Chicago's best restaurants come in many shapes and sizes, from the highest-end fine dining to cheap but delicious subs. Picking the best restaurants was hard, but we came up with a list of our most essential restaurants in the city—the ones you should prioritize to get a taste of what exactly the Chicago dining scene is about.
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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 entry. Guests get to play a guessing game in between each course, wondering what might come next and how it might be arranged. The first dish, simply named “ice,” comes out as a wobbly ball of, you guessed it, ice, which you have to balance while you spoon out spot prawn, banana and coconut as it freezes to your ice ball-slash-bowl. The meal wouldn’t be complete without one of Achatz’s signature helium taffy balloons, which fill the dining room with high-pitched laughter from each party as they suck down the sticky and sweet dessert.
This Logan Square staple is perpetually busy. It doesn't matter if it's brunch, dinner or post-dinner drinks, Longman & Eagle is packed. And for good reason. Partner Jared Wentworth and chef Matt Kerney are constantly creating dishes that are seasonal, delicious and gorgeous. Beyond that, they're out of the box, with interesting cuts of meat (recent menu items have included pig's head, beef tripe and veal brains), with strong flavors tempered by vegetables, eggs and the like for a well-rounded dish. The food isn't the only reason people are lining up for this place—the bar is gorgeous and whiskey-focused, and with many clocking in at only $3 for a shot, it's hard to go wrong. The cocktail list boasts sections for whiskey cocktails, classic whiskey cocktails, other house cocktails and a selection of greatest hits—ensuring that there's a drink for everyone. If you haven't found a spot at the bar among the flannel shirts and beards around you, head through the restaurant out back to the OSB (off-site bar), where you'll find a smaller menu with snacks and cocktails. In the morning, you can wait for your brunch table at the OSB with pours of coffee and tea and house-made donuts in the bright space.
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: Everyone else who has stopped into Calumet Fisheries will be sitting outside in their cars with their picks of fish too. 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 and you'll be happy. 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.
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.
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. The important part here is that it's massive and delicious, filled not only with immense flavor, but packed to the brim with history and stories. Fat Rice says it's the celebratory dish of Macau, and that's what it feels like: a celebration in a family-style dish. The rest of the menu is worth trying too, which means you'll just have to come back a second time.
Tall ceilings and long communal tables dominate the space at the Publican, giving it the feel of a big beer hall. Cosmo Goss heads up the ship at the venture from One Off Hospitality (Avec, Blackbird, Nico Osteria). 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. Whatever you pick, you've found the spot for the ultimate in Chicago's meat and potatoes—no, you won't find many steaks here, but you will find quality cuts cooked well, which are our favorite kinds of meat and potatoes.
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 garnished several 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.
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.
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.
Chicago’s resident royal pie baker has made some big changes this past year—condensing both the Chicago location and Three Oaks, Michigan location into the former Nightwood spot to turn it into an all-day pub. But the new space is lovely. It’s open all day, meaning you’ll find people hunched over tables with computers by their pastries, and couples on coffee dates chatting over snacks. In the evenings, the menu switches to a full-service dinner. Start with the pickles, a tiny jar filled with tangy pickled beets, carrots and gherkins, then pick any pie for dinner with a side of the salty, crunchy bubble and squeak, a traditional English dish with fried veggies—you can’t go wrong with the savory steak and ale pie and the creamy, veggie-friendly kale and mushroom number. End your meal with the seasonal fruit trifle, adorable with sweet and boozy cake topped with tufts of whipped cream and layered with fruit and custard.