When we’re looking for a truly romantic dining experience in Chicago, we tend to seek out cozy spots that are quiet and just dark enough to make us feel like we’re the only ones there. Flickering candles and shareable plates don’t hurt, either. Over the years, we’ve kept track of the restaurants that really set the mood—from a hidden sushi haven to a fancy French steakhouse to an old-school fondue spot. As an added bonus, most offer excellent wine selections and cocktail menus. These 10 eateries are excellent choices for Valentine’s Day, an anniversary dinner or any old Friday night.
The most romantic restaurants in Chicago
When the name of the restaurant translates to “love,” you can expect plenty of romantic feels. So is the case at Elske, a fine-dining destination from husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey. Fit and priced for an anniversary dinner or special occasion, this West Loop restaurant is lovey-dovey in a sophisticated way. The intimate dining room is filled with handsome wood tables, soft curtains and candlelight. The delicate, thoughtful dishes on the $85 tasting menu speak a love language of their own.
Transport yourself to Paris at this dainty West Loop hideout, where champagne flows like water and the pommes frites are always fresh. If it’s a warm summer night, grab seats on the string-light–adorned patio and order a glass of sparkling rosé to cool down. Winter diners won’t be disappointed with the sweet indoor parlor, which is dark, buzzy and decked out in candles. Pro tip: Plan a budget-friendly date night on Tuesday, when oysters are $1 each from 5 to 8pm.
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 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.
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.
Whether you’re booking a special birthday dinner for your partner or searching for ways to upgrade an otherwise-ordinary date night, Parachute is an excellent bet. The Korean-American restaurant serves adventurous bites that will keep conversation alive long after your last glass of wine. Husband-and-wife owners Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim offer an array of shareable dishes like grilled swordfish, raw scallops with Asian pear and the famous baked potato bing bread. Add this intimate spot to your fancy-night-out rotation—you won’t regret it.
Romance isn’t all French fare and fondue. When done right, sushi is a passionate affair, and no one does raw fish better than Naoki. Savor fatty bluefin tuna, sea urchin and yellowtail while sipping sake-centric cocktails at this Lincoln Park restaurant. And because it’s located through a secret passageway inside the Belden-Stratford apartments, you’ll feel like you’re on a secret mission with your sweetheart.
You could plan ahead and grab a reservation at this stylish Bucktown restaurant, but we’re big fans of walking in and taking our chances at the bar (hello, impromptu date night!). It’s here that dinner is served with a show as the talented, bottle-wielding bartenders stir, mix, shake and pour some of the finest cocktails in Chicago. Cozy up to your date and share tasty bites like meatballs with sweet chili glaze, polenta topped with blistered tomatoes and tender hanger steak with red wine shallot butter.
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.