NATO: Where to eat, drink and meet

May 12, 2012

Where should over 10,000 visitors eat this week? The Chicago NATO Summit meets at McCormick Place this Sunday and next Monday with "more than 7,000 delegates and staff, along with about 2,000 international journalists" estimates the Official Host Committee—plus an unknown number of protestors ("They're not RSVPing," says WBEZ's Alex Keefe.)
 
Our own Shawn Allee posed this question last Friday and your answers have been trickling in, including Falafill, Vito & Nick's (the South Pulaski location only), and Hot Doug's, so far. 
 
The Host Committee directs visitors to "places President Barack Obama frequents when he's in his hometown" (Topolobampo, Spiaggia, R.J. Grunts, and MacArthur's), "while the First Lady frequents the West Loop's stylish Sepia"—we guess for FLOTUS night out?
 
The Committee also suggests the usual suspects for pizza (Uno's, Edwardo's, Gino's East, Giordano's, Leona's, Home Run Inn, Lou Malnati's) and hot dogs (Superdawg, The Wieners Circle, Hot Doug's, Gold Coast Dogs, Vienna Beef, Red Hot Chicago—please note that while Red Hot has now merged with Vienna, there are no Red Hot dogs served at the Vienna cafeteria).
 
But wait—The Wieners Circle? While I grew up on their char dogs and cheese fries, their current controversialreality television game show location incarnation is not on my diplomatic shortlist.
 
The Illinois Restaurant Association launched Chicago's Culinary Crossroads program featuring special items and tasting menus "inspired by the cuisines of the NATO nations" with restaurants big and small (from Potbelly to Sixteen at Trump Tower), as well as bringing international guest chefs to collaborate with local host restaurants. At every participating restaurant diners can collect "passport" codes to enter to win a VIP weekend for two at Chicago Gourmet in September.
 
Not surprisingly I'm asked for restaurant recommendations all the time. What may be surprising is that I hate giving them—and by the end, you may be sorry you asked. What's your budget? What's the occasion? Any dietary restrictions? And so on. I take my recommendations seriously. 
 
Since I can't interrogate the more than 10,000 visitors, I'm imposing the following criteria: iconic Chicago food, iconic American food, unique to Chicago, and out in the neighborhoods—because we are a "City of Neighborhoods." I do understand that international travelers may crave the food of their homeland, or want to try an international rendition, but I'm sorry, this trip and list are too short.
 
The following is a wish list: places I wish NATO attendees, protestors, and journalists alike could sit down—or stand—to eat, drink, and talk—with one another and us. These are places with great food and drink, served by even better people—true ambassadors to our city and beyond.
 
Al's Beef (Taylor Street location only, plus Mario's Italian Lemonade across the street)
Like I said, this list is too short. Any list is too short. For this city—and beyond.
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