Chicago Filter : Where should we stay? What should we do?
June 11, 2013 7:54 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I are planning a long weekend trip up to Chicago with another couple in the fall. Wondering about the places to stay and things to do. We will most likely be driving so we'll have a car to get around town, so where we stay doesn't neccesarily have to be in the hub of all the touristy crap that we'll no doubt want to do at some point. I'm more concerned about other things. Details inside.

All four of us are aspiring foodies. Think of us as foodies on a budget. We will probably want to do one fine dining experience while there, but I want to make sure that we get to all of the good stuff. Not neccesarily the good stuff that the tourists get to, I want to go to the places where the locals go (even if the touristy part coincides with it). Where are the restaurants and bars that the locals favor? (Memphis example of what I am talking about - tourists all want to go to eat BBQ at Rendevous, whereas the locals all know that Central BBQ is where it is really at).

Also where to stay? What are the cool parts of town? Or at least the good parts of town. I'm trying to determine what areas are good to stay in, and having some things close would be nice of course, but not a determining factor. I've been looking at websites like Homeaway etc, would it be better just to stay in a standard hotel instead?

What are your favorite places and things to do in Chicago?

Thanks MeFites!
posted by Quincy to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (20 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
For food, definitely check out LTHForum.

I'm usually using points or other discounts and wind up staying at one of the two Embassy Suites in the tourist area. They are very convenient. It is nice to be able to step out the door and walk to Millennium Park and the Art Institute.
posted by BibiRose at 8:04 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Steak is my go to and a truly local food (you'll find steak throughout the city). I hear Devon street is the very locally visited area for mostly budget but great Indian food, but I have never been.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:06 AM on June 11, 2013

The best tacos can be found here. THE BEST TACOS.

The Dana Hotel is really cool. We send our corporate guest people there. (If you like it, memail me and I can hook you up with a reduced rate.)

Definitely see some improv while you're here unless you hate funny. I like iO.
posted by phunniemee at 8:08 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get your Al Capone on at the Green Mill.
posted by seemoreglass at 8:10 AM on June 11, 2013

We just came back from a trip to CHI.

Try to make time to take one of the Architecture Foundation tours. We did the Boat Tour and the Modern Skyscrapers. Both were really cool.

The three standout food things we did were Blackbird (fancy), Hot Doug's (not fancy but a little pricy, but get there before they open or you'll be waiting in line for 30-60 minutes, I'd guess), and Katherine Anne Confections
posted by Gorgik at 8:11 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paul Kahan has a terrific trio of restaurants west of the loop. Blackbird and Avec are both excellent (and are next door to one another), but the Publican on W. Fulton Market was my favorite when I lived Chicago. Great oysters and a whole lot of pork. Highly recommended.

Oh, and 2nding the riverboat architecture tour. Even as a resident, I'd try to do it once a year.
posted by voiceofreason at 8:15 AM on June 11, 2013

Food wise, these stuck out for me on my trips:

Tre Kronor
Slurping Turtle
The Noodle

You may want to check out AirBNB in the Logan Square/Wicker Park area if you are looking for hip. Cheaper than most hotels per night and your hosts can give you suggestions!
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:25 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try to get a room at Longman & Eagle NOW. Like right this second. Because it books up fast, but it's a fricking inn on top of a Michelin rated whiskey-focused restaurant and bar. I mean, dude.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:26 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Most of the time tourists stay in River North or the Loop, since that is where most of the hotels are, in order to be close to Michigan Avenue, Cloud Gate/Millenium Park, the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, etc. Having a hotel there is quite convenient if you want to see the tourist sights. And it's not like it's a foodie desert.

In the River North area, for example, you can find Rick Bayless' Topolobampo/Frontera Grill/Xoco there as well as the Purple Pig, the original Pizzeria Uno (unrelated to the chain Uno), Doughnut Vault, Lou Malnati's, GT Fish & Oyster, Naha, and the newly opened Brindille. For Frontera/Topolobampo, call and book 8-12 weeks ahead for dinner. They are quite popular. We love staying at the Hotel Palomar due to their customer service & excellent cocktail bar, Sable.

However, if food and a cool neighborhood to hang out in at night is a big concern, I'd try to stay in the West Loop (perhaps through AirBnB). You can take the Green line into the touristy areas downtown quite easily from there. The neighborhood has changed quite a bit in the last few years and you can see meatpacking businesses next to high end condos. It's not as "neighborhood-y" as other places, but the dining scene has really exploded. You'll find Publican/Publican Quality Meats, Girl and the Goat/Little Goat, Au Cheval, Maude's Liquor Bar, Next, the Aviary, iNG, Belly Q, Blackbird, Avec, Sepia, and more in the West Loop.

Pro-tip: Girl and the Goat books up 3 months on OpenTable but 6 over the phone. As soon as you lock down your dates, call and make a reservation. It's surprisingly affordable for what you get. Stephanie Izard (from Top Chef) also just won Best Chef: Great Lakes at the James Beard Awards. A must go.

