Best restaurants in Chicago
Springing from the mind of chef Grant Achatz, fine dining institution Alinea has been the recipient of numerous awards and is regularly named the best restaurant in Chicago (and the United States, for that matter), bringing culinary expertise and flawless service to each and every meal. At Alinea, food comes and goes effortlessly, wine glasses filled and replaced throughout the meal, with the sheer beauty of excellent service extending all the way down to your entrance. Guests get to play a guessing game in between each course, though you'll likely get one of Achatz’s signature helium taffy balloons, which fill the dining room with high-pitched laughter.
Chicago is home to oodles of fine dining experiences—from big names like Alinea to newcomers Smyth and Elske. But no foodie's checklist is complete without Oriole, a West Loop restaurant from Noah Sandoval. The $195 15-course menu (with a few additional treats tossed in) is filled with clever, beautiful, indulgent bites that allow guests to be swept up in the experience. If we may offer just one piece of advice, it's this: Don't peek at the menu before visiting; allow each plate to be a surprise, as the kitchen intended.
If you need a break from the traditional (read: hoity-toity) fine dining experience, book a seat at Roister in the West Loop. There are no white tablecloths, the music is loud and you can totally get away with wearing jeans. Brunch and lunch are available, but you'll want to go for dinner, when you can fully appreciate the open-hearth kitchen and everything it has to offer. The whole chicken is a must for first-time visitors and includes perfectly braised, poached and fried poultry. Toss in an order of aged cheddar rillettes, hushpuppies and Yukon fries, and you'll see what all the hype is about.
There's something inexplicably special about this humble Logan Square spot. Ideal for both special occasions and low-key Sunday brunch, Lula is a neighborhood institution that's been around since 1999. It's easy to see why as soon as you scan the menu. For brunch, coconut brioche French toast topped with banana pastry cream and kaffir lime; for dinner, white sweet potato soup with black walnuts, white soy, cardamom and pink lady apples. Lula has been doing the whole farm-to-table thing long before it was a thing.
Be forewarned: A trip to Proxi will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. It’s not that the menu is lacking; on the contrary, it’s rife with so many tough decisions that you’ll have to book a second visit to try it all. Tempura elotes or roasted baby potato carbonara? Baby octopus or raw tuna? BBQ lamb ribs or Wagyu sirloin? It’s not for the indecisive, but Proxi is one of the best new restaurants we visited in 2017. The food is remarkable, yes, but the service and attention to detail are a step above all other newcomers, making it a must-try addition to Chicago's growing roster of fantastic restaurants.
There are a few things you should know before visiting Avec. First and foremost: Prepare to give up any notion of personal space upon entering. The cozy, always-packed, Mediterranean-skewing West Loop restaurant offers communal seating and shared plates (fear not—you don't have to share with your neighbors). Whether it's your first visit or your 15th, you must order menu mainstays chorizo-stuffed medjool dates and the "deluxe" focaccia with taleggio cheese, airy ricotta, truffle oil and fresh herbs. From there, dabble in a little something from every section of the menu to cut back on FOMO feels.
Chefs/owners Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim opened Parachute in 2014 and it quickly became a Chicago staple. Nestled in Avondale, Parachute's Korean-American menu has attracted a handful of accolades, all deserved. The offerings change regularly, with the exception of the baked potato bing bread (which you should absolutely get). We're fans of the rotating bibimbap, but really you'll be pleased with all of your choices. Your server will help you out in picking out dishes; just grab a glass of wine or a cocktail and relax in this single long room at the wraparound bar or one of its surrounding tables.
At Monteverde, Top Chef alum Sarah Grueneberg perfects the art of house-made pasta—among many other things. The West Loop restaurant is delightfully relaxed and immersive, allowing diners at the bar to get a great view of the noodle-making station. Anything that comes from this portion of the restaurant is bound to be delicious, but we're also quite fond of Grueneberg's piattini, or small plates, with favorites like the beautiful burrata e ham and Oma's Green Mountain salad, which is piled high with pea tendrils, avocado and crunchy veggies.
