Chicago food bleg

by on August 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

From a loyal MR reader and diner, who has excellent taste in food by the way:

Might you be willing to post another bleg, this one about Chicago? The results from the Toronto one were fabulous (and it also seemed to generate a good conversation among your readers). We’re headed there Saturday, and I’m disappointed so far in my research efforts

I don’t have a trip scheduled just yet, but I am sure I will benefit from your answers as well.  We both thank you in advance.

Larry August 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Rick Bayless’s two restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobambo, are excellent.

bob August 8, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Even his place in the airport Tortas Frontera is really good.

Andrew August 10, 2013 at 8:16 am

+1. Do this if you are ever at O’Hare.

Kevin Dick August 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm

+ 1

ElamBend August 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Get hot chocolate at Xoco

dick w. September 3, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Rich Bayless also has a lunch place on the 7th floor of the downtown Macy’s and one at the Chase Bank building. Funky, passable NOLA luch-time food at “Heaven on Seven” on Wabash Ave a couple of blocks north of the Palmer House — also on the 7th floor of the jewelry building. Great, incredibly cheap Mexican food at Nuevo Leon on 18th St in the Pilsen district — accessible via the Pink Line. Note that Nuevo does not have a liquor license — schlep your own. Excellent Mexican at Salpicon on Wells.

Chris August 8, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Will you have access to a car and time to stand in a line? Then Hot Dougs is worth considering.

Turpentine August 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I second that.

Chris S August 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Go to Hot Dougs for a weekday lunch and you’ll be fine. Avoid on Saturday, too crowded.

Alex Katz August 11, 2013 at 1:34 am

Saturday visit may be justified by the opportunity to get some duck fat fries…

anon August 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm

+1

John August 8, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Italian beef sandwiches. Available all over the city.

Robert Olson August 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

This, x10000000000

Tony August 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Johnnie’s Beef @ North & Harlem

Gracie August 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

Johnny’s Beef or another of the good beef places is a must.

AQ August 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Five Guys.

Robert Olson August 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm

This, except the opposite

bob August 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Five guys is all over the place and its pretty mediocre.

David J August 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Five Guys originated in Northern VA. It’s not a Chicago business, and it’s now all over the country. I don’t see why you’d seek out a Chicago Five Guys (unless you just want Five Guys).

ElamBend August 8, 2013 at 8:33 pm

If you want a hamburger experience, go to Kuma’s Corner. Interesting staff and decor. They grind steak in the basement at night to make the burgers which are offered in a variety of combinations. Heavy Metal background tunes.
Go early as long waits.

BTW, be sure you taste the local beers, not just Goose Island, but Three Floyds and some others that I’m forgetting because I stopped drinking beer.

Thomas August 9, 2013 at 12:15 am

Yes, if you find yourself in Hyde Park and the other choices are too crowded with students.

James August 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Longman & Eagle

James August 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Two out of Two Jameses agree: Longman & Eagle. Go early.

Turkey Vulture August 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Brunch at Longman & Eagle in Logan Square was great.

Collin Hitt August 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Avec and Blackbird are fantastic. Pequod’s in Lincoln Park is by far my favorite pizza (I go with extra cheese, extra sauce, well done). Perry’s is a super, no-frills lunch counter downtown that serves soup and massive sandwiches. Four Moons is a great tavern with very good tavern food. Chicago is the best breakfast town I’ve ever been to. Near downtown, if you want eggs and meat, Lou Mitchell’s is a great scene. Milk&Honey is my favorite breakfast place anywhere – get the orange brioche french toast and, to go, a bag of granola so good that you’ll start leaving blog comments about granola.

Turpentine August 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I second Avec. Great food at great prices. Only downside: they do not accept reservations.

Chris S August 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Four Moons was in my neighborhood. Good but not worth a special trip.

Brian Donohue August 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm

+2.

Blackbird is great.

Lou Mitchell’s is authentic Chicago.

Tony August 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Meli Cafe for breakfast. Lou Mitchell’s is a scene, but that is all, highly mediocre otherwise.

Andy August 9, 2013 at 12:16 am

Bongo Room is near Milk&Honey and is about 9999 times better. Bongo Room is the best brunch in te city. If you’re in the suburbs find a Walker Bros

Justin August 9, 2013 at 10:02 am

Best comment in thread. Heartily agree with all recommendations (esp. Pequods extra cheese extra sauce to taste what Chicago-style is supposed to be!)

