Visiting Chicago from California and looking for suggestions
This is my first time posting on the Chicago board. I'm visiting this week from California and I'd love the opportunity to sample the best of Chicago. As this is a last minute trip, there's no way for me to get a reservation at any of the famous restaurants here in town. I'd love to know some of the hidden neighborhood gems that showcase this city's food.
I eat almost anything and am open in terms of price from $5 to $50.
Thanks for your suggestions!
I wouldn't rule out the famous restaurants - only a couple fully book in advance and some other great restaurants often have availability at a bar area where you can order off the full menu - especially if you arrive early or late (i.e. Girl & the Goat, Frontera Grill - you can even order off of Topolobampo's menu from the Frontera Grill Bar). Alinea - Chicago's most famous restaurant (though IMHO Grace is our best) has tables for two available tomorrow (not sure if you are in town solo or with somebody). Two Michelin starred Sixteen has availibility this weekend as does two Michelin star L2O. The aforementioned Grace has openings tomorrow and if you call may have openings this weekend. Probably only a couple of places are not available on weeknights on short notice and a few more on weekends.
Chicago is such a large city that it would be more helpful for people to make recommendations if we knew what part of the city you were staying in, how far you are willing to travel, what types of cuisine you like (and any you dislike), how many are in your party and if the $5 to $50 is a total bill or for an entree (i.e. most of the "best" restaurants in Chicago - at least the one's I would place in that category - are over $50 per/person including food/drink/tax/gratuity) - so that would help narrow things down if you are looking for the best cheap eats/moderate venues versus best overall venues.
Not much to add to Gonzo's comprehensive post. There really aren't many places that book up completely on weekdays. On weekends, a lot of places do fill up but only during that specific week. So MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW and you should have your pick of almost any place - especially if you're flexible on time. Our "top table" is at 7:30, so reservations around that time fill up first. Many places still have same-day openings for those willing to dine before 6:00 or after 9:00, even on a Saturday.
Also, you mentioned going into the neighborhoods, but you didn't mention where (what neighborhood or hotel) you will be staying or spending time. The downtown neighborhoods - the Loop and the neighborhoods that surround it (clockwise from the northeast: River East, Streeterville/Mag Mile, River North, River West, West Loop, and South Loop) have a huge number of restaurants, and they include a wide variety of price points and cuisines. If that's where you're staying, there's no need to go out to the neighborhoods unless there's something very specific you're looking for, particularly specific types of inexpensive ethnic cuisine. Of course, I'm not telling you NOT to go to outlying neighborhoods (or suburbs); there is excellent food there as well! But sometimes people get the mistaken impression (perhaps based on other cities?) that downtown restaurants are just tourist traps, whereas the fact is that they include some of our best, and many locals dine in them as well.
Gonzo's question about what you mean by $5-50 is a good one. Also let us know what meals you're looking for - breakfast? lunch? dinner only?
I was chatting with a friend today and mentioned to him that I would consider restaurants in the city to be so essential as to consist of "do not miss" recommendations, in order of price high to low: Alinea, Grace, Naha, North Pond, GT Fish & Oyster, Sable, Anteprima, Jam (breakfast/brunch), and Lou Malnati's (deep-dish pizza). The first two are very expensive ($300-400/pp including moderate alcohol and tax/tip), the next two are somewhat less so ($100-125/pp), and the remaining ones are very moderately priced. Alinea and North Pond are in Lincoln Park (about three miles north of the Loop), Anteprima is in Andersonville (about seven miles north of the Loop), Jam is in Logan Square (about five miles northwest of the Loop), Lou Malnati's has dozens of locations all over the city and suburbs, Grace is in the West Loop, and Naha, GT Fish, and Sable are in River North.