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May 13, 2014 10:17 AM

Chicago Memorial Day Weekend

I need help setting up my eating itinerary for the weekend. I am an adventurous eater, but unfortunately my wife is a little picky and needs a few safe, simple options on the menu.

We don't want anything pre-fixe or ridiculously expensive like Alinea, but expensive is Ok - as long as it isn't stuffy. I tend to prefer casual and fun with really good food, but good food is the most important.

We are probably going to Frontera on Saturday for Brunch/Lunch - Is it still good?

We are meeting up with some friends for 1 of the meals. Would love a good suggestion - For this meal I would prefer it to be reasonably priced (Under $50 per person total) with an accessible menu.

Is Tavern on Rush good for Sunday Brunch? Better Suggestions? Somewhere that will be busy and food with really good food. Possibly outdoor seating if the weather is nice.

Dinner options - Sable/ GT Oyster / Girl & the Goat? /

Best Italian? Japanese?

Lou Malnati's for lunch on Monday?

Thank you in advance for any and all suggestions!

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  1. Frontera Grill has excellent food; have not been for brunch/lunch - but in general the food is outstanding but not the best ambiance or service.

    Lou Malnati's is the perfect choice to experience Chicago style pizza.

    I love GT Fish; have not been to Sable.

    Regarding Girl & the Goat, it is excellent but still wildly popular and reservations often book up months in advance. You might be able to grab bar/lounge area seating (where you can order off the full menu) if you arrive on the early or late side of service. Little Goat (also owned by Stephanie Izard and across the street) would be easier to get into on short notice; it is an upscale diner with really creative cuisine compared to your typical diner.

    Our best Japanese venue right now is closed because of a fire (Juno); Yusho would be my next choice (

    Not too familiar with Tavern on Rush, but have never heard of it thrown about as one of Chicago's better brunch options (and brunch is something Chicago does quite well).

    Some of my favorites that fit your criteria but you did not mentioned:

    Contemporary American: Boka in Lincoln Park. Food on par with fine dining, but approachable (so options for your wife) and more of a neigborhood bistro ambiance (so no stuffiness). A bit pricey, but nowhere near Alinea. I am actually heading here tonight for dinner:

    Italian: Two venues I love would be Balena in Lincoln Park ( and Ceres' Table in Lakeview ( Both have moderate pricing, fabulous cuisine, great cocktails, friendly staff and lively and comfortable space.

    Asian Fusion: I love Embeya in West Loop (

    Steakhouse: I love Bavette's Bar & Bouef; in addition to amazing steaks all the non-steak food I have tried has been equally great and I love the energetic but not overly sceney vibe ( David Burke's is another highly regarded steakhouse.

    Brunch Options:
    *Publican in West Loop - nose-to-tail cuisine, so lots of adventurous options but also some "safe" choices for your wife (
    *North Pond in Lincoln Park (Sunday Only). Fine dining style brunch that is lunch food rather than breakfast fare. Exquisite setting in the heart of Lincoln Park (literally inside the park) with great views of the skyline and pond (
    *Jam in Logan Square. My favorite brunch in the city. The chef has a fine dining background and typical brunch food with an upscale twist and high quality ingredients are utilized (
    *Other good brunch spots: Bongo Room, Meli Cafe, Tweet, iNG (Sunday only), M Henry.

    Many of these places book up in advance, so if you want any of these I recommend making a reservation ASAP (Jam and some of the brunch spots I mentioned do not take reservations, all of the dinner spots I mentioned are on Open Table and North Pond, Publican and iNG take reservations for brunch).

    10 Replies
    1. re: Gonzo70

      Yusho is currently on Travelzoo for an $85 seven-course tasting menu if you are interested:

      1. re: Gonzo70

        8:30 pm basketball game Saturday night is a must watch for me.

        Do you think it is best to eat dinner before the game and then go to a bar? I would prefer to be able to watch the game at a restaurant/bar if there is a good option. Thoughts?

        1. re: SobeChower

          The area around DePaul University has some good places to watch games. My favorite is Barn & Co., just a block north of the Fullerton L stop. Good barbecue and very capable bartenders.

        2. re: Gonzo70

          How was your dinner @ Boka? From what I've read they recently changed chefs and renovated the space. Still worthy of a visit?

          I'm thinking Boka Friday night, GT Sunday night, Frontera Sat Lunch, Lou Malnati's Monday lunch, undecided Sunday Brunch

          1. re: SobeChower

            >> How was your dinner @ Boka? From what I've read they recently changed chefs and renovated the space. Still worthy of a visit?

            Sometimes a change in chefs and décor can be a bad sign, especially if the chef is an unknown. But sometimes it can be a sign that the owners intend to make a great restaurant even better, and that's certainly the case here. Boka is the first restaurant from the Boka group, which now has half a dozen places. The founding chef at Boka, Giuseppe Tentori, is spending his time at their restaurant (and his namesake) GT Fish & Oyster - yes, your Sunday choice - and they wanted someone to take over. Lee Wolen, the new chef, is very accomplished. I had dinner during his last night at his previous kitchen, the Lobby in the Peninsula, and it was wonderful. Even though I have not yet been to the "new" Boka, I can tell you with confidence that it is definitely still worthy of a visit. (And it is sufficiently different from what Tentori is doing at GT Fish that there's no need to worry about doing two restaurants in that group.)

            Also, for Saturday brunch at Frontera, you might try making a reservation to avoid the long waits. They now accept them on the website as well as at

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Great. Do you like the choices or would you do it differently?

              Frontera doesn't have any reservations left and I understand the wait might be long. Is the area around frontera around shops so that we can kill any potential wait time by walking around?

              1. re: SobeChower

                >> Is the area around frontera around shops so that we can kill any potential wait time by walking around?

