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LA Chowhound in Chicago – need “must try” recommendations for two lunches and three dinners

Getting out into the neighborhoods, and away from the areas saturated with tourists is what I suggest - eat as most Chicagoans eat, not at the Downtown and River North places touted by the guidebooks. See how people in Chicago live.

You'll find more and better Mexican food - across the board - in Chicago than you will in Los Angeles. Chicago is the center, the capital of Mexican cuisine in the USA. No other city in the USA offers the depth and variety found here. The Bayless places would't be near the top of my list of preferences.

I very much like Yoshi's Cafe. Neighborhood. High quality. Innovative. Comfortable.

The Parthenon in Greek Town is my "go to" for Greek food in the city. I've been patronizing the place for more than 30 years.

The Red Apple would'nt be a place I'd reccomend you avoid - unless you like buffet food. I've found few buffet restaurants I've enjoyed the food at, including the half-dozen times I've eaten at Red Apple. I had my first meal at a new - for me - Polish restaurant at Central and Lawrence Ave. the other night - Smakosz. I wouldn't go far out of my way to get there, but it's the 'real deal' as far as home-style Polish cooking goes.

If you're the type of person who likes to explore a bit and can make a spur-of-the-moment dining decision, based on instinct - why not consider wandering some neighborhoods with great choices: Chinatown ... for Chinese; 26th St. for Mexican; Devon Ave. for Indo-Pak; Argyle St. for Asian; Clark St. in Andersonville for wide-variety. These areas all have restaurants, bakeries, bars or lounges, stores, etc., and a vibrant neighborhood life that - as a total package - can make for an enjoyable visit.

Have a great visit!

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Smakosz Restaurant
5619 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60630

Sep 02, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

One day in Chicago - Mr. Beef or Johnnie's?

I've found what the Al's franchised location - not owned nor operated by the company - to be substandard and not worthy of mention, other than to warn people not to expect the same product(s) or or quality they'd probably receive at the principal localtion of Al's on Taylor St. Portillo's in River North pumps-out, surprisingly for the volume of business, excellent beef sandwiches and hot dogs ... but I consider them in a class just below Mr. Beef and Johnnies (but far above Al's River North).

Sep 01, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Need a German or Austrian spot for small reunion of older out-of-towners

About the taxi ride: probably 20 minutes except in the most extreme of conditions (expressway accident, heavy snowfall) when it can be 30 minutes. I agree with the esstimate of cab fare, though - of about $20-25 for 4 to a car.

About the weather: 1) that can be a wonderful time of the year here in Chicago - often great weather. Sweather weather, maybe, 2) call the restaurant to see if the biergarten is open afternoons and not just evenings.

Sep 01, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

One day in Chicago - Mr. Beef or Johnnie's?

I'm a bigger fan of Mr. Beef than I am Johnnies, but Johnnies will be more of an "experience" due to the long lines out the door, the anticipation a sometimes long wait can bring and in the end, though it's not my No. 1 choice anymore ... the beef at Johnnies is a good sandwich. You might even get to eat the sandwich from the hood of your car!

Mr. Beef will be easier for you to get to, though - maybe in 1/2 the time ... and it's an excellent sandwich as well.

Johnnies is open daily, Mr. Beef is closed on Sunday ... best I can recollect of the hours of the two businesses.

For a chowhound - both are considered "must-try's" when you want to understand the Chicago genre of it's version of this "street food."

Both serve sandwiches which exceed in taste and quality those which you may have had from Al's on Taylor St., IMO.

Have a great meal!

Sep 01, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Need a German or Austrian spot for small reunion of older out-of-towners

Sadly, the popularity of German or Austrian restaurants has been on a steady decline in Chicago for some years now. Mirabell Restaurant (http://mirabellrestaurant.com/) is another consideration to what you've already learned. It's a bit out of the way, though - but reachable by taxi without difficulty. Chicago Brauhaus is very popular at the Oktoberfest time of year, with bands, lots of dancing and music, etc. (evenings) and it's easily reached. The food isn't 5 star, but I've never had a "bad" meal there and it's the kind of place where groups would have fun. I'd probably place Resi's Bierstube at the bottom of any list of German/Austrian restaurants.

Aug 31, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

need an alternative to frontera grill

I consider Mercadito a bar that just happens, as an afterthought, to serve food ... to the people who go there to drink. I've been very disappointed by the quality of the food at Mercadito and don't think it's in the same category as the Bayless places. Chipotle probably serves better Mexican-style food than Mercadito, IMO.

