No Pizzaria Uno, Please
May 6, 2009 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: "I am in Chicago attending meetings and a conference. Any tips on good, inexpensive places to eat? I am staying at The Drake, which is right off Michigan Ave. " Any recommendations?
posted by Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
define inexpensive
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:42 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're carnivorous: I had a great bbq sample thing once at Weber Grill last year, and a very great 'gourmet' burger on another trip. It's about six blocks south of the Drake.

(My accomplices got hammered on sangria that they claimed was excellent, too.)
posted by rokusan at 5:48 AM on May 6, 2009

(And, oh, surprisingly inexpensive. $25ish per person with drinks.)
posted by rokusan at 5:49 AM on May 6, 2009

I always used to enjoy Mama Leone's when I was on a college budget. Should be one not too far from the Drake, esp. by El.
posted by mikewas at 5:50 AM on May 6, 2009

I enjoyed The Exchequer pub when I was in Chicago two years ago.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:52 AM on May 6, 2009

When I'm there I try to get to the Big Bowl at least once. They have a control freak stir fry where you pick everything that goes into it.
posted by overhauser at 5:54 AM on May 6, 2009

The food court at Water Tower Place is decent. Also, oddly enough, is the food court at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, even though the ambiance, ah, is lacking. (They even featured it once on Check Please.)

If he's willing to walk a little farther, there's a Pockets on Ohio and St. Clair. Seriously, Pockets is my favorite cheap restaurant in all of Chicago. I eat there every chance I get.
posted by sugarfish at 6:04 AM on May 6, 2009

Big Bowl, Giordano's, Al's #1 Italian Beef
posted by AaRdVarK at 6:11 AM on May 6, 2009

Billy Goat Tavern, on Lower Michigan Ave under the Wrigley Building.
posted by harlan at 6:35 AM on May 6, 2009

I third Big Bowl — the one at 6 E. Cedar is about a 1/2 mile walk from the Drake. Tempo Cafe is also about a 1/2 mile walk.
posted by limeswirltart at 6:54 AM on May 6, 2009

Inexpensive and easy, close to the Drake: the food court at Water Tower Place (big shopping mall on Michigan Ave.) is called FoodLife and it's run by Lettuce Entertain You. They have a pretty wide variety of options and decent food.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:25 AM on May 6, 2009

I like Vong's Thai Kitchen for delicious yet affordable Asian fusion. It's at 6 W Hubbard St, walkable from the Drake. I recommend it over Big Bowl; they serve very similar type of food.

Another favorite of mine is Kan Zaman at 617 North Wells. It's a little farther out (will be a good walk), but worth the trip. Get some hummus & chicken shawarma for sure.
posted by gushn at 7:28 AM on May 6, 2009

Your friend (or you) might want to check out, I'm pretty sure they have a Chicago specific board. I've been recommended Hot Dougs, a hot-dog/sausage shop that has duck fat fried potatoes on Fridays.... but I don't know where that is in relation to where your friend will be as I've yet to make it beyond O'Hare
posted by melogranato at 7:46 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Soupbox is as inexpensive as it gets in that neighborhood. It's also about a half mile from the hotel.
posted by Iridic at 7:49 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's a bit of a walk from the Drake (about 3/4 mile), but the café at Fox & Obel has never let me down.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:56 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the responses so far! A definition of "inexpensive" wasn't given, but let's range from $0 up to $50 per person (including drinks).
posted by Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific at 8:06 AM on May 6, 2009

A few good ideas above, but since the title of your post suggests your friend's looking for something other than another corporate chain s/he can get in any metro suburb in the country, I would not recommend Leone's (a chain with middle-of-the-road Americanized eye-talian food) or FoodLife which is just an mall food court (...ok, they have edemame, but it’s still a food court). For cheap eats with a side of local Chicago color, I'd stick with the mom & pop places like Al's Italian Beef or Billy Goat Tavern. This is not high cuisine, of course. If your friend walks several blocks West from The Drake s/he is bound to encounter a few various hot dog or kebab places that may do the trick.
posted by applemeat at 8:14 AM on May 6, 2009

BONUS: the Billy Goat is the Cheezbugah, coke-no Pepsi place from SNL. Yes it is a dive burger joint, but an historic dive burger joint.
posted by Gungho at 8:17 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lou Malnati's, possibly the greatest pizza of all time, is in walking distance.

Portillo's is a little chain-y, but it has good hot dogs and decent Italian Beef. It's right around there, too.
posted by ignignokt at 8:18 AM on May 6, 2009

For tapas and drinks, cafe iberico. There will be a wait, but it will be worth it.
posted by slateyness at 8:22 AM on May 6, 2009

The Billy Goat is also the standard meetup spot for Chicago, and we're having one tonight, FYI.
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:29 AM on May 6, 2009

Damn, I forgot about The Billy Goat. Nth'd. Also, Big Bowl rocks.
posted by rokusan at 8:53 AM on May 6, 2009

It's a longer walk, but there are excellent--and inexpensive--places to eat in Greektown.

