I’ll go out for a bowl or Phó or some spring rolls at least once every couple of weeks – especially since I live in a SF neighborhood that offers some serious Asian cuisine. That number goes up even higher when Karl the Fog starts rearing his ugly head, making for super chilly nights. There’s something so comforting about a big bowl of soup, or some Vietnamese-spiced noodle and rice dishes. However, when looking to step up my Vietnamese-food game, I got introduced to Le Colonial, an amazing, hidden spot for fancy French Vietnamese dishes.
Located near downtown SF and open for more than 15 years, Le Colonial is where you should go when looking for a romantic spot for a date, or to impress your colleagues and business partners. Fancy some authentic Vietnamese dishes with a touch of French flair? This place is perfect.
Take in the fresh air and pull up a seat outside within the lush courtyard, or find a spot in the main dining room, or sneak away upstairs and find a seat in one of the many nooks at the Lounge for live music and people watching. The wine and specialty cocktail list is enormous. I’m a sucker for “healthy” cocktails and the Bright Eyes was calling my name: Boudier Saffron Gin, aperol, carrot juice, orange bitters, and muddled carrots.
We started our meal by ordering the Appetizer Tasting Platter, which came with an assortment of Vegetable Spring Rolls; Crispy Rolls with crab, shrimp and chicken; Baby Back Pork Ribs glazed with hoisin and passion fruit sauces; Coconut Crusted Mini Crab Cakes; and Ahi Tuna Tartare. This platter is perfect if you can’t decide between a few different starters.
Le Colonial is known for its Bo Luc Lac, or Shaken Beef, and it’s pretty clear why. Filet mignon is cubed and is wok-seared in a sweet and savory soy sauce before served on a bed of watercress with pickled red onion, fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes and crispy lotus chips. This dish is stunning and you’ll love tearing into it to get the perfect bite. I highly recommend you order a bowl of their Coconut Rice and their Crispy Sweet Chili-Glazed Brussel Sprouts. Those dishes alone are well worth the trip to Le Colonial.
You’ll find some standard Vietnamese dishes on the menu, like Chicken Pho and Roasted Lemongrass Chicken, along with French-inspired cuisine like Steak Au Poivre Vert and French Seabass. Whether you’re in the mood for seafood, soup, or beautiful pieces of meat, there’s something for everyone. Save room for dessert because you’ll find items like the Le Colonial Banana Roties, caramelized bananas on baked cassava cake and Orange & Lime Crepes Cake.
For some of us, taking a break from their local Vietnamese mom and spot to try out “fancier” interpretations of traditional rice and noodle dishes offer perspective into the country’s tastes. The combination of the ingredients may be exactly the same, but the presentation, service, and ambiance makes for a world of change. For more information, on Le Colonial, visit http://www.lecolonialsf.com/.
In case you missed it, Eat Drink SF is back at it this weekend showing off some of the city’s best restaurants and bars, along with some amazing wine and spirit makers. The Fort Mason Pavilion was dressed up to the nines, offering space for rows of restaurants, cooking demos, giveaways, and so much more.
Check out some of the photos from Saturday’s Grand Tasting event.
One of the reasons that I love going to Eat Drink SF every year is because of the people — chefs, mixologists, wine makers, and event attendees. San Francisco is undoubtedly a foodie city and people here love celebrating the legacy of our old restaurants, as well as the new kids on the block making waves in the industry. No matter how you slice it, this event brings people together to celebrate our crazy bubble and all of the personalities within.
It’s that time of year when Bay Area foodies come out in droves to spend the weekend rubbing elbows with the city’s finest chefs, wine/beer/booze makers and mixologists. Eat Drink SF is in its eighth year and will be held once again at the Festival Pavilion in Fort Mason Center. Eat Drink SF was the first food festival I went to in the City and still is one of my favorites.
Founded by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) back in 2009, Eat Drink SF brings together 160+ restaurants offering unlimited bite-sized versions of their claim-to-fame dishes while attendees walk around with their drink of choice or check out demos and classes. (And trust that you’ll find a new favorite drink from one of the 70 bars, distilleries, wineries and breweries in attendance.) If you’ve ever wanted to be under the same roof with all of your favorite restaurants, this is your event.
This year’s event starts August 25 with everyone’s favorite, the Taco Knockdown, and goes into the weekend with four Grand Tasting events. And if you’ve never been to an SF food festival, expect a lot of wandering through rows trying to figure out what to eat or drink next. No wallets, no fuss…just pure culinary fun.
New this year at Eat Drink SF 2016:
A Sunday Grand Tasting event will celebrate GGRA’s 80th anniversary and honor Bay Area bars and restaurants that have been open for at least 20 years.
A personal favorite, Buena Vista Café will be pouring their famous Irish Coffees at all four Grand Tastings.
