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May 21, 2014 10:30 AM

First Time Visit to Chicago June 1-6

This will be the first time i'm visiting Chicago, second for my husband. The first time for him was for work, so he didn't really get to see much of it, let alone go out adventuring for food. I think he said his coworkers took him out to the local chains.

Usually i'm very good with planning my eating itinerary, but this is somewhat of a last minute trip due to the school term being extended. So I need lots of help! My trips are usually based on food and where to eat, and I will plan the touristy things around which restaurants I will be going to. It's a bit backwards but works for me :). That being said, we eat ALOT and often when we travel. So please provide lots of options. We haven't booked our hotel/apt yet. But I will travel for food!

When we arrive on the Sunday, it will be early morning, and we will be hungry from having to be at the airport early, so i'm looking for a heavier brunchy type meal. The rest of the days, breakfasts i'm hoping to be lighter, maybe find some nice cafes for some pastries and breads. My husband is big on coffee.

Since it's so last minute, I'm unable to get a reservation at Alinea. i'm keeping an eye on their FB page to see if anyone can't go and will give up their ticket.

I also plan on going for deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's. And get a hotdog at Hot Dougs before they close down for good. I read about Sandwich Me In and how they produce zero waste so I wanted to see how that is as well.

Any other suggestions for where you locals think is a must visit? I think we will try and stay away from Asian food. There's plenty of good asian food in Toronto and surrounding area already. And yes if i can get into Alinea, that is an exception since their current menu is Asian based. My husband is a very adventurous eater, i'm ok i would think, but definitely not as adventurous as him. Price points, any suggestions are welcome from low to high. We are definitely ok with a fancier restaurant since we would be celebrating our 4th anniversary that week.

Thank you!

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  1. I do not think I would consider Alinea's menu Asian based; sister restaurant Next is doing a Chinese: Modern menu but not Alinea. A couple courses there may be Asian influenced, but unless things have recently dramatically changed it is far from an Asian menu.

    For brunch Sunday, many of the popular spots have long lines so I assume some place that takes reservations would be preferable. North Pond might be an excellent start to your trip; it is literally inside Lincoln Park with views of the pond and Chicago skyline and excellent food. It is a 3 course prix-fixe and is lunch food rather than breakfast fare. A second option would be Publican; combination of breakfast and lunch foods. It is located in the West Loop and is farm-to-table cuisine. GT Fish (seafood based) in River North neighborhood would be a third possibility. All accept reservations on Open Table.
    North Pond:
    GT Fish:

    During the week Jam in Logan Square is my favorite breakfast/lunch venue and on weekdays I would think there is no wait. Typical breakfast foods with high end ingredients and nice presentations (the chef/owner used to be a chef at Charlie Trotters).

    Cellar Door Provisions in Logan Square would be a good choice for a lighter breakfast/coffee.

    My favorite coffee bar is Star Lounge featuring Dark Matter coffee. Limited food but phenomenal coffee. It is in Humbolt Park neighborhood:

    Little Goat ( in West Loop is Chef Stephanie Izard's deli (she is the chef that owns Girl & the Goat); while much of the food is on the heavy side, it is a great place and worth stopping by for breakfast or lunch.

    For dinners here are some of my favorites that have availability for early June (excluding Asian venues):

    Moto ( Modernist cuisine in West Loop. This will give you a bit of an Alinea like experience.Long tasting menu with cool, interesting presentations of late there has been as much emphasis on the taste of the food as the presentation. If you dine here I recommend requesting to be seated in the "lab" (the downstairs dining room that has a chemistry lab like vibe and has an open counter where some of the food is plated). Sister restaurant iNG ( is also a lot of fun; more casual and less expensive but also a tasting menu with modernist cuisine - currently the "theme" of the menu is craft beer - so each course is cooked with a beer and paired with a craft beer.

    Boka ( in Lincoln Park: Contemporary American cuisine in Lincoln Park. Fine dining quality food but a relaxed, neighborhood bistro type ambiance with great staff and vibe.

    Balena ( in Lincoln Park: Outstanding modern Italian cuisine with an energetic vibe. Some of the best service in the city and excellent beverage program in addition to amazing food (be sure to order a pizza and pasta; definitely among the best I have had). Ceres' Table in Lakeview is another outstanding Italian restaurant: (

    Elizabeth ( in Lincoln Square: Like Alinea you buy tickets. Long tasting menu in an intimate environment with open kitchen. Emphasis on local, foraged, nose-to-tail cuisine. Beautiful artistic presentations and some of the whimsy of Alinea. Fine dining quality but very relaxed, casual setting.

    El Ideas ( Somewhat similar to Elizabeth in that it is a tiny restaurant with a long tasting menu with an open kitchen (you are even invited to hang out in the kitchen and chat with the chefs between courses). Has an energetic, dinner party like vibe and serves modernist cuisine. Is BYOB. Only negative is it is located in a sketchy neighborhood, but definitely an amazing, memorable dining experience and such a fun time.

    Senza ( in Lakeview: Tasting menu or prix fixe option of modern cuisine in a neighborhood bistro type setting. Beautiful space and warm, friendly staff. While they are 100% gluten free, one would never know this - even the bread and pasta are incredible.

