Chicago: Pizzeria Uno

After a whole day subsisting on only popcorns and iced latte, I was famished. It was time to eat. It was time to eat something that is very Chicago’ish.

So … what are the food that is very Chicago’ish? Well, Chicago is the home of:

  • Chicago Style Hot Dog
  • McDonalds
  • Deep Dish Pizza
  • Italian Beef sandwich
  • The Jibarito

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I had this first official meal in Chicago all planned out. I would be going to have the Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza. And I was not going to just any restaurant that has this. I had to go the very restaurant who claim to have invented it.

The above is Pizzeria Uno and it is located on Ohio and Wabash. It was not too far from where I got off from the River Cruise. Finding it is easy … finding any address is easy in Chicago because the streets are all laid out in perfect N-S E-W grid.

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The Pizzeria Uno was not very big but it sure was popular. I had to wait almost 30 minutes for a table even though it was after 2PM by the time I got there. It seems like waiting for a table is so common that they have a waiting room.

Because pizzas takes time to prepare, they take your orders at the same time they take your name. After that it is just waiting till they call your name.

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The deep dish pizza was invented while the world was waging war against one another in World War II. Since then it had grown to be a chain restaurant with over 170 restaurants all over the world.

However this original Pizzeria Uno remained true to its roots. With tiled floors and wood panel walls, it looked every bit an old time pizzeria.

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There were no fancy tables or big logos emblazoned all over the place. Things do look the way it is meant to look … even the dented shakers and the rusted tray it sits on. I simply love the place.

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I ordered Iced Tea which is mango flavoured. It had been a hot cloudless day. So this was just the right kind of refreshing drink I needed.

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It did not take me long to decide what I wanted. I did not even bother with their fancier food.

My number one choice was the Numero Uno.

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The pizza … Continue reading

Chicago: The Architecture River Cruise

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago is the Architecture River Cruise. This is largely because the architecture in Chicago has the biggest influence to the modern American cities and the world in general.

Chicago is home of the first skyscraper in the world. In the 1880’s, the world’s first steel frame construction building was erected.

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Before I went on the Architecture River Cruise I visited the Chicago Architecture Foundation on South Michigan Avenue. This is the best place to start getting some background on the history of Chicago to gain some context. It is also here that one could book a river cruise.

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I thought earlier this is just a small place and I would just need 10 minutes here. It turned out that I spent 45 minutes here … totally engrossed with so many aspects of the history of Chicago that I was not aware of. What really fascinated me was that part where I learned that the city of Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River! What an engineering feat. The Chicago River used to empty (sewage and stuff) to Lake Michigan and they reversed the river flow so that all the waste does not flow into the lake.

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There is an interesting model of the city of Chicago in the center of the exhibition area in the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF). This place is all about Chicago.

However, there is only one other model that is not of Chicago. While we all know of the technological marvel of the construction of the Bird Nest stadium in Beijing, this model does stick out. There were no signs about this model. So I thought it was kind of strange.

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I think there are several river cruises in Chicago. The only one that really matters is the one from the CAF. The cruise was $28.

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It was quite a number of blocks from the CAF to the boarding area. Because I took so much time at the exhibits, I had to rush to the  place with barely enough time to spare. And I had a backpack with lens (and I brought along the tripod too which I did not use even once on this trip!).

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If only I knew earlier. I could have bought the tickets here too. That way I would have not need to rush all the way to keep to the time of my ticket.

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Don’t you find the Chicago River beautiful? It is also very clean.

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The cruise started off from the very point where Fort Dearborn is. This is about the center where Chicago grew to what it is today.

Across the river is a stately building located in one of the primest of prime spots in the city. Believe it or not, this is the headquarters of a chewing gum company.

This is the HQ of … Continue reading

Chicago: Getting Around on The “L”

Believe it or not. I am quite impressed with the transit system in Chicago.

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Yeah, it has to qualify as the worse looking transit system in the world. It really does look dilapidated and rusted through and rickety … and appears to be close to falling apart any day now. However, it gets me from A to B without requiring much of brain work.