Aug 29, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

need an alternative to frontera grill

Sol de Mexico is at the very top of the list when it comes to quality Mexican restaurants in Chicago. If it were in any other location only the Bayless restaurants would rival it. Depending upon where you're coming from, I wouldn't discount it because of "distance." It's easy to reach by major expressway. Salpicion is excellent, as well - and is in the Old Town neighborhood. I don't think Mixteco is worthy of such a visit. Have a wonderful time!

Aug 28, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Kan Zaman - Lebanese in River North

I'd included it in my lunchtime rotation over a year ago but somehow it fell to the wayside and after maybe a 6 month absence I had lunch once again at Kan Zaman Lebanese Restaurant in River North today ... and during the lunch it came back to me, the reason I'd included it in the rotation in the first place.

The weather was beautiful this afternoon and the restaurant's large, French-door type, windows were open - letting in a nice breeze. I sat along side the windows enjoying the weather, comfortable seat and nicely-set linen tablecloth table as I consumed my order of the Shish Tawook platter. The five good-sized medallion-like pieces of tender chicken which had sat in a yogurt marinade before being grilled large pieces of tomato, onion and green pepper ... was fantastic. I don't think I've ever eaten as moist and good-tasting chicken as was on this platter. The platter also included a large serving of rice and a garlic paste into which I dipped the chicken.

To wash-down my meal I ordered a glass of some of the best iced tea in Chicago. Fragrant, lemony, sweetened (by me) with sugar substitute.

This is a comfortable restaurant with knowledgeable and efficient, attentive wait staff.

It's back on my rotation list, and I'll try to get back to experience dinner sometime.

In addition to the meat selections the restaurant offers choices for vegetarians.

Kan Zaman
617 North Wells Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
(312) 751-9600

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Kan Zaman
617 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654

Aug 27, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Graham Elliot or David Burke's?

The risk of going to David Burke's is that the kitchen won't cook your steak correctly. It's been a complaint about the place since the day the doors opened. No doubt the raw meet is as high a quality as it gets. The kitchen, though, has times when it just doesn't get it right - and given the high cost of the steaks at that restaurant, are you willing to take the chance. I haven't had a steak at Graham Elliot's, but other things there - and it's a marvelous restaurant. I rate it above David Burke's. But, from what you've told us - you're steak folks and if steak 'someplace different' is what you want, David Burke's might be for you. Dress-down, though - because when I've been there the crowd is a bit rowdy and I see many t-shirts and worn jeans. Happy Anniversary!

Aug 26, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Coming to Chicago in Sept. How are my plans?

Nice selection of places you've reserved already.

About the hot dog: I've never thought Hot Dougs was worth the wait, especially for a "Chicago Hot Dog." Portillo's serves a dog as good as they get.

I don't recommend the franchised Al's Beef in River North for anything. If you want a beef in that neighborhood I suggest Mr. Beef on Orleans.

If you're coming to town before Labor Day, a trip to the one and only original Al's on Taylor St. for a beef and an Italian ice from Mario's (across the street from Al's) would probably be an enjoyable jaunt.

If you're visiting the "Museum Campus" where the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium of Shedd Acquarium are located ... there's a very good hot dog cart selling classic "Chicago-Style" hot dogs ... located between the Shedd and Field, and the panoramic vista of the Downtown skyline and Monroe Harbor that you'll see while you eat your dog is one of the best in all of Chicago.

Pizzeria Uno or Due would be a classic tourist stop, and you might enjoy it. I don't. I prefer Lou Malnati's on Wells St., also an easy walk from your hotel - probably 10-minutes, to the west.

Girl and the Goat is probably a 30 minute walk west of your hotel. It's maybe a 10-minute ride in a taxi. A glowing, 3 star, review from the Chicago Tribune food critic appears in today's paper, which you can search for to read online.

There are so many lunch and restaurant possibilities in the neighborhoods near to your hotel it's not easy to make recommendations without knowing more about you.

An excellent sandwich shop is Pastoral at Lake St. and Wabash Ave., maybe a 5 minute walk to the south from your hotel. Good breads, meats and cheeses.

Shaw's is an excellent seafood place within a 5 minute walk to the north of the hotel.

