Chow Down in Chi-Town
American Libraries’ Annual Conference dining guide.
Posted Tue, 06/09/2009 - 13:46
ALA sure picked a great place for its headquarters when it moved here in 1909. Sure, the winters are terrible, and the sticky heat of a Chicago summer is enough to tax anyone’s patience, but when it comes to restaurants, Chicago has the best in the country. Think of a cuisine, any cuisine, and you can find it here; and whether you want to spend a few bucks or drop a C-note, this is your kind of town. If you didn’t have that Annual Conference to attend; you could easily spend all week eating!
There are no good restaurants very close to McCormick Place, so if you’re looking to dash somewhere for a fast lunch while at the convention center you’re pretty much out of luck. But a wealth of choices awaits you once you get back to your hotel. I’ve arranged the listings according to where you might be staying. After the street address I’ve given the nearest major intersection, which can be helpful if you’re on foot or dealing with a cabbie. Chicago is laid out on a grid system, making navigation easy! Click over to Hopstop for quick directions.
As a general rule, no matter what the price range, casual attire when dining out is perfectly acceptable. But smoking is not: Chicago is now a smoke-free city. That applies to outdoor seating as well.
Price ratings in each listing reflect the average price for a main dish, plus drink or appetizer or dessert, before tip. $: $15 or under. $$: around $20. $$$: around $30. $$$$: $30 and above
Hilton Chicago; Printer’s Row and South Loop neighborhoods.
Amarit Thai Restaurant
This spacious eatery serves up straightforward Thai noodle dishes that are inexpensive and filling. Service is brisk, and somehow no matter how packed it is, Amarit retains its serene atmosphere. Everything on the menu is delicious, but the crab rangoon is especially good, as are the bubble tea drinks.
$$. L, D daily. 600 S. Dearborn St. (Dearborn/Harrison). 312-939-1179. www.amaritthai.com.
Don’t go to Artist’s Cafe for the food, which is the standard diner-variety burgers, salads, and sandwiches. Go for one of the most spectacular views in Chicago. Sitting at the sidewalk cafe, across the street from Grant Park and with a clear vista up and down Michigan Avenue, is the closest this city gets to Paris. Located in the historic Fine Arts Building.
$$. B, L, D daily. 412 S. Michigan Ave. (Michigan/Congress). 312-939-7855. www.artists-cafe.com.
A former speakeasy with exposed-brick walls and rough-hewn interior, Blackie’s boasts surprisingly good food. Burgers and chicken sandwiches are generously portioned, and steaks are quite juicy. It’s no-frills but pleasant nonetheless. Sidewalk seating lets you catch a breeze while you eat.
$$. B Fri.–Sun., L daily, D Mon.–Sat. 755 S. Clark St. (Clark/Harrison). 312-786-1161. www.blackieschicago.com.
Creative, hearty twists on brunch start your day on solid footing at this intimate eatery. White chocolate pancakes, BLT eggs Benedict, and the breakfast burrito are all as filling as you’d imagine. For lunch (they’re open till 2:30), the smoked chicken and apple club sandwich with bacon is equal parts healthy and hedonistic. Very crowded on the weekends but less so during the week.
$$. B, L daily. 1152 S. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/Roosevelt). 312-291-0100.
Eleven City Diner
Waits are common at this popular nosh spot a few doors down from Columbia College. But it’s worth it. This deli does it right. You name it: pastrami, lox, matzoh ball soup, and velvety-rich egg creams. For breakfast the omelets and stuffed french toast are solid. Portions are huge.
$$. B, L, D daily. 1112 S. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/11th). 312-212-1112. www.elevencitydiner.com.
At this fast food eatery you can have the best of both worlds: The juicy burgers and fresh-cut fries with sea salt are delicious, and Epic Burger uses vegetarian-fed beef, buns from local bakeries, and biodegradable utensils. Chicken sandwiches, portobello sandwiches, and a selection of smoothies are also on the menu, and the vanilla malts are fantastic.
$. L, D daily. 517 S. State St. (State/Harrison). 312-913-1373. www.epicburger.com.
The Exchequer Restaurant and Pub
If you want the full Chicago sports bar experience (“Da Bears”) look no further than the Exchequer. The walls are bedecked with athletic memorabilia and old movie posters. Luckily, the place has a lot more than just attitude: Dinner-sized salads, fish and chips, and “Roger Ebert–approved” pizza are menu highlights. Expect a boisterous, good-time atmosphere with plenty of TVs tuned to various games.
$$. L, D daily. 226 S. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/Adams). 312-939-5633. www.exchequerpub.com.
