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Dinner Recs in Chicago

post #1 of 248
Thread Starter 
MrsG and I will be in Chicago for a few days this week, and while we're there we'd like to go out to a nice dinner. Neither of us has ever been to the city, so I'm soliciting restaurant advice from the SF crowd. We're not looking for a place for Thanksgiving dinner, so it doesn't have to be somewhere that will be open that day. The only caveat is that I would prefer something other than a steakhouse. If there's one that just can't be missed I'm all ears, but we have access to a decent steakhouse in Atlanta, and we travel to Tampa enough to hit Bern's if we really want a steak.

We're staying a couple blocks north of the river, in the area of the Magnificent Mile, if that helps with advice.

I'm also interested in any other general Chicago input the SFers may have. However, I've been looking over an earlier Chicago thread from this summer, and that's been pretty informative on sightseeing-type stuff.
post #2 of 248
Are you looking for super high-end or more casual? Along the lines of the very best (and these are some of the best restos in the country) there is Alinea, Charlie Trotter's, L2O, Tru, Blackbird, SPiaggia, and Les Nomades, Schwa. Out of those, Alinea is the best, if you're into the kind of food some people call molecular gastronomy. Charlie Trotter has been around forever, is still doing his thing, and some people say the restaurant is better now than it has ever been in its 20 year history. L2O is Laurent Gras' seafood-focused restaurant. It is very good, and I would recommend it to anyone, although I've been there twice and one meal was incredible and the other left a lot to be desired. Still, if you love seafood (and Chicago is not a good seafood town in general, Gras' brigade shows a mastery of technique and some really interesting thought behind their food. Tru is another Chicago standby. Been there forever, always been good. Blackbird is Paul Kahan's flagship resto and there really isn't much else that needs to be said. Spiaggia is one of the most popular fine-dining spots in the city, for a good reason. Les Nomades is a relatively unknown French resto in the city. It doesn't get a ton of press, but it is an absolutely incredible meal and if you have the money, it is worth it. Schwa's meal is sublime, there is no other way to say it. Before I left Chicago to come to CA, Schwa was by far the best meal of my life. I loved every single fucking dime I spent there, but reservations are impossible to get, so it might be too late for that. Going down the line in terms of cost, next there is Riccardo Trattoria, Avec, Cafe Iberico, mk, and Green Zebra. Riccardo Trattoria is simply the best Italian in the city. In the same neighborhood as Alinea, but got only one point less than Alinea did in the Zagat guide. A great meal, for sure. Avec is Paul Kahan's second Chicago restaurant and is really good too. Communal seating and small/large plate format. You will be happy. However, no reservations are taken, so if you really want to make sure you get a seat without waiting, get there within an hour of the beginning of service. Cafe Iberico, I've never been there, but have heard nothing but good things. mk is a restaurant I used to stage at, and although it's nothing out of this world, the food is executed well and the prices are not too high. The highlight at mk is its desserts. Pastry Chef Tony Galzin is simply a genius and it would be prudent to try and hit mk for dessert whether you eat somewhere else or not. Green Zebra is a vegetarian restaurant that will absolutely blow your mind regarding vegetarian food. I have been 3 times, and some others here have as well. You will not realize you're eating a vegetarian meal. Every single bite is so singularly satisfying. I love this restaurant, and prices hover around 10-18 a course. Going even lower, into terms of almost downright cheap places, is the Grocery Bistro, the Bristol, and the Paramount Room. They are all basically the same. Restaurant/Bars that are doing very unassuming food and doing it nearly perfectly. Typical American/French bistro fare. Burgers, salads, some braises, simple food done incredibly well. They all have websites with menus. You can get into any of them at any time most likely. And don't forget that Chicago has great dirt cheap food. Whether it's getting a dog from Byron's, a gyros from Mr. Beef, or just getting some cheap Mexican food, it is dirt cheap and very satisfying. If I could only recommend one from each group it would be this: Super high end- Alinea Moderate- Riccardo Trattoria Lower- The Bristol Lower than Low- Mr. Beef or Steve's.
post #3 of 248
Are you looking for nice or casual? Chicago does both well. So you shouldn't have trouble finding a good place.

Spiaggio is a fantastic Italian spot at 980 N. Michigan. Should be near you.

