Chicago Neighborhoods
June 29, 2005 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Advice on cool neighborhoods to explore in Chicago? (And a few other Chicago questions)

One of my favorite things to do while in New York is to explore neighborhoods like the Village, Upper East Side, Soho, Chinatown, etc. I'm going to Chicago for the first time this weekend and would like to take one morning and one afternoon to explore two neighborhoods. Each would end with lunch or dinner in the same area.

What areas would be fun to explore for a few hours? We're looking for little shops, galleries, etc. And where should we eat while we're there? Small, local places are preferred.

Also - is the architectural boat tour worth the time and money? How about the Robie House? Weiner House?
Which is better for contemporary art: National Institute or Museum of Contemporary Art?
posted by kdern to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wicker Park
Lincoln Square

and I can't think of anything else

Albany Park for a good Korean Meal!
posted by mrs.pants at 2:25 PM on June 29, 2005

Depending upon your passions, a local group offers neighborhood tours. The descriptions might help you to narrow down your choices.

Chicago Neighborhood Tours

I'm a fan of Bucktown, Wicker Park, Andersonville & Lincoln Square. But really? There are so many great neighborhoods, it's kind of hard to go wrong.

I think the Architecture Boat tour is excellent...the one run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

I like both art museums, but feel attracted to the Art Institute of Chicago.
posted by jeanmari at 2:26 PM on June 29, 2005

If you email me I can give you a more expanded guide, I'm just dead tired!
posted by mrs.pants at 2:26 PM on June 29, 2005

Robie House is in Hyde Park, which is kind of out of the way from the tourist-friendly parts of the city. I wouldn't bother with it unless you're a big Frank Lloyd Wright buff (which I, admittedly, am not.)

I prefer the MCA to the Art Institute, but I'm most likely in the minority in that opinion. Also, the two museums are vastly different in scale: the MCA takes an afternoon or less to see, while you'd need a day or two to see all of the Art Institute.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:37 PM on June 29, 2005

Yes, the architectural boat tour is worth both your time and money. In nice weather it can be great.
posted by einarorn at 2:44 PM on June 29, 2005

I third the boat tour run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Make sure, though, to wear sunscreen and/or a hat if you're prone to sunburn. The reflection of the light on the water can be brutal on even an overcast day. (Last time I went, I got off the boat looking like Dr. Zoidberg.)

For neighborhoods to walk around, I like Wicker Park, Lakeview and Lincoln Park. They're all kind of yuppie warrens, but they are densely packed with shops, restaurants and things to see.

Roscoe Village, Lincoln Square, Andersonville and Rogers Park are all interesting neighborhoods. I like Hyde Park, too, although it can be difficult to get to. (Either take Metra or plan on a bus-train combo.) For architecture, check out Logan Square or Ravenswood Manor.

As for food, check out the Reader's restaurant ratings. They're very comprehensive and usually spot-on. Look for restaurants with the two or three-R rating; they're usually the city's best.

Of course, if you're in Chicago, you do need to get a hot dog. Hot Doug's or SuperDawg are two possibilities.

If you must try the Chicago-style pizza--really, it's like eating a manhole cover made of cheese--Bacino's and Art of Pizza are my favorite pizzerias. Also, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder in Lincoln Park makes these freakishly addictive upside-down pizzas you may want to try. The building was supposedly a look-out spot for the St. Valentines massacre. If you go on a weekend for dinner, be prepared to wait at least an hour.

As others have said, the Art Institute is vast; I've never gone through the whole thing in one day. MCA will just take up a few hours of your time.
posted by Sully6 at 3:19 PM on June 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, there really are so many great/interesting neighborhoods in Chicago. You might want to just get on a Damen Ave or Clark Stree bus and hop off when you see something that strikes your fancy. Damen Ave. will take you through many interesting parts of the city and it runs a good long way. Also, don't underestimate the interest factor of the southside neighborhoods.

And I'll go fourth to say the boat tour is worth it.

While the Art Institue is vast, it houses several of my favorite works of art and to me is worth a skip through.

And hell yes to the SuperDawg suggestion! It's a stop I make every time I go back home. For Pizza though, I disagree. Pequod's on Clybourn near Webster is my fav.

