Monday, April 5, 2010

Chicago pre-trip #1: nine great places to eat

Yeah, what Sufjan said.

In exactly one month, I get on a bus with 40 students from Red River College's Creative Communications program to check out the arts and cultural side of Chicago.

I don't mind, I don't mind. Cue chorus!

This is the second year we've embarked on this trip, the first we've gone without the graphic- design students (they came home yesterday) and the first we've taken along first-year students, bless their 'lil hearts.

This year, we plan to do some of the same great stuff as last year: the Art Institute, Sears (or whatever it's now called) Tower, the boat tour (in balmy May this time, so I won't catch pneumonia - yay!), and a visit or two to ad and/or PR agencies.

But, the thing I'm looking forward to the most is the food, tasty, yummy food - to my buds, the best in America, including Boston, New York, and San Francisco - with few pretensions and prices (mostly) befitting of a Winnipeg cheapskate.

Some of my favorites, all within walking distance of our hotel on the Magnificent Mile (I've rated them on an "adventurous scale for students," zero being not at all adventurous, 10 being "crazy man, crazy"):

1. Carson's
Adventurous Scale: 0.

The ribs: winners! The guy: loser!

Oh, sweet lordy, these are the best ribs I've had in my life: hickory baby backs coated in a sauce so addictive that it wouldn't surprise you to find out that they've been enhanced with crack cocaine.

When I finished my meal, I made a beeline to the take-out window in the front of the restaurant and bought six bottles of the stuff. Like an idiot, I gave it away as gifts. This time I'll be smarter - I'll drink them by myself in my hotel room while I watch my stories and sob into my bib.

2. Shaw's Crab House
Adventurous Scale: 4.

Alaskan King Crab Legs, Copper River Salmon, Nantucket Scallops, oh my. But the thing I love most about this place is the kick-ass Oyster Bar (above), right out of 1950s New York: all Wall Street hustle and bustle controlled by the smartly dressed and businesslike waiters.

This one's more expensive than some of the others on this list, but totally worth it.

3. Portillo's
Adventurous Scale: 0.

I knew something was up at this place when I saw 20 cars double-parked and wedged into the tiniest drive-through pickup window I've ever seen, bags and bags of hot dogs and fries being delivered to their windows by a crack team of car jockeys, trained by the FBI, no doubt.

But the best way to experience this place is to get into the long line inside, and watch with amazement as "line jockeys" take your order, write it down on a paper bag, and - presto - it appears again at the end of the assembly line with your food inside. Or someone else's. Who cares: it's all great.

And, at the end of the line, is beer on tap, self-serve style. What's not to love? Glug, glug, glug.

4. Giordano's Famous Chicago Style Pizza
Adventurous Scale: 1.

Hang your head in shame, Gondola.

Giordano's Chicago-style pizza - deep, deep, deep dish - is the first sign you're not in Winnipeg anymore. Warning: a small deep-dish pizza feeds a family of four. Then again, being on a student budget allows you to order one, bring it back to your hotel room, and have enough food to eat for the rest of the week. Result!

5. Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop and Soda Fountain
Adventurous Scale: 0.

You can smell the chocolate from blocks away.

Located conveniently on North Michigan Ave - blocks from our hotel and next to a bookstore - this is the place to take a rest break from all of that exhausting shopping you'll be doing on the Magnificent Mile.

European chocolates, hot and cold chocolate beverages, and ice cream - kill me now, I can die a happy man.

6. Cafe des Architectes
Adventurous Scale: 5.

This is the place to take all of your Chicago ladyfriends to show them what a classy and modern guy you are. Not that I know of what I speak.

Imposing on the outside, welcoming on the inside, Cafe des Architectes has small plates of incredible French cuisine "with influences from the Mediterranean, Asia, and Latin America," this is the perfect place to impress a date and pay a reasonable amount while you're doing it.

The best time to go is breakfast, brunch, or lunch, when the prices are more reasonable, but the food is just as good. To get an idea what we're talking about here, check out the photo at the top of the page here at Chicago Magazine. Any questions?

7. Blue 13
Adventurous Scale: 6.

"Now that you're an adult, dine like one," goes the themeline for this Bistro 7 1/4-style, directed at suits with tattoos and located on the very same street as our hotel. Yay!

Menu items include "Steak and Egg on Acid" (very tasty beef tenderloin with wasabi and quail eggs), "the Filthy Martini," and "Drunken Wagyu Shortrib" and a website disclaimer that reads, "According to the Cook County Department of Health, consuming raw or undercooked meat might just kill you."

Let's rock!

8. Kinzie Chophouse
Adventurous Scale: 3.

You can't go to Chicago without getting a steak; trouble is, there is no shortage of steakhouses that will kill you with 40-pound flatirons and a $4,000 bill, which is what makes Kinzie so special: for $20, an half-sized, eight-ounce flatiron with skinny fries is yours.

Warning: this deal isn't on the menu: you've gotta ask for it. Check in advance to be sure!

9. Cuatro
Adventurous scale: 6.

A little more expensive, a little further off the beaten path, but worth the extra effort to get there.

Awesome food - Latin American and Mediterranean seafood, crepes, burgers, and what-have-you - meets live music and an awesome space - watch the kitchen staff through a fish tank, just like in Monty Python's Meaning of Life! - and, impossible for a Winnipegger to process, it's all "Bring Your Own Booze."

10. Insert Your Restaurant here.

Have you been to Chicago? Do you live there? Please leave a comment with your recommendation for fine eats, preferably in the Magnificent Mile/downtown/Millennium Park area.

Dear bus driver: when the trip is over, we'll just roll home.


  1. Thanks for the restaurant tips, Kenton! Keep 'em coming :)

  2. Kuma's Corner!!! THE place for burgers in Chicago, especially if you're a metal fan... The burgers have names like Metallica (Buffalo Sauce, Bacon, Bleu Cheese Dressing), Led Zeppelin (Pulled Pork, Bacon, Cheddar, Pickles), Lair of the Minotaur (Caramelized Onions, Pancetta, Brie, Bourbon Soaked Pears) and Mastodon (BBQ Sauce, Cheddar, Bacon, Frizzled Onions).

    Check them out at!

  3. The Ghirardelli chocolate shop? I luvs the chocolate and will definitely pay this place a visit.

  4. Two words: Hot Doug's. That's THE Chicago hot dog spot. I was taken there by the super-awesome poster king Jay Ryan five years ago. Go there on Friday or Saturday, because you need the duck fat fries. Yes. Duck fat fries.

  5. Looks like you also enjoyed a couple of tasty Sam Adams lagers at the rib joint.

    I wish I were going!


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