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The 38 best restaurants in Chicago you have to try

There's no shortage of fantastic food in this city, but these Chicago restaurants made our short list of top eats

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Jeong
Photograph: Hahm Visuals Jeong

September 2019: We're turning the EAT List on its head this month, with a complete shakeup of our top 10 favorite restaurants plus a handful of brand-new additions. (We even booted Alinea from the No. 1 spot—gasp!) With this exciting update, we thought long and hard about the restaurants we'd actually send our friends and family to and the places we return to again and again for special occasions.

The best restaurants in Chicago come in all shapes and sizes, from pizza joints and Michelin-starred heavyweights to some of the best cheap eats Chicago has to offer. The cuisines are just as varied, with every corner of the world represented through Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian, Macanese and Indian fare. Whether you're a lifelong resident or simply visiting for the weekend, consider stuffing your face one of the best things to do in Chicago. This belt-busting food scene shows no signs of slowing down, so we cut to the chase and ranked our essentials—the absolute best restaurants in Chicago. We call it the Time Out EAT List.

Our experts scour the city for great dishes, excellent value and insider info. They pay their way and sometimes, like the rest of us, they get the worst seat in the house. The EAT List is a unique, authentic snapshot of Chicago's ever-evolving dining experience right now: We update it constantly with the best new restaurants in Chicago as well as decades-old stalwarts that keep us coming back for more. It could be a mega-hyped destination restaurant or a remarkable food truck: If it’s on the list, we think it’s terrific, and we bet you will too.

We should also note that a number of the best chefs, restaurants and concepts in the city have been welcomed into the Time Out Market Chicago. Because that is the highest honor we can award, and we now have a tighter relationship with them, establishments related to market vendors have all been included in the EAT List but not ranked alongside other great establishments in the city. You can find those amazing places here.

If you've tried something you love on this list, share it under the hashtag #TimeOutEatList to show your appreciation. Plus, find out more about how we eat through Chicago to make the list.

The best of the city under one roof

Time Out Market Chicago Atmosphere
Jack Li
Restaurants

Time Out Market Chicago

icon-location-pin West Loop

For months now, we've been quietly rounding up the best chefs in the city to join us at Time Out Market Chicago, a culinary and cultural destination opening on November 21 in the heart of Fulton Market. The 50,000-square-foot space houses 18 kitchens, three bars and one drop-dead gorgeous rooftop terrace—all spread across three floors. Our mission is simple: Bring the pages of Time Out Chicago to life with the help of our favorite chefs, the ones who wow us again and again. (You can read more about our delicious curation process here.) Stay tuned for more details on Time Out Market Chicago, opening soon in the West Loop.

Best restaurants in Chicago

1
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Oriole

icon-location-pin West Loop

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 chef Noah Sandoval. The $215 multi-course menu 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.

2
Avec
Restaurants, Mediterranean

avec

icon-location-pin West Loop

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.

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3
Photograph: Ally Straussner
Restaurants, American creative

Boka

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

In its 15-plus years on Halsted Street, Boka has racked up a trophy case worth of awards, including one long-standing Michelin star and a handful of Jean Banchet Awards. But we prefer to let chef-partner Lee Wolen’s impeccable techniques—on everything from chilled beef tartare and grilled octopus to ricotta dumplings—do the talking.

4
Restaurants, American creative

Giant

icon-location-pin Logan Square

Whenever someone tells us that they have more than a month lead time to book a special-occasion dinner, we point them to Giant, a teeny-tiny mammoth of a restaurant located in Logan Square. The small dining room books up fast—and for good reason. Chef-owner Jason Vincent is dishing out bold, flavor-filled eats including fried uni shooters, chili-glazed short ribs and king crab-dotted tagliatelle dripping in chili butter.

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5
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Alinea

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

Chef Grant Achatz’s three-Michelin-starred institution is a total sensory experience. In 2016, the Lincoln Park stalwart underwent a massive renovation, swapping its dark, sexy interior for an airy, timeless space. Though Alinea’s tasting menus will set you back $205 to $395 a person, every course is a theatrical masterpiece delivered with flawless service: Prepare for lots of dry ice, exotic fruits and playful servingware. End the evening with one of Achatz’s signature helium taffy balloons, which fill the dining room with smiles and high-pitched laughter.