There are 8 lines on the system, each of them identified by colors. It took me a while before I realized that lines for the platform entrances are painted on the steps. That is a first I had seen signs on steps … not intuitive initially.

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The transit system in Chicago is known as the “L”. There is also a standard way to write it. It is not L, or l … it is “L” … with the close inverted commas and the capital L.

The nickname “L” came from the name Elevated Rapid Transit. The reason the system looked so old is because, well, it IS old. The “L” was first built about 120 years ago.

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There is no glitz in the system but it is functional. At least I don’t have to navigate a maze of tunnels getting from one line to another on the “L”.

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Perhaps the only visible high-tech thing is the ticket machines. You can only get standard tickets here. You can’t get multi-day passes on these machines.

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I got a 3-day Visitor Pass which allows me unlimited travel on the system. To get this I had to go to a store near the station to buy them.

It was awkward buying the multi-day passes because it is the same store people lines up to cash their welfare checks.

Oh … one thing to add too. My 3-Day Visitor Pass works 50% of the time. Not sure why. So it was a hassle having to get the attendant of the station to let me through the turnstile half the time.

One thing I can’t complain is that using the system is so cheap. I think it is like just $2 for a 2-hr trip on the system. It is certainly cheaper than Vancouver’s Skytrain.

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Does the above view look familiar to you?  How about this video … Continue reading

Chicago: Garrett Popcorns

One thing that you will not fail to notice when in Chicago, particularly when you are along the touristy areas like The Loop and The Magnificent Mile is that you will occasionally find people walking around in a brown paper bag.

Like this one …

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I was in Atlanta for a meeting prior coming to Chicago. I was asking one of my colleagues for restaurant and food recommendations. Camille instantly exclaimed “Garrett! Garrett! Oh my God! Oh my God! You have to try it”. For a moment I thought Garrett was a restaurant. It seems like Garrett is a very popular popcorn in Chicago. I was kind of deflated when she said Garrett is a popcorn brand. I am not a fan of popcorns and for the life of me, I can’t imagine how good popcorn could get.

But when I was in Chicago I saw quite a number of people walking around with the brown paper bag from Garrett. So, I decided to just go and get it for … breakfast since I did not gave much of a breakfast anyway.

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There are about ten Garrett Popcorn stores in Chicago with some of them in the airport. When I went to the one in The Loop, I was taken aback that there are actually some people lining up outside the store to buy popcorns. Whoa!

It wasn’t a long line and you get served very fast. The moment I walked into the store, the smell was very nice.

Garrett Popcorns had been in business for about 50 years already but always in Chicago. Even today, they only have one store outside of Chicago.

They became famous nationwide when Oprah Winfrey choose Garrett Popcorns as one of her “Favourite Things”. For those of you who watches Oprah on TV, her “Favourite Things” episode is aired once a year close to Christmas time. When Oprah included Garrett’s in her first “Favourite Things” episode in 2002, Garretts Popcorn’s website was overwhelmed and they became an overnight sensation. Just that one mention, Garrett was making popcorns 24 hrs a day instead of the usual 8 hrs. Oprah selected Garrett’s Popcorn again in 2005.

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If you think that Garrett’s Popcorns has lots of flavours, don’t. All the flavours that matters are just two … and only two. The hero flavours are … Continue reading

Chicago: Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

In the previous post, I wrote about the new Millennium Park. Actually, the Millennium Park is part of the larger park called the Grant Park.

Grant Park is a whole swath of land the size of twelve city blocks. This park is to Chicago what Central Park is to New York City and Stanley Park to Vancouver.

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Right in the middle of the park is the Buckingham Fountain. When it was constructed in 1927, it was the largest in the world. Today, it is still one of the largest in the world.

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Bandwidth warning … you may click on the stitched panoramic picture of the Buckingham Fountain above to view it in full size.

There is really nothing much to do here but still it is a place where every tourist should visit.

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It is because it is from here you can get the best photo of the Sears Tower, now known as the Willis Tower. The Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world when it was constructed in the 1970s.

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Today, the Willis Tower is still the tallest building in the USA. Worldwide, this building had long been surpassed by many other buildings in Asia.