Have a great time.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:00 PM on June 29, 2005

I live in Lakeview and, unless you're really interested in checking out Boys Town or Wrigley I'd skip it as a tourist destination.

I'd recommend Andersonville (Swedish roots) or Lincoln Square (German roots). Both of those would give you an afternoon of stuff to do/see and good places to eat. If you have time and end up in Wicker Park I'd cruise through Polish Village on Milwaukee -- you'd honestly have no idea you were in the US, almost everyone speaks mostly Polish.

As for museums, I personally love the art institute, but I'd understand if you don't have time for it. If you go Tuesdays (I think) it's free so you wouldn't feel bad skipping some exhibits. The nice thing about the art institute is that it's right next to Millennium Park, which is fun to take a quick walk through and see what all the fuss is about.

You might want to check the Chicago Events site, you can't beat Chicago street festivals in the summer. Might coincide w/ one of the neighborhoods you want to check out.
posted by awegz at 4:41 PM on June 29, 2005

Response by poster: A few of you said Robie House is too far out of the way. How long / expensive would a taxi be from Magnificent Mile to Robie House?
posted by kdern at 4:47 PM on June 29, 2005

A taxicab from Magnificent Mile to Robie House would be between 15 and 20 dollars and take about twenty minutes, maybe a little bit longer. (Robie house is in Hyde Park, where the University of Chicago is, and where I was a student for four years).

I've been to the House, which is awesome, and taken the tour, which is less awesome. I highly recommend taking it, because it's the only way to see the inside of the house, but if you can slip away to spend time in the rooms at your own pace, do.

Another advantage to going to Hyde Park is that you can visit the Seminary Coop Bookstore, which is probably the best book store in the country. Powell's, one of the best used book stores, is also in Hyde Park.

Unfortunately, Cafe Cocorico, which was the best restaurant (and a cheap one) in Hyde Park has now closed, or else it could round out a nice trip.

If you're comfortable with Chicago Transit, the #6 bus, an express, also runs down to Hyde Park and would stop about a 1/2 mile walk from Robie House.

Other neighborhoods:

If you're a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, which I assume you are from your question, there are also a bunch of Frank Lloyd Wright houses out in Oak Park, which is a suburb that is easily accessible by the L (it's the last stop on the Green Line) and which also has the Penzey's, which is an awesome spice store, and then loads of kind of boring yuppie things.

Pilsen, a Mexican neighborhood with a german name, south west of the loop, is also a fun place to wander (and eat!) although it can be a little bit dicey at night if you don't know the area well.

Oh, and the Art Institute beats the Museum of Contemporary Art hands down even if, like me, you like modern and contemporary art.
posted by willbaude at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2005

I love my neighborhood - I live off of the Argyle red line stop and it's known as "Little Vietnam/Saigon/Chinatown" and it's all that and more. The best bowl of pho you'll ever find is on the corner of Argyle & Broadway, at Tank Noodle. A charming 12 year old girl serves as a waitress at Thai Binh, serving up fresh Vietnamese meals. There are TONS of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants on Argyle and they're all worth a look-see.

On the corner of Sheridan & Argyle is Riques, decidedly not Asian, but Mexican, and really good Mexican at that. Their guacamole makes me purr.
posted by cajo at 5:47 PM on June 29, 2005

My favorite Chicago house museum is the Glessner House, about two miles south of Millennium Park, on Prairie Avenue. The architect H. H. Richardson designed it, with massive granite blocks on the street facades. The millionaire neighbors with their French Chateaus must have been outraged. But there's not much left of the surrounding neighborhood.
posted by jjj606 at 5:49 PM on June 29, 2005

Don't listen to Baude. If you do decide to go to Hyde Park, home of bookstores, more bookstores, and libertarians, there are plenty of places you could eat, like Ribs 'n' Bibs, Harold's Chicken Shack, or Rajun Cajun (home of soul food and indian food, but not actually cajun food). I'll grant that none of these is a particularly "fine dining" experience, but they'll stand you in damn good stead.
posted by kenko at 5:53 PM on June 29, 2005

Thread Leech: Where should Kdern go for blues? When I lived in Hyde Park the places to go were the Checkerboard and Lees Unleaded Blues, both on the south side, but that was 15 years ago. We would occasionally venture to the North side for blues but were always disappointed by the yuppified atmosphere up there.