6
Restaurants, Mexican

Mi Tocaya Antojería

icon-location-pin Logan Square

Plenty of new-wave Mexican restaurants have set up shop in Chicago over the past couple of years, but Mi Tocaya in Logan Square is the one to watch. Upon opening the menu at this buzzy, modern eatery, 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, like the timeless fish con mole and the lobster-studded esquites.

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7
Birria taco at Birrieria Zaragoza
Photograph: Brendan Lekan
Restaurants, Mexican

Birrieria Zaragoza

icon-location-pin Archer Heights

Thick handmade tortillas, salsas made to order, bright-pink agua fresca. You can get all of that here. Their only purpose, however, is to accompany this restaurant’s signature platters of chopped goat meat. As opposed to other birrierias, this goat doesn’t touch a consommé until it’s plated, when some of the tomato-based broth is spooned over it. At that point, a good dousing of the restaurant’s intricate hot sauce, and maybe a squeeze of lime and some onions, is all you need for the city’s best goat tacos.

8
Restaurants, Soul and southern American

Virtue

icon-location-pin Hyde Park

You can practically feel the soul oozing out of chef/owner Erick Williams's menu at Virtue in Hyde Park. The food here is inspired by the Southern experience of cooking and spotlights heritage recipes like gumbo, fried green tomatoes (some of the best we’ve ever had), shrimp and grits, blackened catfish and banana pudding that's loaded with Nilla wafers. As an added bonus, the wine list is priced to order a second glass, with pours of sauvignon blanc, albarino and malbec priced well under $10. In other words: an ideal place to while away an evening with friends.

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9
Jeong
Photograph: Hahm Visuals
Restaurants, Korean

Jeong

icon-location-pin River West/West Town

You may already know chef Dave Park and his partner Jennifer Tran from Hanbun, their now-defunct Korean food stall in a suburban strip mall that also served after-hours tasting menus. At the roomier, full-service Jeong (pronounced “chung”) Tran oversees front of house as GM while Park helms the focused tasting (seven courses for $87) and a la carte menus, suffusing childhood taste memories with joyful modernity, like the nostalgic tteokbokki and pork mandu swimming in refreshing cucumber sauce. Pro tip: The salmon tartare lives on the tasting menu, but you can (and must) order it a la carte.

10
Cellar Door Provisions
Photograph: Cellar Door Provisions
Restaurants, American

Cellar Door Provisions

icon-location-pin Logan Square

If we could sum up the experience at Cellar Door Provisions in just one word, it would be "precious." That's not to say the tiny Logan Square cafe is contrived. Rather, every dish is crafted with an extraordinary level of care and attention. The menu changes as often as the weather and showcases seasonal ingredients like black garlic, sunchoke, turnip and squash. Do yourself a favor and grab a pastry on your way out—the cannele and kouign amann are unparalleled.

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11
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Eclectic

Lula Cafe

icon-location-pin Logan Square

There's something inexplicably special about this humble Logan Square spot. Ideal for both special celebrations 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.

12
Roister
Photograph: Matthew Gilson
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Roister

icon-location-pin West Loop

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 and hamachi crudo, and you'll see what all the hype is about.

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13
Boudin noir at Parachute.
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, Korean

Parachute

icon-location-pin Avondale

Nestled in Avondale, Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim’s Korean-American restaurant has become a fast favorite since opening in 2014. If you can, grab a seat at the kitchen counter: You’ll get up close and personal with funky dishes like soft-shell crabs in a black-bean sauce sprinkled with cucumbers. The offerings change regularly, with the exception of the baked potato bing bread (which you should absolutely get).

