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NRN shares Chicago restaurant picks for 2015 NRA Show

NRN shares Chicago restaurant picks for 2015 NRA Show

This is part of NRN’s special coverage of the 2014 NRA Show, being held in Chicago, May 16-19. Visit for the latest coverage from the show, plus follow us on Twitter and Facebook. MORE: Hot Chicago restaurants to try during NRA Show 2015

Jason Bogovic, director of marketing, Penton Food and Restaurant

In recent years, the first place I think of visiting in Chicago is Chick-fil-A. That may sound strange, but we do not have a full-scale Chick-fil-A in New York City (yet). I find it’s perfect for a quick breakfast and coffee before the show.
My next favorite is Jake Melnick's. They have excellent wings and feature a “Wing of the Month,” which tends to be a creative take on the beloved appetizer. (Most recently, April was Pepperoni Pizza Wings; use your imagination). I’m partial to a mainstay on the menu, Poncho’s wings, which are grilled and seasoned with garlic and cayenne pepper. It’s also a great place to catch the NHL/NBA playoff action that annually coincides with the NRA Show.

Chick-fil-A, multiple locations,
Jake Melnick's, 41 E. Superior St.,


Lisa Jennings, West Coast bureau chief, NRN

As a believer that the perfect appetizer to pair with an ice-cold gin martini is a hot plate of baked frozen fish sticks, I like the sound of The Brass Monkey in the Fulton River District, which spotlights nostalgic favorites from the 1970s. Dishes include updated versions of French bread pizzas, fish “styx,” cheese balls with Ritz crackers, sloppy Joe sliders and cocktails that evoke Tang. The ’70s were cool, and we can say that now.

Want to see how one casual-dining brand is rethinking its concept for a smaller urban format? Check out Red Robin’s Burger Works, a fast-casual version of the gourmet burger brand that opened in downtown Chicago last year. There are four in Chicago to choose from.

The Brass Monkey, 401 N. Morgan St.,
Red Robin’s Burger Works, multiple locations,


Chris Keating, vice president/market leader, Penton Food and Restaurant

Kingston Mines is the best bar in America.  You won’t find much culinary innovation, and I'm pretty sure the word “mixology” has never been used there. But when you hear live blues music late at night at the Mines, that tinny little MP3 sound coming through your ear buds every day will sound oh-so inadequate.

Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted St.,


Sarah Lockyer, executive director of content, Penton Food and Restaurant

Because my name is ahead of Jonathan Maze in alphabetical order, I’m going to steal one of his picks, but I’ll look like I came up with it first. Portillo’s is always on my list of restaurants to hit up during the NRA Show. As a Chicago native, I grew up on Portillo’s and never miss it when back in town. I’ll leave the valuations of the newly purchased chain to Jonathan, but suffice to say, customers are not the only ones that think this brand is one of the best.
Outside of my always-lingering fast-food cravings, I’d like to again visit the Purple Pig. Last year I had an amazing late-night meal with friends and colleagues over shared plates of cured meats, cheese and wonderfully prepared octopus.
And finally, I do hope to take our NRA Show newbie, Marcella Veneziale, on a deep dish pizza tour of Chicago. We’ll do the classic taste test between Gino’s East and Lou Malnati’s. I’m a Chicago girl after all; it would be blasphemy to go home and fail to get deep dish.
Portillo's, multiple locations,
The Purple Pig, 500 N. Michigan Ave.,
Lou Malnati's, multiple locations,
Gino's East, multiple locations,


Jonathan Maze, senior finance editor, NRN

One of the hazards of writing about restaurants for a living is the fact that everybody thinks that you should pick the lunch place. Then they get mad at you for picking McDonald’s. “But that’s what I write about,” I say. Still, my editor asked me to give some recommendations, so here goes:
Alinea. This is apparently the best restaurant in the U.S., according to people who rate the best restaurants in the U.S. It also serves something called Dungeness Crab, which I had to Google after seeing it on the menu. Any restaurant that serves an animal you haven’t heard of is probably good, I figure.
Don’t feel up to that? Try Portillo’s. It has 38 units. Last year it was reportedly bought for nearly $1 billion. That means it must be good. (Remember, I’m the money guy — this is how I judge restaurants.)
Or you could always try McDonald’s in Downers Grove. That’s one of the locations where the chain is testing out Create Your Taste. Go see for yourself whether customized burgers will lift the chain’s sales out of a two-year slump. See? Told you I’d pick McDonald’s.
Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.,
Portillo’s, multiple locations,
McDonald’s, multiple locations,

Picks for pizza, popcorn

(Continued from page 1)

Ron Ruggless, Southwest bureau chief, NRN
The hurly-burly NRA Show schedule leaves me neither enough time to enjoy many of the restaurants Chicago has to offer, nor many of the eateries I would like to sample. But I always try to carve out time for two restaurants, because they don’t require me to wander far off my brisk walking path and they fit sweetly into my parsimonious budget: Wow Bao and Tortas Frontera.
Both growing concepts come from restaurant creators with deep roots in Chicago.
Wow Bao is owned and operated by Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Its Asian-inspired buns are available at five locations in Chicago, a food truck and a licensed location at O’Hare International Airport. The Water Tower Place first-floor location is fast, easy and always delicious. A company insider told me that in the third quarter, Wow Bao is headed out of state for the first time, with plans for a licensed location at the U.S. Air Terminal C in Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C. The brand also does social media well. Follow it on Twitter at @BaoMouth. You can locate the mobile food truck by searching the hashtag #BunsOnTheRun.
Tortas Frontera is the creation of fine-dining chef Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco. It serves savory Mexican grilled sandwiches and delicious guacamole. The Windy City has three airport locations, one at Urban Market in the Chase Tower in downtown Chicago and an outpost at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It’s the best reason for a delayed flight — ever.
Tortas Frontera, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Terminal 1, B11; Terminal 3, K4; and Terminal 5, M12,
Wow Bao, Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave.,


Bret Thorn, senior food editor, NRN

I turn to NRN’s Trending Tables to find out what kinds of restaurants are resonating with local diners. Those places are always fun to check out.

For great cocktails and inventive, delicious snacks, I love to swing by the lounge at Travelle.

I said it last year, but I still stand by Al’s Italian Beef. They’re a Chicago classic, around since 1938, delicious, and with eight locations in Chicago, pretty easy to come by.

Another classic is Garrett Popcorn Shops. There are a dozen of them in Chicago, including two at O’Hare (Terminals 1 and 3), and if you haven’t tried the classic combination of caramel and Cheddar cheese, you probably should.

Travelle, 330 N. Wabash Ave.,
Al’s Italian Beef, multiple locations,
Garrett Popcorn Shops, multiple locations,


Marcella Veneziale, senior content producer, Penton Food and Restaurant

For someone like myself who has never visited Chicago, I know I need to try the classics first: deep-dish pizza and an Italian beef sandwich. Chicago-style pizza loyalties run deep among the NRN staff, so as not to offend any of my colleagues, I plan to try both Gino’s East and Lou Malnati’s. As for Italian beef sandwiches, I’ll join NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn at Al’s Italian Beef.

Gino’s East, multiple locations,
Lou Malnati’s, multiple locations,
Al’s Italian Beef, multiple locations,

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