Chi-town

Traveling and dining in other Arizona cities and beyond
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golbsalt
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7 years ago

Dom will have lots to share here, but thought I'd at least get the ball rolling. Years of business travel to downtown and the north burbs for 2-3 day jaunts usually don't leave much time to go galavanting around for new places to grub, but we have been able to pick up a few along the way.

Top sushi pick: Kamehachi - Old Town

This place is reported to be the first sushi bar in Chicago...in the 1930's. It's always a good sign when the number of Japanese patrons outnumber all the other patrons. Pick what you want from the menu - nothing is mediocre, let alone disappointing. A bit pricey but the closest thing to truly honorable tatami mat dining outside of Japan I've found here in the states.

Top Italian pick: Trattoria No. 10

This will likely be politely debated for the next decade in a city where you can't swing a cat without hitting an Italian restaurant or steak house. Our reason for the nod to Trattoria? The handmade ravioli! Little clouds of greatness!

Mongolian Stir Fry - (corner of Roselle & Golf in Schaumburg)

This place was the original build your own bowl Mongolian place. Proteins were great, veggies always fresh, prices more than fair. Last trip to Schaumburg I heard they finally closed their doors...that isn't true!
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Your timing is impeccable... Christina just found out she's going and I'm hoping she'll jump in here shortly. I'll follow her lead before loosing the flood :-)
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Christina
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7 years ago

Looking forward to Chicago recs. We bid on a trip to Chicago during the Taste of the Nation Phoenix and can't wait. It's a city the both of us have always wanted to visit.

One night is taken up with Province (tasting menu paired with wine as part of the package). Open to any and all suggestions, high-end or low-end. We'll be staying at Inn of Chicago. I'd love to get to The Girl and The Goat. Tips for getting Alinea recs? I think they take reservations two months out on the first day of the month 10 a.m., is that right? Is hitting a Rick Bayless restaurant a must (I'm a fan of his cooking/cookbooks). Thoughts on Moto? Blackbird? Everest? L2O? I know E will want a couple recs for "best" Chicago dogs too. Thanks!
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Christina... would I be correct in assuming that you'll be using cabs / public transport?
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Christina
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7 years ago

Yes, we plan on cabbing it.
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Curses! That's going to put some places I really, really wanted to send you out of reach. Okay... well, I suppose that makes it easier to cull the list :-)

As mentioned in her trip thread, DiyaMarketing is headed in that direction as well. You guys are both in the Mag Mile / River North area, and she's without car as well, so this should all apply to both of you.

Do Alinea if you can. In a city that's so much about incredible ethnic neighborhoods, I kind of hate to push fine dining, but... it's Alinea. It's unique and it's amazing. Sadly, no tips for getting in other than hammering the phone lines. Though I can't say I had trouble either time I tried.

The best advice I can give you is to skip Province. If you're traveling in Italy for a week, you don't waste a night on Chinese, even if it's free. The best I've heard about Province is that it's competent. The worst I've heard is that it's pretty awful. And you're going to be in Chicago. At the very least, have a salad and treat yourself to a second dinner that night :-)

Okay, starting with Thai. Thai Thai Thai. I believe sinosoul stated that Lotus of Siam can't even keep up with Chicago, much less L.A. That's as much a compliment for Chicago (inasmuch as sinosoul is prone to giving compliments) as it is a shot at LoS. These things kind of ebb and flow, but the most consistent and awesome place lately has been Aroy Thai. It's a ways away (all of the good Thai places are), but it's right by the Damen stop on the brown line, so it's an easy El trip. Some favorites include the one two punch of the mellow, sour Isaan sausage and the fiery Sai Ua sausage, the Larb Khun with screaming highs of lime and cilantro grounded by an offal component ground in with the pork, and a beef tom yum that is so far beyond any other you've had it'll completely ruin you. If you decide to go here, I'll post a more complete list.

Unfortunately, the Mexican places I'd most like to send you to -- Birrieria Zaragoza and La Chaparrita Taqueria -- are both a long haul from River North. Tell me I can bring a Bayless restaurant or Zaragoza to Phoenix and it's no contest. I choose Zaragoza. And there are so many places like that, little subsets of regional specialties from every corner of Mexico all over the city. Buuuuut not so much near River North. I'm sure you'll love Bayless. And when you do, know that you aren't getting Chicago's best Mexican by a long shot.
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Jibarito
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A short cab ride away is a place that I freaking love, and you can go for a unique Chicago dish as well. Puerto Rican inspired, the Jibarito is actually a recent Chicago invention. Grilled seasoned steak, tomato and lettuce, melty cheese, garlicky mayonnaise between flattened and fried plantains. This sandwich is so freaking good, and Papa's Cache Sabroso is the place to go. Fabulous, sticky pollo chon here as well.