14
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Elske

icon-location-pin West Loop

Meaning love in Danish, Elske is an appropriate name for a venture from husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey. Though the relatively affordable tasting menu (priced at $90) is a no-brainer for special occasions, the à la carte menu makes Elske surprisingly accessible for an average weeknight. Piece together a progression of savory plates from David—they're always changing and loaded with farmers-market fresh produce—and save room for Anna's otherworldly desserts. The sunflower seed parfait with sour honey and bee pollen has been on the menu since day one, and it's easy to see why after just one bite.

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15
Kumiko
Photograph: Kailley Lindman
Bars, Cocktail bars

Kumiko

icon-location-pin West Loop

Kumiko is technically a bar—an excellent cocktail den from mix master Julia Momose, to be exact—but that's not stopping us from putting it on our list of the best restaurants in Chicago. Executive chef Noah Sandoval and chef de cuisine Mariya Russell make sure guests are well fed with a menu of delicate Japanese-influenced bites, like pristine king salmon sashimi, steamed bao buns stuffed with tender pork belly and warm oysters glossed with kombu butter and citrus. For a special occasion, book a seat at Kikkō, the exclusive 10-seat omakase counter in the restaurant's basement.

16
Restaurants

Vajra

icon-location-pin River West/West Town

Named for a mythical weapon used by the Hindu God of Thunder, Vajra illuminates the diminutive yet diverse country of Nepal through adaptations of the dishes co-owner Dipesh Kakshapaty grew up eating in bustling Butwal, from tandoori-roasted game to soothing root-veg curries. Executive chef Min Thapa’s lovely renditions of traditional Nepali dishes join a small handful of Indian staples like biryani, vindaalu and naan. Don’t miss the goat momos, tandoori-cooked venison and goat, and paneer-stuffed capsicum.

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17
Restaurants, French

Bar Biscay

icon-location-pin River West/West Town

At times, Chicago's restaurant scene feels like a revolving door of New American concepts. Bar Biscay breaks the cycle with its mashup of Basque and French flavors from chef Johnny Anderes. As impressive as the daring menu is the restaurant's funky interior, which is outfitted with floating tube lights, pastel-toned wire chairs and a technicolored booth that lines the length of the space. Pull up a barstool to sip vermouth and snack on pintxos like squishy manchego gougeres, pristine razor clams in garlic butter and addictive squid croquettes.

18
Restaurants, American creative

Smyth + The Loyalist

icon-location-pin West Loop

John Shields and Karen Urie Shields’s two-for-one special in the West Loop offers three elevated tasting menus upstairs and the city’s best burger (yeah, we said it) in the dark, sultry basement. Talk about a winning combination. Here's your game plan: Hit the Loyalist on any ole Friday night for patties and a cocktail, and save Smyth for a birthday or anniversary.

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19
Tonkatsu ramen at acadia
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Acadia

icon-location-pin Near South Side

Acadia is one of just three Chicago restaurants with two Michelin stars (the others, Oriole and Smyth, are also on this list), an honor that befits chef Ryan McCaskey's heartfelt 10-course menu. The restaurant itself and the food that's expertly ferried from the kitchen pay homage to coastal Maine, where McCaksey spent time as a child and still visits today. Though the dishes change often, guests can expect plenty of crustaceans, fascinating flavor combinations and phenomenal desserts to round out the experience. Can't commit to the pricey tasting menu? Sit at the bar and enjoy upscale snacks for a fraction of the price—it's one of the city's best-kept secrets.

20
Photograph: Jessica Lynn Capron
Restaurants, Cafés

Café Marie-Jeanne

icon-location-pin Humboldt Park

Though it's only been around for a few years, Café Marie-Jeanne has an old soul. We mean that in the best way: The all-day French hideout feels like it's been around for ages, and it's become a fast favorite among industry vets, who flock there for caviar toast in the morning and duck frites when the sun goes down. No matter what time of day it is, the wine list beckons, with pro-approved pours from France, Italy and Spain.