Or look for a room at Longman & Eagle in Logan Square. They only have 6 rooms, though and book up quickly, and I'm guessing you'd need two.

A quick glance at the L&E schedule indicates that weekends in September/October are almost full already while November looks pretty open.

If you score a room at L&E or an AirBnB in Logan Square, you would be within distance of Lula Cafe, Billy Sunday, the Whistler, Fat Rice, Parson's Chicken and Fish, and Yusho, etc. Plus, Longman & Eagle is also a great restaurant, too.

Logan Square is on the Blue line as well, so you're a short train ride away from Wicker Park, near Big Star, The Violet Hour, Trencherman, Bongo Room, and Mindy's Hot Chocolate, and others.

Since Chicagoland is so big, I find the maps on Chicago Eater to be very helpful, such as the 38 Essential Restaurants and Where to Eat Right Now.
posted by kathryn at 8:31 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes to Longman & Eagle.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:32 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

the original Pizzeria Uno (unrelated to the chain Uno)

Not really. The chain started as franchises of the original location, and still shares common ownership with Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due (they come up as locations on the chain's website too). But I believe they are run separately.
posted by stopgap at 8:42 AM on June 11, 2013

Seconding the Architecture Boat Tours...especially if you can book one that goes out on the lake during sunset. You could grab some tacos from Xoco and hit the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for a free concert depending on the weather.

Also, check out the upside-down pizza at Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. (We always get the flat-bread and salad there, too.) SO GOOD.
posted by poolsidemuse at 8:59 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Park your car at the hotel and take the el and the bus.
posted by brujita at 9:32 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Staying in or near the loop is a good bet, since you can access all the el lines from there, even though the area itself is not the most exciting.

Paul Kahan's restaurants are a must try. My favorite is Avec. The Publican is great for brunch, and the Publican Quality Meats is an ideal spot for a casual lunch.

If you have a sweet tooth, definitely check out Hoosier Mama for pie, Glazed and Infused for doughtnuts, and Black Dog Gelato.

Maria's is a delightful little community bar. Hopleaf has a staggering beer list and delicious frites. And Big Star can be crowded and the clientele can veer towards douchey during peak hours, but there's no better place to get tipsy on tequila, whiskey, delicious delicious fish tacos, and dulcet tones of Patsy Cline. Stop by for lunch or on a weekday to avoid the obnoxious crowds.

Feel free to MeFi Mail me for any more specific suggestions!
posted by moxie_milquetoast at 9:57 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

P.S. Chicago is truly a city of neighborhoods, which is why I would recommend staying in a neutral location like the loop so you can easily access lots of different areas. The Architecture boat tours and the museums in the loop area are great things to explore, but if you really want to experience Chicago, I recommend spending more time wandering around neighborhoods, eating, and drinking.
posted by moxie_milquetoast at 10:02 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can stay at the hostel in the South Loop. A private room w/shared bath is $90 a night. You'd be very close to downtown attractions and the hub of the CTA trains, and Cafecito is next door. Not much nightlife beyond Buddy Guy's (full of tourists) or many bars to recommend, though.

Margarita Inn in Evanston is another budget place with shared baths. Evanston is Chicago's most cosmopolitan suburb (it has an el line) but it's a bit of a haul if you're coming back from, say, Logan Square late at night.

Hopleaf is the place to go if you're into beer. You could follow up a meal there with the long-running theater/performance show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, just around the corner.

Other notable bars for beer include Fountainhead (good whiskey too, but the food is nothing special, unless their new chef really turned things around) and the Map Room (no food). For cocktails, try Violet Hour, Whistler, or Tiny Lounge.

The Chicago Reader bar guide has good suggestions by neighborhood and will steer you clear of douche venues and tourist traps. You can rely on their restaurant and cultural/nightlife recommendations too.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:03 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maria's is a good suggestion! You can order a savory pie at Pleasant House Bakery next door, and they will bring it over to you at Maria's.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:06 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not really. The chain started as franchises of the original location, and still shares common ownership with Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due (they come up as locations on the chain's website too). But I believe they are run separately.

Interesting, never realized that. I was just trying to get at the fact that the menu/kitchen are quite different from the Uno Chicago Grill chain.

You could grab some tacos from Xoco and hit the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for a free concert depending on the weather.

I'm fairly sure Xoco doesn't serve tacos, only tortas and caldos (soups), plus chocolate, churros, agua fresca, other sweet items.
posted by kathryn at 11:06 AM on June 11, 2013

Make sure to get some Garrett Popcorn while you're there. The caramel corn is great.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:59 AM on June 11, 2013

if you want to skip what the locals skip, then Garrett's is a place to skip. Also, steak can be nice, but everywhere does steak.
posted by garlic at 12:23 PM on June 17, 2013

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