A good one-two punch that isn't too far away to cab it would be Redhot Ranch and Honey 1 BBQ. The former I haven't yet visited, but it's a current hot dog favorite from people I trust (since my favorites are all on the city's fringes). I know you're a dragged through the garden girl, Christina, but embrace the depression dog -- it has an even stronger claim on tradition than the Vienna/Royko standard, and when it's done well you see why. Also, they supposedly do killer fried shrimp. Just a couple blocks up from there is Honey 1. And you will think me insane for sending you out for BBQ in Chicago, but you have got to trust me on this one. Chicago has a distinct BBQ style, and it isn't boiled ribs slathered in sweet BBQ sauce no matter what the city's taverns may say. Honey 1 was one of the south side BBQ shrines that migrated north. It's a dying breed. This isn't Southern Pride-style baked ribs with smoke pumped in. It's an aquarium smoker fueled by nothing but hardwood, and Robert Adams is one of a dying breed of true pitmasters. It's about tips and links. Repeat after me. Tips and links. Sauce on the side. You can get other things, but there's a good chance you'll be disappointed. Chicago BBQ is tips and links. And Robert's are awesome.

More Poles than any city in the world other than Warsaw. Again, it kills me that you're carless. Smak-Tak is my go-to place, and it's half an hour away by car if there's no traffic. But Podhalanka is one of the city's shrines for Polish food, and it's close. Haven't been, can't elaborate. But Polish is something you should strongly consider.

For Chinese, Christina, I know you adore Sichuan, and Lao Sze Chuan is pretty freaking fabulous, and Chinatown is fairly close. I love the Sliced Beef and Maw Szechuan Style and the Szechuan Spicy Rabbit off the cold appetizers menu. Tony's Ma Po Dofu is fabulous (add pork -- only by request), the dry chile shrimp and chicken are both amazing, the smoked tea duck is pretty awesome. And though it couldn't be less Sichuan, I adore the mayonnaise shrimp. Or, if you want to do spicy Chinese but want to change it up a bit, Tony recently opened up Lao Hunan which was awesome when I was there in October and has gotten all kinds of love since. You'll want to do a little LTH research for specific dishes, but that might be an even better way to go.

You know, I haven't been yet, but Slurping Turtle is right there in River North, and it's supposed to have some killer ramen. There's something you're not getting at home :-/

You need to do Italian Beef. You NEED to. Worst case scenario, Portillo's is just a few blocks away and you can get a pretty good one there for a late night snack. But better yet, cab it over to Taylor street, split one at Al's and one at Patio with E, and get some lemon ice from Mario's. Hot or sweet peppers or both or neither, your call. But if you order a dry beef, with god as my witness, I will never forgive you. Get it wet. Dipped. Juicy. However you phrase it. Make sure it's a mess. That's the whole freaking point.

Getting into midrange stuff, you'll be right by Purple Pig, which everybody is freaking out over. Even LTHers who can't stand to embrace a snazzy place on the Mag Mile can't help but love it. I certainly dug Girl and the Goat. L2O was amazing for us, but they've gone through so many changes since getting the three stars, I have no idea what's going on over there right now. If you want to do some painfully simple and wonderful Spanish-inspired food, we had a great dinner at Vera back in October. Less is more at that place. If you can't get into Alinea, don't you dare fall back on Moto. Just don't do it. Achatz does crazy things with purpose. I admire Cantu's energy, but he just throws stuff on the wall to see what sticks. He does things because he can, not because it's the best thing to do for the dish. I hate that they're so often lumped together. Pretty much all of Kahan's places are unimpeachable. I haven't been, but everybody loves Naha and it's right in your 'hood. Everest is great and so plainly straightforward that I'm going to beg you not to do it.

Whoa, how did I almost forget drink? The Violet Hour. Cab it and go. Sit at the bar. Talk to them. Be amazed. I also hear great things about The Whistler (for more traditional drink, I think?), but haven't been.

So much more... so much more... why don't you guys have cars? So much more...
Dominic Armato
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Christina
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7 years ago

Oh wow, thanks so much!! I almost want to ask which ones you'd recommend if we had a car, but that would just be inviting trouble ; ).

