I'll be in Chicago for five days this July. I plan to have one blow out meal at Alinea, but I'm looking for more budget minded recs for the other days. For dinner, I like places that serve great food that isn't too fussy (skirt steak over filet, lamb shank over rack) in a casual atmosphere. I like to go a bit more refined at lunch, because I can get a taste of gourmet without dropping a bill. It's important to me that chefs have a commitment to using organic or sustainable ingredients.
Normally, I'd do a lot more preliminary research than this, but as you know the current search feature is basically useless. Any links to relevant threads are much appreciated.
Here's my preliminary list. I'd appreciate any feedback, answers to my questions, places that should be avoided, or any glaring omissions.
Black Bird - Looks like my dream lunch, I can't resist a pork belly sandwich
North Pond - dinner looked fabulous, but too $$$$. I noticed they serve lunch in the Summer (I'm visiting in July) but no lunch menu was posted. Anyone try it for lunch? Reports including dishes sampled and prices?
Rick Bayless - want to try upscale Mexican, but I still can't stomach spending $35/plate (I grew up on taco trucks in SoCal, so this is a bizarre concept for me). I've settled on one Bayless spot for lunch - but I can't really tell the difference between Frontera and Topolobampo. Thoughts?
Trotters to Go - I'm still pissed at him over the foie debacle, but I figure I'll give his take out a shot. Website was pretty vague, what all do they serve here? Is it appropriate for a budget dinner instead of lunch?
Prairie Grass Cafe - Looks like my kind of place. Reasonable prices, casual atmosphere, organic food
Lula Cafe - Prices are attractive, though the menu doesn't excite me. Thoughts?
Hot Chocolate - How is the savory food here? Seems really casual, which works when a place is chef-driven, but also has the potential to fall flat on its face. Should I just pop in for dessert, or try it for dinner?
Brunch - What is the best spot in Chicago for a delicious Saturday brunch? (I'll be on the plane Sunday morning)
Places I'm unsure about:
Campagnola Restaurant - No online menu (I hate that!) I eat a lot of incredible Italian food in SF, is this worth a visit? How are the prices?
Sunflower Bistro - What are their prices like? Food looks good, but the online menu leaves prices blank (I really hate that!)
Heartland Cafe - I'm curious about the buffalo. Is it any good?
I'm also looking for recs for good food shopping. Farmers' Markets, specialty stores, cheese, sausage, charcuterie, delis, or any other worthwhile food shops. Anything conveniently located near a good picnic spot?
Lastly, are there any "only in Chicago" foods that I would be a fool to miss? I'm willing to waive my organic restrictions a few times a year for something unique or special.
Thank you for any advise. I promise to give a thorough report back after my trip.