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Restaurants & Bars 31


Mike G | Mar 31, 200312:06 AM

Back by popular demand (ahem), a quarterly (but not April Fools') posting of my ongoing attempt to offer a starting point for the visitor to Chicago--or the new user of the Chicago board.

NEW IN THIS EDITION: links to all the treatises on Chicago cuisines that followed the last version of this tip sheet; a couple of new visitor recommendations which will come as no surprise to regular board readers; and expanded references to many of the supplementary cuisines listed at the end such as Cuban, soul food, German, Polish, etc., with more citations to specific restaurants.


1) TIPS: For the out of town visitor with limited time or interest who is looking for some quick recommendations from locals, a SINGLE recommendation is listed for each category of cuisine.

This isn't claimed to be THE best place for whatever (no two Chihounds could agree on that, anyway). But it is ONE Chihound's suggestion of a place that's:
-Generally admired of its type
-Rates highly for Chicago "character"
-Preferably (though not always) located in an area convenient for visitors
-Hopefully not already listed in every guidebook on earth

2) LINKS: Next, a much broader range of cuisines is blown out with links to some of the most interesting posts and threads from the 4-year-plus history of this board. Not only will you find many more viewpoints on the best pizza, steak, etc. by using these links, you will find entrée to a far broader range of ethnic cuisines spread throughout every part of the city, well beyond what the tourist (or even most residents) typically see-- as well as a shortcut to many of the most learned and entertaining posts of the past.

To access these posts, the easiest way is to open another browser window, paste this URL into the address window and insert the post number where the 0000 is:



1. EXPLORE THE COMPLETE THREADS! The cited post number is often only the beginning of a discussion, not the definitive post in it, and the best info may be a few levels down.

2. POST A FOLLOWUP QUESTION! The tip sheet is designed to start further discussion, not settle it. So ask more questions; the more specific your request, the more likely you'll get a useful answer.

3. NEED MORE INFO? For address, hours or other info for a restaurant, or to compare against non-Chowhound reviews, go to (which includes Chicago Tribune reviews) or the restaurant section of (which offers fairly high quality reader reviews--though not as high as here!)

4. WANT TO LINK TO THIS TIP SHEET? Feel free! I won't know its actual post number until I post it, but the plan is to post it at the beginning of each quarter, thus making it easy to find in the list of posts, and also to retain the term "FAQ" in the subject line so it's easy to do a search for.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


LOU MALNATI'S (439 N. Wells St., 312-828-9800, and other locations) makes the classic thick-as-a-phone-book Chicago pizza, with less tourist attention than the admirable Pizzeria Uno (where the late Lou once worked) or the less impressive Gino's.

Vital Info's Chicago pizza primer: 19308
Discussions of best: 14738, 12789, 11186, 8005; North side: 10870; South side: 18927
Pizza by the slice survey: 20698
Foldability of crust as important criterion: 4918, 4963
Vito & Nick's (true Chicago thin pizza): 3760, 9156
Dissatisfaction with New Haven-style at Piece: 10972
Italian-style at Pizza DOC: 3798
Pequod's: 21679
Bubamara: 8861


AL'S ITALIAN BEEF (original in Little Italy at 1079 W. Taylor St., 312-733-8896; also in River North touristville at 169 W. Ontario St., 312-943-3222), is perhaps the best-known place for this Chicago sandwich, though as Vital Info noted (14736), "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.

Excellent compare-and-contrast of Chi Italian Beefs by LA visitor: 15216
Vital Info's Italian beef primer: 19412
General discussion of many beefs (and why NOT to go to Jay Leno's fave, Mr. Beef): 14732
How to survive the ordering Nazi at Johnnie's: 13459


SUPERDAWG (6363 N. Milwaukee Ave./Devon, 773-736-0660, review at 4883)-- There really isn't a great Chicago dog near the main tourist areas (the Portillo's in River North touristville maybe comes closest), but if you have a car, head up Milwaukee Ave. for a journey through the real Chicago and through neighborhoods of many nationalities; your reward at the northwest edge of the city will be unchanged 50s architecture, real carhop service, fat garlicky dogs and thick shakes.

Vital Info's hot dog primer: 19637, see also 10033
Venison dogs, duck fat fries and other exotica at Hot Doug's: 10393, 21884, 20051, 22445
Sarcastic service at Wieners Circle: 9424, 9330
Perfect boiled dogs in "prison-like" atmosphere at Gene & Jude's: 4478, 5592


GENE & GEORGETTI'S (500 N. Franklin St., 312-527-3718) is a Rat Pack-era joint still frequented by politicians and hoods (but I repeat myself); take a good look at the first floor as you enter, because you WILL be seated in Siberia upstairs. (14371 has a memorable take on the G&G experience for non-bigshots.)