So Alinea is a must. E usually has good luck with getting a reservation so I'm hoping we snag one. E won't skip Province, but I'm pretty good at "let's stop for before-dinner drinks", so will pick a nice place to graze too. I have Purple Pig on my list now, so that may be the one. I'm sold on Naha now, so that's a definite too. That makes three nights. The fourth and lunches I'll choose from the plethora of casual places you've suggested - that will be fun. Italian beef is a must, yes, and I love your trifecta of Al's, Patio,and Mario's. And HOW could I forget The Violet Hour?! Would NOT miss it. The Aviary is also on my list, and I like the sound of The Whistler. Thoughts on Sable,The Drawing Room, Scofflaw?

Also per E - are there any Chicago institutions/historical spots/a view (can be touristy) we shouldn't miss. Not to eat, so food doesn't matter, but to stop in and have a cocktail. Sunset cocktails at the Top of the Cock are planned (thanks GritsNYC).

Thanks for a great start! We're thinking end of summer, so I'm sure I'll be editing, i.e, adding ; )
Last edited by Christina 7 years ago, edited 2 times in total.
DiyaMarketing
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7 years ago

Amazing, Dom--thank you! I'm hoping to get away on Wednesday & Thursday nights, but it may be a challenge.
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

If you have any questions, keep them coming... like I say, there's so much more, I'm trying to cut it down to the intersection between favorites and easiest for you guys to get to.
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Christina
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7 years ago

Should add that we also plan on going to the Art Institute of Chicago so which of those mentioned (or not) would be convenient for lunch? Aaron's suggestion of Trattoria No 10 is in walking distance I think? A bit of history with the Berghoff? How is Terzo Piano? Thanks again.
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Christina wrote:Should add that we also plan on going to the Art Institute of Chicago so which of those mentioned (or not) would be convenient for lunch? Aaron's suggestion of Trattoria No 10 is in walking distance I think? A bit of history with the Berghoff? How is Terzo Piano? Thanks again.
Ahhh... loop lunch. Always lamented as less than ideal.

Let me think about this a bit. I'll update tomorrow.
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sinosoul
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7 years ago

Skillet Doux wrote:Ahhh... loop lunch. Always lamented as less than ideal.
Look at this freakin' JADED ex-Chicagoan :lol:

The Gage is across the Art Institute. I like the Gage for a gastropubby place in the midst of bad tourist food.

And then we have Ginza. Just a freaky lil Japanese dive at the bottom of a hotel. Lovely lunch combos though not properly in da Loop.

You can do worse than Frontera Fresco in nearly every financial district in America.

Of course, you also have Potbelly as a very passable standby. It was the first meal we had upon returning to CHI after a 4 year absence.
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

sinosoul wrote:
Skillet Doux wrote:Ahhh... loop lunch. Always lamented as less than ideal.
Look at this freakin' JADED ex-Chicagoan :lol:
Trying to hold onto my identity any way I can... if that includes being grouchy about loop lunch options, so be it.

You know, I've never been to The Gage, but that's a good idea. Ginza's an awfully long haul by foot. And if you're hopping in a cab, then that opens up all kinds of other places.

What about Custom House? Has that been any good since McClain bailed?
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tatterdemalion
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7 years ago

Now that's the hit-list right there, Dom - very nice.

I'm heading back to Chicago soon too, and Zaragoza is always, always, always on the list, usually my farewell meal, plate of bye-bye birria.

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Also, in the spirit of unique Mexican, at least for Chicago, is La Placita de Durango. I realize there's lots of Norteno fare in PHX (Sonoran), but Duranguense cooking isn't everywhere. Anyways, the gorditas and burritos are stupendous (get the chicharron prensado), and they do a good brekkie as well.

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Another requisite stop on my visits is Devon Street - about as good as it gets for Pakistani food on this continent. I tend to frequent the cabbie joints - Ghareeb Nawaz, Sabri Nehari, Usmaniya, and Khan is the place to go for Paki-bbq.

I'll be prioritizing Aroy Thai on my upcoming visit, but I also always have a superb meal at Sticky Rice for that Northern, Chiang Mai/Rai cookery.

The dogs at RedHot Ranch have no business being as good as they are, with a pile of fresh-cut fries, even at 4am.

