If you don’t eat elsewhere before the show, you’re relegated to the venue’s $7 wieners featuring a hot baloney finish, industrial tortilla chips capped with orange petroleum product and the ultimate concert venue oxymoron – pricey, cheap beer. Here are some sure bets near Chicago’s biggest music venues that are playing your song.
1330 W. Madison St.
Chicago, IL 60607
It wasn’t that long ago that all you could get near the United Center was mugged. Today, a cab ride opens up the whole Randolph/Fulton Street food corridor and closer to the “Mad House on Madison,” you’ll find lots of bars with pub food and Italian restaurants, the best of which may be Viaggio. Expect top-notch service, generous portions and deep flavors. Popular choices include zucchini fritti to plunge into homemade marinara, eggplant stack, meatball salad and house-made eight-finger cavatelli. There are many chicken, veal, chops, pork and fish options, too. Prices are reasonable for the quality and the wait staff can get you out in time for the show.
24 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603
All those tourists buzzing around the “Bean” are also wandering into Millennium Park’s nearby steakhouses and sandwich shops which means crowds trying to take a load off. You made the right choice by walking into The Gage, a gastropub right across the street from the Park serving rustic, European-inspired American food and an imaginative roster of libations. You can be dressed up or down, service is speedy even if it’s packed and the menu changes seasonally, incorporating lots of local ingredients. Go old world with poutine, Scotch eggs and head cheese or nouveau with chili-crusted hamachi or the very popular mussels Vindaloo, and that’s just for starters. Impressive entrees include roasted duck breast and confit; venison burger; Gunthorp Farm pork chop; Amish chicken; house-made and local sausages; and excellent fish and chips. Everything you could want in beer. wine and spirits is available as well. The Gage is a three-minute drive (10-minute walk) from the Chicago Theater, if that’s where you’re headed.
Fresco 21 – A Mediterranean Kitchen
5300 N. River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018
The likes of Pink, Selena Gomez, Avenged Sevenfold, The Eagles and Lady Antebellum fill the seats at the Allstate Arena when Disney characters or the Chicago Wolves aren’t spinning on arena ice. With planes thundering overhead from nearby O’Hare, Rosemont is home to every low-, mid- and upscale-priced restaurant chain for pre-show chow and cocktails. For a pleasant surprise that offers an impressive quality/price ratio, Fresco 21 is an undiscovered culinary gem. The menu is as wide as the Mediterranean itself offering tapas from Spain (Manchego empanadas) to Greece (seared Haloumi cheese), pizzas and panini, salads and main courses like Greek-fired rotisserie Amish chicken, pan-roasted halibut enlivened by an avocado and grape tomato piccata. Chef de Cuisine, Cameron Grant, will put a smile on your face even if the concert doesn’t. The restaurant also does dinner packages with its live entertainment venue, The Montrose Room.
3159 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
A five-story vaudeville house circa 1912, the Vic Theatre hosts rock and indie performers in Lakeview, a ‘hood crammed with good eating from noodle shops and pizzerias to burgers at Kuma’s and kosher barbecue at Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed. Harmony Grill is mere minutes by car from the Vic and adjacent to Scuba’s Tavern, a musical venue stalwart on the north side. The word “grill” doesn’t harmonize with the fact that soups, sauces and desserts are created in-house daily, but you can also get satisfying grill classics tweaked like mac ‘n’ cheese with more than 30 toppings, house-ground certified Angus beef burgers grilled to order and sandwiches from traditional Cubans to NOLA shrimp po’ boys. Poutine, salads and vegan options propel the grill concept into the 21st century.
1137 W. Argyle St.
Chicago, IL 60640
A grand dame that hosts bands like Tame Impala and Animal Collective, the Riviera (1917) in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is surrounded by dependable Asian eateries, Vietnamese in particular, along Argyle Street. Many say Pho 888 offers the best namesake brothy goodness in the city – well balanced, rich and expertly spiced with the requisite sides to submerge in your pho like beans sprouts, cilantro, noodles, jalapenos, Thai basil, etc. Order your steamy bowl with skirt steak, chicken, meatballs, oxtails, tripe or strictly vegetarian. Other good choices at the small, family-owned spot include Vietnamese crepes, Bahn Mi sandwiches, spring rolls and stir fries. Prices are low and it’s BYOB.
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.