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Chicago Area

Great First Time Visit to Chicago (long)

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Restaurants & Bars 5

Great First Time Visit to Chicago (long)

Champ | May 9, 2004 09:20 AM

My wife and I visited Chicago a few months back and here I am, finally getting around to posting about all of the restaurants that we tried. To put it mildly, we had a great time and, thanks to the tips of Chicago hounds, we sampled some excellent fare.

Restaurants:

Ras Dashen (5846 N. Broadway) Superb Ethiopian food! Better than anything I’ve had in Washington, DC, the supposed hotspot for Ethiopian in the US. We tried a vegetarian combination with lentils, red beets, and homemade cheese (called Ib). Sad to say, they did not have telba (flaxseed drink), but the service was friendly and prompt and the prices were reasonable.

Aroy Thai (4656 N. Damen) A recommendation from Chowhound. The menu was very veggie-friendly, offering a tofu variation of nearly every dish. We tried a tofu in garlic sauce and chicken in ginger chili sauce. The tofu dish was delicious, but my wife was unimpressed with the chicken, feeling that it was too bland.

Santorini (Halsted and Adams) One of the more “touristy” restaurants that we tried. This place had a lot of flash. The service was good and the food, though a bit overpriced, hit the spot. We tried grilled fish, olives, wine, etc., and left feeling sated. I got the feeling that Greektown is a shade of its former self.

Jim’s Grill (1429 Irving Park Road) The thought of trying vegan Korean food intrigued us enough to check out Jim’s. The interior of the place looked like a White Castle franchise. Of course we had to try the Kim Chee pancakes, which were the best thing on the menu. We also got an order of spicy noodles with assorted vegetables, which needed a healthy dose of hot pepper sauce. The prices were dirt cheap, but the experience was a bit disappointing, mainly, I think, because we expected something along the lines of Golden Era, a vegan Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. There all of the food is actually “mock-meat”, but flavored well.

Kamehachi (1400 N. Wells Street) The evening before we dined at the Wells Street location, we had tried Kamehachi’s other restaurant on East Ontario, only to leave after waiting 30 minutes to be served. The Wells Street location was much better. The rolls were fresh and tight and the place had a pleasant, relaxing vibe. The wines went well with the food. North Wells Street was nice for an after-dinner stroll.

Giordano’s (somewhere in the Loop) What visit to Chicago is complete without some deep-dish pizza? We had originally intended to try Lou Malnati’s, but it was closed for renovation, so we wound up at Giordano’s. I can’t even remember what toppings we had, but the pizza was the biggest, densest thing I’ve ever tried. Thick crust, cheesy filling, and delicate tomato sauce. Even though we ordered a small pie, we had enough to take back to the hotel for breakfast the following morning.

Andrzej Grill (1022 Western Avenue) Andrzej reminded me of the Polish restaurants in Greenpoint, Brooklyn: small, barebones, basic menu. The food was dynamite, and the portions were beyond huge. We tried borscht (excellent!), potato and cheese pierogies (12 in a single order), potato pancakes (fried crispy), and a ton of bread. The food was so good that I was practically moaning at the table. I left feeling more full than I had ever been. Really, it was all I could do to get myself across Western Avenue to the bus stop.

Margie’s Candies (1906 North Western Avenue) Believe it or not, we went here right after Andrzej. We had heard about the good milkshakes, so, even though our stomachs were packed to capacity, we managed to find more room for a chocolate shake and some pistachio ice cream. The décor at Margie’s was wonderful, like being back in the 1920s. Funny enough, when the waitress heard that we were visiting Chicago for our anniversary, she pointed out that we were seated in what they called “Lover’s Lane”, the booth where the original owner had proposed to his wife decades earlier.

Smoke Daddy (1804 West Division) My Southern wife (Alabama) enjoyed the barbecued ribs, but neither of us was that impressed with the side dishes (the corn on the cob had been boiled pale). The vibe was fun, though, and the patrons here were passionate about their barbecue. What I most enjoyed, though, was the remnants of a wall mural visible above the bar. I recalled a Chowhound post that claimed Smoke Daddy’s used to be a Polish bar patronized by the great Nelson Algren.

Nuevo Leon (1515 West 18th Street) Nuevo Leon reminded me of some of the restaurants in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. When we arrived at Nuevo Leon on a Sunday morning there was a line out the door. Still, we had a table within 25 minutes. My wife had pork in ancho sauce and I had cheese enchiladas with mole sauce. We also had guacamole and some chicken soup (complimentary). Everything was delicious. The hectic pace of the place was interesting to watch and I noticed that the clientele seemed to be a mix of tourists and locals. One of our best dining experiences in Chicago.

Cafes:

Kopi: nothing special. We mainly went here because we were waiting for the Hop Leaf to open. Basic tea and coffee selection. Bit of a bore.

Milk and Honey (1920 W. Division Street) Great café in Wicker Park. Really classy layout, plenty of seating, and newspapers galore. Everything you’d want in a café. Their teas were out of this world, as was the hot chocolate. If we ever lived in Wicker Park, this would be our hangout.

All in all, we had a fantastic time. We felt that we had a good introduction to Chicago and plan to do more adventurous things on our next trip. I’m particularly interested in trying some of the Mexican restaurants in Gage Park, and noticed that there are still a few Lithuanian restaurants in Marquette Park. Anyone have any experience with any of these? In any event, thank you Chicago chowhounds for steering us in the right direction and for making our first visit to your city a memorable one.

In conclusion, I have to say that public transportation in Chicago is nothing short of amazing. Whether it was early morning or late at night, we never waited more than five minutes for a bus or train (literally). From the time we stepped off the plane to the time we stepped back on, we relied entirely on the CTA (not one cab during the whole trip). As a jaded New Yorker, I must say that that was the most enjoyable thing of all.

We also visited several good bars. Will post about those in a few days.

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