Joe August 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm

For a Chicago style pizza: Pequod’s is the best. Lou Malnati’s is the best of the chains.
For a hotdog: Hot Doug’s or Flub A Dub Chub’s.
For an Italian Beef: Portillo’s, even though a chain, is the best.

ElamBend August 8, 2013 at 8:34 pm

For an interesting Pizza experience, try Chicago Pizza and Over Grinder on Clark. Pizza pop-overs. Cash only

mkt August 9, 2013 at 9:01 am

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. is an interesting twist on the idea of pizza, their website accurately describes what they serve as “pizza pot pies”. But I still prefer stuffed pizza.

Most people from outside Chicago think “Chicago style pizza” means deep dish pizza, the kind you get from Unos. There’s certainly plenty of that in Chicago; the Unos website says they invented it in 1943. But in the 1970s Nancy’s made a major technological leap with the stuffed pizza; Giordano’s popularized the idea and had reliably long lines out the door in the late 1970s as Chicagoans flocked to the innovative pizzas.

So my advice: go for the stuffed pizza. You can get deep dish pizza all over the country these days, and think that you are getting “Chicago style pizza”. But stuffed pizza places are extremely rare outside Chicago (the only one that I’ve been to was an hour east of LA in the Moreno Valley, and not very good). But good stuffed pizza is the best I’ve ever had. Blows ordinary deep dish pizza and New York City pizzas out of the water.

The wikipedia article does a good job of clarifying the meanings of “Chicago style pizza”. It even mentions the original Chicago style pizza: thin crispy crust, cut into squares. I never tried that when I was in Chicago, but Casa Bianca in LA is a highly-touted exemplar of that kind of pizza — and I estimate that half the people who try Casa Bianca rave about it, the other half (including me) find it distinctly inferior.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago-style_pizza

Careless August 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I’ll never understand why people think Lou Malnati’s isn’t terrible. I’d rather eat any national chain than Malnati’s. Not because I like Pizza Hut, but because Malnati’s tastes bad.

Yet somehow they’re winning the Chicago pizza war.

Greg August 8, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I’m not really a foodie, so take this with a grain of salt. But I like Angela’s a lot. It’s a “hole in the wall” Mexican place in Lincoln Park. I’ve taken a good number of people there, and all have liked it, including my friend from California. It’s inexpensive too. I also like Sultan’s Market (a Mediterranean place, with two locations) and Del Seoul (a Korean bbq taco place). Again, I am not a foodie, so I can’t guarantee you’ll like it. But people I hang out with like these places as well.

Nick August 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Seconding this – Angela’s is the best burrito in the city. Sultan’s Market is fine falafel, was not overly impressed with Del Seoul.

Piccolo Sogno at Grand/Halsted is fantastic Italian. Smoque on Pulaski is the best BBQ in the city, or try Bro-N-Laws on Chicago Ave if you’re ok with a very shady neighborhood.

Al’s is the best for Italian beef. Cemitas Puebla on North Ave is delicious tortas. Chicago deep-dish pizza is unique but overrated – the only time most locals ever eat it is when tourists are in town.

erm August 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

best falafel i can think of is a downtown lunch spot on franklin called Taza’s. excellent lentil soup too.

Louis S August 12, 2013 at 4:23 pm

The best Middle Eastern food is probably Naf Naf Grill (two locations downtown and several suburban locations). Everything is made fresh daily, including fresh baked pitas with a shelf life of 15 minutes. It is a little pricier than Sultan’s, but the quality differences warrant the slight increase.

I would definitely third the call to refer to lthforum.com. It is the predominant foodie information source for this city.

TimH August 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Second Pequod’s for the pizza – “Chicago style” is pretty much for tourists, but this i a solid compromise. Longman & Eagle is good but I think over rated. Lula’s, which is in the same neighborhood, is both older and I think better food.

Although Chicago isn’t known for tacos, it should be. They compare favorably to ones I had in Mexico and are starting to get ‘dressed up’ ever so slightly. Big Star is touristy/trendy with good options, Bullhead Cantina has more options (about a dozen, all cheap and well presented) and is never crowded, but it’s also worth getting “authentic” tacos.