The Sears Tower was surpassed by the Petronas Twin Towers (my visit described here), there was a controversy around that. From the diagram above you would see that the Sears (Willis) Tower is taller than the Petronas Twin. But actually, the Petronas Twin claimed the title of the world’s tallest when it was completed. Although the Petronas Tower seems to be the shorter building, however … Continue reading

Chicago: The Millenium Park

I got a question for you … would you travel alone? I mean, go on a vacation absolutely by yourself and yet enjoy yourself immensely?

If you had been following chowtimes since the beginning, you know that I had been on several trips on my own. It had always been a side trip that I tag on to a business trip.

I never thought much about it until one day in Brussels. I took a cab from the train station and I was literally grilled by the taxi driver about my travelling alone. I should have told him I am on business when he asked me why I was in Brussels. He asked me “doesn’t it get lonely? with no one to talk to?”. I remember that conversation although it was some years ago because that question struck me.

Frankly, I enjoy these solitude times once in a while. I feel relaxed and takes my own sweet time to discover the world.

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I woke up very early the first day in Chicago. I wasn’t hungry at all and so I had coffee from the hotel room along with a dried up bun I had from the airport the previous day. Hotel coffee is awful isn’t it? It always is. I had never had good ones no matter if they are branded or not. I wished I had one of those Asian 3-in-1 coffee with me but I forgot to pack it for this trip. Those 3-in-1 came in handy.

Chicago is beautiful. I was marvelling at how clean the city is. Well, for the most part anyway. But my first impression was really good.

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The hotel is just 2 minutes from Michigan Avenue and the world famous Chicago Art Institute. This was just perfect because Michigan Ave is perhaps like staying on Robson while in Vancouver or Times Square in New York. Michigan Avenue is the center of the tourist belt where one of the section is known as the Magnificent Mile.

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It was just past 7 AM in the morning when I started my day. It goes without saying that not many places are opened. So the best place to start is at the Millennium Park.

Having opened in just 2006 and constructed with great cost, the Millennium Park is one of the biggest project undertaken by the city of Chicago. It is a marvelous park and the best time to visit is very early in the morning when there are nobody insight … just perfect for photography.

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The Cloud Gate. This is simply the most stunning public sculpture in the Millennium Park.

Because of the shape, it is also known as The Bean before it was given its official name.

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It is a giant elliptical structure inspired by … Continue reading

Chicago: The Palmer House Hilton Hotel

It was just about getting dark by the time I got to Chicago downtown. I had earlier booked myself into a hotel within The Loop which is about the most convenient (not to mention safest) place you could stay in Chicago. The Loop is the historical downtown of Chicago which is bounded by the transit railway.

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I actually did not know anything about the Palmer House Hilton Hotel. I guess that if its’s a Hilton, it would be OK.

Moreover, I got a deal for a room night rate of only $95. For that rate and with a location within the downtown core, I did not expect much.

But when I stood outside the hotel, I thought I was in a wrong hotel.

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It was much better than I thought. It was later that I learned this hotel is where past US presidents and world dignitaries stayed when they visit Chicago. Moreover, this is also the longest continuously operating hotel in North America.

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The hotel was very old and quite stately. I am quite impressed with the elevator lobby. Each floor are ornate and are different. The doors for the floor above is bronze. There are some in silver, some gold. You don’t get such a big elevator lobby in modern buildings these days so this was quite a novelty.

The lay out of the rooms is a confusing maze with lots of turns. Fate has it that my room is on the far end of the floor that I got lost a few times circling the floor.

The room wasn’t too big and there was not much of a view. At least it was clean, comfortable and free of smoke. God, I hate stale cigarette smell in hotel rooms.

I took many many shots of the room and created a photosynth. Use your mouse to navigate into various view and the scroll wheel to zoom in and out. You can even zoom into the writing pad on the table and such. Try it and see if you can figure out what room number I stayed in.

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This is the reason why the room smell so fresh when I walked in. All hotels should do it like this hotel. Fine the hell out of the smokers.

You know, the irony is I used to … Continue reading

Chicago: Flying from Atlanta to Chicago

Oh yeah!