Lao Hunan is just so damn cool, especially if, like me, you know nothing about Hunanese cuisine. I was blown away by dishes like beef jerky with barnyardy white chiles that resembled psilocybin more than capsicum, and pork with sour beans, among many others.

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The Publican has a helluva brunch too if you need a fancier morning meal with booze.

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It's been a while, but I think I'll be having some cevapcici at one of the Bosnian places on my next visit too.

Christina, for cocktails, Sable is pretty nice in the city, provided you're there at an off-peak hour. The Whistler's mastermind, Paul McGee, is no longer there, and neither are some of his key lieutenants - one, a friend of mine, went on to open Scofflaw which I will obviously recommend. Bar Deville also, way less precious than Violet Hour, but also with a heavy dose of hipsterism if you're there at the wrong hour.
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

Khan's one that would've been on my list if it were a little more accessible :-) That's a rough one to get to without a car. But absolutely killer grilled meats.

I completely defer to tatterdemalion on drinks. I wasn't all that in tune when I was there to begin with, and a lot has happened since I left.

Glad to hear another thumbs up for Hunan. If you do Chinese, Christina, I say do that over Lao Sze Chuan. Where else are you going to get serious Hunan? Here's the LTH thread, if you want to peruse some specific dishes: Introducing Lao Hunan
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AZLobo
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7 years ago

Quick plug for Tempo on Chestnut/State Street. I ate brunch there every Sunday for three years plus countless 3 a.m. drunken fourth meals. It's a diner, but it's a great diner.
misterk
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7 years ago

tatterdemalion wrote:Another requisite stop on my visits is Devon Street
As someone who's never been to Chicago, I feel like I ultimately need to pay a pilgrimage to Devon St and eat my way through it. I've been hearing about this road and all its restaurants ever since I was a kid.
tatterdemalion wrote:...about as good as it gets for Pakistani food on this continent
Being raised on Shalimar in SF, I'll reserve judgement on that claim until I get to test it out personally. ;)
tatterdemalion
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7 years ago

misterk wrote:
tatterdemalion wrote:Another requisite stop on my visits is Devon Street
As someone who's never been to Chicago, I feel like I ultimately need to pay a pilgrimage to Devon St and eat my way through it. I've been hearing about this road and all its restaurants ever since I was a kid.
tatterdemalion wrote:...about as good as it gets for Pakistani food on this continent
Being raised on Shalimar in SF, I'll reserve judgement on that claim until I get to test it out personally. ;)
misterk, my brotha, Shalimar is indeed the tops. It's been a while since I ate my way through the Tandoorloin, but in my (dated) experience not much that was compelling there ... with the exception of Shalimar which was as good as the Pakistani restaurants I grew up with in Toronto and what I'd had in Pakistan. Devon's got it going on. Houston is pretty teeming but only a couple of real standouts as I recall (been a while). People rave about restaurants in San Francisco (overrated), I say forget all that Slanted Door crap, go to one of the best Pakistani restaurants in the country, Shalimar. That's the highlight of SF.
misterk
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7 years ago

Word. I'm actually a Toronto native who moved to SF at the age of 5, and I know that there's Pakistani restaurants all over that fair city (ie. Gerrard St and in Mississauga), but any subsequent visits back there have never amounted to Pakistani dining (my uncles there are usually invested in me "not forgetting my Canadian roots" and so it's usually a few days of nothing but loading me up with butter tarts, ketchup chips, Swiss Chalet fries and sauce, pierogis, and who knows what else - all sitting like a giant rock in my stomach by the time I get back on the plane).

I wish there was a Bundoo Khan's somewhere in the US that was actually on par with the original in Karachi. That was the one joint I always required my relatives to take me to on a trip back to the motherland. I could eat those seekh kebabs with imli ki chutney all day long.

But to bring this all back to Chi-town, Devon St. I will definitely go to there. Your and Dom's other Chicago suggestions are also equally tantalizing. I'm assuming with the strong German influence in the Midwest that there's got to be some excellent German food in Chicago, too?
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Skillet Doux
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7 years ago

misterk wrote:I'm assuming with the strong German influence in the Midwest that there's got to be some excellent German food in Chicago, too?
Check me on this, tatterdemalion, but surprisingly little, actually. It wasn't a scene that I was ever really on top of, but my impression is that most of the old places closed down. There's some, but I don't really think of Chicago as a hotbed of German cuisine.

Again, though, this is not a scene I was ever in tune with. I could be totally out of line.
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