All this assuming that the ‘creme de la creme’ restaurants in Chicago – the Grant Achatz-run ones, Moto, Schwa, etc. which have been getting Chicago international food press are off limits due to reservation constraints.

An Onyx Mousse August 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

The Chicago food scene is glorious, from world-class competitive resteraunts on the high end (Charlie Trotter’s, Grant Achatz’s Alinea, among others), to some of the best and most varied street food found anywhere. I second Rick Bayless’s Mexican places as well, including Xoco for less spendy options. There’s also many great home-cooking style Mexican places in the Pilsner neigborhood.

You should really try some Chicago style pizza but only if you don’t have a weight or cholesterol problem! Pizzeria Uno, Giordano’s, or Lou Malnati’s if you are in the suburbs are recommended – try the Italian sausage, garlic, and/or spinach as toppings, but they’re all pretty good.

As an Italian-American who grew up near Chicago, my heart lies with Italian-American cheap eats. Italian beef sandwiches with peppers and onions, Italian sausage sandwiches, and Chicago style hot dogs are food that I have struggled to find in other parts of the U.S. There are many places around the city and suburbs selling these and most of them are good. If you get a hot dog, get it with everything (relish, onion, celery salt, sport peppers, optional tomato, but no ketchup – the good places already know this.) Get some hot giardinera on your Italian beef and/or to take home – it’s a jarred preserved salad of pepperoncinis, cauliflower, carrots, and some other things, kept in oil. It’s one of the Chicago foods I truly miss here in Seattle.

There’s lots of other great food there that it is not unique to Chicago. If you’ve never had good Korean bulgogi, I can vouch for several excellent Korean barbecues near Andersonville (formerly a Swedish neighborhood.) Chicago is also known for it’s several top-notch old-school steakhouses such as Gibsons or Gene and Georgetti, but again, can also be had elsewhere.

ChacoKevy August 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Solid post. Definitely take some giardinera home, but getting the I-beef with sweet peppers is ok, too. Not as criminal as the kethup on the dog thing.

Jeremy August 8, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Trotter’s closed over a year ago.

Brian Donohue August 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Italian beef. There are a bunch of Al’s around downtown. Or Johnnie’s in Elmwood Park.

Twin Anchors is a cool joint for ribs. Earthy.

Chris S August 8, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Spacca Napoli pizza in Ravenswood. Decidedly NOT “chicago style” but excellent. If you are there at the right time the owner will be drunk and give you free homemade lemoncello. Order whatever is on special.

The Hop Leaf in Andersonville. Best beer selection in the city of all types of American micros and hard to find belgian. Others may claim the Map Room for this title the food at Hopleaf is excellent.

Smoque BBQ. Get there before the brisket’s gone. Not much else in the neighborhood but on the way to the airport. Runner up for bbq: Fat Willys.

I also like very much the Park Grill under the Bean in Millennium Park, if you are in the area. The outdoor cafe is good and the inside restaurant is very good. Not sure I’d make a special trip but if you’re in the park (as you should be, it is very nice) it is a good option.

If you want “authentic polish” and who doesn’t check out one of the spots on Milwaukee and Devon, such as Czerwone Jabluszko (Red Apple). Devon and Western is also “Indian Town”

The various stakehouses in the “viagra triangle” of rush and division area are very good, but also very standard for what they are. Try the Columbian steakhouse on Lincoln near Old Town, Las Tablas. Order one of the platters. It is BYOB, bring some wine.

My favorite dim sum spot in Chinatown closed, but everyone loves “Little Three Happiness” on Cermack. Be sure to ask for the secret chinese-only menu and be careful not to go to the other, not so good “three happiness” a block or two away.

Some people rave about Opart Vietnamese on Western in Lincoln Square. A secret menu kind of place. I ordered takeout here for awhile and sometimes they would misunderstand me or screw up my order, and I’d get something unidentifiable, clearly not what I ordered, and absolutely wonderful. Other times I’d get what I ordered and it would be just ok. High average payoff but also high variance.

