Chicago's top 20 brunch restaurants

If there’s one thing we take seriously here, it’s brunch. Chicago restaurants are constantly adding brunches, and we ate through dozens to find the 20 best.

My predecessors left me a formidable list: The 20 best brunch spots in Chicago. While I’d already been to many of their choices (Jam, Southport Grocery, Longman & Eagle) and agreed with them, some of their picks (Sprout, City Provisions) had closed, others had seen chef changes and, in the two years since the list debuted, it seems like every new restaurant (and every current restaurant) had added brunch. Now Avec serves it on Sunday. So does GT Fish & Oyster. Au Cheval opened. So did Dusek’s, and both serve brunch. 

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The entire Time Out Chicago staff has been brunching religiously for months to update the list and determine who’s most deserving of a spot on our 20 best brunches list. We say farewell to Balsan, Birchwood Kitchen, Bite Café, City Provisions, Julius Meinl, Sola, Sprout and Tre Kronor to make room for Avec, Gather, Au Cheval, Carriage House, Dusek’s, Farmhouse, Frontera Grill and GT Fish & Oyster.

If there’s one thing we learned from the seemingly endless rounds of Bloody Marys, stacks of French toast too big to finish, long waits for seats while we were battling hangovers and more cups of coffee than we could count, it’s this: Brunch in Chicago is only getting better and better.

Best Chicago brunch restaurants

Photograph: Martha Williams
1/20

Au Cheval

Critics' pick

Brendan Sodikoff’s diner serves one of the most perfect hangover brunches around, though you’ll have to wait for it. But this is one case where the wait is worth it: The chilaquiles, also available after midnight every day, comes in two sizes: huge and massive. Pour warm tomatillo salsa from a gravy boat over the tower of tortilla chips, guacamole and pickled onions and eat away your hangover. The English breakfast updates the classic with lush, velvety scrambled eggs, huge slices of Texas toast and a dish of bacon-laced beans. Drink the creamy, nutmeg-laden Antica flip or a Bloody Mary capped with pickled onions, and you’ll forget this place is best known for its burger. (Though don’t worry—that’s still available at brunch.)—Amy Cavanaugh

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2/20

avec

Critics' pick

When Avec announced that it would begin serving brunch last summer, we were thrilled—any additional chances to eat the chorizo-stuffed dates must be seized. But little did we know that we’d fall even more in love with the breakfast pizza, a potato, pancetta and egg–topped pie that filled our table; the flaky cinnamon roll; and the genius play on eggs benedict: nduja smeared on toast and topped with poached eggs and lemony hollandaise. The drinks are great, too: Le Chet Noir, a bourbon, vanilla and chilled coffee cocktail, is like drinking the most delicious iced latte imaginable.—AC

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West Loop
Photograph: Martha Williams
3/20

Big Jones

Brunch at Big Jones begins with a complimentary round of airy, sugary beignets, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the baked goods, like warm biscuits sprinkled with salt and served with jam and butter. The brunch here tends to be on the decadent side: Eggs New Orleans features crab cakes, poached eggs and béarnaise sauce perched on popovers, while cocktails, like a well-made Sazerac, are potent. It’s the kind of brunch that fuels long afternoon naps.—AC 

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Photograph: Elizabeth Jochum
4/20

The Bristol

Critics' pick

Start with the Bloody Mary, made with Chris Pandel’s house mix, which is rimmed with Old Bay and comes with an olive, cheese and a cube of pate on a skewer. It’s only $7 ($8 if you add a 7oz pilsner) and at any other brunch, this would be the high point. But at the Bristol, brunch keeps getting better and better. The cinnamon bun comes out warm and gooey, the benedict is piled with folds of smoked ham and a mustard hollandaise, and bread and butter pickles cut through the richness of the fried chicken and biscuit. Each dish is better than the next.—AC

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Bucktown
Photograph: Martha Williams
5/20

Carriage House

Things have changed since we suggested you drink your brunch at Carriage House (beverage director Michael Simon left and is now Charcoal Bar), so you’ll want to skip the weak Bloody Marys and order a French press instead. But the low country spot is still serving up great brunch dishes, like the garlic bologna sandwich, which borders on obscene. Housemade bologna is stuffed into a brioche bun along with pimento cheese, sweet pickles, mustard aioli and a fried egg, which sends yolk running down your hands. If you’re hungover, this is the greatest dish imaginable. The chicken and biscuit comes with gravy that’s swirled with pimento cheese, and the hush puppies are also a solid rendition. With food this good, you won’t miss a cocktail.—AC