In the Danish language, Elske means "love," an appropriate name for a restaurant from husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey. The couple's travels to Denmark influenced the eatery's clean, simple aesthetic and beautiful minimalistic plating style. Diners can choose the $85 tasting menu (a total steal) or create their own experience with the a la carte menu. We recommend the former, which allows you to sit back and be wowed by seasonal dishes like a sprouted lentil crepe with smoked whitefish salad and frozen fennel candy with mint. While you wait for your Uber to take you home, grab a seat by the fireplace in the protected courtyard and let it all soak in.
In 2017, Giant was named the sixth best restaurant in the U.S. by Bon Appétit magazine. Of course, we didn't need an outsider to tell us how phenomenal this Logan Square spot is, but we're certainly not complaining. Jason Vincent, the chef-owner behind the tiny space, is dishing out bold, flavor-filled eats including fried uni shooters, chili-glazed short ribs and king crab-dotted tagliatelle dripping in chili butter. Oh, and because it's so small, you'll absolutely, positively need a reservation.
Chefs and co-owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo bring killer Macanese dishes to Chicago at Fat Rice—a mesh between Portuguese and Chinese cuisines. That means you'll find curries, noodles, fried rices and potstickers on the menu regularly, but the thing that never comes off the menu is the arroz gordo (yes, the fat rice). It's a shared dish best set for groups of at least four, filled with jasmine rice with sofrito, chorizo and salted duck then topped with curried chicken, pork, prawns, clams, pickled chilies… the list goes on and on. Fat Rice says it's the celebratory dish of Macau, and that's what it feels like: a celebration in a family-style dish.
Plenty of new Mexican restaurants have set up shop in Chicago over the last couple of years, but Mi Tocaya in Logan Square is one to watch. Upon opening the menu, your eyes will go straight to the tacos (and you should order a few of those), but the antojos section is where you'll find chef Diana Dávila’s best work. Guacamole is showered in black ash, the fish con mole verde is bright and beautiful and the peanut butter y lengua is one of the most intriguing dishes we’ve tasted this year. Return at the end of the weekend for Dávila’s Sunday Dinner series, where you can order additional menu items like fried chicken and churros and elote.
So you're new to the whole fine dining thing, eh? Entente in Lakeview is a great place to start. Helmed by owner Ty Fujimura and chef Brian Fisher (Schwa), the restaurant offers a concise menu that seems so simple—wedge, liver, scallop, pekin duck—but each dish is an unbelievably beautiful masterpiece. Take the wedge salad for example: A halo of iceberg lettuce is filled with creamy green goddess dressing and topped with chunks of bacon, tomato puree, gobs of Cambozola cheese and fresh herbs. But perhaps the best thing about this humble restaurant is its laid-back, come-as-you-are atmosphere. That's what keeps us returning for special occasions and ordinary Friday nights alike.
Regional Piedmontese cuisine is Osteria Langhe's focus, and that means ingredients like truffles, cream and eggy pastas appear on the menu. The space is warm and cozy, and you'll want to order a bottle of well-chosen wine for the table before diving into the food. The plin, miniature agnolotti filled with cheese, are beautiful and light; the beef tartare is impeccably seasoned; and the vitello tonnato tops tender slices of beef with a vibrant tuna citrus caper aioli. In case you needed further proof that Osteria Langhe has elevated Chicago's Italian restaurant scene, order the creamy panna cotta to finish the evening.
Two words come to mind when we think about HaiSous in Pilsen: unapologetically authentic. The Vietnamese kitchen from couple Thai and Danielle Dang is nothing short of delightful, and we're willing to bet you haven't had anything like it this year. Unsurprisingly, our favorite section of the menu is called "For Fun," and it includes refreshingly delicious starters like prawn summer rolls, papaya salad studded with Thai beef jerky and octopus with confit eggplant. The Dangs also offer a chef's tasting menu for $44 (add wine pairings for $25), which introduces diners to some of the restaurant's most popular dishes.
Pequod's, at face value, is an unassuming Lincoln Park neighborhood bar—the difference is the pizza. Locals pour in to hang out, drink beers, watch sports and share a pie. Thin-crust and pan pizza are both on the menu, and while we're a fan of both, we really can't get enough of the caramelized crust on the pan pizza. It's Chicago-style pizza we can eat all the time, with a chewy crust that's covered with crispy and burnt cheese—giving it a crunch that's unbeatable. It's laden with a mouthwatering tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese that brings the whole pizza together. Top it with whatever you like, but also add extra cheese and sauce for the full experience.
