2005-03-01 - 8:42 p.m.
Chicago Favorites - Food & Drink Edition (categorized by neighborhood)
Bridgeport Coffee House - This is a nice little coffee shop. It's centrally located (on the corner of 31st and Morgan, there's plenty of parking around it and its a very walkable area as well. As I don't drink much coffee (and when I'm walking I tend to have my dog with me), I haven't been there much lately. But they were nice last summer about allowing me to sit in their outdoor sidewalk cafe area with my dog. (He was good most of the time. There was one incident where he saw another dog outside the little fence and almost knocked over a flower pot, but I saved it.)
Connie's Pizza - This is deep dish pizza. Not stuffed. It's still about an inch thick, but the order goes: crust, sauce, cheese, toppings. People either think of this or stuffed when they think of Chicago-style pizza. It's great, though! Lots of bread with olive oil beforehand, and the non-pizza entrees look great though I've never been able to branch out to get them. The Archer Ave. location (the original) has plenty of parking and is easily accessible from anywhere but especially Bridgeport, Pilsen, and Chinatown -- but Connie's has many other locations and is also sold at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field).
Gio's - A little Italian deli. They sell yummy cheeses, olive oils, specialty drinks, and other Italian imports in the front section, and have a deli with a fairly substantial lunch menu in the back. It's almost easy to miss among the bungalows and two-flats, but it's a great little spot.
Happiness - A Chinese restaurant that is very tasty, cheap, and right in the middle of Bridgeport. Be sure to get the small order unless you want leftovers for the next month.
Maxwell St. Depot - Open 24 hours and has an amazing pork chop sandwich with fries for $2.50. Fairly close to the Dan Ryan (just a few block west), so it's a great place to stop if you're hungry at any time of the day or night.
Pancho Pistolas - Great Mexican food, and margaritas that bring people here from miles around. It's also very affordable. It's a fairly casual sit-down restaurant with a small bar area (generally where people wait for tables when they're busy). They also expand with tables outside in nice weather.
Polo Cafe - This is more of a fine-dining place. It's also supposedly Mayor Daley's favorite restaurant. It's a combination candy-shop and steakhouse, but the food is wonderful and it seems to make sense when you go there. There's also an acoustically wonderful room that sometimes has live jazz or other bands (check their website) and can be rented out for small weddings, showers, and other parties.
Puffer's - A wonderful little bar. Emphasis on little -- though it does have a beer garden in back during summer. It has a good selection of beers on tap as well as a larger selection of bottled beers. Make friends with the bartenders and other regulars -- they're a great group of people and are very welcoming. Keep an eye out for their live music on weekends -- one of the best blues bands we've ever seen was in this little tiny bar for a $3 cover charge!
Ricobene's - This is a Chicago staple. Hot dogs, Italian beef, and their breaded steak sandwich is amazing. The french fries are perfect. Don't go here if you're on a diet though... They also have a few other locations, but I think this one is the original.
The Hideout - I say this in in Lincoln Park because I think that's the closest neighborhood, but it's only sort of in Lincoln Park. It's in a very industrial trucking/train tracks area and you have to know where it is to be able to get there (and to be able to recognize it once you find it -- it looks like a small house with an Old Style sign from 20 years ago). It's a very laid-back bar with great music (plenty from Bloodshot Records -- the record label for alt-country fans) and people who generally aren't pretending to be anything they're not. You'll see a grungy indie-rocker next to someone who looks like they came straight from the board room.
Stanley's Kitchen and Tap - The mashed potatoes are a-freaking-mazing. The rest of the place is nice and fun and I like to go there, but OH MY GOOD LORD THE MASHED POTATOES.
Little Italy/Taylor St.
Al's #1 Italian Beef - Also an area chain, but this is the original location. No seating -- just shelves at standing height for eating the Chicago-style food they serve here. They're not exaggerating too much by calling themselves #1 as their Italian beef is pretty darn amazing. They're also across the street from Mario's (see below), making it a one-stop spot during summer for a meal plus dessert.
