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Moving to Chicago

Hi Board,

I am moving east in September, to take a job at the University of Chicago. From scouring this board, it doesn't seem as if Hyde Park is a culinary temple, to put it bluntly, and so I wondered: if I were to move to an area just for food (e.g. if food was my only criterion for residence), where should I live in Chicago?

(This question is also clearly a way for me to get more of a sense of food in Chicago in general).

As a bit of background. I'm British (though it's been ten years, and the only culinary residue London left is my predilection for devilled kidneys), and have spent the last two years in Oakland, having previously worked as a cook in Paris.

I love the Bay Area's Lao food, the sourer and spicier the better, Vietnamese food (I will be searching for Bun Bo Hue in Chicago), Sichuan food, good French food (game, especially). But that is the Bay: I am excited to see what Chicago has to offer.

I miss Polish food from London--especially goose and chłodnik. In general: I like offal, strong flavors, rich food, though I haven't met a cuisine I didn't like, and there is nothing I don't eat.

Advice appreciated!

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  1. This discussion from a few years ago will help:

    Best Chicago Foodie 'Hood - www.chow.com/topics/437740

    In addition to choosing a neighborhood with good food, I think the best thing you can do is to find a place to live that's easy for your preferred transportation mode - near an el stop if you usually take public transit, near a highway if you usually drive.

    Also, here is a link to a discussion that will give you an overview of what Chicago has to offer, what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

    first time Chicago - www.chow.com/topics/693477

    Finally, I wouldn't discount Hyde Park entirely. In the past few months, it has experienced the announcement of several new and interesting restaurants, the most noteworthy of which is A10.


    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Fantastic. Thanks, I will look at those posts.

      1. re: joshuacraze

        Just to mount a small defense of Hyde Park's food, as someone who's graduating in June I'll say that right now it doesn't really have any good restaurants but as nsxtasy mentioned there are several promising ones opening in the near future. Plus there's apparently a Whole Foods coming in in 2016. And Hyde Park Produce is actually a good, inexpensive grocery store with a pretty strong produce section, and they do get interesting stuff now and then, like chanterelles and morels when they're in season. Treasure Island isn't half bad either, although it's pricey for what it is.

    2. Good luck with your move,

      I would take a look at the West Loop. In recent years so many outstanding restaurants have opened and several more are in the works; seems like a nice neighborhood too aside from the amazing places to dine.

      Some of the culinary highlights:
      *Grace: Fine dining; IMHO Chicago's best restaurant. Two Michelin Stars and should receive a third this fall.
      *Publican: Nose-to-Tail/Farm-to-Table - Seems like a venue you would like quite a bit based on your comments.
      *Moto & iNG: Chef Homaro Cantu's venues; modernist cuisine.
      *La Sirena Clandestina: Spanish Tapas
      *Girl & the Goat: Chef Stephanie Izard's iconic restaurant; also has a lot of offal, strong flavors and rich food. Across the street is her diner, Little Goat.
      *Next Restaurant: Grant Achatz' venue where not just the menu, but the theme of the restaurant completely changes every four months; around the corner is the Aviary (ultra modern cocktail lounge) and The Office (a speakeasy).
      *Blackbird: Michelin starred Contemporary American cuisine.
      *Vera: Spanish wine bar
      *Maude's Liquor Bar: Upscale bar with French cuisine.
      *Jaipur: Indian cuisine
      *Au Cheval: Great diner/pub with arguably Chicago's best burger
      *La Sardine: French Bistro
      *Carnivale: Latin cuisine in a festive, lively atmosphere
      *Haymarket: Micro-brewery
      *Nellcote: French/Italian
      *Glazed & Infused: Doughnuts
      *La Colombe: Outstanding Coffee
      *Perman Wine Selections: Great wine shop.
      *West Loop Salumi: Some of the best cured meats I have ever consumed.

      Several others I am sure I am leaving out and so many great new places in the works such as Boka Group's upcoming Asian venue and I believe Rick Bayless is opening something in the area in the near future as well.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Great. I am going to be busy eating for the few months on this list alone!

      2. Here's my list of "DO NOT MISS" restaurants for a first visit to Chicago. These are places that are also worth many return visits.

