I was in Chicago this weekend and want to thank the commenters on this thread.
My wife and I had the chance to meet up with some out of town friends for a weekend in the Second City. I hadn't been there in several years and have forgotten how nice the city and its inhabitants are.
We arrived Thursday morning and went for a snack at Bonci in the West Loop area west of, well, the Loop. If you're not familiar, it's a pizzeria that got its start in Rome and now has two locations in Chicago with plans to expand elsewhere in the U.S. The pizza there are sold al taglio (by the piece). Bonci has a tremendous variety of pizza topping options. The dough is airy and the toppings delicious. My wife and I split small slices of the cacio e pepe, the potato and mozzarella, and the potato and 'nduja sausage. Very enjoyable "snack".
After our snack, we followed @treznor's recommendation for Cruz Blanca. I had three beers (by the half glass) and two tacos. I chose the pork belly al pastor taco and the lamb taco. Both were delicious. The lamb had an Arabic seasoning, making it more like a small gyro than a taco, but still very good. The al pastor was excellent. The red lager and hazy IPAs were good, but not special. The coconut and chocolate stout, however, was very, very good.
We had late (for us) dinner reservations at The Girl & the Goat. Our reservation was for 8:15pm, but it was almost 8:45pm before the restaurant sat our party. The wait felt longer than its 30 minutes, because the bar area was packed and the entire place was loud, very loud. At the server's recommendation, we ordered 9 "small plates" for the four of us to split. This seemed like a good idea when the server described the restaurant and the food. This was not a great idea, however.
The server also suggested ordering everything up front, and the restaurant would deliver the plates.
Most of the dishes presented were only big enough for two people to share. The server sent us "two goat empanadas complements of the server" immediately after we split the two goat empanadas that we ordered. Weird, but the empanadas were good enough to split again. The vegetables (sauteed green beans, roasted shishito peppers, and grilled broccoli) were good, but we wanted more broccoli for four diners. The scallop dish was two scallops. These were not big scallops, so splitting each felt really tacky and barely provided an opportunity to taste the food.
We had lamb skewers that were unremarkable, as were the crispy beef short ribs. The confit goat belly was over-the-top rich. It was a tasty dish, with lobster, crab, and a lot of butter, but this was one dish we were glad to split. The pork shank was good.
Upon reflection, it would have been better to order two orders of fewer dishes, especially the scallops, lamb skewers, and broccoli. If you're only with one person, the dishes are a great size. Splitting with four, however, is tough.
Service was good once we sat down. There were good wine options. And their house beer was tasty. The overall atmosphere, however, is dark and loud. Too loud, maybe?
After dinner we went to Jeni's across the street for ice cream.
On Friday, we enjoyed an architectural boat tour from Ogden Slip (I can't remember the name, but our concierge recommended it). Then we went to Small Cheval on Wells in the Old Town neighborhood. Seating was mostly outside, but the weather was decent. During the winter or rains, this would probably not be a good location. Ordered the house-style cheeseburger with two patties, cheese, onions, and a Dijon mayonnaise sauce. Also ordered the fries. I have not been to Au Cheval to compare, but Small Cheval served an excellent burger. Service was friendly and reasonably fast. The patties are neither pub-style thick patties nor smash burger thin patties. Instead, the patties are similar to a fast food patty, but juicy and well seasoned. The rolls were fresh and very good. The toppings added to, and did not detract from, the burger. The fries were also good: fresh, crispy, and thin. It someone told me this was an homage to McDonalds, I would believe it. But so, so, so much better.
For Friday's dinner, we ate at Band of Bohemia. I saw @ad.mich's comment, but could not resist the "first Michelin Starred Brewpub". We skipped the tasting menu, which at $75 seemed reasonably priced. Instead, to start, we shared the eggplant naan, salt cured carrot, walleye crudo, and chilled Spanish octopus. The eggplant naan was a fried eggplant with peppers in naan. It was very good. The salt cured carrot is hard to describe, but was excellent in an interesting way. The carrot had a caramelized miso glaze and was covered in cashews, on the plate as an accompaniment there were little orange slices, lentils, and several other components. The net effect of which, to me, tasted like Fruity Pebbles (but in a good, interesting way). Totally unique starter. The octopus was good. After cooking the octopus, they sliced it and served it like carpaccio in very thin slices around the plate. The Walleye Crudo, however, was the overwhelming favorite. The fish was seasoned well and held up against the gochujang and sesame. Very good.
For my entree, I had a duck leg roulade. It was excellent, but I did have entree envy when I saw my wife's butter poached halibut.
The brewery makes excellent, delicate, but balanced beers. I had three of the five (I think?) available that evening. The Jasmine Rice is a very lightly flavored beer with minimal hops. The Nobel Raven Ale had a more pronounced maltiness, but was still an easy drinking beer that didn't overwhelm the food. Finally, I had their pale ale called Plaid Camel. As expected this had more hops, but was still balanced with a stronger malt base than either of the other beers.
My wife shared a few bites of her beautiful, Instaworthy baked Alaska dessert with me. It was very good. The ice cream was supposedly sea buckthorn flavored, but tasted similar to oranges to me. Our friend ordered the flourless chocolate cake, which she enjoyed, but the piece -- though beautiful -- was tiny.
After the serenity of Band of Bohemia, we had reservations at Three Dots and a Dash. This is a Tiki bar in River North operated by the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group. This place is wild! The crowd was mostly younger folks gathering in larger groups to order drinks and post Instagram photos. Our cocktails were very good, but potent -- especially after a few beers. We stayed for about an hour. The service was O.K., and the ambiance very campy. One table celebrated some big event with a three foot long pirate ship punch bowl while we were there. Two "pirates" came out with the ship to music and a faux thunderstorm. Very fun! Order carefully, and sip slowly, however, as this is in the basement and you will need to walk up stairs at the end of the night.
Departing the Tiki bar, we saw a donut shop, Firecakes. In the morning, we returned, and I had a very good churro donut.
The Hotel Chicago was a decent hotel (part of the Marrriott Autograph Collection), with an excellent location in River North on the block with Marina City (the famous corncob parking garage buildings), for what it's worth.