    You may want to give Grace ( a call; they are not showing availability on Open Table but sometimes hold some reservations back. They have become my absolute favorite restaurant in Chicago (I feel they are even better than Alinea). Some of the best food you will ever have, stunning presentations and interesting cuisine, high end ingredients, luxurious but comfortable dining room and best service in Chicago (perfect blend of polished and personable).

    Hope you have a wonderful trip and a great anniversary!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gonzo70

      Gonzo you are right! I totally looked at the wrong menu on their website. I clicked on Next instead of Alinea....i was wondering why the prices were so low for a 3 michelin starred restaurant!

      So far i'm in the talks with someone on FB for 2 tickets to Alinea. Fingers crossed that I actually get them!

    2. You don't mention where you're staying, which would be helpful. Even the areas comprising downtown Chicago cover a large area, and some things are worth considering if they're closer to you.

      Just to add to the comprehensive advice provided by Gonzo...

      >> When we arrive on the Sunday, it will be early morning, and we will be hungry from having to be at the airport early, so i'm looking for a heavier brunchy type meal.

      I agree with Gonzo's recommendation of North Pond, which features its exquisite setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the far shore. They accept reservations for Sunday brunch. I had dinner there recently and it was simploy outstanding, one of the best I've had in a long time.

      Another possibility for Sunday brunch is Shaw's Crab House. They do an all-you-can-eat buffet. At $55, it's not inexpensive, but the food is terrific, and includes king crab legs (yes, all you can eat), the best bacon I've ever had (thick-cut caramelized bacon), a carving station with filet mignon, the best crab cakes in Chicago, the best crème brulee in Chicago, and lots more great stuff.

      >> The rest of the days, breakfasts i'm hoping to be lighter, maybe find some nice cafes for some pastries and breads. My husband is big on coffee.

      Gonzo mentions Jam, which may be the best and most unusual place for breakfast in town, but it's five miles northwest of the Loop, which may not be all that convenient for you. Other breakfast places worth considering and closer to downtown include Bongo Room at Roosevelt (12th) and Wabash, and the Original Pancake House on East Bellevue. Toni Patisserie in the Loop is good for pastry and bread. Donut places include Do-Rite Donuts in the Loop , Firecakes in River North , and multiple locations of Glazed & Infused. For the best coffee, Intelligentsia has Loop locations on Randolph and on Jackson. Do-Rite serves Dark Matter coffee which is also excellent.

      >> I also plan on going for deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's. And get a hotdog at Hot Dougs before they close down for good. I read about Sandwich Me In and how they produce zero waste so I wanted to see how that is as well.

      I've never heard of Sandwich Me In. We do have a lot of good sandwich places downtown, including Pastoral and Pret a Manger.

      >> Any other suggestions for where you locals think is a must visit?

      You haven't mentioned contemporary Mexican cuisine, which is a specialty here and you can't find at home. You can try to get a reservation for lunch or dinner at Topolobampo (see or Frontera Grill (see, which are at the same location in River North. If you can't snag one, make a reservation at Mexique in West Town or Mixteco Grill in Lakeview.

      In addition to the contemporary Mexican places, here's my list of more "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.

      Yes, you've already got several of them covered and they've already been recommended. I'm just repeating them because they are "do not miss" places.

      And, while not a single restaurant, I think our French Market is also worth a visit. It's in one of the commuter train stations just west of the Loop, and features some of the best restaurants of their type in Chicago, including Lillie's Q for barbecue, Vanille Patisserie for breads and pastry, Saigon Sisters for pho and banh mi, Pastoral for cheese and sandwiches, and Fumare for Montreal-style smoked meats.

      And don't miss Garrett's for popcorn, with several locations downtown while you're here, and locations at O'Hare to grab some on your way home.

      1. In regards to Hot Dougs - try and go early in the week to help alleviate some of the wait. You will get lines no matter what but not the duck-fat fried lines of Friday. Also, get your hotel room sooner than later. You are coming in at the end of huge convention (May 30-June 3 Oncologists, 33,000 expected) so you might have high prices the first part of your trip.

        4 Replies
        1. re: lbs

          Thank you all for the very detailed suggestions. Greatly appreciated! I will have to take some time tonight to go through each of the suggested restaurants websites to look through the menus and add to my spreadsheet of restaurants to visit. So excited!

          nsxtasy - I didn't put where we are staying because we haven't quite booked a hotel/apt to stay at yet. I know it's very last minute, this usually isn't my travel style, but i really dint' have the same amount of time to plan for a trip as i normally do. And i love mexican food, and there isn't much of good mexican in Toronto. So that is a great idea!

          lbs - I guess that explains why the hotels are so expensive! I'm currently in discussion with someone about renting their apartment instead of doing a hotel. This way I get a fridge to put stuff in if i buy any fresh fruits and yogurts etc.

          I also love visiting farmer's markets and those sorts of places. Any particular that are worth looking into?