If you enjoy your lunch at Topolo you could return to Xoco next door for a less expensive and quicker service, and sit in the pleasant outdoor patio area. Xoco has some breakfast items, also (and opens at 7 or 7:30 a.m.).

Steve's Deli on Hubbard just west of Orleans (no more than a 10-minute walk to the NW of your hotel) is a good and casual breakfast, lunch or dinner spot - a "Jewish-style" Deli.

The Ohio House Restaurant at LaSalle and Ohio St., is a lunch favorite of mine - a truly unique spot in the area. Some of the best and most inexpensive home-style breakfasts in the area are found there, as well. Come as you are! It's less than a 10 minute walk NW of your hotel.

Lots and lots of opportunities.

About dress code: I think jeans of any sort are out of place for the better restaurants where you've made reservations.

Enjoy the visit!

Aug 26, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Restaurant Recommendations with Kids in Loop

Thinking of the kids, primarily - a few considerations:

Pizza: one of the Giordano's locations.
Steaks: Too Expensive for the more popular steakhouses.
Ribs: I'm not a rib person.
Other fun atmosphere: Ed Debevic's; Portillo's (River North); Rock 'N Roll McDonald's;

Aug 25, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Delicatessen Myer,mentioned in bon appetit's september issue, please say that they have reopened????

Excellent summation. Thanks.

Aug 24, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Delicatessen Myer,mentioned in bon appetit's september issue, please say that they have reopened????

I was there early-afternoon today. It's "Gene's" but with some memorabilia from Meyer. The deli and meat departments are different, but interesting. There's large selection of imported food items and on the 2nd floor area an excellent wine and beer section. It's not the Meyer's as you'd remember it, though. The new store is better than no store ... and I saw many nice items not to highly priced.

Aug 22, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Best Food Walking Tour?

Now, that's the second sign of impending .... I forget! And, I forgot. Thanks.

Aug 18, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Best Food Walking Tour?

Another for the list, to consider:

Devon Ave., from Broadway to Kedzie Ave. - Urban, Cuban, Indo-Pak, Georgian, Kosher, others ... it's a cornucopia of scents, tastes and people-watching. Supermarkets as well as restaurants and other stores.

Aug 18, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Farmer's Markets - for a tourist....

Maxwell St. is a good suggestion for Sunday. It'll be the closest thing to the Kensington Market neighborhood you'll find in Chicago. If you like Mexican food, you'll really enjoy it.

You have food stores in Toronto, so a visit to the produce department at one of the Chicago Supers would probably be a waste of time - it's not something most people would think of as a 'farmer's market.'

I find that many fo the farmers markets in Chicago have more local, commerical sellers of things than actual "farmers" or direct from the farm produce. You can often get better and less expensive produce at a fruit/vegetable store (and even supermarkets) in the city than at these once or twice-weekly markets.

Enjoy!

Aug 18, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Three New River North Restaurants

Maybe they've been mentioned before, but while out at lunch today I passed-by three new, soon to open, restaurants in the River North neighborhood - a rapidly-expanding location for interesting restaurants:

Graham Elliiot’s Grahamwich
615 N. State St.

Chicago Cut Steakhouse
300 N. LaSalle St.

Mastro’s Ssteakhouse
520 N. Dearborn St.

Graham Elliott's Grahamwich is the one I'm anxiously awaiting the opening of. It's a small space, though, and long wait times are probably in the offing. Not as bad as at Xoco, but frustrating at times I'm going to assume.

The steakhouses better be good, because if they're not I doubt they'll be open a year from now.

Aug 17, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Types of pizza in and around Chicago

Thin crust has always been the preferred pizza in the city ... the most often eaten pizza in the city. It's what's most often referred to as "Chicago-style" pizza. Deep-dish and stuffed pizzas are promoted widely for tourists, as we read here in threads such as this one. I do recognize than many folks in the city like, once and a while, a deep dish pie, but I doubt many "chowhounds" frequently order the stuff.

Aug 17, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Puerto Vallarta recommendations for September

Sorry that I can't help you with specific restaurant suggestions, but if you follow this link (http://tinyurl.com/2ca8ul7) you'll get some helpful advice from others.

There's an especially long, and probably festive "puente" (long weekend) in Mexico, including PV, running from the 15th through the 19th of September this year - due to the nation celebration a Bicentennial and Centennial. PV will probably be packed with tourists, or at least experiencing a level of tourism above what it would typically see at this traditionally "low" season along the Pacific Coast.

