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Apr 29, 2014 11:27 AM

Trip to Chicago in July with family

Our family consists of two adults, two kids, 8 & 10 and my mom, 65yo. We are all headed to Chicago in July. There will be some days my husband is in a conference and other days we will all be together. One night, my husband and I will get date night! Whoo-hoo!

We are staying downtown at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers. Here are the places various people are interest in:

Girl and the Goat
The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock building
Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder
Do-Rite Donuts

We are also considering going to the Tommy Gun's Garage Show. It got great reviews on Tripadvisor.

Any must-dos and don'ts? I hear we have to do the popcorn place. For our date night, we would love to bar hop and explore but don't want to get turned away at the door for not having reservations. Any general areas/restaurants that would fit the bill?

Also, we have time for a leisurely breakfast on a Saturday morning. Any suggestions for something relatively near our hotel?

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  1. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder is good but personally I think if you are looking Chicago Deep Dish Lou Malnati's. Pizano's or the original Pizzeria Uno or Pizzeria Due are much better-

    1. I really enjoy Girl & the Goat; do keep in mind they are extremely popular and book up far in advance. For July there are probably only very early and very late reservations still available and Saturdays may be fully booked. I strongly recommend booking right away or you will be out of luck.

      For Signature Room; amazing views, but IMHO the food is nothing special and a bit pricey; not a bad choice for doing an appetizer and/or a drink to take in the view - but you likely can do better for a full meal.

      Chicago is famous for pizza, but I have not generally heard Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder spoken about as one of our better choices for this. Lou Malnati's, Pizano's or the Original Pizzeria Uno/Due might be better choices.

      Chicago also has excellent upscale Mexican cuisine and Mexique is certainly one of the better options for this.

      Also outstanding breakfast/brunch options. Some places to consider would be Perennial Virant in nearby Lincoln Park, Jam (my favorite - but a bit out-of-the-way from your hotel in the Logan Square Neighborhood), Little Goat Diner in West Loop (sister venue of Girl & the Goat), Bongo Room (just south of downtown area) or Meli Cafe (close to your hotel; while good not quite up there with the others I listed IMHO). Of these only Little Goat and Perennial Virant take reservations; there may be long waits at the others if you go during peak brunch time.

      For your special date night it would be helpful if you provided a little more information about the price point, type of food and ambiance you are seeking as Chicago has so many great restaurants and bars.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Not too worried about the price but looking more for a fun time rather than a hoity-toity meal. Don't get me wrong...we like hoity-toity. Just not what I had in mind. I saw a review for Carnivale which sounded fun and a real possibility. Also looked at Mexique but it appeared quite far removed from other bars we could hit up for drinks before dinner. It's hard to tell on the internet...

        1. re: nhinske

          Yeah, Mexique is not really in an area good for bar hopping. Carnivale is energetic, but not the best food IMHO. If you wanted to do West Loop some fun stops that I think would be a bit better to Carnivale might be Au Cheval, Maude's Liquor Bar, Vera, Aviary, La Sirena Clandestina, Little Goat Diner and Publican. You could do a drink and bite at several of these and sample a great variety of what Chicago has to offer (and all are within a few minute walk). Depending on day of week and time of day some of these may be closed and/or some may have lengthy waits.

      2. >> Girl and the Goat

        I'm not a fan, but others like it. And it's not particularly close to your hotel, either.

        Personally, I'd go to Sable (a few blocks walk from the hotel) or GT Fish & Oyster (a few blocks further than Sable) rather than Girl and the Goat. The food is great at both of these "small plates" restaurants (which also feature outstanding craft cocktails), and both accept reservations (by phone and at If you can dine at off hours, I'd also recommend the Purple Pig, but they don't accept reservations and the waiting times to be seated are typically horrendous at normal mealtimes.

        >> The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock building

        As gonzo notes, great view, but nothing special about the food. Get a drink there, then eat elsewhere.

        >> Mexique

        I like Mexique a lot, and it's a great example of our contemporary Mexican cuisine. Regarding your later question, it's in the popular West Town/Noble Square area and there are nearby places to drink, but it's not particularly close to your hotel.

        If I were you, I would instead try to get reservations at Frontera Grill, which is a ten-minute walk from your hotel. It's another excellent example of our unique contemporary Mexican cuisine, from Rick Bayless, who started it all here. They recently started accepting reservations on the internet (through so they may be easier to get now. (You might also consider weekday lunch, either at Frontera Grill or at Topolobampo, which accepts reservations on Opentable.)

        If you can't get a reservation at Frontera Grill, though - or even if you can - Mexique is a great option too, other than being a bit further away.

        >> Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder

        DO NOT GO. They specialize in a "pizza pot pie" style of pizza and it's really nothing special at all. I agree with Weinstein's and gonzo's recommendations instead; get deep-dish Chicago-style pizza from Lou Malnati's, Pizano's, or Uno or Due. The latter two are a ten-minute walk from your hotel; the other two have downtown locations a bit further. At Lou Malnati's and Pizano's, you can call ahead with your pizza order so they have it ready when you're seated, thereby avoiding the usual 30-45 minute wait while seated for your deep-dish to bake.

        >> Do-Rite Donuts

        We have numerous new places for donuts, and this is one of them. It's about a ten-minute walk from the hotel. If I were staying at the Sheraton, I would instead go to Firecakes or the Glazed & Infused location on Hubbard, both of which are only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Or go to all three! :)

        >> Any must-dos and don'ts?

        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.

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

        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.

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

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

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

        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.