            1. re: jadec

              Agree, Green City Market is the best I am aware of in Chicago. It is held Wednesday and Saturday mornings in Lincoln Park (7am-1pm). Here is a link for more details:

              1. re: Gonzo70

                Thank you jaded and Gonzo! Will add that to my list too!

        2. Early morning arrival>breakfast soon and we don't yet know your location, but here are a few reliable breakfast places: 1) Wildberry, East Randolph about half a block east of Michigan Avenue. 2) Eggsperience, Dearborn and Ontario. 3) Yolk, several locations, google for closest. 4) Original Pancake House, Bellevue just east of Rush and State. Also, Heaven on Seven has Cajun breakfast on Sunday morning, Ohio and Rush. The Sheraton Hotel, lower level, LB's Patisserie, has a good prix-fix breakfast involving many chef stations, weekends only now I believe, check first as on non-prix-fix days their breakfast is a rip-off and not anything special at all (my check for three people was $85 and the eggs weren't even hot).

          1 Reply
          1. re: Querencia

            We are getting closer to having the hotel situation finalized. From June 2-June 5 we will be staying at the Hyatt McCormick. it is farther away, but the price was too good, 89/night. They didn't have Sunday availability, so we have temporarily booked the Congress for June 1. This last min trip planning is really stressing me out! And because of the hotel situation, i haven't researched restaurants quite yet. Thats for tonight to do.

            So far we have booked Moto for the Tuesday night. And currently in the talks with someone on FB for Alinea tickets for Wednesday night.

          2. I just came back from Chicago a few days ago and just wanted to summarize where I ended up going to eat for the next chowhounders that have the same questions I had.

            Day 1:
            Brunch - GT Fish & Oyster
            Ordered the Oyster Po'Boy, Biscuit & Lobster Gravy (huge chunks of lobster), and Crab Benedict (mounds of crab, not crab cake as I thought


            Dinner - Lou Malnati's Gold Coast
            Ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic (well done) and Chicken BBQ Club Salad

            Dessert - Ghirardellis
            Ordered single scoop sundae with a warm chocolate chip cookie

            Day 2:
            Breakfast - Eataly
            Hazelnut croissant, and butter croissant with regular coffee and latte

            Lunch - French Market
            Lillies-Q - Pulled Pork Sandwich
            Pastoral Le Canard (wanted the BLTA, but they ran out of the bacon
            )Raw - Beet Juice and Ginger Beer

            Dinner - Little Goat
            Los Drowned, Soft shelled crab taco special, crisp shrimp cocktail, and hot crab dip. We didn't order the hot crab dip, but they brought it out, and we told them we didn't order it, they gave it to us for free.

            Day 3:
            Breakfast - Jam
            Half order of the malted french toast (very rich, not sure how someone can eat the full order and be comfortable), and Tuesday tasting menu. We were told that every Tuesday they offer a breakfast tasting menu. There was a lemon pancake, a quinoa carbonara, savoury waffle with shrimp confit and creme brûlée. All for $25!

            Lunch - Hot Dougs
            Alligator dog, Foie gras dog and the chicago style dog

            Dinner - Moto
            We had the lab experience. it was so much fun! Loved the food there!

            Day 4:
            Breakfast - Kristoffers Cafe & Bakery
            Huevos rancheros, breakfast burrito, coffee and cortado. Also got a slice of caramel tres leches cake to go.

            Lunch - Mr Beef on Orleans
            Split a beef sandwich with the hubby since we had an early dinner reservation

            Dinner - Alinea
            Dinner was a lot of fun. I ended up getting tickets by posting on Alinea's fb page. In the end shared a table of 4 with another couple. What a great way to meet someone new! I know this is a 3 Michelin starred restaurant, but I think i preferred the ambiance and food at Moto more.

            Day 5:
            Breakfast - Toni Patisserie
            Soft boiled eggs & ham and cheese croissant. Coffee is free when you order breakfast. All their macarons are only $1 as well!

            Lunch - didn't have lunch, went outlet mall shopping at Rosemount.

            Snack - Stans Donuts
            I forgot the name of the donut that we ordered, but the inside had a filling similar to Spekeloos & sliced banana.

            Dinner - Big Star
            Ordered the al pastor, de panza, de pescado, de pollo, walking taco, ensalada de big star and a horchata. Very good tacos! I only wish i saw the take out window. I could have ordered there and eaten at the picnic tables they had right next to our table on the patio.

            Day 6:
            Flying back home stopped off at Tortas Fronterra in Terminal 3 of O-Hare
            Ordered a Egg & Bacon breakfast torta. Comes with a delicious cilantro flavoured chill sauce/salsa?

            3 Replies
            1. re: PrincessStress

              Thanks for the report. Glad to hear Moto is still at the top of its game. One of my favorite places.

              1. re: PrincessStress

                Great trip report; thanks so much for checking back in - looks like you had an amazing trip!

                1. re: Gonzo70

                  It was a great trip thanks to all the wonderful recommendations from all you chow hounders. There are still quite a few places i wanted to try but didn't get a chance to. Guess will have to wait for next time I come back to Chicago. Seems like I came too early, there seems to be a lot of summer events now.