General steak overview: 17084
Gibson's: 11335
Morton's: 16410
Keefer's: 15102
Smith & Wollensky: 22510, 21759, 9342 (humorous)
Fogo de Chao: 14817

Note: Chicago Chop House has received the most consistent negative reviews of places the out of towner is likely to find himself at.


BISTROT MARGOT (1437 N. Wells St., 312-587-3660) is a lively, bustling bistro a short cab ride north of downtown serving very agreeable renditions of French classics; especially pleasant in the summer, when it offers outdoor seating on a street where (unlike with many downtown cafes) that doesn't mean you'll be sucking bus exhaust all through dinner. (Note: nothing against Cyrano's, the previous recommendation in this spot, just felt like making a change.) Some direct links to reviews of other fine dining establishments:

Ambria: 17150
Aria: 22534
Arun's (pretty negative): 21971
Bistro Campagne: 19840
Bistrot Margot: 9072, 22095
Bistrot Margot, Kiki's Bistro, bistros in general: 15872
Blackbird: 14844, 22489
Le Bouchon: 19030
Café des Architectes: 18738
Café Iberico: 12432
Café Matou: 9038
Charlie Trotter: 9906, 16694
Chilpancingo: 13350, 22457
Crofton-On-Wells: 11174, 17145
Cyrano's Bistrot: 20859, 11737
Le Deux Gros: 19157
Eclectic: 21919
Erwin: 18071, 14799
Fortunato's: 11485, 17679 (pro), 16847 (middling)
Four-stars in general (Trotter, Tru, Everest etc.): 14809; also entire thread beg. at 14797
Le Francais: 12498
Glory: 20034, 20044
Jacky's Bistro: 19466
Heat: 14549, 17702, 3841
Kevin: 19949, 10040
Kevin, Vivo, Printer's Row, Crofton On Wells: 17145
Merlo: 12481
MK: 12730
Les Nomades: 13965 (semi-negative)
North Pond Café: 19945
Opera: 21507, 21520
Red Light: 22249
Spiaggia: 14257
Spring: 15097
Sugar: 15524 (semi-negative, but a hilarious read)
La Tache: 22119
Thyme: 10371
Tomboy: 11736
Tournesol: 15897, 19840
Trio: 9811, 12926 (pro), 12476 (middling)
Tru: 8878
Le Vichyssois: 19414 (scathing; read follow-ups as well)
Zealous: 12805


LA SCAROLA (721 W. Grand Ave., 312-243-1740; reviews at 19889, 10316, 8778) is the classic tiny, packed, patrons out of a Scorsese movie kind of place, located in an Italian neighborhood just beyond downtown. Beats the heck out of pack-em-in-for-big-portions-of-ordinary-food rackets like Rosebud or Maggiano's.

Spiaggia (four-star Italian): 14257
Bruna's Ristorante and Heart of Italy neighborhood: 14819
Italian-style Italian: Follia, 17775; Fortunato's, 11485, 17679 (pro), 16847 (middling)
Modestly-priced Italian: 19634
Harlem Ave. delis/stores: 15833
Notes toward a treatise on Italian settlement of Chicago: 19351


CHILPANCINGO (358 W. Ontario St., 312-266-9525, reviews at 13350, 22457) is an upscale River North Mexican restaurant by a Frontera Grill alum, Geno Bahena, that seems to be earning more raves than the place that originally put upscale Mexican on the map.

Frontera vs. Ixcapuzalco/Chilpancingo: 13322
Chicago, Best Mexican Food in the US?: 13513, 11823
Mexican food stands in the famous Maxwell Street Market: 14822, see also 18069
How Do You Spot A Good Mexican Restaurant?: 13885
Oaxacan: 12650, 11716, 4109


"LITTLE" THREE HAPPINESS (209 W. Cermak, 312-842-1964; see suggested items to order at 17166) is one of several spots in the touristy Wentworth St. Chinatown area whose menu includes the familiar but goes into realms far beyond the ken of P.F. Chang's (fish lung, sea slug, etc.--as well as many much more appetizing-sounding things). (NOTE: There are two restaurants called Three Happiness, neither actually called "Little." You definitely want the smaller one on the south side of Cermak at 209.)

