Chicago fans share their fave hidden gems

Chicago’s downtown lakeshore

Spiritual sites, ethnic neighborhoods, down-home food, fine fabrics and Asian art are among your worthwhile reasons for stepping away from the Loop and Magnificent Mile.

Here is what readers had to recommend about good but lesser-known reasons to visit Chicago.

“The one place I really enjoy seeing, besides the usual tourist things, is Pacific Garden Mission,” says Joyce Burns of Green Bay, who spends a few days in Chicago almost every February, to attend a Moody Bible Institutes conference.

The mission – for men, women and children – provides shelter for hundreds every night and serves them meals every day. “They have a roof green garden and produce a radio program” that is among the nation’s longest-running radio dramas, Joyce says.

Check out the radio show before visiting, to get an idea of what to expect. For more about where the show, “Unshackled,” airs: www.unshackled.org (select “radio log”).

Mission tours at 1458 S. Canal St. are offered daily, but visit on a Saturday to also see the production of “Unshackled.” The worldwide broadcast carries a proud message of Christianity; those who attend the show may stay for a meal afterward.

For more: www.pgm.org, 312-492-9410.

“Another place not to miss in Andersonville is the Neo-Futurist Theater (5153 N. Ashland Ave.) and the sketch show ‘Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind’,” says Roger Knight of Chicago. “It’s hilarious and ever-changing.” For more about the uncensored troupe and its 22-year signature show: www.neofuturists.org, 773-275-5255.

Roger also mentions Morso, 340 W. Armitage Ave. (Lincoln Park), as one of his new favorite places to eat. “The food is amazing, the drinks are creative, and the atmosphere of a transformed vintage home is fantastic,” he says.

On the adventurous menu: wild boar belly, quail, duck liver mousse, veal sweetbreads, antelope carpaccio and more. The chef, Matt Maroni, also has challenged city ordinances with his Gaztro Wagon, where food is cooked and served from a roving food truck. (see www.chicagofoodtrucks.com). For more about Morso: www.morsochicago.com, 773-880-9280.

“It’s famous and packed, yet please eat some Garrett’s popcorn,” pleads Karen Gill of Milwaukee. “Gotta have the mix of plain, cheese and caramel corn” – sold as the Chicago Mix. For more about the product and company’s multiple locations: www.garrettpopcorn.com, 888-4-POPCORN.

“If you want hot dogs with a gourmet twist, try Hot Doug’s,” she adds. “They make duck fat fries and fancy sausages.” The self-described “sausage superstore and encased meat emporium” is at 3324 N. California St. For more: www.hotdougs.com, 773-279-9550.

“We just moved from Green Bay to Chicago and have found a couple of great restaurants off the beaten path,” says Kyle Hoops. “Fat Willy’s BBQ Shack, 2416 W. Schubert St., is a small diner with great big barbecue taste; we love their ribs and their black bean soup on Fridays!

“Rose Angeli’s, 1314 W. Wrightwood Ave., is in a beautiful old home in a nice neighborhood and has fantastic, authentic Italian food. I could go on, but those two are at the top of our list.”

For more: www.fatwillys.com, 773-782-1818; www.roseangelis.com, 773-296-0081.

“Have you heard about the new Black Ensemble Theater that opened on the north side,” asks Mia Casey Sachs, Chicago. The theater, in business 35 years, in 2011 opened a new cultural center at 4450 N. Clark St. The mission is to eradicate racism through its productions and outreach programs, which have earned significant media coverage nationwide.

For more: www.blackensembletheater.com, 773-769-4451.

“We always hit the best antique and Asian artifact stores,” says Linda Brazill of Madison. “They are like going to mini museums. Great stuff to see (usually too expensive to buy). Faves include Douglas Dawson Gallery and The Golden Triangle.”

For more about the gallery, 400 N. Morgan St.: www.douglasdawson.com, 312-226-7975. Consult www.goldentriangle.biz and 312-755-1266 for more about the Asian antiques store at 330 N. Clark St.

“On Devon Avenue is an Indian-Pakistani area that is growing tremendously – Tahoora Sweets and Bakery is my fave there,” says Sharon Kilfoy of Madison. Learn more about the 2345 W. Devon Ave. business at www.tahoora.com, 773-743-7272.

Vogue Fabrics (718-732 Main St., Evanston) is one of the best in the country,” she adds, and “the Baha’i temple just north of there (100 Linden Ave., Wilmette) is the only one in North America – so inspirational.”

The Baha’i House of Worship for North America actually is one of only seven Baha’i temples in the world. The fabric store opened in 1945 as a resource for dressmakers. Today is covers one-half of a city block.

For more about these gems: www.voguefabricsstore.com, 847-864-9600; www.bahai.us, 847-853-2300.

Karen and John Sorensen of Kenosha recommend 4 p.m. Sunday Jazz Showcase matinees at the historic Dearborn Station, 806 S. Plymouth Court, then a meal at Flaco’s Tacos, 725 S. Dearborn St., “an affordable southwestern restaurant with a rustic, eclectic décor.”

“Students are able to hear world-class jazz artists during this show as long as they are accompanied by a parent,” they write. Children under 12 gain free admission, and rates are reduced for ages 13-20. For more: www.jazzshowcase.com, 312-360-0234; www.flacostacosonline.com, 312-266-8226.

Adam Fryer of Chicago nudges us to the Lincoln Square and North Center (Roscoe Village) neighborhoods, a quick Brown Line train ride from the Loop. He enjoys the Village Tap, 2055 W. Roscoe St., and Four Moon Tavern, 1847 W. Roscoe St. For more: www.thevillagetap.com, 877-410-7148; www.fourmoontavern.com, 773-929-6666.

In Lincoln Square is a proud German heritage, including Maifest and German American Fest gatherings, plus the Chicago Brauhaus restaurant, DANK Haus cultural center and Gene’s Sausage Shop (with seasonal rooftop seating for lunch). For more: www.lincolnsquare.org, 773-728-3890.

Terry Backmann, Racine, describes Lutz Café and Pastry Shop, 2458 W. Montrose Ave., as “a treasure of not-the-usual treats.” The authentic German pastry shop opened in 1948; an enclosed garden is open from Mother’s Day until the end of October.

Specialties include baumkuchens, marizpan fruits, strudels and stollen. For more: www.lutzbakery.com, 877-350-7785.

David Wilk of Kenosha recommends Twin Anchors Restaurant and Tavern, 1655 N. Sedgwick St., for ribs (“two words for you: BEST … EVER”). For more: www.twinanchorsribs.com, 312-266-1616. My observation: Any place in business 80 years is doing something right!