All these are kind of “out in the neigborhood” places.

http://spaccanapolipizzeria.com/
http://hopleaf.com/
http://smoquebbq.com/
http://www.parkgrillchicago.com/
http://www.lastablas.com/
http://www.yelp.com/biz/three-happiness-original-restaurant-chicago
http://www.yelp.com/biz/opart-thai-house-restaurant-chicago

David J August 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Opart is Thai food (not Vietnamese), but it’s very good. They also have a South Loop location. Sticky Rice is another great Thai place, and they have a menu that is actually written in Thai if you can read it. Sticky Rice is also fairly authentic. I believe they have a bug dish on the menu if you’re looking for something really out there.

If you want Vietnamese, Argyle is the the place to be (right off the Argyle Red Line stop). Everyone raves about Tank noodles for pho, but I think Pho Viet is just as good and not crowded. Ba Le is also great if you want some banh mi. Oddly, my new favorite Dim Sum place is also near Argyle and not in Chinatown: Furama.

Josh August 8, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I second Furama for dim sum.

Ben August 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

charcoal chicken at pollo express in pilsen.

Abe August 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I went to Chicago for work last year. We ate at Alinea – which, we are told, is the world’s greatest restaurant. Yup -it’s awfully good.

The following day, I went to this Hot Doug’s place… which is nothing more than a glorified hot dog stand on a vacant street corner in what I judged to be a not-so-hot part of town. I’m not sure whether I liked Hot Doug’s more than Alinea… but it’s awfully close.

As for asian food, Chicago disappoints a bit. Arun’s and the aforementioned Oparts are quite good… Not sure if they’ll measure up to Tyler’s standards though.

Scoop August 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I found Alinea deeply disappointing. It was interesting but not satisfying. It was a purely intellectual experience rather than a visceral one as well, like El Bulli without the heart. That said, they change the menu a couple times a year. Perhaps I just got a bum one.

I’d recommend Riccardo Trattoria as just the opposite: nothing innovative but excellent and deeply satisfying. It’s just a happy place.

For folks who like both steak and novelty, I’d recommend David Burke Primehouse. The menu offers the same cut of ribeye dry aged for varying amounts of time (from 28 to 75 days). Get the one aged to 75 days. You probably won’t think it’s the best steak you’ve ever had (you may not even like it), but unless you age your own meat, it will be unlike anything else you’ve had. In 75 days, a steak that starts around 20 ounces dries down to perhaps 6 ounces and carries an unbelievable intensity of flavor (both because it has less water and because the aging process makes it gamey). The best way to eat here is to go with three other people, get all four ribeye vintages and split them equally so you can see step by step what the aging does.

highnumber August 10, 2013 at 5:14 pm

“Not-so-hot part of town”? That’s a very tame neighborhood that Hot Doug’s is in. Did you mean that as in “not trendy”?

Abe August 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I would also add that your correspondent should report back on his experiences. Surely if he can solicit advice, he should provide some feedback.

It only seems fair…

Chris S August 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm

If you really want to go deep and have time, LTHforum is the chowhound splinter group focused on Chicago. They are the go-to local forum with a focus on neighborhood restaurants.

http://www.lthforum.com/2013/03/gnr/

GNR August 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Agreed, I feel they are chicago’s version of tyler’s guide to DC ethnic dining.

The name of the forum comes from Little Three Happiness, a Chinatown restaurant that was recommended upthread.

zoax August 8, 2013 at 3:40 pm

The Beijing duck feast (a whole roast duck with buns and accoutrements for sandwiches) at Sun Wah BBQ is pretty solid and should easily feed 3 people. I think it’s $35 or something else that’s very reasonable.

Alexei Sadeski August 8, 2013 at 3:51 pm

It’s hard not to eat well in Chicago.

Andrew Edwards August 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Surprised not to see the Girl and the Goat yet, which blew me away – totally excellent cuisine that is (or was a number of months ago when i was there last) the talk of the town. http://www.girlandthegoat.com/

I also absolutely loved the pig face at the Publican: http://thepublicanrestaurant.com/

Both enthusiastically recommended, especially for a small group that can share a number of items.

Nick August 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm

The Publican is absolutely my favorite restaurant in the city – unless you’re some strange entity that doesn’t love pork, oysters, and beer. Try their PQM deli right across the street too.

Jeff August 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I agree with Andrew entirely. Girl and Goat was fantastic and Publican likely the best food I had in the city.