Enjoy the trip!

Aug 17, 2010
gomexico in Mexico

Farmer's Markets - for a tourist....

I lived in Toronto at the end of the 1960's and beginning of the 70s and recall when Kensington wasn't as trendy and was truly a market neighborhood, and have, also, fond memories of St. Lawrence Market. I spent US Memorial Day in Toronto this year, and walked both markets and thought to myself, "The 'market scene' in Chicago is embarassingly bad ... in comparison to Toronto, and many other places. For a world-class city, it's shamefull we don't have something better, more permanent and year-round." Enjoy your visit!

Aug 17, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Long wait at Frontera -- nearby replacement?

Christopher Borelli, the talented Chicago Tribune food writer, has written one of the best articles about Bayless and his restaurants, including Xoco based on his interviews with Bayless. In that lengthy story Bayless admitted that what he's doing at Xoco isn't really "street food" as you'll find in Mexico. He's added very liberal interpretations to the point that I doubt many Mexicans in Mexico would eat that food. High quality ingredients, dedicated staff, expensive build-out ... yes ... but the marketing hype Bayless uses always claiming that he's brought Mexican "street food" to Chicago is just spin. Yes, there are several exceptions to what I'm saying, on the menu - but they're just that ... exceptions. Most of the Xoco customers wouldn't know the difference, though. The highest compliments I've read, consistently, about the food is that ... the bread products (from LaBriola) are outstanding. Go to Chipotle, it's presentation is more accurate, quality is high and prices are reasonable.

Aug 10, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Groupon

I've used Groupon twice. Both experiences were disappointing (restaurants or food service). The businesses using this marketing feature tend to offer substandard fare, IMO. There may be exceptions where what's offered is a value, I understand, but not for me. I will not be using it in the future.

Aug 10, 2010
gomexico in Not About Food

Way north for a big group?

I stopped at Hop Haus with a friend after we went to the movies in Evanston - the Hop Haus localtion at Howard & Clark St. in Gateway Center. I've been to this locatioin (not the other, in River North) four or five times now I'm guessing and each time I've been very satisfied.

I didn't want much to eat at 8:30/9 p.m. so I opted for the chicken "sliders." Three, three-ounce portions of chicken breast and you can have it served with 5 or 6 toppings. I opted for lettuce, tomato, onion. The sandiwches were accompanied by sides of fries or mac and cheese, but I opted for a nice dinner salad. Cole Slaw also came on the plate. For $8.95 it was a good meal, just what I was looking for at that hour.

To wash-down the sliders I opted for a couple of pints of Three Floyds Brrewing's Robert the Bruce. A nice dark, full-flavored ale. The bar pours maybe a dozen draughts and that list is complimented by probably a score or two of other good bottled beers.

My dining companion ordered the hamburger sliders with the same sides, the same beer, and was pleased.

The large dining room attached to the bar area is outfitted with 10+ large-screed LCD televisions featuring various sporting events. There's a second dining room which I've not yet eaten in, off by itself. The restaurant features an outdoor dining patio seating maybe 30 people, as well.

This Hop Haus location offers easy, unlimited free parking. if you''ll be on the far North Side of the city, or even in Evanston, this might be a good stop for you. Groups can be easily accommodated.

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Three Floyds
Munster, Munster, IN

Aug 09, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Types of pizza in and around Chicago

Pat's was at the top of the game maybe a decade ago. Fine pies, then. Now, I don't think so. But opinions from chowhounds are going to vary. The Candlelite pies are classic Chicago cracker crust, with some char. Over time, pie quality varies by location. Another style, relatively new to Chicago, which I enjoy is the pie-style of Coalfire on Grand Ave.

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Coalfire
1321 W Grand Ave Ste 2, Chicago, IL 60642

Aug 06, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Long wait at Frontera -- nearby replacement?

The original poster has probably had dinner by now, but for people with similar questions in the future, I offer this:

Frontera is very good, but I wouldn't classify it as "great." Just my opinion. I do understand the attraction - given the marketing efforts of the Bayless enterprises.