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Wicker Park
Photograph: Clayton Hauck
6/20

Dusek's Board and Beer

Critics' pick

Pilsen residents got not just a solid dinner spot but a terrific brunch option with the opening of Dusek’s last year. Case in point: There was zero wait time on a recent visit, and within minutes we were sucking down Brunch Punch, a light, gin-based morning concoction. A few minutes later, there was a sweet challah cinnamon roll, then a pear-stuffed Dutch baby, plump fried oysters and potato hash, and a lemon buttermilk doughnut. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Pilsen, though, this brunch is still worth the trip.—AC

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Pilsen
Photograph: Martha Williams
7/20

Farmhouse Evanston

This is one of the best entrants on our list, since there are two locations: River North and Evanston. The menus are pretty similar, but there are some differences—for instance, Evanston has a delicious egg white frittata, stuffed with vegetables and gilded with a layer of goat cheese. Both serve spicy breakfast potatoes, a vast improvement over the typical sad brunch potatoes; flaky biscuits with butter; and a spicy Bloody Mary, garnished with jerky and cheese curds. Farmhouse’s brunch isn’t fancy, but it’s so satisfying.—AC

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8/20

Frontera Grill

Critics' pick

The Saturday brunch showcases a different side of Rick Bayless’s restaurant—namely, spicy egg dishes. There’s huevos rancheros; a trio of gorditas with toppings that include scrambled eggs, grilled chicken and chorizo; or a spicy bowl of pozole, enhanced by the addition of a poached egg and its velvety yolk. The Mexican pastry basket, a must-order, comes with four warm sweets, including a corn-masa doughnut and a cream cheese–filled roll. There’s also a selection of coffees, like a French press filled with Intelligentsia-roasted Colombian beans, and the margarita list is available. We never thought of margaritas as brunch cocktails, but we can get behind it.—AC

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Photograph: Martha Williams
9/20

Gather

Start with the sticky bun. Don’t ask questions, just do it. Continue down adult-onset diabetes lane with an order of moist flapjacks for the table—so simple, so perfect—and slathered with maple syrup. Veer toward savories and don’t look back: a crisp fried chicken leg and fluffy, buttery biscuit coated in the richest béchamel imaginable; sweet corn griddle cakes paired with fatty, dreamy pork belly and gooey cheddar. Finish with a nap.—Laura Baginski

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10/20

GT Fish & Oyster

Critics' pick

The brunch at GT has lots of seafood, but don’t go straight for the oysters. Start with an order of the churros, sugary crisps with orange cream cheese dipping sauce, or the monkey bread, seasoned like an everything bagel, with dill buttermilk cream for dipping. Or better yet, get both, then split the crab benedict, with fat flakes of sweet crab, Swiss chard and hollandaise. There are two Bloody Marys, including one doctored up with bourbon and garnished with bacon and a pickled quail egg. GT’s brunch goes way beyond fish and oysters.—AC

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River North
11/20

Jam

Critics' pick

You can brunch at Jam every day except Wednesday, so go into work a little late one day to miss the crowds at the Logan Square spot. The signature dish is the malted custard French toast, available in two sizes, so you can get a slice of the caramelized brioche on the side with your chorizo omelette, a surprisingly light dish that includes onions and piquillos, or an airy quiche. The rotating waffle is always worth trying, and past renditions have included a buckwheat waffle topped with whitefish, a quail egg and crimini mushroom sauce. The Bloody Mary comes garnished with cornichons and a cube of horseradish, and the option to add a whole can of Schlitz as a beer back. Do it.—AC

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12/20

Kingsbury Street Cafe

Critics' pick

The menu hasn’t changed much in the three years since this brunch/lunch spot opened, bizarrely, next to VIP’s Gentleman’s Club (and Whole Foods) in Lincoln Park. When the dishes are this solid, there’s no need for revamps. Must-orders include the light and spongy whole wheat carrot pancakes, the Piggy Moo Cluck sandwich (thick bacon, ham, cheddar and an over-easy egg on pillowy ciabatta), crispy hash browns and anything from the pastry case, which are all made in-house.—LB

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Photograph: Nicole Radja
13/20