Steve-O August 8, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I ate at Two twice and Publican twice (with kids and couldn’t wait for Girl and the Goat). Everyone liked two better. I also like Purple Pig better that Publican. I wondered if I should have gotten something and Publican’s deli across the street rather than eating in the restaurant.

Also at at Heaven on Seven. Pie was pretty good but I’d pass on the rest.

gundryggia August 8, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Two is great and relatively under the radar. I recently ate both there and Girl and the Goat within a week, and I enjoyed the food as much. G&G is unique, though, and worth a trip even at some inconvenience. The best dishes have surprising, vivid flavors without being fussy or complicated.

For G&G, you can often get a weeknight reservation through OpenTable if you’re willing to go early or late; I also understand there are spaces for walk-ins but you may need to go very early if not willing to wait 2 hours. If you want a reservation, try using rezhound.

GeoffBr August 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm

mk. Never had a bad meal there.

Scott Swank August 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm

If I were going back to Chicago for two meals they would be: Frontera/Topolobampo (Rick Bayless’ mexican restaurants which share a kitchen) and Hema’s Kitchen (north indian fare).

They both have a focus on fresh ingredients and recipes that bring out the flavor the their ingredients. In each case the sauces are superb.

Tony August 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm

A general smattering:

Pizza: Piece
Brewpub (for the beer): Haymarket or Revolution
Salumeria: West Loop Salumi – just opened and ZOMG
Bread: D’Amato’s – get the hard-crust round loaf
Sausage: Bari
Italian Beef: Johnnie’s, Al’s, Teddy’s …………. Portillo’s a distant 4th.
Italian Ice: Johnnie’s …………. Mario’s a distant 2nd
Gelato: Caffe Gelato
Fries: Parky’s (soggy and greasy), BenJYehuda (firm and extra-crispy)

Chinese: Sun Wah – get the duck as previously noted
Italian: fearful of leaving somebody out, but – Siena Tavern, La Scarola, Lucia’s, La Luce, Davanti Enoteca, Piccolo Sogno, and on and on and on
Steak: bone-in filet at Joe’s Stone Crab or specialty dry-aged cuts at David Burke’s.
Fried Chicken: Joe’s Stone Crab (yes, really)
Latin, non-Mexican: Vera
Mexican: Baylessness
BBQ: Smoque, Porkchop
Fancypants: Avec, Blackbird, Alinea, L2O, etc
Barfood, upper-end: The Monarch
Barfood, normal: Gaslight

Other:
Girl & Goat (great food, but obnoxiously loud and seating packed in like holocaust train car)
Sepia
Publican
Mariano’s (oyster bar!)
Naha
MK
Au Cheval
Le Colonial

Tony August 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

the comment form hates list formats apparently. Sorry.

FT August 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Cho Sun Ok for authentic Korean food: http://chosunokrestaurant.com/
Solga (also Korean) has a better decor and smells nicer, but I think the food is better at Cho Sun Ok.

Chicago’s deep dish pizza: I like Giordano’s and Edwardo’s, even though they are both chains. Thin crust at Edwardo’s is very good too. My pie pizza (http://www.mypiepizza.com/) is excellent, and it’s not a chain.

Now, this is off the beaten path: Calumet Fisheries (http://www.calumetfisheries.com/menu.html). This is literally a shack by the river, in a shabby and depressing part of the city (95th St). I warn you: it’s an odd location, and don’t go there after dark. But the fried fish is amazing.

A lot of people like Lula Cafe for brunch, although I have not tried it myself yet. Other places I know for brunch: Original Pancake House, Eggsperience, Yolk, Toast. None of them will strike you as terribly special, but they all have good food. I would go for Toast if you must choose one.

Dinner: Devon Seafood and Chez Moi are pretty good; Mon Ami Gabi is charming, but the menu is not varied enough; La Sardine is still good, but declining. I still like their boullabaisse and their mussels. Lawry’s and Morton’s for steaks.

Careless August 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Edwardo’s was the best stuffed pizza, but it’s been going downhill for about a decade now and is down about half its locations.

Jeremy August 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I’ll suggest Sticky Rice. It’s a Northern Thai restaurant located a bit off the beaten path (Western and Irving Park) but is excellent.