        Alinea - Acclaimed by many as the best restaurant in the country. My recent dinner there was the very best in my entire life. Notable for its unusual presentation techniques as well as its amazing deliciousness. www.alinearestaurant.com

        Grace - Sophisticated place whose "sum is greater than the parts", with excellent food, décor, and service. www.grace-restaurant.com

        North Pond - Unique for its setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond and the city skyline. James Beard Award-winning chef turning out wonderful food (special props to the dessert chef too). Unlike the previous two, more casual (jackets not required/recommended) and less expensive ($100-120/pp including moderate alcohol and tax/tip). My recent dinner there was the best so far of 2014. www.northpondrestaurant.com

        Naha - Like North Pond, another James Beard Award-winning chef turning out wonderful food. And similarly more casual and less expensive. www.naha-chicago.com

        Sable - Delicious contemporary American cuisine in a small plates format, combined with innovative craft cocktails. www.sablechicago.com

        GT Fish & Oyster - Excellent seafood in a small plates format, combined with innovative craft cocktails. www.gtoyster.com

        Anteprima - In a city full of new and old Italian restaurants, this remains my favorite, and my most frequently-visited restaurant not in my 'hood. www.anteprimachicago.net

        Lou Malnati's - With locations all over the city and suburbs, perhaps our best place for our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza. www.loumalnatis.com

        Jam - Chicago has quite a few breakfast/brunch-focused restaurants, but if I had to choose only one, it's Jam. Imagine what a creative chef with a fine-dining background would create for an inexpensive breakfast restaurant, and that's Jam. www.jamrestaurant.com

        If you wanted to consider restaurants outside the city limits, top contenders include Michael, Oceanique, Inovasi, Tallgrass, and Vie, as well as Walker Brothers for breakfast.

        Here are a few other "top Chicago restaurant lists":

        Michelin's 2014 Chicago restaurant winners (click on tabs for stars) - www.michelintravel.com/michelin-selec...

        Eater's 38 Essential Chicago restaurants - http://chicago.eater.com/archives/201...

        1. >> I would take a look at the West Loop. In recent years so many outstanding restaurants have opened and several more are in the works; seems like a nice neighborhood too aside from the amazing places to dine.

          The West Loop does not have much residential housing; it consists largely of commercial and industrial properties (offices, retail, warehouses, etc). That may change as the restaurant business continues to thrive there, but it's just not very residential right now. By way of contrast, most of the other Chicago neighborhoods with big restaurant concentrations, including Andersonville, Bucktown, Logan Square, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and even River North and the Gold Coast, have lots of residential housing, along with the types of retail (e.g. supermarkets) that support residential neighborhoods. Walk around these neighborhoods, and you'll see families with kids, people walking their dogs, etc., characteristics of residential neighborhoods that you don't see much in the West Loop.

          3 Replies
          1. re: nsxtasy

            The West Loop has tons of residential housing, lofts, and new construction. A whole bunch of rental infill building is going on right now. Jerry Reinsdorf has a 52 unit and a 72 unit development that broke ground. Huge projects on Madison and Racine, Halsted and Adams, and Adams and Aberdeen.

            Plenty of dog walkers, joggers, families with kids, plus parks: Union, Skinner, and Bartleme.

            Mariano's has been open a year and a Whole Foods is opening in the old Dominick's.

            I've lived in the West Loop for 13 years now.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Have to disagree with this; I have several friends that live in the West Loop and six years ago when I was purchasing a condo I was choosing between West Loop and Lakeview and our realtor took us to numerous West Loop properties; since then there has been many new builds and gut rehabs. It is a great neighborhood not just for restaurants, but for living as well (though prices tend to be on the high side). I ended up in Lakeview, but may yet move to West Loop.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Nxstasy is wrong about the West Loop. It is a great residential area that is continuing to grow. It has the added benefit of being close 90/94 for your commute.

                For U of C - being close to Lake Shore Drive or 90/94 will be beneficial, because the time spent in your car after getting off of those can add countless hours.

              2. The mods frown on posters giving advice that is not food-related. I know that your query was framed in terms of identifying neighborhoods with good food, but (a) there are many neighborhoods with good food in Chicago and (b) there really are a lot of other factors -- access to transportation, type of housing stock, budget, and overall vibe -- that should go into your search, but go beyond the scope of CH.

                My first thought was to recommend Bucktown/ Wicker Park because it has a lively restaurant and food scene, as well as access to lots of other amenities. It is largely populated by 20- and 30-somethings. It may not be your type of neighborhood at all.

                You really just need to visit the City first hand and get a feel for our neighborhoods both in terms of food and other attractions.

                1. It's possible I am wrong about the West Loop, and I am willing to defer to the opinions of those who live there, who certainly know better than I do. I've never seen many signs of residential life anywhere near the "restaurant row" along Randolph Street during my visits there, but things can and do change, as supported by the comments about projects breaking ground recently. As I noted, some of the attraction of new construction there is undoubtedly the recent proliferation of restaurants.

