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Best fine dining restaurants in Chicago

Head to these fine dining restaurants when you want to celebrate a special occasion or splurge on a fancy dinner

Photograph: Martha Williams
42 Grams is one of the best fine dining restaurants in Chicago.

When it comes to fine dining in Chicago, don't expect a stuffy or pretentious experience. Many of Chicago's top chefs, like Grant Achatz or Iliana Regan, prefer whimsical and experimental dishes over traditional fine-dining fare. Candy balloons? Sure, why not? Some are even BYOB restaurants or have great bar food, which lessens the sticker shock a bit. But some also require jackets for guys, so make sure you check the dress code before you head out. Whether you're planning to mark a special occasion with a delicious meal or just have a lot of cash to burn, you can't go wrong at one of these great upscale restaurants in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best Chicago restaurants

Best fine dining in Chicago

42 Grams

The tiny Uptown restaurant has made an immediate mark on Chicago's dining scene. It's BYOB, and there are only 18 seats, so it has the intimate feel of a dinner party. Just, you know, one where your hosts, chef Jake Bickelhaupt and GM Alexa Welsh, have earned two Michelin stars their first year in business.

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Uptown

Acadia

Chef-owner Ryan McCaskey’s South Loop fine dining respite is a study in rich whites, a rare exercise in the restaurant as a space of tranquility and elegance. Flashes of inspiration light up the menu—shrimp paired with cuttlefish noodles and cauliflower, a charcuterie plate starring gently smoky “duck ham”—but the overall focus is on food that is rich and satisfying rather than revolutionary. If a dish fails (and overly complex desserts might), the ambitious drinks and interesting wine list provide plenty of solace.

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South Loop

Alinea

Gourmet magazine anointed Alinea the No. 1 restaurant in the country. What’s all the fuss? Chef/mastermind Grant Achatz serves food the likes of which you’ve never seen. Sit back and enjoy the show, a well-orchestrated ride that plays with textures, temperatures and notions of “normal” cuisine, while somehow remaining grounded in season, flavor and flawless execution. Past menu stunners have included squab with peppercorn custard, sorrel and strawberries; and cocoa-coated watermelon with cubed Kobe beef. But you never know what dish will steal the show when you’re in the audience.

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Lincoln Park

Blackbird

This iconic West Loop kitchen is still one of Chicago’s best. The beautiful, seasonal plates are full of surprising elements—chilled spring pea and tofu soup with paddlefish roe; wood-grilled sturgeon and chicken wings with kale, turnips, and walnut puree—which makes for exciting and, sometimes, challenging eating. Pastry chef Dana Cree aims to “work with really familiar stuff in an unfamiliar way," such as her inventive rotating cheese plates, which are a must-order.

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West Loop

Elizabeth

Forager and self-trained chef Iliana Regan serves "new gatherer" cuisine at her tiny Lincoln Square storefront. Dishes may include thin slices of bear, placed atop a rice crisp and served on a rock; foie gras shaped like owls; or a fried hunk of mushroom with garlic aioli. You won't find food like this at any other fine dining spot on our list.

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Lincoln Square

Goosefoot

Chicago has a few small, far- from- downtown places where chefs have carved out personal enclaves for high-level fine dining. But perhaps none were born with the maturity and finesse of this 34-seat, off-the-beaten-Lincoln-Square-path BYOB from husband-and-wife Chris and Nina Nugent. Chris, a veteran of Les Nomades, brings precision to every dish on the nine-course, $135 tasting menu. The food is technically flawless, while Nina’s front-of-the-house charm brings the personality.

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Lincoln Square

Grace

Curtis Duffy is no stranger to fine dining, and this lush eatery (which Duffy owns with sommelier Michael Muser) traffics in a lot of upscale tropes: textured fabrics, a hushed room and long, multicourse tasting menus. Yet Grace makes a few subtle tweaks to the fine-dining formula. However fussy the food may be, it is plated to appear as if it came from nature. And though much of it leans sweet,it’s ultimately balanced and clean. Still, perhaps the biggest achievement is that even with three dessert courses (by pastry chef-to-watch Bobby Schaffer), you don’t feel stuffed when you walk out of here. You simply feel satisfied.

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West Loop

Naha

Chef Carrie Nahabedian delivers an upscale experience minus the pomp, courtesy of a snazzy room and a seasonal menu that reads like a who’s who in regional, sustainable foods. The menu changes weekly, so expect anything from seasonal veggies—French wild asparagus, spring peas and sugar-snap peas—accompanying a wild Yukon River Alaskan salmon to Spanish-inspired bread pudding with saffron ice cream, candied orange peel, crème fraîche and bacon. (Didn’t you know? Bacon for dessert is the new black.)

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River North

Next

To dine at Grant Achatz’s follow-up to Alinea is a rare—and rarefied—opportunity to submit oneself to a very specific vision of what great dining might look like. That vision changes every three months, from French food to Italian food to modern plates that don’t even look like food. Usually the experience is more lighthearted and lively than Alinea. But it is in no way less delicious.

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West Loop

Schwa

Fewer than 30 diners can fit in this tiny restaurant, and all of them must have made reservations weeks in advance. But as a 2006 Food & Wine best new chef, chef-owner Michael Carlson has a right to call the shots. Let him. You’ll be treated to intriguing creations like pine-flavored peekytoe crabs with marinated royal king mushrooms or sumptuous venison with a white chocolate foam. The menu changes often, but whatever Carlson has up his sleeve, you’re certain to have a meal like nowhere else in town.

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Wicker Park
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Comments

2 comments
Bob
Bob

A lot of those places aren't that impressive. Just expensive.

Janet M
Janet M

@Bob Never been to any of these,  Which would you recommend?