Also many of the Tony Hu places in Chinatown are worth the trip. Lao Sze Cheun being my personal favorite. Check out the menu beforehand as the number of options is overwhelming.

tony's neighbor August 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Of the Tony Hu places, Lao Sze Chuan in the Chinatown mall (with another location in the western suburbs) is probably the best in execution, most polished and commercial (in a good way). I like Lao Hunan for its authenticity, but it’s extremely rustic – a Bourdain/backpacker type find, plopped down the main street of Old Chinatown. (Flushing, NY has at least two great Hunanese places)

An emerging trend owing to demographic changes in the Chinese population here is northern/Manchurian Chinese food. There’s a trio of hearty and similar Manchurian places in nearby Bridgeport: Northern City, Ed’s Potsticker House, and Homestyle Taste.

I wouldn’t eat at Joy Yee’s – touristy, and you know the attractive fruits in the window display is a bad sign, akin to stylish leggy blonds.

KM August 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Tony has a good solid list of options.

I’ll omit the ultra high end or extremely difficult to reserve.

Purple Pig
Publican
RPM Italian
Girl and the Goat
Avec

If you enjoy food, I don’t see how you could be disappointed with these. Do Purple Pig for lunch or odd hours to avoid wait.

t August 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I second suggestions for Hot Doug’s, XOCO, Fronterra, Topolo, Avec, Publican, Blackbird, Girl and Goat and I’d add the new Little Goat and Kuma’s Corner has truly amazing burgers.

People down on asian food in Chicago please try Sun Wah BBQ. Make sure to call ahead and make a reservation for their Beijing Duck Feast.

A top-notch bakery is Floriole. The baker/owner previously worked at Tartine Bakery in SF. Not as good as Tartine but close.

Brian Donohue August 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm

If you’re talking bakeries, try Jarosch, out in Elk Grove Village.

Guest August 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Pita Inn, several suburban locations. I know the one in Skokie. http://pita-inn.com/ Get both the hummus and the babaganouj.

zbicyclist August 9, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Pita Inn is great; it’s a middle eastern Panera.

No mention of Greektown yet; I mostly eat Greek in the suburbs these days (Greek Feast in Northbrook is like a Greek Panera), so I can’t recommend a particular spot on Halstead St.

Jar Jar Binks August 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Avec

David J August 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Randolph Street in the West Loop and surrounding blocks is the foodie Mecca of Chicago. There are a TON of great options, many of which have already been mentioned. From East to West, there’s Avec, Blackbird, Grace, Au Cheval, Oon, Girl & the Goat, Nellcote, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Graham Elliot Bistro, and Belly Q way out to the West. Those are the best restaurants that are just on Randolph Street. If you go up two blocks to Fulton, you get places like The Publican, Moto, Next, The Aviary, and La Sirena Clandestina. There’s a lot more, but suffice it to say that if you consider yourself a foodie and you’re visiting Chicago, you must visit the West Loop.

Southsider August 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Not too many southside suggestions here, but there are plenty of good places to choose from. If you happen to venture south of downtown, you should check out Valois. It is a delicious cafeteria in Hyde Park, with particularly good breakfast. Also, Dat Donut is pretty amazing, if you are into doughnuts. As far as non-breakfast food goes, Wings Around the World is another good south-side place to check out.

rpenm August 8, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Valois is decent, but I always preferred Salonica (a Greek diner) or Original Pancake House (a small chain). More southside suggestions: Yassa (very Cowen-friendly, hole-in-the-wall Senegalese); Cedars (decent Lebanese, though quality can vary)

On Devon St., I can recommend Sabri Nihari – a Pakistani restaurant that excels with Muslim/Mughlai meat preparations (too bad you missed Eid al-Fitr). Currently none of the South Indian restaurants are great – Mysore Woodlands used to be excellent, but quality is now inconsistent.

Another vote for Lao Sze Chuan, and for the Rick Bayless restaurants. The Sunday Maxwell St. Market is worth a visit for the taco stands and churros. In Pilsen: Taqueria El Milagro, Pollo Express, and the Birria place (Ocotlan?) are excellent. Chicago is quite a good grocery town – try some of the many ethnic groceries.

sheel August 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Coal Fire Pizza (coalfirechicago.com) is amazing. Goat cheese and tomato is my favorite.
Ground Control (groundcontrolchicago.com) is fantastic vegetarian food.
Papa’s Cache Sabroso (http://papascachesabroso.com/) has amazing puerto rican food including the Jibarito, which is “puerto rican” but was actually invented in Chicago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jibarito
Cafecito (cafecitochicago.com) has lovely cuban sandwiches.
Rick Bayless restaurants are great.
Pho’s hot and spicy is great thai food (yes it’s thai food even though called Pho’s)
For Chinese, I love the Lao restaurants, particularly Lao Sze Chuan… garlic eggplant to die for.