Longman & Eagle

Critics' pick

Waiting for brunch at Longman used to be interminable, assuaged only by a cup of Dark Matter as you were crammed in at the bar. Now, there’s the OSB, the Off-Site Bar in back, which has a Saturday sausage shop and Sunday doughnut shop. You can wait for seats and your order of chicken and perfectly crisp waffles or eggs with a side of PBR while drinking a Bloody Mary and eating a bratwurst topped with fried clams. Don’t worry, it’s not too much food. This is brunch, after all.—AC

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Logan Square
Photograph: Martha Williams
14/20

Lula Cafe

Critics' pick

One of the many reasons we love Lula: Brunch is served every day (except Tuesday, when the restaurant is closed), which means you can sneak in for coffee and a simple breakfast burrito, stuffed with avocado and potatoes, before work or settle in for a leisurely weekend brunch with pastries, like an adorable tiny cherry-almond kringle, a gin Bloody Mary speared with a smoked oyster and terrific housemade sausage.—AC

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Photograph: Erica Gannett
15/20

Nightwood

Jason Vincent announced his departure from Nightwood after we made our visit to confirm that yes, Nightwood still has a great brunch. But with sous chef Shae Daher, who has been at Nightwood since it opened, now running the show, we’re confident the Pilsen spot will continue to excel in the a.m. hours with regularly changing dishes like a cacao nib coffee cake, lightly sweet and crunchy;  a killer bagel sandwich; and a simple plate of Slagel Farm eggs, tots and toast, which serves as a reminder that not all brunch dishes have to be over the top.—AC

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Pilsen
Photograph: Erica Gannett
16/20

Owen & Engine

Critics' pick

The British pub goes traditional for brunch, with an English breakfast that’s a paragon of the form: There’s a fried egg, brown bread to dip in the yolk and pile with beans, a trio of meats, including a terrific blood sausage, and a grilled tomato. But there’s also a delicious salt beef hash with a crispy duck egg, crumpets with butter and jam, and stout coffee. Who knew the Brits had such a handle on brunch?—AC

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Logan Square
Photograph: Martha Williams
17/20

Perennial Virant

The brunch menu at Perennial Virant changes all the time, so while you won’t always know what you’ll find, there will always be a doughnut, like a recent version with carrot jam and cream cheese vanilla glaze, and an excellent Bloody Mary garnished with an elk, pickle and cheese stick. A hearty plate of corned beef hash with poached eggs came with tangy creamed pickled beets, a surprising brunch side that made me willing to try anything Paul Virant puts out in the morning.—AC

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18/20

The Publican

The Publican’s menu is filled with outstanding examples of classic dishes. There’s an omelette, wrapped around smoked sablefish and served with a huge dollop of crème fraiche and a pile of salty fish roe; thick, maple-syrup braised bacon; and a wedge of cinnamon streusel coffee cake. Then there are more inventive dishes, like a blood sausage link split over kimchi fried rice and crowned with a fried egg. The house Bloody Mary, packed with pickles, comes with a choice of beer back, and we also love the $5 Brunch Box, made with Montenegro, beer and grapefruit juice and sized so you can have two. Throw in the Publican’s classic sides, like frites and pork rinds, and we wish we could brunch here every weekend.—AC

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West Loop
19/20

Southport Grocery and Café

Critics' pick

The hybrid restaurant/grocery appeals to both kids and parents alike. For kids, there are small orders of bread pudding or cupcake batter pancakes, while adults should beeline straight for the Southern omelette, filled with zesty pimento cheese from Publican Quality Meats, red onions and housemade sausage. It comes with a side of red mashed potatoes and a jam-filled biscuit. For more lunch-geared brunchers, the Cuban sandwich is a fine representation, while the great local beer selection and simple cocktails ($6–$8), will squash any remnants of a hangover.—AC

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20/20

Table Fifty-Two

Art Smith’s warm little Southern spot isn’t where we expected to try our first cronut, but the warm strawberry and lemon curd–filled pastry made us believers. The rest of the menu is more traditional, with salty-sweet fried chicken and waffles served with warm maple syrup, fluffy biscuits with spicy gravy, and shrimp with perfectly creamy grits. It’s the most expensive brunch on our list, but if you need a special occasion brunch, this is it.—AC

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Gold Coast

Comments

1 comments
Rakhael R
Rakhael R

One of the best and most unique brunch in Chicago is at Yoshi's Cafe.