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Photograph: Melissa Hom

The 23 best waterfront dining spots in Chicago

Chicago’s best waterfront restaurants offer epic sights and great eats

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Written by
Morgan Olsen
&
Emma Krupp
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Picnicking on the shores of Chicago beaches is always nice, but for an elevated (and mostly sand-free) experience, opt for a meal at one of the many waterfront restaurants dotting the shores of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Whether you want to watch waves lapping along the lake's golden sand or gaze at skyscrapers rising above the river, you'll find Chicago is full of patios and outdoor restaurants that take advantage of all that waterfront property, with summery drinks and food on offer. Prefer to stay out of the sun? Many of these locations offer covered deck areas and indoor dining rooms so you can soak in views sans sunscreen. Kick back, relax and watch the boats go by at the best waterfront dining spots in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: The best rooftop bars in Chicago

Great waterfront dining in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • River North

It might not be the Cinque Terre, but Pizzeria Portofino's airy patio, decked out with white wicker couches and plenty of sunlight, does its best to bring the Italian coast to the riverfront. Order one of the restaurant's hand-stretched pizzas and an Aperol-spiked cocktail to complete the effect.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • River North

Head directly above Pizzeria Portofino to check out RPM Seafood, a luxe double-decker seafood eatery that debuted last year as the latest concept in the RPM restaurant family. The restaurant's elegant terraces are the perfect spot to devour seafood towers and platters of oysters while looking out at the river.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Loop
  • price 2 of 4

We consider this Loop rooftop one of Chicago's most underrated summertime secrets. Situated just three stories above street level, it might not seem like this hotel bar has much to offer on the view front. So wrong: Guests can spot the Wrigley Building, Marina City, the Tribune Tower and Trump Tower. Gaze longingly at the river while you down steak frites, potato taquitos and cheesecake push-pops.

  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

Soak in riverfront and skyline views from three different levels at this West Loop steakhouse, which serves house-made pastas, high-quality cuts of meat and other Italian delicacies. The second and third floors of the restaurant feature tables spread across on spacious patios, while the fourth rooftop is available for private events (in case you've been looking to plan a waterfront soiree in the near future). 

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  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • River North
  • price 3 of 4

Bone-in ribeye and marinated skirt steak taste better when served on an open patio next to the Chicago River (having a dry-aging room on-site helps, too). Take your alfresco experience to the next level with the help of the restaurant's expansive wine list, where you're sure to find the perfect Mendoza or Pinot Noir to accompany your steak.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • River North
  • price 3 of 4

True to its name, you can expect a bevy of roasted meat and veggie options on the menu of this riverside American restaurant, which offers pork loin, whole fish, sweet onion and more, all carved up tableside. Snag a reservation on its scenic patio area and enjoy dinner or a weekend brunch.

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  • Restaurants
  • Steakhouse
  • River North
  • price 3 of 4

This steakhouse chain's Marina City digs—a Chicago River fixture since 1998—sports all the classics, from prime-aged meat cuts to creamed spinach and truffled mac and cheese. Head to the restaurant's covered patio area for peak river views, or grab a table near the interior's floor-to-ceiling windows.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Loop
  • price 2 of 4

Trying to keep out of the sun when you dine riverside? The contemporary American restaurant Rivers, located on the lobby level of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange building facing the Chicago River, features a large patio with a hanging roof ideal for those aiming to avoid freckling while they munch on grilled salmon salads and burgers.

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • Loop
  • price 2 of 4

Craft beer aficionados will appreciate the serviceable array of brews on tap—featuring local favorites like Half Acre's Daisy Cutter and Revolution Brewing's Anti-Hero—plus the even longer list of cans and bottles available for sipping as you watch water traffic float by on the Chicago River.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 3 of 4

It's best to get a window seat in this tucked-away fine dining restaurant in Lincoln Park, located a few steps from the water and boasting a stellar view of the city. North Pond offers upscale seafood and has an extensive wine list to sample, too.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Streeterville

Located at the tail end of Navy Pier, Offshore is the Guiness Book of World Records-certified largest rooftop bar in the world. That's all well and good, but we're most impressed by its panoramic views of Lake Michigan, perfect for watching boats over dinner and a craft cocktail.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Edgewater
  • price 1 of 4

The lakefront patio of the Waterfront Cafe, a seasonal favorite in Edgewater, feels like it would be equally at home in a small beach town. Snack on nautically-inclined menu items like lobster, brown butter crab or Cajun shrimp rolls and polish off your meal with a mix-and-match bucket of beer.

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  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • River West/West Town

Seafood reigns supreme at this Latin-inspired restaurant near Goose Island, which features an open-air rooftop (called Cielo) overlooking the Chicago River. Get fancy with a seafood tower—stacked high with Alaskan king crab leg, lobster, jumbo shrimp and oysters—or the restaurant's “shot tree,” which arranges 12 artfully mixed shooters into a tree-shaped tower of liquor. Meanwhile, you can look to smaller handheld entrees like tortas, tacos and burgers for more budget-friendly options. 

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Avondale

You won't find food on the menu at this Avondale brewery's riverside patio and dining room space, but guests are welcome to order from nearby restaurants—Kuma's Corner and Dmen Tap are just a couple options—to accompany Metropolitan's German-style lagers.

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The Dock at Montrose Beach
  • Things to do
  • Uptown

This casual beachside restaurant serves easy, no-fuss food like guacamole, cheese curds, quesadillas, tacos and sandwiches. But you're really here for the sand, sun, live music and cold drinks (which are surprisingly affordable given the lakefront real estate). 

  • Restaurants
  • Lincoln Park

The Shore Club at North Avenue Beach features three hangout spaces: the Patio, an open-air lounge with lunch and dinner service; the Restaurant, which offers an “elevated food menu”; and the Oasis, where guests can grab a daybed or cabana. It's not exactly for beach bums: shoes and shirts are required at all times.

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  • Restaurants
  • Douglas

After a long day in the sun at 31st Street Beach, head over the the bustling deck at Pier 31 Restaurant—open every day from lunchtime onward—for dinner, drinks and live music performances. The waterfront views are the real star here, of course, but the deck also boasts impressive glimpses of the skyline. 

  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Streeterville
  • price 1 of 4

This Oak Street Beach restaurant’s motto says it all: “Sustenance on the sand.” The seasonal destination has a surprisingly robust menu with options like fried calamari, coconut shrimp, a cheeseburger, fish tacos and chocolate molten lava cake—everything you need to soak up a few margaritas in the sun.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

No matter the season, this sweet riverfront restaurant offers unparalleled views of the city. Come summer, a narrow patio along the water gives guests an eyeful of the Riverwalk and the surrounding skyscrapers. When fall rolls around, head inside and nab a seat near the massive industrial windows looking out over the water. The restaurant offers brunch, lunch and dinner; expect American fare and delicate cocktails.

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