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Restaurants & Bars 25

We have the beginnings of a FAQ

Mike G | Nov 8, 200211:36 PM

So, pathetic as it may seem, I had nothing better to do tonight than think about a FAQ for tourists. So I'm going to post the chunk I did and solicit comments.

I'm trying to synthesize the general drift of comments on different areas here, with a prejudice toward the parts of town that tourists are likely to visit. So if your favorite place is missing, well, so is mine, these are the places that seem to get talked up the most. But I will consider additions that have a consensus for being really good, sure.

I think it needs at least two more sections, one on steak and one on Chinese food, and maybe one highlighting ethnic areas in brief so we cover Devon and Avondale at least. If you want to jot down a few notes on one of those areas, send them to me at and I'll expand them into a writeup (or use them as is if you write them similarly).

Any other volunteers?

* * *


This is a basic guide for the Chicago visitor to Chicago chow with an emphasis on the parts of town you are most likely to visit or find worth a significant detour. Please feel free to ask more specific questions if you don’t find the answers you want here.


Thick, gloppy Chicago pizza is a major tourist attraction in and of itself. Most tourists find themselves at Pizzeria Uno or Gino’s East, but most Chicago Chowhounds would say that there are better choices even in the downtown tourist districts, such as Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s (multiple locations).

In the Lakeview/Wrigleyville area (north side), The Art of Pizza (3033 N. Ashland Ave., 773-327-5600) and Bubamara’s (4607 N. Wolcott St., 773-334-2633) are well liked for fresh ingredients, while further north in Lincoln Square Pizza D.O.C. (2251 W. Lawrence Ave., 773-784-8777) is admired for authentic European-style thin pizza. Piece, in trendy Wicker Park, is popular for its New Haven-style pizza but few Chowhounds have been terribly impressed.


Red hots are a Chicago tradition but it’s hard to think of a hot dog stand of distinction in the Loop/Mag Mile area; the outposts of two local chains, Fluky’s in the Nordstrom’s mall and Portillo’s (100 W. Ontario St., 312-587-8930), are probably as good as they get in that area. In Lincoln Park Wiener’s Circle (2622 N. Clark St., 773-477-7444) draws a late night crowd for good dogs and sarcastic service, while in up-and-coming Roscoe Village is the one-of-a-kind Hot Doug’s (2314 W. Roscoe, 773-348-0326), where traditional char dogs co-exist with alligator and pheasant dogs and fries cooked in goose lard (certain days only).

Visitors with cars can make a pilgrimage to Superdawg, an authentic 50s carhop with great dogs, shakes and atmosphere (6363 N. Milwaukee Ave./Devon, 773-736-0660), or to Gene & Jude’s (2720 N. River Rd., suburb of River Grove, 708-452-7634), both admired by Chowhounds for excellent boiled dogs and derided for “prison-like” atmosphere.


Italian beef is to Chicago what the Philly cheese steak is to that city: a local sandwich favorite that may mystify those who didn’t grow up on them. Mr. Beef, promoted by the likes of Jay Leno, draws little love from Chowhounds, but they seem more kindly disposed to the other famous choice, Al’s Italian Beef (original in Little Italy at 1079 W. Taylor St., 312-733-8896; also in River North tourist area at 169 W. Ontario St., 312-943-3222), though as Vital Info noted, “Al's meat is much different than most italian beefs, a bit thicker, shorter pieces and more coarse. Likewise, their giardinara is different. Its kick comes from red pepper flakes not chopped sport peppers.” He also recommends the grilled sausage at the original Al’s location.

Those with cars can visit what many consider the gold standard for this sandwich, Johnnie’s Beef (7500 W. North Ave, suburb of Elmwood Park, 708-452-6000), though it is recommended that they study up beforehand on how to order correctly before incurring the wrath of Johnnie’s countermen. (See post “Re(3): Johnnie's Italian Beef Nazi Hunter – ORDERING” by Old School, 8/22/02.) For a good roundup by a visitor from LA, see the post “Quest for Italian Beef/Sausage,” 9/29/02.


Chicago Italian ranges from four-star Northern Italian nouvelle cuisine to red gravy neighborhood holes-in-the-wall frequented by made guys--as well as a host of places famous for packing them in okay food in enormous portions, such as Rosebud and Maggiano’s, which you can surely do better than. (Tuscany and Mia Francesca—both multiple locations, including the main Little Italy on Taylor Street—score a little higher for cuisine in this subgenre.)

A few of the many well-liked choices include Spiaggia, a four-star restaurant with a spectacular lake view, and its great-value sibling Café Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-2750); Italian Village (71 W. Monroe St., 312-332-7005), a venerable three-restaurant complex in the Loop that ranges from the wildly trendy Vivere to the trapped-in-Mario-Lanza’s-era Cantina; A Tavola (2148 W. Chicago Ave., 773-276-7567), an austerely chic romantic spot famous for great gnocchi; La Scarola, a busy hole in the wall just west of the Loop (721 W. Grand Ave., 312-243-1740); and Bruna’s Ristorante, a fixture since 1933 in another Little Italy (known as Heart of Italy), 2424 S. Oakley Ave., 773-254-5550.


One Chowhound suggests that Chicago has the best Mexican food in the country-- that the cheap food at local stands is more authentically prepared than the Cal-Mex or Tex-Mex found elsewhere, and the fine-dining Mexican prepared by Rick Bayless and his protégé Geno Bahena is miles beyond that offered anywhere else. (For elaboration of this theory, see thread “Los Mogotes de Michoacan / Mexican in Chicago,” 8/23/02.)

Though Bayless’s is the famous face, there have been a lot of disappointing reports from his less expensive place, Frontera Grill (445 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434); the fancier Topolobampo next door is supposed to get most of his attention. In any case, you can save a lot of waiting in line and very possibly have a much more exciting meal by trying Bahena’s fine dining River North restaurant Chilpancingo (358 W. Ontario St., 312-266-9525), or get an even more authentic urban experience with the same terrific moles and lower prices at his Ixcapuzalco (2919 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-486-7340), located on a nondescript strip in the sort of Hispanic Humboldt Park neighborhood. Everyone seems happy they tried either one.

As for inexpensive Mexican, you are unlikely to find anything exceptional except in off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods, or at the Sunday morning Maxwell Street Market; see threads such as “Maxwell St. Market Report 9/22/02,” “How do you spot a good Mexican restaurant?,” beginning 8/29/02, [Anybody remember where that comprehensive report by Rene or somebody on one of the Pilsen streets was?]


Ethnic neighborhoods (Devon, Avondale?)

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