Josh August 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Italian Beef and Polish Food are the two cuisines/foods that are must eat because of Chicago’s comparative advantage. Many great Italian beef eateries, including Al’s Beef. Be sure to get it “wet.” For Polish, Szalas is great for dinner, as is Pierogi Heaven for pierogies. There are many other dinner options: yelp for that.

Pilsen is great for Mexican food: Nuevo Leon for standard dinner fare, Dona Torta Chilanga for Tortas, Birreria Reyes de Octolan for goat.

Chinatown is also strong: Go 4 Food for anything, especially seafood. Lao Szechuan for spicy Szechuan fare, and Chi Cafe for excellent, dirt cheap 24- hour fair.

Koreatown requires a drive but if you go: Han Bat (for seolleongtang), Da Rae Jung (for Mool Neaung Myun).

If you find yourself in Hyde Park: I second Valois (great soul food and omlettes); Seoul Corea (for soups), Rajun Cajun (for cafeteria style Indian).

Do not eat at Greektown. Mediocre and overrated.

Other suggestions: Simply It (Vietnamese in Lincoln Park), Irazu (get the oatmeal shake), Flo & Santos (for italian beef pizza), Demera (Ethiopian), Lou Malnati’s (if you must do deep dish), Bongo Room (pancakes at Brunch), Frontera Grill (Rick Bayless).

ElamBend August 8, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Flo & Santos has a good take on pirogies also and fantastic pork ‘wings’

James August 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

My question is: why is the reader’s research failing him? A majority of the places mentioned so far are well reviewed by guides and by Yelp.

alkge August 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

hard to filter out the noise, the fake reviews, the reviews by people with bland taste.

I repeat my comment above that LTHForum is the Chicago equivalent of Tyler’s ethnic dining guide. Spiritually they adhere to the same principles, although Tyler is more of a stickler for ethnic authenticity than those people.

Pete Dionasopolis August 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Olympia Cafe (aka Billy Goat Tavern)

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger. No Coke! Pepsi! No fries! Chips!

B-tone August 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Potbelly’s – good chain for cheap sandwiches
Al’s Deli (Evanston) – amazing, hole-in-the-wall expensive sandwiches. They might change your life.

bob August 8, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Please. Potbelly’s is a franchise that’s about as crappy as Subway.

Dingbat August 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm

More southside: Lunch is a very good meal to have here.

Take-away smoked seafood from Calumet Fisheries.
Sandwiches (the Pig in a Pretzel is utterly awesome) at Zaleski and Horvath (http://zhmarketcafe.com)
Valois is indeed good cafeteria food.
Ribs and Bibs, practically across the street from Valois, has very good ribs but I understand there are better.

Chakolate August 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Nobody’s mentioned TopNotch Burgers at 95th & Hoyne? Best burgers in Chicago.

John D August 8, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Big & Littles. Excellent fish tacos. http://bigandlittleschicago.com/

ChefDad August 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Deep dish pizza is apparently an acquired taste (I’m fortunate to have acquired it) but I recommend trying it and recommend Lou Malnati’s above several other good ones. If you do go to Malnati’s stick with cheese and sausage and get enough to throw two pieces in the fridge for breakfast–cold Malnati’s pizza is the best breakfast on the planet.

Gene’s and Jude’s for hot dogs in the west burbs is the best hot dog I’ve had. This would be a Cowen dining guide pick I think. I agree with Portillo’s as the best beef (get sweet peppers) over Al’s (get giardinara), and Johnny’s is good too.

Fontano’s deli for lunch near UIC would be another Cowen pick I think too, you have to look for this place. The sandwiches are fantastic.

I couldnt tell you why i like the Pita Inn but I always stop when I’m in Skokie and have time.

robert olson August 9, 2013 at 7:52 am

Gene and judes would be excellent as well as hala kahiki for drinks right next to it. However, that is far and very prone to flooding.