For a more casual night, I'd hit The Publican. It's getting rave reviews, some calling it the best new restaurant in town. It's a bit West of the Loop area, but an easy cab ride. I've never been there... I'm recommending it based only on buzz and it's enormous beer selection which they help pair with your courses. Their meat dishes are pork/fish, but pork is their specialty. These folks also run Blackbird, which is routinely mentioned on shows like Top Chef when a Chicago contestant is talking about all the fantastic places they've been a line cook.

And... just in case you wisen up and change your mind :

Keefer's: best ribeye (med-rare) I've had in the city. Best modern, romantic setting for steak in the city.

If you want a classic chicago steakhouse: can't beat Gene & Georgetti's.

Harry Caray's: totally underated steakhouse, especially if you don't mind a casual, raucus crowd.

And I don't care what other's tell you, Gibson's is over-rated, and you'll leave wondering what the hell the big deal is.

Let me know if you're looking for something specific, and I might be able to steer in the right direction... Also, if you are a whiskey fanatic or craft beer hound, I can point you to other fun places, too.
post #4 of 248
Cape Cod for seafood (in the Drake hotel) and Keefer's has the best steak in...America?
post #5 of 248
listen to kwik.

I'd say chicago divides up into a few types (slightly different from kwik's take on it)

steakhouses (and chicago really does do that well)
high end, turn perfectly good food into cotton candy and smoke kinds on places
ethnic - mexican, vietnamese, italian, german, to a less extent chinese, korean, bar-b-q, japanese
street food


the way I'd apprach it is what can't you get at home, or what is better here than you will get at home? I would say if you are not from chicago, you should try a chicago steak house once. I wasn't that impressed with Keefer's, I like tavery on rush, I don't mind gobsons, but that is a real chicago expereince

tratoria ricardo is a very authentic italian resteraunt. if that appeals to you, and you don't have one at home that's one I would go to. I would go for mexican - Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W. 18th Street
312-491-9908 312-491-9908

is a high end place, but walk around plisen or north clark and you find a bunch.

make sure you get a hotdog at least one. you can skip the pizza.
post #6 of 248
Quote:
Originally Posted by globetrotter View Post
listen to kwik.

+1, he's made good suggestions.
post #7 of 248
GT and KW make some solid observations. Here's my perspective as someone who dines out frequently in Chicago:

  • Schwa - never been there, but foodies (and chefs) love this place, which is literally around the corner from where I live. A few caveats - it's very difficult to get reservations because it's both very popular and very small (it's basically a three-man operation) and the whole process is somewhat quirky from what I've read. Also, it's situated on a rather desolate strip of Ashland Avenue - the heart of Wicker Park/Bucktown is about 1/2 mile away.
  • Tru - The food is great but expect a 3 - 4 hour dining extraveganza. While, I've had better food in town for less money, the combination of the cuisine, decor and service make this place top-notch. The kitchen tours are great.
  • David Burke's Primehouse - my favorite steak place in Chicago, featuring superb dry-aged meat.
  • Spiaggia - My personal nominee for best Italian restaurant in Chicagoland. Very elegant but at times very earthy, also. FWIW, one of Barack and Michelle's favorties.
  • Cyrano's Bistro - There are plenty of French bistros in Chicago, but this is Didier and Jamie Durand's "boite" has a special, unpretentious charm - perfect after a day shopping on the Magificient Mile or going to the museums.
  • The Publican - This West Loop "gastropub" (overused phrase) is very noisy, but the food is very good (organ meats appear to be a specialty).
  • TAC Quick - Chicago has may Thai restaurants including Arun's (which is very expensive, and to which I haven't been) but this modest storefront place near Wrigley Field is my favorite, and is favored by a lot of local foodies.
  • North Pond - A beautful location literally inside Lincoln Park, featuring Chef Bruce Sherman's delicious seasonally-based fare.
  • Duchamp- In funky Bucktown - Chicago has a plethora of casual, mid-priced places that offer a fine dining experience, but this is my own favorite of the lot.
post #8 of 248
I second Green Zebra, it's my favorite restaurant in the city. No one has mentioned Graham Elliot yet—delicious, fancy food in a more casual environment. Of course, no culinary visit to Chicago would be complete without trying some stuffed pizza. I recommend Peaquods. Edit: And somehow I forgot Topolobampo! Love this place, but it's been more difficult to get a reservation since Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters.
post #9 of 248
+1 on Blackbird, Alinea and the Publican depending on what you're looking for Sneak away from your wife one day for a hot Italian beef sandwich ... I would recommend Hot Doug's for their duck fat fries and super amazing sausages but they will be closed for the holidays. Any recs for cheap/super cheap eats near Millenium Park? (more specifically the Hyatt on Wacker)
post #10 of 248
Quote:
Originally Posted by Montrachet View Post
I second Green Zebra, it's my favorite restaurant in the city. No one has mentioned Graham Elliot yet"”delicious, fancy food in a more casual environment.