The SF Brewers Guild will be in attendance and pouring local brews in the Backyard Bites section.
A new “Bay Bar” will feature cocktails from the city’s hottest cocktails bars, like Hard Water, The Treasury, Whitechapel, and more.
Look out for a Milagro Margarita Mix Off added to the Thursday Taco Knockdown event.
I never used to be one who would attack a brand new city with a bunch of touristy things. But when you’re trying to tackle a city like Chicago in just a few days, sometimes you just gotta sign up for a tour and go along for the ride. During my trip to the Windy City, I went on a handful of Chicago tours both within the downtown area and beyond.
From tame architecture and history tours, to sexy red light district tours, here’s a list of some of the Chicago tours you can go on while exploring this amazingly beautiful city.
Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour with Chicago Detours
History lessons have never been my strong suit. I have trouble listening to someone chatter about history while I’m in a new city, let alone a classroom, because I’m busy looking around at all of the sights. But, Chicago Detours is a company you want to get to know if you’re seeking a Chicago history lesson with some booze and bites.
We started our tour at the Tribune Tower and the Intercontinental Hotel where we learned a brief history of the city, who helped to build commerce in the area, what industries fared well during growth, and more. After wandering the streets and learning more about the secret life of drinkers and booze during the prohibition era, we stepped inside the original Billy Goat Tavern.
Any old school Saturday Night Live fan will immediately yell, “Cheezborger, Cheezborger! No Pepsi…Coke!” in their heads upon hearing about this pit stop. The Billy Goat Tavern was definitely my favorite stop on this tour mostly because of the people watching, the fantastic bar and bartenders, historic memorabilia all over the walls, and of course, the cheeseburgers.
By the time the tour was over, not only did we learn about how booze shaped the city in nearly every decade, but we also boozed at every stop. From beers at Billy Goat, to wine and appetizers at the Tortoise Club and a historic mansion, we experienced the booze culture in nearly every way imaginable.
Pizza & Cocktails Tour with Chicago Pizza Tours
Pizza and booze in Chicago is like peanut butter and jelly to the rest of the country; it just goes together and there’s no explanation. Chicago’s deep dish pizza is globally famous and I had to get my hands on all of the pizza I could. If you’re in town for a short period of time and want to try all of the famous pizza spots in the area, I highly recommend booking a Pizza & Cocktails Tour with Chicago Pizza Tours.
Our group met at Flo & Santos, a thin-crust pizza spot favorited by local Chicagoans. We ordered up some cocktails and local brews while our table was flooded with huge thin-crust pizzas with toppings inspired by local tastes. The Flo’s Polish was topped with Polish Kielbasa, sauerkraut and bacon, while Marco’s Italian Beef was topped with shaved beef, giardiniera, caramelized onion and roasted tomatoes. We all shared our stories and what brought us to Chicago, before we headed to the next joint.
Throughout the evening, we stopped by Pizzeria Serio in the Lakeview neighborhood for Neapolitan-style pizza, the famous Lou Malnati’s in the Gold Coast neighborhood for a taste of history, and Pizano’s for Oprah’s favorite deep dish and dessert. The drinks continued to flow throughout the night and we all naturally befriended each other by the end of the tour.
If you’re traveling solo, this tour is perfect for you. There’s nothing like a few too many gin and tonics to open up even the most timid of travelers. The pizza was all fantastic and I totally get why people have Chicago pizza shipped to their homes after visiting these spots. Not only do you get a taste of Chicago history on these tours, but you also get a sense of why this city attracts all walks of life.
Lincoln Park Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet
I’m always one to try and discover hip and up-and-coming neighborhoods while traveling and I had been hearing a lot about Lincoln Park. Located about 20 minutes outside of the Chicago Loop and downtown area, Lincoln Park is an adorable neighborhood offering culture, historical sights, delicious food, shopping and more.
I signed up for the two-hour Lincoln Park Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet, which specializes in walking tours of Chicago’s best neighborhoods outside of heavily-touristed areas. This tour company takes guests around Chicago’s neighborhoods while educating travelers about how the local food culture came to be and how artists, immigrants, students, professionals, and everyone else has shaped the area.
Deemed one of Chicago’s most diverse and largest neighborhoods, we learned all about Lincoln Park’s history with our tour guide, Jackie. We heard about the area’s history and people, while tasting specialty, locally-made items like popcorn, cupcakes, bagels, luxury chocolate and stuffed pizza. (PS: The pizza from Bacino’s was out of this world!) Lincoln Park is a great city for eating, drinking and shopping so if you feel like you’ve tackled downtown Chicago and want a glimpse into the ‘burbs, make sure to add this neighborhood to your list.