Giordano's is a chain, sure, but...yum! (The one down by the Borders tends to be reliable.)
posted by thomas j wise at 9:20 AM on May 6, 2009

If the weather is nice, try Oak Street Beachstro! It's an outdoor restaurant right on the beach. The food is priced more than it's worth, but you can't argue with being on a Midwestern beach with fake palm trees. There's a pedestrian tunnel that goes there, in the park across the street from the Drake.
posted by limeswirltart at 9:44 AM on May 6, 2009

Take the red line up to Fullerton and grab a sandwich and a mug of tea from the Borgeois Pig in Lincoln Park. They have the best loose tea selection in Chicago, and the paninis are fantastic. Pita Pit and some other good, relatively inexpensive places around there - it's near DePaul.

I'm not a Chicago native, so I don't have quite the attachment to Billy Goat. The burgers are decent, but you can probably do better.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:52 AM on May 6, 2009

Ugh, I'm an idiot. I meant "Leona's" but it looks like it's not really as close to the Drake as you might want.
posted by mikewas at 10:57 AM on May 6, 2009

n-thing billy goat (only been to the one under michigan ave) -- good burger, open late, good story -- enjoyable with friends...worth a trip for sure
posted by knockoutking at 11:47 AM on May 6, 2009

It's been years since we wandered River North, but...

Skip the Lettuce Entertain You places (not just the FoodLife food court, but also the elaborate-semi-upscale-faux-ethnic places, which I think include Vong's, referenced above). The food generally isn't bad, but the whole construct is so artificially perfect that I leave one of those places feeling like I've just been to Disneyworld.

Tempo (see above) is a wonderful place for brunch, and we liked it for dinner too.

Very much on the cheap side but also great (we went back twice on the same weekend) was Panang Noodles, at Clark & Chicago.
posted by sesquipedalia at 7:56 PM on May 6, 2009

Oh, and in relation to the title: it's my understanding that the original Pizzeria Uno (and Due, not too far away) have always been their own entity, not part of the Gargantuan Soulless Chain. They licensed their name to an operation that at the time was far far away from their own territory, that's all.

Either place is probably not a bad choice for the Chicago Pizza Experience, but Lou Malnati's and Gino's (?) and others have way more local adherents, I'm sure.
posted by sesquipedalia at 8:25 PM on May 6, 2009

Seconding Fox & Obel. It's a gourmet supermarket on East Illinois St., about a 20 minute walk from the Drake. It has a fantastic cafe with incredible sandwiches, soups, salads and a few hot meals. The quality is simply outstanding, if you don't mind the casual setting. You can even buy mini-bottles of wine. I think it's open pretty late too.

I always found this neighborhood difficult for good, inexpensive food. It's much too tourist-oriented, and the good places are very pricey. There's a pretty decent sushi place called Oysy on E. Grand near Michigan Ave.
posted by amusebuche at 8:26 PM on May 6, 2009

Nthing the Exchequer....also, get a farecard and take the el to Eleven City Diner and Yolk
posted by brujita at 10:23 PM on May 6, 2009

I have spent a bunch of time in that neighborhood.
Take a cab to avec. Which is french for "with", and so named because it is tiny and you will be eating elbow to elbow with others. It works on all levels, and it is a step up. One of my favorites in the entire city. No reservations. has veggie option.

Other contendors would include: Frontera Grill (mexican food that is way better than the website.) or its more expensive neighbor Topolobampo. The Grill requires reservations & you should make those today. You could likely walk over to these two. It's the same folks behind both restaurants - but the Topolobampo would push the budget a little.

The next place on my personal list of places to go is likely going to beThe Publican (age pork & other such fancyness), which sounds a fair bit like Avec, but haven't been yet so can't personally recommend it. Like all the others listed wins awards and critical acclaim, etc etc.

I have also heard good things about cafe iberico - to second that recommendation.

For actually inexpensive:

Wow Bao (hot asian buns: located in the water tower place complex 3 blocks straight south of the Drake)
845 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 642-5888

Soupbox (uh, soup. cheapest. still tasty.) Located a couple block west of Wow Bao.
50 E. Chicago Ave.
posted by zenon at 8:52 PM on May 11, 2009

This is somewhat late, but...

You can find truly unique, tasty pizza at Pequod's. It's a bit of a walk or a cheap taxi ride from where you are based, but its worth it. A cut above the more often recommended establishments like Lou Malnati's or Giordonos.
posted by bdizzy at 11:40 PM on May 12, 2009

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