Oh, and second the Harold's recommendation. Ask for a white half with hot sauce.
posted by LarryC at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2005

I'd be remiss if I didn't point you to Gapers Block for activity ideas.

Wicker Park is good for youthful nightlife with an alt.culture/hipster feel. Lots of galleries, nightclubs and boutiques.
Lakeview/Lincoln Park are good for youthful nightlife with a yuppie/fratboy feel.
I prefer Andersonville, which is little quieter than either but still has a bit to do; lots of great Mediterranean food and my favorite bar in the city.

Rosa's is a good place for blues.
posted by me3dia at 8:55 PM on June 29, 2005

Nothin' wrong with Harold's!
posted by willbaude at 9:36 PM on June 29, 2005

Rajun Cajun, on the other hand, is a little bit shady. It should be avoided while sober. The Falcon Inn, nearby, should be avoided always.
posted by willbaude at 9:39 PM on June 29, 2005

If you're a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, which I assume you are from your question, there are also a bunch of Frank Lloyd Wright houses out in Oak Park, which is a suburb that is easily accessible by the L (it's the last stop on the Green Line) and which also has the Penzey's, which is an awesome spice store, and then loads of kind of boring yuppie things.

Is the Green Line functioning again? When I lived there (over 6 years ago) they had shut that line down indefinitely because between the Loop and Oak Park are some of the toughest Projects in the city and da Mayor didn't want the denizens of said projects to have easy access to the rest of the city (the prick).
posted by sic at 12:50 AM on June 30, 2005

Unless the green line has mysteriously shut down in the past year, yes the green line is functioning, and running smoothly.
posted by willbaude at 4:33 AM on June 30, 2005

Green Line is up and at 'em for now.

Rosa's and Hopleaf are AWESOME suggestions. Love.Those.Places. Thank goodness for Rosa's, actually, or the North and West Siders would have slim pickin's for down-and-dirty-authentic-blues in the 'hood.

There are quite a few excellent beer gardens in Chicago, a summer ritual I really enjoy.

And Metromix offers up some interesting neighborhood write-ups... (though I'm more of a fan of Gaper's Block too.)
posted by jeanmari at 7:51 AM on June 30, 2005

What's wrong with Rajun Cajun? Health code violations or something? Where else can you get fried chicken and samosas?
posted by kenko at 8:17 AM on June 30, 2005

I always thought of Harold's as an acquired taste. My husband, who loves the stuff, says you have to eat there at least three times before it finally tastes good.

Not to take a potshot at my old neighborhood, but I never think of Hyde Park as a place to go for really great food. There's much to recommend the neighborhood, just not the restaurants, I'd say.

kdern, sorry if I overstated the difficulty in getting down there. You can either take the Red Line to Garfield and the 55th St. bus across or you can take the Jeffrey Express #6 from downtown. The Jeff can be very pokey, so I usually opt for the Red Line/bus combo (although the Garfield stop can be dicey at night) or Metra, which runs less frequently but is pretty quick. Metra schedules here; CTA transit map here. It's worth noting that Metra and CTA are separate systems, each requiring their own transit card.

If you're looking for a blues club that's convenient to your neighborhood exploring, Kingston Mines is a thought. As the pictures on the Web site make clear, it's a bit of a tourist thing, but what the hey. I'm more a Green Mill gal myself.

A lot of great neighborhood suggestions in this thread. Enjoy your trip.

PS I've got to put in a plug for my three favorite free things to do in Chicago: Garfield Park Conservatory, Olive Park Beach and Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory.
posted by Sully6 at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all your advice! We've decided on the following: Weiner's Circle, Wicker Park/Polish Village, Architectural boat tour, Second City, maybe Dinetto's, Magnificent Mile, Art Institute, (private rooftop party for fireworks viewing!), live music at Coq d'Or, brunch picnic in Millennium Park, and the Robie House tour (we'll drive there on the way out of town).

Thanks everyone.
posted by kdern at 4:35 PM on June 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

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