                  Thanks for the follow-up comments.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Much of the residential structures in the West Loop are to the south and to the west of the "restaurant row" area centered on Randolph Street. if you are approaching Restaurant Row by car from the Kennedy, or walking over from the Ogilvie train station, you would not see it. (As I recall, you live in the north 'burbs.)

                  2. This (masha's) is a very good summary comment. One cannot understate all the factors he/she mentioned, particularly budget. Furthermore, much depends on whether you're looking to own or rent, new vs older construction, etc.

                    1. Thanks to all for your advice, especially the restaurant recommendations, so many places in Chicago look great. I am going to look forward to eating there.

                      I didn't mean to draw the conversation into non-food related posts. Of course there are other considerations I will take into account before deciding where to live--I was just interested in getting a picture of the culinary landscape, so to speak--I can do searches on Chowhounds for Thai food, or for sweetbreads (love sweetbreads), but it is harder, for an ignorant outsider, to know what to search for to a get a picture of neighborhoods, though the links nsxtasy posted were very helpful.

                      Thanks for alerting me to the West Loop. I've been to Chicago a few times, but look forward to moving there, come August.

                      1. Yes the West Loop is a really nice residential area. For example, right near Carmicheal's (nice pre-UC steak and chop) on Monroe & Racine, Viagia (very nice Italian) on Madison are many $500k+ three-flats and townhouses along with mid-rises that were all built in the last 7 years or so. Big new parks, young professionals and new families as well as a bunch of nice neighborhood bars and grills span from Greek town to Randolph. I also recommend Wishbone, Beer Bistro, and I'll admit it, I even like Flattop grill over there.

                        1. One more thing to keep in mind when selecting a place to live is how often you will be traveling to what destinations. For example, if you are working a normal work week in Hyde Park but living elsewhere, you will be traveling to and from there five days a week, possibly during prime commuting times when traffic is at a maximum. Whereas you might be going to a "destination" type restaurant less frequently, maybe once a week, perhaps on weekends when traffic is less of an issue. Granted, many people are happy to commute from another neighborhood, for all kinds of reasons... but wherever you live, you will be doing that commute to work A LOT. Once you get here and you're checking out different neighborhoods for places to live, you might want to try doing the same commute between each one and your workplace during your expected commuting times and using your expected mode of travel (public transit, driving, walking, etc). That way you can know how long you'll spend in transit to and from work before you actually commit to a place to live and commute from.

                          Like many (perhaps most) of us, I've found a "local rotation" of restaurants close to home that I go to fairly often, and I'm also willing to travel to other parts of the city and suburbs to try new and different "destination" restaurants. You can find a pretty decent local rotation of nearby restaurants in most city neighborhoods and many suburbs, and the lower frequency for more distant places makes their travel time less troublesome. Hope that makes sense.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            I don't know you nearly well enough to suggest where you should live! What I will say is that in recent years some very good restaurants have opened up in southern neighborhoods that did not previously draw foodie attention, including Bridgeport, Pilsen, and Hyde Park. Also, the Little Italy/University Village community now has many good dining options beyond Italian food. As for the debate about the West Loop (no disputing the dining options are outstanding), my understanding has been that one of the big catalysts of restaurant development was when Oprah built Harpo Studio there. I know there were other factors, and the restaurant and residential growth certainly build off each other, but that one was big.

                            1. re: GourmetWednesday

                              Harpo, MJ and the United Center, and the complete redevelopment of Madison Avenue as a main thoroughfare for the 1996 Democratic Convention all played a part.

                              It is great that nsxtasy recommends La Sardine often. They have been hurting since Harpo closed.

                              And you are absolutely right on with Pilsen and Bridgeport. Lots of great places opening up in those areas.

                          2. Deciding whether to live in Hyde Park (the neighborhood of the University of Chicago) is about far more than choice of restaurants. The University tightly controls commerce in HP with the result that there isn't much. Apart from restaurants, it would be nearly impossible to buy underwear or an umbrella in HP. The positives are that you have a unique community---quiet, schlolarly, leafy in summer, very special (I know it well---spent my youth there, was shaped by HP, which I love, so I'm not just putting it down but being realistic here). But the area is not very well-served by public transportation, and if you are depending on that, living anywhere BUT HP if you have daily business in HP could be quite problematic. If you choose to live on the North Side you will have immediate access to hundreds of restaurants and other retail BUT getting back and forth to HP will be awkward. Whether driving is a happy experience depends largely on your parking situation. Both Metra train and the Jackson Express # 6 bus get you there quickly from downtown but both deposit you where you would have about a mile or more walk to most University buildings and after dark there would be security concerns.

