This is a qualified tourist trap tip-I've actually had a few good meals at the Cheesecake Factory and find the service to be quite good. The menu is extensive so there should be something to please everyone. And the cheesecake is heavenly!
But (you knew there had to be a but!) the location on Michigan Avenue always has a very long wait, no reservations are taken. And although I thought the food was good, it was not great, really no better than you would find at a Chili's or a TGIFriday's.
On a recent visit I made the mistake of ordering a pasta dish, not nearly as good as you would find in an Italian restaurant and highly priced at $15. Yes, there are enough for leftovers but most travelers have no place to store them so it's really just wasteful.
Unique Suggestions: If you just want a slice of cheesecake (also not cheap at $5-7 per slice), they do sell it by the slice at a counter so you can get a piece to go.
Fun Alternatives: If you are trying to please the kids, take a look at my restaurants tip-dining with kids
John Belushi and Saturday Night Live made Billy Goat Tavern famous nationwide in the 1970s with the "cheezborger, cheezborger, no fries, cheeps, no Pepsi Coke" skit but it has always been famous in Chicago, ever since the original owner, William Sianis, put "the curse" on the Chicago Cubs when they forbid him to bring his goat into Wrigley Field during a 1945 World Series game. The curse has held true, the Cubs have not won a championship since.
The original Billy Goat opened in 1934 and was located near the old Chicago Stadium on Madison St. It relocated to it's current spot on Michigan Avenue in 1964 and was known for all the newspapermen like Mike Royko, Irv Kupcinet, and Roger Ebert who frequented the subterreanean restaurant.
Even though I've lived in Chicago all my life, I had never been to Billy Goat's until just recently when a VT meeting was scheduled to take place at the original location at 430 N. Michigan Avenue. I made the mistake of ordering a single and it was truly the worst burger I've ever had.
Unique Suggestions: Go for the atmosphere and the history but don't expect to be wowed by the food
Don't order a single cheezborger, there was not nearly enough meat to cover the bun. At least order a double, not even sure why they offer a single!
Fun Alternatives: If you are looking for a good burger, try Boston Blackie's or Poag Mahone's which recently received accolades from no less than Chicago royalty, Oprah Winfrey.
I wonder how many tourists are fooled into going to this restaurant at 940 N. Rush, right in the heart of the Rush St. restaurant district, thinking that it is part of the Chicago's famous pizza chain, Gino's East. For a moment I thought it might be part of the same chain, there was the graffiti on the walls like they have at Gino's East and says it's the original Gino's on the side of the building, but after stepping inside it was clear it was not affiliated.
We decided to try it anyways, after all sometimes dives have the best food, and the pizza actually was pretty good but the place is a dump, the bathrooms only had bar soap (yuck!), the service was on the unfriendly side.
Oh, and they only take cash and the pizza is not inexpensive.
Unique Suggestions: Just don't go here!
Fun Alternatives: Although I'm not a fan of Gino's East, the real restaurant is at 633 N. Wells. Other options for good deep dish pizza are Lou Malnati's or Pizzeria Uno or Pizzeria Due. Or try Giordano's for stuffed pizza at 730 N. Rush.
Often when people ask about kid friendly restaurants in Chicago, the advice is to go to Ed Debevic's, a 50s style dinner with a smart aleck wait staff and 50s music blaring from the jukebox.
While kids may find the atmosphere fun, I am being generous saying that the food is mediocre, the service not so good (and not because the wait staff is trying to be funny) and the food expensive. For a small hamburger and fries, it'll set you back $7-$8, milkshakes $4. For the three of us, including one child, it was $34 for a lunch that was just a small step above McDonald's
Fun Alternatives: Although I am blessed to have nieces and nephews that are more adventurous eaters (recent outings have included a trip to Chinatown, Hungarian and Greektown), if the kids are less adventurous, take a look under my restaurant tips, dining for kids
The Rock and Roll McDonalds on Clark Street is one of the highest priced around. If you need to see it, get a coca cola and walk around. The Beatles statue in the center is the only cool thing about the place.
Unique Suggestions: Eat at Ed Debevics instead. It is an old fashioned burger joint, where the wait staff is insulting and rude! I tip more, the meaner they are. Ed's Blue Moon Burger is the best I have ever had. Really, the wait staff is supposed to be mean, so if you do not have a sense of humour, skip this place. Serious people will not enjoy, but you are missing out!
Fun Alternatives: Don't eat at any Theme restaurant in this area. Unless you have children, you will not fit in here.
Ed Debevics is the only place I would recommend in this area.
Address: 640 North Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Open: MON-SUN 11 am-10 pm.
Meals Served: Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.
Credit Cards: None Accepted.
Please, Please stay away from the touristy chain restaurants (Cheesecake Factory, Ed Debevic's,Rock-n-Roll Mcdonalds, Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe.) that line the Gold Coast/Magnificent Mile & nearby areas. Chicago has so much more to offer than an $8 cheeseburger.
Unique Suggestions: If you must go to one of the places mentioned above, go at an off peak time. You'll have more fun when the place isn't jammed with hundreds of people.