                Yes. For example, anyone interested in food could easily spend a lot of time in Eataly without minding it a bit. From Frontera Grill, walk two blocks north and three blocks east (0.4 mile, 8 minutes) to Eataly.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Thoughts in the Bristol for Sunday Brunch?

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    It's funny that you mentioned that - We did precisely that "course" when we were entertaining family from Ireland last month. Everyone enjoyed the evening very much.

              2. re: SobeChower

                All four of our party had a fantastic dinner. I was a regular at Boka before the recent renovations/chef change and have already been to the "new" Boka a few times. The renovations were really tastefully done and the space is beautiful. Chef Wolen (who came to Chicago from Eleven Madison Park in NYC) is the new chef and he is IMHO one of Chicago's best chefs. The itinerary you have sounds great. Nice variety of cuisine and all outstanding venues.

            2. >> We are probably going to Frontera on Saturday for Brunch/Lunch - Is it still good?

              It's good, but without a reservation, waiting times to be seated for their Saturday brunch are typically 90+ minutes. No, that is not a typo.

              Saturday brunch/lunch can be iffy in terms of waiting times. Some places have long waits (like on Sundays) while others don't. Some places accept reservations, which avoids the issue entirely. I'd consider Café des Architectes, which accepts reservations and does very nice for brunch (including the complimentary basket of French breads/pastries).

              For your Sunday brunch, I would STRONGLY recommend making a reservation to avoid this issue. And of course that rules out most of our great breakfast-specialty places (Jam, Bongo Room, M. Henry, Meli Café), which don't accept reservations and where waits to be seated are typically 30-60+ minutes on Sundays between 9:30 and 1:00. North Pond is an excellent choice, since they accept reservations and it's such a great setting, in the middle of the park, which is so pleasant at brunch time. Another great choice that accepts reservations is Shaw's Crab House; on Sundays they have an all-you-can-eat buffet that's not inexpensive, but your $52 (I think) includes items like king crab legs, prime rib, crab benedicts, Chicago's best crème brulee, amazing thick-cut caramelized bacon, etc.

              >> Dinner options - Sable/ GT Oyster / Girl & the Goat? /

              I love Sable and GT Fish & Oyster! Reservations at Sable are relatively easy to snag, GT Fish somewhat less so, but both are way easier to reserve than G&TG (which I'm not that fond of).

              >> Best Italian?

              Spiaggia, our only truly fine-dining Italian restaurant, is scheduled to open next week after remodeling. It's expensive. My favorite Italian restaurant in Chicago is Anteprima, which is in the Andersonville neighborhood, seven miles north of downtown. There are plenty more excellent Italian options in the downtown area; Piccolo Sogno (which has a great outdoor patio) and Piccolo Sogno Due may be the best, but also worth considering are Tesori, Coco Pazzo, Café Spiaggia, and Vivere.

              >> Lou Malnati's for lunch on Monday?


              1. Sunday brunch at the Peninsula Hotel is pretty spectacular. Way way better than ToR. Reservations accepted.

                3 Replies
                1. re: chowyadoin99

                  Yes, the Sunday brunch at the Lobby (that's the restaurant where they do the brunch at the Peninsula) is indeed a lavish all-you-can-eat buffet. You may want to ask in advance how much it costs, to make sure the price is acceptable to you. I know several years ago it was $60, so it's probably somewhere in the $70-90 range now. Lest that sound like a lot for brunch, the one they do on special holidays like Easter and Mother's Day is somewhere around $130-140, if I recall correctly. Yes, per person, for brunch.

                    1. re: HoosierFoodie

                      From the Peninsula website:
                      Executive Chef Mike Wehrle offers a spectacular Sunday Brunch in The Lobby every Sunday from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Guests enjoy an array of delectable offerings including a seafood station, sushi, carving station, cheeses, salads, breakfast specialties and a special children's station with a child-friendly selections.

                      Time: 11:00 am to 2:00 pm (Sun)

                      Price: US$ 75 per person, US$ 32 for children 12 and younger (not including tax and gratuity)

                      Reservations: Please call +1 (312) 573 6695 or e-mail

                  1. Blackbird's $25 3-course lunch prix fixe is a really good value, although I don't know if it's open on Memorial Day. It's not stuffy. Smart casual, maybe?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                      Based on Opentable availability, it appears that Blackbird is closed for lunch on Memorial Day, although they are open for dinner that day.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Thank you. I appreciate everybody responding. I am still in the process of figuring out where/when to go, but I have a slight revision to my plans.

                        Don't hold this against me, but I am a Miami Heat fan and it is very likely that there will be a game next Saturday night. That is going to be the night that we go out to dinner with another couple and I need some suggestions. Where I can get really good food, but also watch the game?

                        Thanks again!

                    2. It's been a little while since I have lunched at Frontera, but I have never had a bad lunch there.

                      Tavern on Rush is great if it is nice outside to sit and people watch. You may want to check out their brunch menu as it isn't huge but the food is good. Right in that area you may want to also look at Luxbar right next door. Both are good options for the Gold Coast and dining al fresco.

                      Sable and GT Oyster are both great, I would say I prefer the food at GT Oyster but the cocktails are great at Sable (the food is very good as well). Girl and the Goat is one of my favorites but is very hard to get in. Without a reservation I find it is best to go either very early or later. Usually if you are ok with a seat at the bar you can get in there quicker. Plus I actually find the bar quieter than the restaurant area.

                      Italian I love Piccolo Sogno. Also a good old school spot I enjoy is La Scarola.

                      Japanese: for Sushi I have been frequenting Tanoshi in the West Loop. It is relatively new (he has a BYOB spot in Andersonville). I have been a few times now and everything has been extremely fresh.