Hackney’s Printers’ Row
Best known for its astonishing variety of hamburgers, Hackney’s is a popular neighborhood hangout boasting an impressive selection of beers on tap. There are plenty of salads and vegetarian options also (like feta in rigatoni). For dessert, try the baked-to-order chocolate chip cookie or red velvet cake.
$$. L, D daily. 733 S. Dearborn St. (Dearborn/Polk). 312-461-1116. www.hackneysprintersrow.net.
In operation since 1935, this Chicago institution has apparently been visited by every major celebrity; just check out all the signed photos on the walls. The atmosphere is clubby and congenial. If you’re a carnivore, try the prime rib, Canadian baby back ribs, or steak. But the menu is enormous and has a little bit of everything, including a great Greek salad. The kitchen is open till 2 a.m., or midnight on Sundays.
$$. L, D daily. 134 S. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/Adams). 312-263-4988. www.millerspub.com.
The Parthenon Restaurant
Opa! Yes, this Greek spot does flaming cheese (it claims to have invented the dish). You can’t go wrong with the gyros or the roasted lamb, and their moussaka is delightful. The dining room is huge, loud, and a lot of fun. You can order individually or from a family-style menu.
$$. L, D daily. 314 S. Halsted St. (Halsted/Jackson). 312-726-2407. www.theparthenon.com.
Plymouth Restaurant and Bar
This diner, just around the corner from the Harold Washington Library, serves up generous portions of straightforward fare. Burgers, melts, salads, and round-the-clock breakfast are all inexpensively priced. The rooftop garden, when you can get a seat, has a wonderful view of the South Loop.
$. B, L, D daily. 327 S. Plymouth Ct. (Plymouth/Van Buren). 312-362-1212. www.plymouthgrill.com.
Triple Crown Seafood Chinese Restaurant
Head due west from McCormick Place (catch a #21 bus at Indiana/Cermak) and in 15 minutes you’ll find yourself in Chinatown. The neighborhood is loaded with great restaurants, but the absurdly low-priced Triple Crown is my pick. If you like calamari you’ll love the salt and pepper baby cuttlefish. Prefer something land-based? The crunchy orange chicken is yummy. Cabs can be scarce in Chinatown, so you might want to hop on the El after your meal.
$. L, D daily. 211 W. 22nd Pl. (22nd/Wentworth). 312-791-0788.
This lively cantina has killer margaritas. There’s a wide variety of Mexican seafood dishes to choose from, although I prefer the barbacoa enchiladas or the chili relleno. Zapatista is the perfect place for a group (but calling ahead is highly recommended). If you have room, try the chocolate tamale or vanilla-cinnamon sopapillas.
$$$. L, D daily. 1307 S. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/13th). 312-435-1307. www.zapatistamexicangrill.com.
Sheridan Chicago Hotel and Towers, Hyatt Regency Chicago; River North, Streeterville, and Loop neighborhoods.
Bella Luna Cafe
A few blocks away from ALA Headquarters you’ll find this charming Italian cafe. The meatball sandwich is tops and any of the pasta dishes are safe bets (you might want to go for a half order since portions are generous). Bella Luna also has great thin-crust pizza if that’s more your speed. Shaded outdoor seating is available.
$$. L Mon.–Sat., D daily. 731 N. Dearborn St. (Dearborn/Superior). 312-751-2552.
The long, dark room conjures up a bygone hard-bitten Chicago, when newspaper reporters like Ben Hecht might saunter in for a bite and a beer. Except for all the TVs everywhere. No matter: the food is no-nonsense Chicago bar grub, meaning burgers, char-dogs and pork chops. The salads (including the Garbage) also hold their own. The chili hits the spot, especially paired with a cold beer.
$. L, D daily. 164 E. Grand Ave. (Grand/St. Clair). 312-938-8700. www.bostonblackies.com.
Emerald Loop Bar and Grill
A spacious pub with plenty of Irish knickknacks and lots of dark wood everywhere. Traditional dishes like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and fish and chips (with an unusual, spicy batter) are all dependable; and the steak sandwich is quite possibly the best I’ve ever eaten. Avoid the mediocre cocktails and stick with the Smithwick’s on tap.
$$. B Sat.–Sun., L, D daily. 216 N. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/Lake). 312-263-0200. www.emeraldloop.com.