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

        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.

        >> I hear we have to do the popcorn place.

        Yes, Garrett's. Definitely, that's a "must do" also. Depending on which way you're headed, they have a location on Michigan Avenue north of your hotel, several locations in the Loop, and locations at O'Hare where you can get some to take home with you.

        >> For our date night, we would love to bar hop and explore but don't want to get turned away at the door for not having reservations. Any general areas/restaurants that would fit the bill?

        There are several areas where you can do that - notably River North (near your hotel, west of the "Magnificent Mile" of North Michigan Avenue). The "restaurant row" along West Randolph in the West Loop is another area, although that's about a mile west of your hotel. There are lots of neighborhoods where you can do this, though, including Bucktown, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Andersonville, and others.

        However, I don't recommend having no reservation for dinner on a Friday and ESPECIALLY on a Saturday. The good places fill their reservations in advance (unless you can eat very early or very late) and the places that don't take reservations can have ridiculously long waits on those evenings. If you don't have a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night for dinner, chances are good that you're going to end up settling for an unplanned place where the food is nothing special. Perhaps you can schedule your "date night" for one of the other five days of the week, when it is not much of an issue. However, there are a few places that fill up even during the rest of the week, so if there is a place you really want to go on that night, a reservation is still a good idea.

        >> Also, we have time for a leisurely breakfast on a Saturday morning. Any suggestions for something relatively near our hotel?

        Your hotel offers a very interesting option. It's called LB Bistro and is run by a two-time world champion pastry chef. They have an a la carte menu as well as an all-you-can-eat buffet option ($24), and that buffet includes some pretty unusual, creative breakfast items. It's worth a try.

        Other than that, I mentioned Jam above, but it's some distance from your hotel (you can take a cab, or catch the CTA Blue Line at Washington and Dearborn). The closest interesting breakfast places to your hotel are Eggy's and Yolk's location at Grand and McClurg. Or you can walk 15 minutes to the Meli Café location on Wells, which has great variety to their menu.

        >> I saw a review for Carnivale which sounded fun and a real possibility.

        Funny, I'm going there for dinner next week. :) It's good, but the location is somewhat inconvenient. Nacional 27 is similar, with Latin fusion cuisine in a festive atmosphere, but Nacional 27 is in River North, a 15-minute walk from your hotel, so it might be preferable for that reason.

        7 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          This is incredibly helpful!!!! Thank you so much for taking the time. I need to rework a few of my nights based on this post!

          Trip Advisor is helpful but I feel like there can be some amazing restaurants further down the list that people pass over because they are not in the top 10. I know that is true in Charleston, SC where I live.

          1. re: nhinske

            The biggest problem with any list of the "best" restaurants, when applied to Chicago at least, is that the city has a HUGE number of excellent, recommendation-worthy restaurants, and they span so many different categories - types of food, price points, geographical location, etc. Any of which will be more important to some people than to others. And then, of course, is the whole "how do you define 'best'" question, which jumps out at you when a list's top two vote-getters (out of 8,205 restaurants) are an extremely expensive and creative fine-dining restaurant and an ordinary pancake house.

            This is why it helps to provide more information up front, about where you're staying and/or spending time, budget, desires, etc. (as you have done - your questions were quite specific, which makes answering much easier). This way we can provide recommendations tailored to your own needs and desires.

            Feel free to ask more questions!

            1. re: nhinske

              I am heading to Charleston in a few weeks.

              1. re: Gonzo70

                I can help! Do you already have your dining plans set?

                1. re: nhinske

                  Dinners are set (Husk & McCrady's) but open to lunch and breakfast recommendations.


                  1. re: Gonzo70

                    Hominy Grill for breakfast/brunch is amazing. Will you have a car? If so, I would recommend The Tattooed Moose for lunch...a pub with the best Pub Food ever. Lunch definitely hit Cru Cafe, just one block off Market Street on Pinckney. It's a Charleston Single house. If it's a pretty day, get there just before typical lunch time and ask to sit on the porch. Get a side of the Four Cheese Mac & Cheese to share. It's legendary.

                    I don't love either Husk or McCrady's but that's just me. You will be happy with those. I would have recommended FIG which is just amazing but again, you will be fine. Definitely get a cocktail at the Husk bar in the Charleston single next door...all homemade liquor!

                    Finally, for a lighter breakfast, GLAZED on King Street has the best donuts in Chas. While you are on King Street, lunch at Basil (Thai) would be nice...

                    1. re: nhinske

                      Thanks so much for the information.

          2. For your date night, might i suggest something I've posted twice prior, based on an evening a couple months ago . . .

            For something more casual and fun (as I would call it) I recommended this itinerary that was a really fun night out in Chicago. Start with well crafted cocktails and light bites at The Dawson (i enjoyed sitting at bar upstairs with a couple friends and having whiskey cocktails and a bunch of the apps/small plates). For your second (and maybe 3rd) stop, walk across the street for some good old-school Chicago and grab a drink or two at Emmitt's and/or Richard's Pubs. After a drink or two, walk down Halsted St 5 mins to W Randolph and put your name in at Au Cheval. While you're waiting for table at Au Cheval for the best pork chop and cheeseburger (in my book that I've ever had) walk a few doors down to Lone Wolf or Little Goat and have another cocktail or two. LG has a rooftop deck if its nice outside. All of this in jeans and with nice weather in June (edit) would be a nice night out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jbontario

              This is EXACTLY what I was looking for! Thanks so much!!! We will follow your itinerary to a tee!