Fun Alternatives: Take a ride to the top of the Sears Tower or John Hancock bldgs. Take a "cheesy" Wendella boat ride. The narrator is usually bad, but the scenery with our great skyline as a backdrop is worth enduring the painful commentary.
Whenever I hear about people who have been to Chicago, many ask me if I know where the Cheesecake Factory is. Unfortunately, many tourists are trapped into going there because of the over-the-top exterior at the foot of the Hancock Tower.
My advice to anyone visiting Chicago is try something local that isn't simply an overpriced, crowded cheesy place. There are a million and one restaurants in this great city. Do yourself a favor and try Bandera's at least.
Unique Suggestions: Have a piece of cake before or after going up in the Hancock Tower. If the cake is good, then fine but don't eat dinner there!
Fun Alternatives: Bandera's (Tex-Mex) on Michigan Avenue or Giordano's (Italian) on Rush Street.
Yes, I am talking about the Rock N Roll McDonalds. Now revamped, even the McDonald's Corp. admits that this new restaurant will be a landmark for tourists. This new restaurant features 60-foot Golden Arches, seating for 300, a double-lane drive-thru, and five decades of memorabilia in it's museum section. Reportedly, the inner dining area is set up like a home.
Unique Suggestions: If you go, be sure to order fries and bring your laptop as it is Wi-Fi enabled.
Fun Alternatives: Eat anywhere else - please!
The area formed by Kinzie Street to the south, Clark to the west, Chicago Ave. to the north and Lake Michigan to the east is a concentration of tourist traps unseen outside of NYC and Orlando. Not every place is bad to be honest but generally the larger and brighter the neon sign, the faster you should be walking away from it if you care about quality and prices.
Unique Suggestions: Restaurant tourist traps often have a signature dish. I would get that. It's something they probably have the most proficiency making. Do you really want to try the pasta puttanesca the twenty year old in the back is making for the first time?
Fun Alternatives: Study metromix.com for places slighty north of this area or slightly west of downtown.
I cannot take credit for the name - I read it in a recent article about the new McDonalds. Boy is it accurate though. I hate this strip of Ohio/LaSalle/Clark. It is NOT at all representative of Chicago as a city. This includes the Rain Forest Cafe (jungle theme- good for little kiddies with limited attention spans), The Hard Rock Cafe (basically a gift shop that also sells burgers at a premium), Ed Debevics (gimmicky hamburger place where the waitresses are rude), and Portillos (a commericalized version of a Chicago hotdog stand).
Unique Suggestions: If you get caught eating here - say you are from out of town.
Fun Alternatives: Personnaly, I would venture East toward the lake and eat on Michigan Avenue.
One of the great things to try in Chicago is the hotdogs. However, while this not a trap exactly, just be sure to order a polish or a brat if you want the real deal. I find those pathetic little things you boil tasteless and just does not cut the experience - man I was dissapointed when I ordered a chilli gog and got this pathetic excuse for a hot dog
Pizzeria Uno... honestly there are much better places with much shorter lines to taste the famous 'Chicago style' pizza. I'd vote for Giordano's or Gino's East over Uno's in a heartbeat (that heart being stuffed with extra cheese, garlic and spinach, thank you very much!).
There are several restaurants that cater mainly to tourists and do nothing to give you a real taste of Chicago--here's your warning! :)
Ed Debevic's--this restaurant has a diner atmosphere and menu. It also has some of the rudest (purposefully so) wait staff in existence. It's supposed to be funny, and to a lot of people it is, I guess. But I find it artificial and just plain silly.
Hard Rock Cafe--obviously this is a tourist trap, as this chain is all over the world. If you want a t-shirt, just go in and buy one, but don't eat here! It's overpriced and mediocre, and while there are some memorabilia on the walls, nothing outstanding.
Rainforest Cafe--OK, I have to admit, I kind of like this place. Any restaurant that has intermittent 'thunderstorms' and a ceiling full of stars has to be fun! The food is also wonderful, although pretty expensive. So if you want a fun place for kids, go here. If you're looking for a taste of the real Chicago, don't bother--the food's the same as it is at any of the other Rainforest Cafe restaurants around the country.
Rainforest Cafe is totally packed full of tourist families, with hardly a local in site. If you really want to have a great time, eat and drink where the locals do and stay away from the tourist themed places....
Unique Suggestions: Order some cocktails!
Fun Alternatives: Check out Heaven on Seven a much nicer place to eat.
This is an establishment that is always expanding across the country and the globe. It is well known for its merchandising and its expensive food. With that said, the Hard Rock in Chicago has been around much longer than most in the country.
If you are into the T-Shirts or pin collecting, then this will be an obligatory stop. Sometimes, they come out with merchandise associated with Route 66. It is noteworthy that Route 66 does originate in Chicago, so anything having to do with the "Mother Road" might be a decent purchase.
Unique Suggestions: Take a quick look around, but avoid the expensive food.
Fun Alternatives: For dining experiences, try any place serving Chicago style pizza (much thicker than New York style) or a variety of other dining options. Actually, even McDonalds would not be too bad since it is cheap and the headquarters is near here.