R Squared August 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Twin Anchors for ribs. an absolute must

Ben August 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Birrieria Zaragoza, a hole in the wall on S. Pulaski, only does one thing — roasted goat, served with fresh tortillas — but it does it pretty near perfectly.

birria August 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

I would counter with Birrieria Del Torre, 30 blocks further down on S. Pulaski. The additional kitchen capacity seems to result in a better product as far as birria goes.

Pork chop August 8, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Pork chop sandwiches from Jim’s on Union, near UIC. A Chicago classic and cheap eats.

John August 8, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Sunda for sushi. Xoco for churros. Coccoli at Siena Tavern. Anything at Avec. Ambience at Italian Village on Monroe.

Louis S August 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I would recommend Kai Zan or Macku well before Sunda. Sunda has the laughing woman problem mentioned in An Economist Gets Lunch. Kai Zan is BYOB with a great omakase deal. Reservations can be harder to get for busier times.

Willitts August 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Asking about good restaurants in Chicago is like asking about pretty snowflakes in Greenland. Like all things, your budget and tastes matter.

If it is your first time in Chicago, just go to all the tourist hotspots in the travel guide. They are popular for a reason. But you will likely never see the inside of Pizzeria Uno or Due so try Ginos East. Hit Al’s Italian Beef and Portillo’s.

Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli.

Girl & Goat

El Ideas.

Pho tau bay for Vietnamese.

Taketei for Japanese.

The best place of all is my dining room.

chicagoan August 8, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Devon (Indian/Pakistani) and Argyle (Vietnamese) are worth wandering around in addition to eating, at least if you can’t find similar spots where you’re from. There are some strong Thai restaurants, but it isn’t necessarily simple to get the good stuff. I’d consult the already-recommended LTHForum for ideas and translated menus.

For Japanese, a cuisine Chicago isn’t really noted for, try Katsu. Not cheap.

Elaborate multi-course dining with an underground/DIY flavor: Schwa (fantastic but I wouldn’t depend on being able to secure or retain a reservation), Elizabeth, and El Ideas. Goosefoot is a more conventional/less interactive experience, although service is informal and it’s BYO.

As far as Next, you can attempt to obtain a ticket through their facebook page. I’ve enjoyed Next but the experience isn’t nearly as polished as Alinea. Moto is more entertaining than it is tasty–not that it isn’t enjoyable purely in food terms, but it isn’t Alinea, which is awesomely delicious.

Other than that at the very high end, the current hot ticket (which I have yet to obtain) is Grace. I like L2O and Tru.

For cocktails there are many good options but try Violet Hour (more classic) and Aviary (more avant-garde).

Andy August 9, 2013 at 12:28 am

I’m posting this one more time since I’m shocked nobody else has said it. BONGO ROOM IS THE BEST BRUNCH IN THE CITY MAYBE THE WORLD. The only downside is maybe you are so full from brunch you don’t get to enjoy the other good suggestions in this list.

Josh August 9, 2013 at 11:48 am

I said it. See above :)

dessert too August 9, 2013 at 12:45 am

Hoosier Mama Pie is excellent. About half a mile away from it is Black Dog Gelato. They serve what you’d expect.

For coffee, the several Intelligentsia locations (at least one in touristville) are excellent.

Larry R August 9, 2013 at 12:49 am

Many already mentioned that are not high end, including Avec, Belly Q, Cemitas Pueblas, Lao Sze chuan, Birrieria Zaragoza, Ba Le banh mi, Pho 888, Purple Pig, Little Goat, Big and Littles. Re BBQ, Smoque is very good sitdown; for true South Side though try Lem’s (you’ll need a car, no place to sit down inside or out). Calumet Fisheries is a true experience, a shack selling wonderful smoked fish, far far south side. Chicken and waffles on 35th and King is a Bronzeville standout (long waits on Sunday afternoons). Hoosier Mama Pie company has the best pie you will ever eat (including pot pies). If you are stuck near the Water Tower, Tony Mantuano’s Bar Toma serves excellent pizza.

shawn August 9, 2013 at 2:05 am

Pequod’s, Nhu Lan, Smoque, Al’s Deli (technically Evanston), Lula Cafe, Franks ‘n Dawgs

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