Emilio’s Tapas Sol y Nieve
If you’re new to small-plate dining, Emilio’s is a great place to give it a try. Go with a group of friends, order a variety of dishes, and share. Some suggestions: grilled chicken with chorizo, patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), dates wrapped in bacon, and seafood paella. Your total bill will depend on how many things you try. And whether you’re tempted into getting a pitcher (or two) of sangria.
$$. D daily. 215 E. Ohio St. (Ohio/St. Clair). 312-467-7177. www.emiliostapas.com.
This small, basement-level deli excels. Straightforward sandwiches (like hot pastrami and the Reuben) are served on fresh-baked bagels or onion rolls with a large helping of sass, and they have the biggest selection of mustard I’ve ever encountered. Great cole slaw too. And then there’s the “temperature soup”: Whatever the temperature is outside is what your soup will cost.
$. B, L, D daily. 224 E. Ontario St. (Ontario/St. Clair). 312-943-7977.
Fox and Obel
A gourmet grocery store featuring a counter-service cafe, Fox and Obel offers creative and tasty sandwiches and soup. The turkey sandwich with cranberries and brie, and the pulled pork panini are a bit pricey but well worth the extra bucks for lunch. And in the evening, the daily $6.99 Brown Box dinner can’t be beat. Delectable baked goods too. There’s beer, wine, and a coffee bar to wet your whistle.
$$. B, L, D daily. 401 E. Illinois St. (Illinois/McClurg). 312-410-7301. www.fox-obel.com.
Niu Japanese Fusion Lounge
Big portions and a varied menu make this sleek spot a great option if you love sushi. Everything tastes exceedingly fresh. There are also curries, fried rice, and noodle dishes to choose from. A big cocktail menu makes it a pleasant place for a tipple.
$$. L, D daily. 332 E. Illinois St. (Illinois/McClurg). 312-527-2888. www.niusushi.com.
Shag carpeting on the walls and framed pictures of everyone from Scott Baio to Mr. T. are clues you’re somewhere special. Named after a hangout on Three’s Company, this lounge is a temple to pop culture. Try the Brady Bunch Punch and chow down on flights of mini-sandwiches like the chicken pesto panini. Don’t expect a gourmet dinner, but it’s a kitschy good time.
$$. L, D daily. 160 E. Grand Ave. (Grand/Michigan). 312-755-9645. www.reaglebeaglechicago.com.
Sayat Nova Armenian Restaurant
Just off Michigan Avenue, this secluded spot has a wide variety of Mediterranean cuisine at affordable prices. The labneh yogurt dip, served with warmed pitas, makes a refreshing appetizer. Order the Armenian Combo for a great sampler of specialties, including mouth-watering kufta (spiced lamb meatballs) and boereg (puff pastry with melted cheese and onion). Late evenings a DJ often spins Bollywood and other world music.
$$. L Mon.–Sat., D daily. 157 E. Ohio St. (Ohio/Michigan). 312-644-9159. www.sayatnovachicago.com.
South Water Kitchen
Prices on the dining room menu are a bit steep, but if you’re looking for a place to have a quiet glass of wine and a nibble at the bar you could do a lot worse. Try the chicken Cobb salad or the mushroom flatbread. Desserts like the bittersweet chocolate cake are superb, and there’s also a satisfying breakfast/brunch menu. The space is mellow and comfortable.
$$ B, L, D daily. 225 N. Wabash Ave. (Wabash/Lake). 312-236-9300. www.southwaterkitchen.com.
Star of Siam
Diners sit cross-legged on the floor and are served up ample portions of fresh-tasting noodles, curries, and other Asian dishes. Service is fast if you’re in a hurry, or you can linger awhile with a glass of Thai iced tea. Bonus: It’s half a block from the Jazz Record Mart, the world’s largest jazz and blues record store.
$. L, D daily. 11 E. Illinois St. (Illinois/State). 312-670-0100. www.starofsiamchicago.com.
A short cab ride to the West Loop will take you south of the Mason-Dixon line. Wishbone specializes in southern cooking, including fantastic blackened catfish, hoppin’ john, and especially buttermilk biscuits. A moment on the lips, forever on the hips, but…. The sweet iced tea and pecan pie are also outstanding.
$$. B, L daily, D Tues.–Sat. 1001 W. Washington Blvd. (Washington/Morgan). 312-850-2663. www.wishbonechicago.com.