Tall ceilings and long communal tables dominate the space at the Publican, giving it the feel of a big beer hall. The menu focuses on meat—oysters, pork and beer, to be exact—using high-quality meats and utilizing farmers with sustainable and responsible practices. Much of the menu is rotating and seasonal, but you'll find a few mainstays like the farm chicken, served with sausage and frites. An absolute must is the charcuterie plate, which can switch out but always has a solid mix of choices from pâtés to sausages and head cheese served with pickles and mustard. You won't find many steaks here, but you will find quality cuts cooked well, which are our favorite kinds of meat and potatoes.
Tucked inside the Museum of Contemporary Art, Marisol has us thinking that every major Chicago institution should have a restaurant from Lula Cafe chef Jason Hammel. Until that day comes, you'll find us noshing on super-seasonal bites at this Streeterville hit. Hammel's menu is often dictated by what's popping up at local farmers markets, so expect a constantly changing lineup of insanely fresh produce alongside day-one favorites like chilled octopus and saffron chips.
Break up the monotony of repetitive New American cuisine with a trip to chef Edward Kim's Asian-influenced Mott St. The funky-cool West Town restaurant serves some of the most exciting fare in all of Chicago. Stand-out plates include the Everything Wings, which are glazed with soy and dried chilis and tossed in everything bagel seasoning, as well as the stuffed cabbage—pork butt swaddled in Napa kimchi and accented with sticky rice. We feel confident saying that there's not a single dud on the menu.
If you have but a single afternoon to enjoy Chicago, book it to Revival Food Hall in the Loop for lunch. The 24,000-square-foot marketplace is home to 15 vendors that define Chicago's best neighborhood eats. Choose from pristine fried chicken at The Budlong, Detroit-style pizza at Union Squared, decadent pastries at Hot Chocolate Bakery or bowls of soul-warming ramen at Furious Spoon. There's also a book and record shop as well as a stocked bar with excellent cocktails and wine.
If you're on a mission for stellar barbecue, look no further than Smoque in Irving Park. The crew here doesn't believe in taking shortcuts, meaning each rub, smoke, sauce and cut of meat has gone through a lengthy vetting process. The fruits of this painstaking labor include lip-smacking ribs, smoky brisket and juicy pulled pork. Save room for house-made sides and desserts—we're particularly fond of the BBQ beans and melt-in-your-mouth peach cobbler.
Carnitas are served by the pound at Carnitas Uruapan (and you'll see plenty of people lining up to get pounds to take home and dress up themselves), but you can also grab tacos to eat at the restaurant. A large handful of carnitas with your choice of the cut is set atop two corn tortillas and served with salsa for just $2.75. Order chicharrones for a crispy side if you have room. Head to the Pilsen stop early, though; the carnitas start to sell out in the afternoon.
Remember the bridge-jumping scene in Blues Brothers? It happened right next to Calumet Fisheries, Chicago's quintessential cash-only take-out counter. The best way to get there is to drive—your car will double as your dining space when you leave with your bounty—and you won't be alone. You'll find smoked fish aplenty (it's the restaurant's specialty) alongside fried fish dinners. Do yourself a favor and come armed with plenty of cash and a car full of hungry friends. Our favorites are the fried shrimp, fried fish and smoked salmon, though we're pretty sure you can't go wrong. And since the small counter's open almost every day of the year (except New Year's, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas), there's never a bad time to try it out.
J.P. Graziano's has been selling meat since 1937, but its killer subs have only been on the menu since 2007. None of the sandwiches will set you back more than $10, but the Italian is our favorite: a bunch of meats—hot capicola, Volpi Genoa salami, hard salami and mortadella—plus provolone, tomato, lettuce, red wine vinegar and oregano on a long roll from D'amato's Bakery. Grab one and a soda and take a seat at the shop—you'll see plenty of regulars grabbing their lunch favorites and newcomers just learning about the staple that this sub shop is.
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