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Chicago: Eating Out in the Windy City

From gourmet to grub, there are lots of choices for families.

 

There’s no need for any child or adult to go hungry in Chicago. Known for its pizza, hot dogs (it is commonly believed here that it’s illegal for anyone over age 18 to put catsup on a Chicago hot dog), ethnic restaurants and world-class chefs, this town is ready for the most discerning of palates.

Fun for All

Ed Debevic’s

Ask my kids where they want to eat in Chicago, and there’s only one place they always agree on: Ed Debevic’s. They giggle incessantly over the rude (but harmless) graffiti and ruder (and funnier) waiters and waitresses in this 1950s-style diner. My kids love it—even when the waitress yells at them for not cleaning their plates. The burgers, chili and hot dogs are fab and the atmosphere is pure, kitschy (and affordable) fun.

640 N. Wells St., tel. 312-664-1707, www.eddebevics.com

Margie’s Candies

This neighborhood institution makes its own candy and ice cream daily in the store. Margie’s Candies still has the same feel it had when it opened in 1921 and, best of all, it still serves the hot fudge in a separate bowl so it’s still warm when you pour it over the rich ice cream. The menu is long and it doesn’t really matter what you order. There are no bad sundaes here. My challenge always is ratcheting down the kids’ expectations—and orders. If I let them, they’d order the World’s Largest Sundae, a full half-gallon’s worth.

1960 N. Western Ave., tel. 773-384-1035

Chicago Classics

Billy Goat Tavern

OK, so this one isn’t for those with discerning palates or even those who like a really clean place to eat. But for a decent “cheeseborger” and pure Chicago ambiance, head to Lower Michigan Avenue, home to the real Billy Goat Tavern, where you can “butt in anytime.” It’s easiest to find if you start at Tribune Tower on upper Michigan—my kids love checking out the stones from famous structures around the world embedded in the building’s façade—then walk down the stairs into the belly of the city. Cross Lower Michigan to the entrance of this beer and burger joint.

Don’t be put off by the grubbiness. This is pure Chicago history, famous as the watering hole for gritty Chicago journalists such as Mike Royko and the Saturday Night Live skit in which the late, great Chicagoan, John Belushi, would bellow, “Cheeseborger, cheeseborger. No fries, cheeps. No Pepsi, Coke.” There are Billy Goat outposts. Don’t bother. They may serve the same food, but could never replicate the years of dirt, grease and memories. It is not the first place you would think to take kids—the children of local journalists are the most likely kids to be found there—but give it a look, even if you choose not to stay for the “cheeseborgers.” A visit makes my son, now 14, feel like a real Chicagoan. And he says the food isn’t bad either.

430 N. Lower Michigan Ave., tel. 312-222-1525, www.billygoattavern.com

Lou Mitchell’s

Head to this diner in the shadow of the city’s financial markets for a great breakfast. While you’re there, rub elbows with the city’s big money men and political power brokers. Don’t be put off by the long lines. My kids love the donut holes and Milk Duds passed out for guests to munch on while they wait. Besides, chances are it won’t take long. These folks understand about “table turn”; they know how to get people in, get them fed and send them off with full bellies and happy memories. It’s reasonably priced, but please note: this is a cash-only operation.

565 W. Jackson Blvd. tel. 312-939-3111 www.loumitchellsrestaurant.com

Gene & Georgetti

This place feels as though it hasn’t changed since it was founded in 1941. You can almost see the ghost of Al Capone smoking a stogie at the bar. Unless you don’t eat beef, there’s no reason to order anything other than the filet ($38.50), a huge chunk of meat, crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. But then, if you don’t eat meat, why would you go to Gene and Georgetti’s in the first place?

500 N. Franklin St., tel. 312-527-3718, www.geneandgeorgetti.com

Pizza

In Chicago, pizza means deep dish. And deep dish means Pizzeria Uno (try to forget that it has become a chain). Or Pizzeria Due. Or Lou Malnati’s. Or Gino’s East. This is pizza that eats like a meal. It starts with a flaky crust pressed into a two-inch-thick pan, covered with tomato sauce and other toppings, baked and delivered to your table piping hot by a slightly crabby, harried waitress. Wherever you choose to eat your deep dish, use the knife and fork, these slices are too big to eat by hand. Sadly, my kids have been corrupted by Domino’s Pizza, a source of unending embarrassment to lifelong Chicagoans. But they do love the ambiance of these classic Chicago restaurants and, well, sometimes the parents get to pick. We try to accommodate the kids by planning our pizza forays during off hours rather than make the kids wait an hour for pizza they don’t really want. And be sure to sit the kids as far away from the pan as possible. It’s a burn blister waiting to happen.

Pizzeria Uno, 29 East Ohio Street, tel. 312-321-1000
Pizzeria Due, 619 N Wabash Ave., tel. 312-280-5110
Lou Malnati’s, 6649 North Lincoln Avenue, Lincolnwood, tel. 847-673-0803
Gino’s East, 162 E. Superior St., tel. 312-266-DEEP (3337)

Award Winners

Frontera Grill and its fine-dining sister, Topolobampo

These are the brainchildren of award-winning chef, cookbook author and television personality Rick Bayless. For 20 years, Frontera Grill has been a Chicago favorite for upscale Mexican food. Frontera is kid-friendly, provided the tykes can stand the wait for a table and their palates are sophisticated enough to be merit the expense. If you want to sample Bayless’ wares without the wait—always a better option for families with impatient kids—you can get a taste at the Macy’s store on State Street, where the seventh floor food court includes Frontera Frescoe, which sells Mexican fast food, Bayless style. But if you want the real thing, it requires planning and patience. Topolo (as local foodies call it) is booked up two weeks or more ahead, so call now if you’re planning to visit in the next few weeks. Frontera generally is a first-come, first-served sort of place, but it’s always worth a call; sometimes the restaurant accepts reservations.

445 N. Clark St., www.fronterakitchens.com

Arun’s Thai Restaurant

I remember going to Arun’s when it was a little hole-in-the-wall neighborhood restaurant with a half-dozen or so tables and chef/owner Arun Sampanthavivat was the guy who seated you, took your order, cooked your food and bused the table. Today, Arun’s is an upscale restaurant (still far from the Loop, this Northwest Side joint is most easily reached by cab), and the prices are a little higher than your average Thai fare. But the $85 prix-fixe 12-course dinner is always a surprise. I mean that in the best way. I haven’t taken my kids, and would never risk this with my unadventurous son, but my daughter, newly enamored of Thai fare, is angling for a visit. She keeps saying it would be a nice birthday treat.

4156 N. Kedzie Ave., tel. 773-539-1909, www.arunsthai.com


Destinations: Chicago

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Eat


User Comments

Ed Debevics I've been to the Ed Debevics in L.A.--it's hilarious! The waiters/waitresses are all in character and are usually quite rude; they'll shove your plates at you, or make fun of your clothes...and then suddenly, the music will turn on and all the actors stand up on chairs or tables and sing and dance...it's ridiculous, and tremendous fun!

Pizza! Oh yum. I've marked all these pizza places down for my next trip to Chicago. But now it's made me hungry!

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