Re: Xoco: the outdoor seating in warmer weather has been a positive development and lessens the wait for tables in the undersized interior space. People patronizing the place are probably a couple of cuts above what you'll find sitting in Frontera, early in the evening (I think Frontera is a better experience once you get the tourist rush out the door and the restaurant has the opportunity to settle down and better concentrate). Xoco doesn't serve "street food" as one finds in Mexico ("lighter fare", yes). Saying it does is one of the marketing gimmicks of Bayless. Yes, two or three items on the menu might be found sold in mercados or at street stands in Mexico, but probably 95% of the items are a Bayless "take" on untraditional Mexican food offerings. High priced as it is for what you get, I think many people will enjoy Xoco more than Frontera (during the nicer outdoor weather periods).

Re: Mercadito: I find it a lounge - bar - that just happens to serve food as an aside, not as a principal focus. Those folks are all about selling high-priced liquor and drinks and concentration on the food-side of the menu is an afterthought. That's my impression after visiting a couple of times.

Salpicón on Wells St. in Old Town has almost always satisfied me. The kitchen is creative (in ways similar to how Bayless is creative), food quality is high, service is good. I've always thought that the restaurant deserved to be better patronized. I haven't eaten there, though, for at least the past 12-months. :-(

If dining inside Frontera is a priority for you then accept that there is likely to be a wait and make the best of the situation. Since Bayless won that televised chef cook-off the patronage has probably doubled (from the number of persons served previously), stressing the entire operation. The staff has done a pretty good job handling the change in operations.

Enjoy your food, wherever you sit yourself down!

Aug 06, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Types of pizza in and around Chicago

If you get to the Northside of the city ... Candlelite on Western Ave. in Rogers Park serves excellent tavern-style - an original Chicago-style - pie. Vito & Nick's is okay, but unless I was close by I wouldn't go out of my way to pay a visit. I'm not from 'out of town', though, and I understand the need/desire to search-out the various styles of pies.

Aug 05, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Deep Dish Sauce

I've found the sauce at Burt's to be zestier than most, and I enjoy, also, the sauce at Lou Malnati's. For my money ... Burt's offers the very best in the Chicago-style deep dish pizza and think it's worth an out-oif-the-way trip to experience it (if you go, be certain to phone ahead, to reserve time in the oven for you pie(s)).

Aug 03, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

NY Hound Not Foolin' Around

Gene and Jude and Weiner Circle offer two very different varieties of Chicago styles of hot dogs. I can easily understand why someone would want to sample both styles ... but I wouldn't walk through the doors to WC, if they were giving away the so-so product they offer. On the other hand, I'd travel out of my way to get to Gene and Judes.

Hot Doug's isn't worth the wait ... of more than 15 minutes, IMO. But my sense that the place is not worth the special effort is, obviously, in the minority.

Al's (on Taylor St., the only location worthy of a visit) and Mr. Beef offer two renditions of a very Chicago sandwich. On the best of days, Al's can shine ... but the quality/taste has steadily declined over the more than 40 years I've been eating from there. Mr. Beef is as good, most days ... but I prefer the sausage (or "combo" ) sandwich from there more than the beef.

Jul 30, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Advice - Frontera or Topolobampo?

I walk past the pre-opening line-up of diners at the restaurants M-F week in and week out. Frequently for lunch as well. Neither is the collection of fellow diners I'd feel comfortable sitting amongst. The group at Xoco is better behaved, and dressed given the comfort-ness of the operation. Yes, there are exceptions at Frontera and Topolo ... particularly after 8 p.m., but not often before then. I haven't been to the restaurants on the weekend so can't offer an opinion. The decline in the quality of diners corresponds with Bayless' appearance on Iron Chef (or whichever chef competition he won) ... and the huge increase in his business started at the same time.

Jul 28, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area

Advice - Frontera or Topolobampo?

My experience and observations ... garnered from being in front of the restaurants on a 5-day a week basis ... has been that the restaurants now draw the 'tour bus' crowds who show up inappropriately dressed ... very sloppy and not the type of folks I want to be sitting next to when having a good dinner ... especially so during the Summer months. I avoid the restaurants during the Summer unless I'm having a late dinner (the bus crowd moves on by then). Xoco is a good choice for a caual meal from Bayless ... especially so now that the sidewalk seating has been added ... though, most of what Xoco serves isn't recognizable as traditionally-prepared Mexican food. Both Topolo and Frontera are expensive places when you factor in one or two drinks. There are monthly changes to menu's ... which keeps things rotating and somewhat interesting. Bayless doesn't cook in his restaurants, so don't expect something from him ... but when he's not marketing one thing or another and he's in Chicago, he's frequently in the dining room greeting diners.

Jul 28, 2010
gomexico in Chicago Area