It had been a while since I wrote anything about travelling. So I am gonna dig this up and share with you my trip to Chicago. I thought it would be great since the Vancouver Canucks is now in the Stanley Cup Playoff with the Chicago Blackhawks.

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This series carries forward from where I left off in the latest Atlanta series … a long time ago! I was in Atlanta for a two hour meeting — just for the two hour meeting. Can you imagine that? Well, the boss wanted me to just be there for a face meeting. That sounded great by me as long as someone gives me a project code to charge the trip to.

My company’s Travel Services booked me on United Airlines between Vancouver and Atlanta with a stopover at Chicago. I took the opportunity to change itinerary to stop for a few days in Chicago on the return leg. I love my job.

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I took off from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I had been to this airport so many times that I know this airport better than YVR (Vancouver International). This is also the busiest airport in the world … all thanks to Delta who made this airport its hub. Airports in the US are big mainly because they are a hub for some big airlines. I think if Delta does pull out of Atlanta, this airport will cease to be the busiest.

There are almost 200 gates in all at ATL spread over six concourse buildings. They are so big that they have an internal train system which is one of the busiest in the world … moving 5 million people per month.

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Look at the sheer size of the parking lots for the ATL airport. It’s amazing isn’t it? This is just the western side of the airport. There is still more on the eastern side too. This has to be one of the most efficient airport if you ask me.

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I had never been to Chicago before. Well, I had transited at the Chicago O’Hare International but that doesn’t count if I had never stepped out of the airport, right? I bought a travel book and read it on the flight … frantically deciding what to do when I got there.

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It was just a short hop from ATL to ORD. ORD is the airport code for the Chicago O’Hare International. The ORD code was assigned when this airport was then known as Orchard Place Airport. The airport code never change like in many well established airports.

For instance, Beijing is still using … Continue reading

Any Tips for Vacation to Chicago?

Contrary to what some of you may perceive, I actually do other stuff other than eat and travel … honest. While I had hardly started on the series of our vacation to Washington, the truth is I am going on another vacation again … this time to Chicago.

I am looking to you readers for tips, pointers, advice … anything at all to help me plan for this trip. I am hoping some of you chowtimes readers are from the Chicago area or had visited before. As always, I am looking for tips especially for food that I should check out. I need advice also where the best place to stay as I had absolutely no idea of the layout of Chicago.

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My company requested that I attend a 2-hour meeting of Project Managers within my business unit to be held in Atlanta this month. I actually don’t know how many PMs there are within my business unit but the new acting head of Project Managers had called for a face meeting. Nope … video, web or voice conference would not do. It is to be a face meeting. Fine by me, I said, even though it kind of an overkill to travel all the way just for a 2 hour meeting. I wanted to also meet up with my project team in Atlanta to confirm the execution plan of an upcoming roll out.

I made the usual travel arrangements and it just so happen that I was booked for the YVR-ATL sector with a layover in Chicago. What this means is that I can stay for a few days on my return flight in The Windy City instead of hopping on the connecting flight.

Since it was such short notice and I am pretty sure the Richmond Public Library will not have the travel guide book I need, I walked over to Chapters in Metrotown during lunch break to get hold of a travel book. My favourite is the SK Eyewitness Travel series which I had used during my visits to New York, London and Paris.

Oh … this is NOT a paid review for the Eyewitness Travel series (though I so wished it is!). I thought since I am at this, I might as well introduce you guys to this book.

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This travel guide is not like many of the travel books. Firstly, it is glossy with every pages having illustrations. They don’t just show you maps but shows it in 3-D. I find this much more easier to read and help me focus on the true essential info. I won’t go into a detail review of this book but do recommend you at least check out this book before your next travel.

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Another simple and neat thing about this book is that the extended covers flips over as a couple of bookmarks. I had often referred to the guide a few times an hour and this is much more handier than the normal bookmark.

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The book is also designed to last with repeated use too. The covers are thick and strong and does stand up to a lot of abuse.

Anyway … again … it would be great if you could tell me everything you know about Chicago. I am so looking forward to this.