Dim Sum: 5263, 5447, 10129, 11553, 20067
As religious experience: 14820 and 14478
Secret menu at Ed's Potsticker House: 22550, 19133
Old school Chinatown/segues into Ed's dumplings: 19900
Pretty amazing Northern Chinese threads: 19101, 19070
Shanghaiese (Moon Palace): 8406
Taiwanese (Mei Shung): 10333
Red Light: 22249
Opera: 21507, 21520


SPOON THAI (4608 N. Western, 773-769-1173; notes on secret menu at 21889, 19069)-- After much discussion of how to get "secret" menus and more authentic/hotter dishes at Chicago's outwardly interchangeable Thai restaurants, two spots on the north side emerged as board favorites for their authentic and pungently fresh flavors. Spoon Thai wins the nod over Thai Aree (3592 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-725-6751; see 15596) because it's closer to somewhere visitors might find themselves (the charming and rapidly gentrifying Lincoln Square area). Note that both restaurants still serve the standard Thai-American menu, so you are advised to come prepared with knowledge of what's on the secret menu, and be ready to insist that you want the more unusual Thai items-- at the heat level you desire.

Thai roundup: 20294
Secret menu discussions: 19048, 18151, 16852, 14373, 14201
Arun's, expensive 4-star Thai (pretty negative): 21971
Advice on how to get the heat you want: 22062


KATSU (2651 W Peterson Ave, 773-784-3383) hides behind a modest storefront in an obscure north side neighborhood near Skokie, but the superb sushi (flown in from Boston) is rivaled only by the considerably glitzier and more expensive Heat, and there's nothing cold fish about the welcome from Chef and Mrs. Katsu.

Sushi, general: 15664
Katsu: 19124
Heat: 14549, 17702
Hatsuhana vs. Kamehachi: 21750
Inexpensive sushi at Tampopo: 9759
Mitsuwa Market and other suburban Japanese grocers: 17104


WISHBONE (1001 W. Washington Blvd., 312-850-2663; also 3300 N. Lincoln) offers a yuppified but hearty and satisfying take on southern breakfast west of the Loop (near Harpo Studios), and in the Roscoe Village area.

General discussion of breakfast faves: 10191
Near McCormack Place, 15219
Roscoe Village: 18410
Edna's: 6118
Irish breakfast: 19094


THE PENGUIN (2723 W. Lawrence, Chicago, 773-271-4924; see 16124, 15342) is an Argentinean gelato and pizza parlor located in a dingy northwest-side stripmall between a laundromat and a Korean restaurant specializing in bone marrow soup. If that description alone isn't enough to bring out the Chowhound in you, the astonishingly fresh-flavored gelato should do the trick, though Chihounds agree that the quality of the homemade product can be variable and you need to ask to taste different flavors until you find one that blows you away.

Ice cream: 22402, 22391, 9403, 13023, 9473


A grab bag of references to posts on other cuisines:

VIETNAMESE: In Argyle Street "Chinatown": 12979, 6522
Not on Argyle Street: 17586
Sandwiches: 22368

KOREAN: 18928, 17441 (and others in thread beg. at 17360), 15321

INDIAN: Downtown: 14668
On Devon: 5417, 2767
24-hour cabbie joints: 10044
Hema's Kitchen: 21493
Kababish of London: 21919
Arya Bhavan: 21352
Sher-a-Punjab: 21348

MIDDLE-EASTERN: 13673, 8549
Turkish: 12230, 7959
Noon-O-Kebab: 21995
Al-Ameer: 20834
The Pharoah's: 20580

GREEK: 8350

EASTERN EUROPEAN: 9365; Polish: 21467
Paprikash (Hungarian): 22327
Julia's (Lithuanian-Polish): 21381
Operetta (Czech): 21151

RUSSIAN: 21838

GERMAN: 21322, 10797
Berghoff: 21919

CUBAN: 21596
Café Cubano: 22500 (includes notes on restaurants too)

CARIBBEAN: 18778 (good info on Jamaican, Puerto Rican, etc. within long wandering thread)
On North Side: 22473, 18939
Honduran: 12382

Ecuadorian: 19848
Colombian Chicken: 20059

AFRICAN: 12029, 19193, 7755
Toham: 20853, 10666
Bolat: 12019

SOUL FOOD: overview at 22207; 9934, 9933, 5217
BJ's: 9934
Homecookin' (Evanston): 22248
Soul Food History: 19326
House of Blues Gospel Brunch: 22219

BBQ: 11555, 9882, 7049
Lem's: 18071, 12606 (picture), 9528, 3528
On North Side: 22092
Fat Willy's: 21606, 21472

DELI: 20913, 17637, 15988, 15900, 11009
Manny's vs. Kauffman's: 20046
A.P. Deli: 17637

BURGERS: Best: 18104, 7971
Definition of "30s style": 20019
Bill's: 21919, 20021
Smith & Wollensky: 22510

LUNCH IN THE LOOP: 15775, 12165, 6344, 6388
Lunch in Mag Mile area: 20177


24-Hour Chowathon: 8184
Westernathon: 21856
"Best Chowblock in town": 7179




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