Chicago Food Planet operates tours in other parts of town, including the Gold Coast, Old Town, Bucktown, Wicker Park and Chinatown. Our guide, Jackie, was absolutely lovely and super smart and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide. If you fall in love with one of the stops on the tour, Chicago Food Planet offers discounts at the shops or restaurants for purchases after the trip concludes.
Red Light District Tour with Weird Chicago
If you really want to see a part of Chicago with the perfect blend of grit, boozy history and scandal, check out Weird Chicago tours immediately. This tour brought some light into the sex and kink scene of today and the bygone era. Fancy a trip to a sex dungeon? Ever wanted to meet a man who custom manufactures bustiers and thigh-high leather boots? Or, do you need to freshen up your education on today’s sex toys? Then look no further than the Red Light District Sex Tour.
This Chicago tour is a bit difficult to put into words, especially if you’re tame at heart, because the intel that I gathered on this trip would make anyone blush. Join the group as an open-minded individual, with your friends, or significant other. And be prepared for some silly, while also incredibly intriguing, narration. Let’s just say that by the time the tour was over, I found myself in a swing in the middle of a sex dungeon, tried on some vintage-inspired bustiers, and got a glance into electro-magnetic stimulation at a sex shop.
I guarantee you’ll end the night all hot and bothered with a new wealth of information about the Chicago local sex industry. But if sex dungeons and toys aren’t totally your thing, Weird Chicago also offers tours about the city’s ghosts, criminal history, gangsters and “Murder Castle.”
Architecture Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing
If you’re looking for a relaxing Chicago tour of the downtown area’s architecture and skyscrapers, I suggest an Architecture Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing. This 75 minute tour, great for those in a time crunch, takes you down the Chicago River and among the most notable towers and skyscrapers. You’ll learn about the engineering of these buildings, who made them, who occupies the space now, and so much more. Ever wondered about the uniquely-shaped round parking structure in the middle of the Loop, or the Aqua high rise apartment building that mimics the image of waves when viewed from atop each balcony? Or the history behind the champagne-bottle shaped Carbide & Carbon building? You’ll learn all about these landmarks and more on this tour.
I hopped on the Architecture River Tour, which launches off from two different locations, and we saw more than 40 different, distinctly Chicago landmarks. I highly recommend going on the tour right around sunset, or at least while the sun is out, as the boat is uncovered and offers amazing views.
Design your own Self-Guided Tour at the Art Institute
The Chicago Art Institute tops everyone’s list of must-see places but with almost a million square feet of explorable space, the idea of seeing everything can be daunting. From modern art and photography, to marble sculptures and Picassos, there’s something here for everyone. I only had a few hours to spend at the Art Institute and luckily there were a few options to help maximize my time.
Before you visit, check out the website’s section for themed mini tours. Or, download the Art Institute app or opt for an audio guide. Whatever your speed, you’ll find a ton of interesting exhibits.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to ALL of the tour companies who allowed me to join your group outings! Thank you for your generosity and hospitality. See you soon!
Chicago is one of those cities where you can find a perfect blend of old and new; modern and traditional; super luxe and tastefully simple. I’d like to think these dualities are also found in Chicago’s food, people, neighborhoods and hotels. I decided to take a solo trip to Chicago where I wasn’t going to meet up with a group of friends and colleagues, or travel with girlfriends or my main squeeze. This trip was perfectly timed so that I could clear my head after turning in some crazy projects at the office and also reflect on personal relationships and whatnot.
I visited Chicago right before the start of the warm season and found hotels that not only offered comfy places to rest my head after touring the city, but also offered enough amenities on-site where I’d actually want to just chill out and enjoy the property. All three of these hotels are situated among the hustle of the city, but also offer nooks and crannies where I could just get away and forget I was in a major metropolitan area. If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago that are perfect for the young at heart or the business person who wants to add some extra excitement to their accommodations, look no further.
For the hip, tech-savvy crowd
I was initially intrigued by the Acme Hotel Company when I started reading about how this property made news with all of its in-room gadgets and techy toys. Oh, and these guys are also touting the fact that they’re the first hotel ever to offer Google Glass to guests who book directly with them. Whether you’re an international traveler or just more cognizant about how much data your smartphone is using, you’ll absolutely love the fact that you can ask for a Hotspot To-Go so that no matter where you are, you’ll always be connected while a guest at the hotel. This perk is only offered to guests who book a room directly so make sure to keep this in mind if you plan on using a third-party vendor to book your stay.
And if that wasn’t enough gadgets to keep you connected, you can now borrow an Apple Watch from the front desk during your stay!
Located in the River North neighborhood and just a couple blocks away from the Mag Mile, the Acme is a great place for guests of all ages. My room was the perfect hideaway when I had to take a couple conference calls and it was also walking distance from some awesome Chicago eateries. My room had all kinds of smart TV hookups, both Apple and PC hookups, wireless audio systems, and super fast Wifi. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the adorable bathroom with the lipstick neon light. So freaking cool.