Giordano's - Many Chicagoland locations, and for good reason. This is what I mean when I mention stuffed pizza (made in this order: crust, cheese/toppings, sauce). This location is the one we frequent since it's closest to Bridgeport -- it's on the border between Little Italy and Greektown. It's so amazing, but expect to be full by about halfway through your second piece. If you get appetizers, you'll be lucky to make it halfway through your first piece. Plan ahead though -- this type of pizza takes a long time to cook, so 45-50 minutes is pretty normal. You can call ahead if you're that organized, but otherwise just don't be surprised when it takes a while.
Mario's - An Italian Ice (indescribably good! Another Chicago staple and a reason I can never live anywhere else!) stand. It's only open during summer (I think May to September), and it's just a little stand with a permanent mass of people waiting in line on the sidewalk. They also have other little Italian specialties like lupini beans. When you go there, I can highly recommend lemon, cantaloupe, and watermelon -- I've only been disappointed with a couple flavors because they used artificial flavoring instead of real fruit. The flavors I've had that aren't as good are blue raspberry and lime.
Tuscany - This area has quite a few upscale Italian restaurants frequented by visiting athletes and other famous people. Tuscany is my favorite for a few reasons -- very attentive and kind wait staff, amazing food with large but not laughable portion sizes, and lemon sorbet in a frozen lemon! So refreshing...
Abril - I haven't been here in a few years, but I remember it as being great Mexican food and good drinks. I'm not huge on mixed drinks (hence my love of beer), but their margaritas got rave reviews from the people I was there with.
Red Apple - Really good Polish buffet. It's also one of the cheapest all-you-can-eat places I've ever seen.
The Loop - Chicago's central business district has an appalling number of chain restaurants. There are a few great, unique places mixed in as well, but on the whole it's not a prime area for getting to know Chicago specialties.
Goodwin's - A great place to go for lunch during business days. I don't even think it's open any other time. They have catering as well, but it's perfect for running in during a busy day and getting something healthy, filling, and yummy. I can also satisfy my cravings for avocados (the world's perfect fruit/vegetable/whatever) because a lot of their sandwiches are made with them.
Heaven on Seven - On the seventh floor (surprise!) in the Wabash St. Jeweler's Row district. AMAZING Cajun food in a friendly and busy atmosphere.
Lindy's Chili/Gertie's Ice Cream - This is the original location of a Chicago institution (since 1924!). If you want a freaking amazing chocolate malt, go here. Seriously. It's I-can't-order-anything-else-on-the-menu good. The website has some interesting facts including the history and how it came to be (I mean, chili and ice cream don't seem to naturally fit together).
Nuevo Leon - Hands down the best Mexican food in the City. The building is beautiful (murals indoors and out), and it's probably one of the most authentic places you can go outside of Mexico. The chicken soup they serve as soon as you sit down is WONDERFUL.
Lawry's - This is a world-renowned steakhouse (also the home of Lawry's Seasoning Salt!) that is expensive but wonderful. Want to know the secret though? Their lunches are extremely reasonable. Like, $5-6 for a plate of ribs that will last you two meals. Mmm... Two meals...
Eli's - Another great steakhouse. The wait staff is wonderful -- attentive, kind, not annoyingly clingy. They're expensive, but it's a great place to go to celebrate a special occasion. It's actually where my husband took me to celebrate my job offer from my current company (it was also kind of a celebration of leaving my old horrible job). It's also known for its cheesecake, which is sold in stores and other restaurants throughout the Chicagoland area.
Club Foot - This is a bar that is very Wicker Park, but also fun. By Wicker Park, I mean that if you're not wearing black-rimmed glasses and an ironic t-shirt from 15 years ago, you're not going to fit in. But even if you can't manage the look, people are still friendly and it's a fun place to drink.
The Smoke Daddy - Really freaking amazing BBQ place. And for heaven's sake, get the sweet potato fries. Just trust me.
Woodlawn (I think, it's right on the border between neighborhoods)
Lem's BBQ - Wow. This place is the best BBQ in the city. What you order is served over fried with a slice or two of white bread on top (most good places in Chicago serve BBQ like that) and they have quite a few different choices. They're ALL good. It's not a wonderful area, but also isn't anywhere to be scared of. Just don't go at 2 in the morning or start flashing gang signs -- everyone we've encountered there has been very friendly. There's nowhere to sit, but it's worth a drive from anywhere.
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