Of course, no culinary visit to Chicago would be complete without trying some stuffed pizza. I recommend Peaquods.

Edit: And somehow I forgot Topolobampo! Love this place, but it's been more difficult to get a reservation since Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters.

Yes, Pequod's blows away Lou Malnatti's, Uno, Due, et al.
post #11 of 248
Thread Starter 
Many, many thanks to everyone! This is really going to be helpful. To be honest, I don't know if we'll do high-end or something more casual. It's not so much a question of cost, but mostly because I don't know if I'm going to bother to pack a coat/suit I'd only use for dinner, so the range of options you guys provided is fantastic.

It looks like MrsG and I will be spending this evening setting up a culinary to-do list for our trip. We might even throw in a visit to a steakhouse, given I'm getting the feeling it would really be unfortunate to miss out on what Chicago has to offer in that realm.
post #12 of 248
mmm... berns <3 many +1 on stuff already mentioned... Blackbird , Primehouse, and Bristol the two worth reiterating. here's some stuff not mentioned: 1> Chicago style Pizza - Pequod's or nothing (Clyborn & Webster) 2> Burgers - Kuma's Corner (way out of the way, but worth the trip - Belmont & California) 3> Reasonable Priced American - West Town Tavern - one of my favorite restaurants (Chicago near ashland) 4> Seafood - Spring (shawn Mclain of Green Zebra / Trio fame - North and Milwaukee) 5> Sushi - Mirai (a personal favorite - get the Kani Nigiri - Division and Damen) 6> Osteria Via Stato (in a hotel, Rick Tramonto of Tru fame - great prices and close to your hotel) 7> If you want to eat at Tru, I recommend the 11:30pm Dessert Only reservation 8> Takashi (Ashland and Armitage) 9> L20 - I haven't been, but I really want to go For cheap near millenium park... take the red-line to C-town and eat at Lao Sze Chuan. Also, Takashi has a noodle place inside the Marshall Field's (Macy's) on State. It's not the best noodles in Chicago, but it's good.
post #13 of 248
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cavalier View Post
Any recs for cheap/super cheap eats near Millenium Park? (more specifically the Hyatt on Wacker)

Between the Hyatt and Millenium Park, when I'm just looking for food, I'll stop in at Potbelly Sandwich Works between Wacker and Lake. They're fast and yummy. Meatball sandwich and a coffee milkshake is a good afternoon for me.


If you head north of the river on Michigan Ave. a couple blocks you can hit the inexpensive and famous Billy Goat Tavern of SNL fame... Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger!
post #14 of 248
Quote:
Originally Posted by kwilkinson View Post
Good recommendations

I was wondering kwilkinson (or anyone), why no mention of Avenues at the Peninsula? I had some good dinners there, but then I am not an expert. Overrated? The whole, restaurant part of a hotel, thing off-putting? I enjoy bad food too much? Just curious.
post #15 of 248
I was in Chicago in April this year.

The best meal I had was at NoMI. Exquisite. Jacket required, but one does not need to wear a tie. Food was inventive, yet still based in French technique. Ask for a seat by the window, there are many, and enjoy the view. The restaurant is located at the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel at 800 N. Michigan Ave. Zagat rates the place 26 (food), 28 (decor), & 26 (service).

The best sushi I have ever had was at Japonais, which is in the River North section.

Also, the steak (bone-in filet) at Gibson's downtown is very good, but as you already stated, one can get a great steak in so many cities in the U.S.
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