If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago with all of the conveniences, the Acme offers one of the coolest morning coffee services. I ordered my coffee service the night before with my specific delivery time and the cutest coffee thermos showed up at my doorstep in the morning. There’s no more putting on of real clothes to go to the hotel lobby to retrieve your caffeine, or having to fumble with an in-room coffee maker. You have your own thermos! (Just don’t forget to leave it behind everyday, or you will get charged extra.) Also, don’t forget to bring workout clothes and your bathing suit because the caged gym (yes, caged!) and hot tub are definitely worth checking out.
The hotel’s bar, The Berkshire Room, is definitely not one to miss. I grabbed a nightcap after checking in on the first night and I highly recommend going for the Dealer’s Choice (where you tell your bartender the spirit, flavor profile and glassware you want) and ordering up a couple light bites. The hotel’s cafe, West Town Bakery, offers coffee, pastries, sandwiches and snacks to get you through the day when you’re not stuffing your face with pizza, beef sandwiches and hot dogs from Portillo’s.
Although the pièce de résistance might be the hidden art installation which is only seen if you have an interior room. Ten painted mannequins, which resemble colorful flying trapeze artists, are suspended from different heights and it’s absolutely beautiful. If you have a room facing the window, ask one of the front desk workers if you can get a peek of this thing. The juxtaposition of color and brick is definitely something you want to ask about.
For the business professional who really knows how to play
I’m a very loyal customer of Virgin America so when I found out that their only hotel was in Chicago, there’s no way I would have missed spending a couple nights at the property. The Virgin Hotel, located right in the Loop, is one of those hotels in Chicago that is designed for the traveler who needs to get a little bit of work down during the day and who wants to party at sun down.
I can’t say enough nice things about this place. The check-in was super easy, the service was impeccable, but the best part of the hotel is its communal areas. If you’re trying to get some work done while traveling, make sure to find a spot on the second floor at The Commons Club. One side of the floor is where you can belly up to the bar for a cocktail (did I mention there’s a daily hosted social hour where the hotel picks up the bill?!). But the other side offers a library with plush seating, outlets, desks and all kinds of nooks where you can take phone calls, hold meetings and have a quiet space to get work done.
I was lucky enough to stay at the property on one of the warmest nights of the month so it’s no wonder why the rooftop bar, Cerise, was going off. Apparently there was a line to get up to Cerise in the lobby, but the DJ was starting up, craft cocktails were pouring, and the crowds were thoroughly enjoying the weather and the company.
The guestrooms at the Virgin Hotel were so incredibly comfortable. The linens, the huge bathroom, the dressing room, the adorable messages, coffee station and everything were perfect. Drinks and snacks in the mini bar were actually priced the same as any other convenience store so it was a godsend not getting charged up the wazoo for items. And don’t forget to download the Virgin Hotel app to order room service from anywhere on the property, set your room’s temperature, communicate with concierge, and more.
For the person who really just wants luxury
I’ve stayed at luxury hotels all over the place and it’s definitely a treat and vacation all on its own. There’s nothing like opulence in your guestroom and five star service and the Thompson Chicago sets the bar pretty high. Located in the Gold Coast neighborhood aka Viagra Triangle (Google it!), The Thompson is perfectly perched in the middle of amazing restaurants, shopping and people watching. I was only able to spend one night at the hotel at the end of my trip, but I definitely found myself not wanting to leave. Rather, I spent most of my time in pajamas enjoying the amazing King-sized bed and stellar city views from my Superior Cityview room.
Upon check-in, I received a couple drink vouchers to use at the hotel bar, Salone Nico. Just steps away from the check-in desk lies the most beautiful hotel bar I’ve ever seen. Salone Nico has an impressive cocktail list, but what’s even more impressive is the actual design of the bar. An entire living wall makes up for the main centerpiece of the space, along with a second level that overlooks the bar and its patrons. Velvet seating, dim lighting, light bar bites, I mean, how could you go wrong? I found myself hanging out at Salone Nico in the morning and evening and you’ll probably find yourself doing the same.
The service at the Thompson was bar none. I wanted to explore the hotel and lobby late at night and enjoyed conversation with the concierge for awhile. We chatted for close to 30 minutes about places I should walk to for coffee and lunch the next day and it honestly felt like I was just chatting with a friend.
While food, tours, shopping and drinking are plentiful, staying at amazing hotels in Chicago might have been my favorite part of my stay. Not only did I find time for leisure and relaxation at each of these properties, but all three of these places offered their own special perks and amenities crafted by their own distinct design and style.
Thank you to all of these hotels who really rolled out the red carpet!