When we're looking for a romantic restaurant in Chicago, we like to find the cozy spots that are quiet and just dark enough to make us feel like we're the only ones there. As far as food goes—we're all over the place. From a fancy French restaurant or a casual cocktail and pizza date, these are our picks for the most romantic Chicago restaurants.
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The most romantic restaurants in Chicago
Between the warmth of the room and the compelling simplicity of Chris Pandel’s food, there is something especially comfortable about Balena, the first collaboration between the Bristol and the BOKA Restaurant Group. Pro-tip for all daters: Grab a post-theater crowd reservation. Then, settle in with a few amaro cocktails or a glass of wine, share a pizza (we’re all about the mortadella), don’t miss the chicken liver mousse, and wrap things up with tiramisu (a light and sophisticated take on the staple). Finally, fall asleep on a banquette. With any luck, nobody will wake you up.
Mindy Segal rehabbed her Bucktown restaurant in 2012, making it sunnier and adding a huge garage door that opens to let in warm weather. Segal is first and foremost a pastry chef, recently starting her own line of THC-infused edibles and leading up pastries at the downtown Revival Food Hall. Amanda Barnes heads up the savory kitchen, bringing dishes like gulf shrimp linguine with gremolata butter and roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes to the menu.
This dimly lit fondue spot is a reliably romantic date destination. The four-course Prince Geja Combination, while pricey, allows couples a chance to get cozy while experimenting with various dips. A salad starter is followed by the cheese fondue appetizer with bread, grapes and apples. Then, beef tenderloin, chicken breast, lobster tail, jumbo shrimp and sea scallops are brought out to be cooked in the tableside hot oil pot. Be sure to save room for the flaming chocolate fondue dessert.
Ask for a window seat, if possible. The restaurant—just steps from a pond in Lincoln Park—makes you feel close to nature and far from the hustle and bustle of the city, so it's perfect for a date. Chef Bruce Sherman’s latest creations are concocted with as much locally grown organic food as he can get his hands on. Sherman’s ever-changing offerings have included Gulf Shrimp and Manila Clam with black olive capellini, snap peas, and carrot-shrimp broth topped with pecorino and crumbs, and Alaskan Halibut served with red and white quinoa, cucumbers, bing cherries, mint and cucumber broth—all delicious and just the things you may need to help you and your sweetheart forget if it's chilly outside.
This Spanish spot has just solved all your first date worries—the romantic and warm little restaurant and market has your night planned. Hot and cold tapas at truly affordable prices are a perfect way to start. We like the tortilla Española, a traditional Spanish cold egg omelet (although it’s more like a piece of pie) with potato and onion, and the carne al toro, a beef stew served over crispy French fries. An assortment of meats and cheeses are available, and bigger plates like sandwiches and shareable toasts move you through your meal. Grab classic Spanish cocktails like a tinto de verano, a mixture of red wine and soda, or the bright rebujito, made with sherry and soda. After that, enjoy the charm Spanish Square has to offer by wandering the back wall and the wine alcove. Pick up some cheeses and a bottle of wine to continue the night from the comfort of your home.
After more than 30 years in business, this is still one of the most regal restaurants in town. Owner Mary Beth Liccioni keeps the grounds (a townhouse built in 1895) decked out like something out of Dynasty, with lush fabrics, ornate carpeting, giant arrangements of flowers. But the ever-changing French-American menu, featuring items such as braised wagyu short rib and roasted duck breast, keeps the food current (if still pretty rich). Guys, make sure you’re wearing a jacket—this is one place where rules mean something.
When you walk into Café Marie-Jeanne, you're greeted by a spread of candlelit two tops. The all-day Parisian-influenced café definitely gives off the romantic French vibe, making it easy to grab a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and charcuterie to catch up over. Plus, you're surrounded by other restaurants and bars to keep the night going after this date starting point.
Brendan Sodikoff's vaguely French steakhouse is a departure—or perhaps an evolution—for the restaurateur. While his other spots (Gilt Bar, Au Cheval) have their charms, the appeal of this spot—decked out with jazz-era decor and music—is practically universal. Diners need not be huge steak fans to get a good meal; in fact, as good as the steak frites is, both the fried and roasted chicken are even better. Elegant cocktails begin meals here; fabulous pies (lemon meringue, chocolate cream) end them.
Don't let the bar layout of this restaurant dissuade you—your server will come out with a white tablecloth and set your table for dinner. Indulge by starting with zucchini fritti, fried and crunchy with a spicy sauce. For your entree, pick the lamb chops, tender and well-seasoned on top of garlicky mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. Maybe a bit less traditional for romantic restaurants, this spot will have your ’90s R&B jams coming through the speakers to set the mood.
Cocktailers hit Maude’s around midnight, but we make a point to get there earlier, when the kitchen is still open. That way we can nosh on butter-smooth chicken-liver mousse slathered on toast with shallot marmalade, smoky slabs of pork belly fanned over a pitch-perfect salad Lyonnaise and roasted chicken paillard. At dessert, only crème brûlée or fancy chocolate squares are offered, a display of brass that would be maddening—if only this hot spot wasn’t so dead-on. Be sure to sit upstairs, where it's dark and perfect for cozy dates and private conversations.