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Jun 21, 2014 01:00 PM

Stay in which neighborhood for food?

Chicago Chows, I'll be coming to stay for almost a week in August, with my teenage daughter (who eats fairly widely). I'm wondering what the best neighborhood to stay in would be from a food perspective, with good access to the rest of the city. We would be using the el and buses, not renting a car.

We're coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, so we're less interested in the Asian foods we can get here. We're more interested in stuff that's harder to get (or not as good) here--Greek, German, Italian, Jewish delis, maybe a steak. We're big coffee and pastry fans. I'd probably make an exception to that for upscale Mexican, since Chicago seems so strong in that. We tend to go for moderate priced places rather than fine dining. We're willing to stay at either a hotel or an Airbnb. Thanks for any thoughts.

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  1. Many of the most interesting food neighborhoods are along the CTA Red Line and Brown Line (from south to north: South Loop, Loop, River North/Mag Mile, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, North Center, Lincoln Square, Uptown, Andersonville), although a few are along the Blue Line (Loop, River West, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square). I'd shoot for staying near a Red Line stop. River North/Mag Mile and the Loop have the greatest concentrations of hotels (as well as restaurants), and while the hotel rates can be rather high, you can often get good deals on them, particularly on the "opaque" websites like Priceline and Hotwire. So if I had to choose just one place as best, it would be River North. But I wouldn't sweat the decision too much; all the transit lines connect and offer transfers.

    I'll toss out a few top suggestions and you'll see where they're concentrated. Starting with the various categories you mention: Greek - Greek Town (just west of the Loop), German - Berghoff's (Loop), Italian - Anteprima (Andersonville) or Piccolo Sogno Due (River North), Jewish deli - Manny's (South Loop), Steaks - David Burke's Primehouse (River North), contemporary Mexican - Topolobampo/Frontera Grill (River North) or Mexique (West Town), Coffee - Intelligentsia (Loop and Lakeview), Pastry - Bad Wolf Coffee (Lakeview), Vanille Patisserie (Lincoln Park, French Market), Floriole (Lincoln Park). Other places I'd also recommend include Sable in River North for small plates contemporary American, GT Fish & Oyster in River North for small plates seafood, the Purple Pig on the Mag Mile for small plates Mediterranean, and Jam in Logan Square for breakfast. The French Market just west of the Loop is also worth a stop, as it has booths from some of the best restaurants and food places in the city. Similarly, Eataly in River North is the store/restaurant for everything Italian. As you can see, many but not all of these places are in River North, so that may be the neighborhood that you might target, especially since it's easy to get from River North to just about anywhere in the city on the el.


    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      I have been away for over 10 years and man did you make me hungry. i would love to go to Greek town and Manny's. Is taste of Chicago still happening, if so it is in August, Right?

      1. re: genoO

        Taste of Chicago has been shortened to five days and is in mid July, this year July 9-13. It's really not a showcase for the best food in Chicago, though, and I wouldn't recommend it. Chicago Gourmet is in late September and has a much better assortment of restaurants participating, although it's not inexpensive and it involves long lines at all the booths.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Nxtasy, that's very helpful. I was thinking about the Red Line as the route to focus on. I just have to think about how far north of the downtown I'm willing to go.

          1. re: Parlorpink

            You might want to start coming up with a tentative itinerary of restaurants, just to see where they're located. That might help you with your decision.

            Another thing to realize is, there are good restaurants all along the Red Line route (as well as along other lines too). If you find yourself staying in a specific neighborhood, you could easily tailor your dining itinerary to emphasize restaurants that are nearby rather than those that are more distant.

    2. An orientation to our basic geography may be helpful. Chicago's downtown area is bisected by the Chicago River. South of the river is "the Loop" which once was the main shopping and hotel district but is no more. It has several good hotels (Palmer House, Burnham, Hilton isn't far) and a few restaurants but most of the action now is north of the river. Michigan Avenue between the river and Oak Street Beach is called the Magnificent Mile. Between Michigan and the lake is called Streeterville. Immediately west of Michigan is River North. Most hotels, downtown restaurants, shopping, and street life are north of the river in the neighborhoods I have named. Restaurants abound. Buses run up and down Michigan and the Red Line subway runs under State Street so you can get anywhere fast. Greek: go to Greektown in a taxi. Italian: Eataly is fun. German: Berghoff , in the Loop. Coffee and pastry, take the Red Line to Addison and walk west to Julius Meinl on the corner of Southport---it's a trip to Austria. Mexican breakfast: Xoco. Jewish deli and homecooked meals: take the 36 bus (travels north on Dearborn then on State) to Barry and go to The Bagel. Google CTA for public transportation maps and info. Hotels: I send family to Homewood Suites because every room is a suite with a kitchen and the location is ace.

      1. If rooms are available, House of Two Urns in Wicker Park is well located. You would be well-situated to what Wicker Park has to offer plus close to several key bus lines, not to mention the Blue Line station at Division (two blocks away). I've heard the breakfast there is outstanding, though there are numerous nearby cafes that are tasty, too (Alliance Cafe and Lovely Cafe come to mind). Both serve decent coffee (via urns - if you want pour-over or other preparations, see below) and have strong pastry selections.

        Set to open in July is a Wicker Park outpost of Intelligentsia, probably the first of Chicago's third wave coffee roasters. The storefront is about two blocks from House of Two Urns and I'd expect great coffee and solid pastries from them. My favorite local roaster is Dark Matter - your best bet is to head to Star Lounge, just past Western on Chicago. If you're lucky, they'll have some Do-Rite donuts for sale.

        Relying just on the Blue Line, you can hit such spots as Lula's Cafe, Longman & Eagle, The Radler - Yusho and Fat Rice are a little bit of a walk from the Logan Square L stop. In Wicker Park, I think Piece (pizzeria brewpub) is great for lunch and if you can get a table at Big Star (which I believe is open for under 21's - call first to make sure), that's about the best people watching in the city (the tacos are good enough, too). Plenty of other decent options, too, though you may be better served taking a bus or a train to other neighborhoods with more exciting options.

        2 Replies
        1. re: danimalarkey

          I second this recommendation. Also near House of Two Urns are La Pasadita (at the forefront of Nate Silver's Chicago burrito rankings; try the carne asada) and Mott St. (excellent Asian fusion).

          1. re: Polski

            Thanks everyone for your ideas. It turns out, surprisingly enough, that my best available deal on a place to stay is at a hotel in Mag Mile. So I'll be about 10 minutes' walk from the Chicago Ave. Red Line station, within range of River North etc. Last time I was in Chicago we had a great meal at Farmhouse, so I'm hoping to go back there. I'll continue to watch this board.