                            HP is an island in the otherwise awful South Side. Most decent housing, restaurants, and retail are either Near South or Near North. It's a big decision. HP is a way of life, very perfused with the U of C culture. But not a lot of restaurants.

                            1. Oh, and a quick overview on our mix of ethnic restaurants...

                              >> I love the Bay Area's Lao food, the sourer and spicier the better, Vietnamese food (I will be searching for Bun Bo Hue in Chicago), Sichuan food, good French food (game, especially). But that is the Bay: I am excited to see what Chicago has to offer.

                              The mix in Chicago is very different from that of the SFBay area. First, Latin American cuisine is a strength in Chicago. We have the biggest, best assortment of creative contemporary Mexican restaurants in the country, led for many years by Rick Bayless and his Topolobampo and Frontera Grill; other good ones include Mexique, Mixteco Grill, Libertad, and Yolo, and on the South Side not that far from the U of C, Amelia's. (Check out their menus to understand the difference between those and the more conventional enchiladas and tacos that proliferate elsewhere.) We have numerous South American and Latin fusion restaurants as well, including Carnivale, Nacional 27, and Tango Sur.

                              Chicago also has a huge assortment of Eastern European restaurants, including Polish places like Podhalanka and Red Apple, as well as those of many other countries in that area. I've heard it stated that Chicago has more people of Polish origin than any other city in the world except Warsaw. I've also heard that we have more of Greek origin than any other city in the world except Athens, which will come as no surprise if you walk down Halsted Street in Greek Town, home to Santorini, the Parthenon, and Greek Islands, among others.

                              We don't have any Laotian restaurants AFAIK, but our Thai restaurants compare well with anywhere in the country. Try ATK (Andy's Thai Kitchen), Rainbow Thai, Aroy Thai, TAC Quick, and Sticky Rice. For Vietnamese, take the CTA Red Line to Argyle and walk around the vicinity, where you'll find many Vietnamese restaurants including Tank Noodle. Our best Szechuan is in Chinatown (e.g. Lao Sze Chuan), although Chicago's Chinatown is smaller and Chinese cuisine isn't really a strength of Chicago. We also have quite a few Indian/Pakistani restaurants, many of which are concentrated along Devon Avenue between Western and Sacramento.

                              Among the more mainstream ethnic cuisines, you mention French food. We have plenty of French bistros, including La Sardine and its sister Le Bouchon, and Mon Ami Gabi. More upscale French restaurants have been on the decline in Chicago as well as most of the country, but we have a few outstanding ones: Everest, Brindille, and Michael.

                              Italian is another "mainstream ethnic cuisine", one you can find anywhere in the States. In the past few years, openings of new, creative Italian restaurants have been numerous, including Piccolo Sogno Due and Piccolo Sogno, Davanti Enoteca River North, Nico Osteria, and Cicchetti, joining longtime favorites Anteprima, Vivere, Coco Pazzo, Café Spiaggia, and Davanti Enoteca. Spiaggia has been in a category all its own as our only truly fine-dining Italian restaurant; it is temporarily closed for remodeling and it is not yet clear to what extent they will adhere to the fine-dining genre when they re-open.

                              As you can tell from the examples here, some of these ethnic cuisines are concentrated in specific neighborhoods, frequently where those of that ethnicity also live, while others are spread out throughout the Chicago area.

                              Using the search function on Chowhound, you can find numerous discussions on specific ethnic cuisines as well as other topics. If you don't see what you're looking for, ask!

                              By now you probably feel inundated by recommendations. Don't be overwhelmed! A fundamental truth in Chicago dining is that the number of restaurants worth recommending and trying is huge and always increasing. I've lived in Chicago for many years and love trying new places. Even as I do so, my list of restaurants I'd like to try never seems to get any shorter. I accept the fact that I will never get to try every place I'd like to try. And after all, you can only eat at one restaurant at a time. So don't get discouraged! When you're here, you'll get comfortable with the fact that there are so very, very many excellent restaurants, and it's just a matter of deciding which of them you'd like to try first, and which of them you feel like trying on any given day/night. Welcome to our world! :)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                Those are some fantastic tips, thank you. Food shall not be one of my worries in Chicago!

                              2. It looks like you have gotten a good deal of advise on this post, but I will add my two cents. I have been living in the West Loop for 4 years now and love it more each day. There are so many great food options. It is lacking in quick take out places/fast casual but it does have a few. Condos, apartments, and restaurants are popping up every time I turn around. Nobu hotel and restaurant is slated to open within 2 years just off of Randolph on Green as well. For me an added bonus is that I work in the loop so I am a quick bus ride or less than 30 min walk on nice days to work.