dogs) at Portillos on Ohio St. in the tourist area.

                3. Definitely keep Johnnie's in for Italian Beef. I'd also suggest Al's on Taylor in Little Italy. It is the original and oh so good. Giordano's is not good and stuffed pizza is not deep dish. Go for Lou's Malnati's or Pizano's. Also would suggest trying Chicago's tavern style thin crust pizza.. My favorite is way out on the Northside - Candlelight.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: lbs

                    Hi are you also spending time seeing the city? If so, then I'd have to say Portillo's or Al's is a better choice than Johnnies. Traffic can be difficult getting to Elmwood Park. This would leave you w some time to see things. For pizza, Lou Malnati's or Pizano's is the way to go

                    1. re: chunker

                      Or Mr. Beef which is also in the River North area and for my dollar, the best of them all in that zone. But that is because I like my sandwich to taste like beef. If I wanted a sandiwch to taste like giardinarra, I'd go to Al's. Different stroke for different folks.

                      1. re: Db Cooper

                        I can't believe no one has mentioned Hot Doug's yet. Note the hours are Monday-Saturday,10:30am-4:00pm, and it is cash only. Ignore the people who steer you away based on lines. Given the OP's goals, I think you will actually enjoy the banter with others while waiting; you can tell them about your trip and places you've hit. Also ignore suggestions that Frank 'N Dawgs is just as good--it isn't! Their buns might be more to my liking, but they don't have the two iconic features of Hot Doug's: Doug at the register, and the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel. Since you'll have a car, the location won't be a barrier to you. There is even a Target nearby if you need to stock up on any provisions!

                        Hot Doug's
                        3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
                        Phone: (773) 279-9550
                        www.hotdougs.com

                        (edited to correct a typo)