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21
Restaurants, Filipino

Bayan Ko

icon-location-pin Lincoln Square

Melding Filipino and Cuban cuisines under one roof, husband-and-wife team Lawrence Letrero and Raquel Quadreny honor their respective immigrant roots at Bayan Ko in Ravenswood. Fill your table with croqueta tots and lumpia Shanghai, ceviche and luglug noodles, and salted caramel flan and an ube sundae. The flavors play together beautifully and occasionally collide on a single plate, as is the case with the Bayan lechon, with hunks of crisp fried pork belly, garlicky mojo and a tangle of sweet Filipino papaya slaw. Bayan Ko represents soulful second-generation cooking at its finest.

22
blackbird1
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Blackbird

icon-location-pin West Loop

The unshakable Blackbird set down roots in the West Loop before it was the place to be for restaurants. These days, chef Ryan Pfeiffer helms the menu, crafting "elegant and imaginative Midwestern cuisine." Translation: Grilled sturgeon paired with kimchi and mustard greens or country fried veal sweetbreads with artichoke pistou. Wanna feel like a baller on a budget? Go for the best deal in town: a $28 three-course lunch menu.

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23
Restaurants, Global

Proxi

icon-location-pin West Loop

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. Chef Andrew Zimmerman takes diners on a worldwide tour with flavor-packed dishes like Indonesian pork jerky, duck dumplings and tempura elotes. From the bartenders and servers to everyone hustling behind the scenes, the staff has an attention to detail that goes a step above the rest.

24
Monteverde
Photograph: Jason Little
Restaurants, Italian

Monteverde

icon-location-pin West Loop

Top Chef alum Sarah Grueneberg has perfected the art of house-made pasta—among many other things. Her West Loop restaurant is delightfully relaxed and immersive, allowing diners at the bar a great view of the kitchen’s noodle-making station. Anything that comes from this portion of the dining room 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.

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25
0513.rb.at.carnitasUruapan.jpg
Restaurants, Mexican

Carnitas Uruapan

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

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.

26
Daisies
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Daisies

icon-location-pin Logan Square

Nothing turns a shitty day around like a bowl of pasta that's made with love. That's why we head to Joe Frillman’s noodle-centric Logan Square spot when we've been through the ringer. The menu is built around a roster of rotating pasta dishes that change with the season to highlight super-fresh ingredients like rhubarb, stinging nettle and green garlic. Each bite tastes a bit more special when you hear about Frillman Farms, which is owned and operated by Frillman's younger brother, Tim, and provides produce to the kitchen (as well as many other top eateries across the country).

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27
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

S.K.Y.

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

The entire pan-Asian menu at chef/owner Stephen Gillanders’s first solo venture—named for his wife’s initials—reverberates with meticulous skill, humor and heart. Aromatic, nuanced cocktails and craveable desserts make this striking Pilsen newcomer a must. Fan favorites include the buttery cornbread madeleines, luscious Maine lobster dumplings and organic fried chicken with fermented hot sauce and creamed corn.

28
Osteria Langhe
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, Italian

Osteria Langhe

icon-location-pin Logan Square

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.

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KaiZan.venue.jpg
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, Japanese

Kai Zan

icon-location-pin River West/West Town

If you ask any in-the-know Chicago foodie to share their favorite sushi spot, chances are they'll say Kai Zan. Founded by "sushi twins" Melvin and Carlo Vizconde, the West Town restaurant specializes in pristine fish and classic Japanese dishes. First-time visitors should strongly consider splurging on the New Omakase dining experience, in which the Vizconde boys craft a special, individualized menu using non-traditional ingredients.

30
Restaurants

Passerotto

icon-location-pin Andersonville

You know that feeling you get when you discover a great little indie band for the first time and every track sounds like it was written for you? Restaurants can have the same effect, you know. Jennifer Kim’s charming Andersonville eatery is at once breezy and intensely felt, comfy yet dressed up. The Italian-influenced Korean-American cuisine is unique and wholly delicious, and the wine somehow elevates it further.

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31
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Pacific Standard Time

icon-location-pin River North

Mingling California’s bounty with Asian and Mediterranean influences, Erling Wu-Bower’s sprawling River North restaurant is imaginative and intensely likable. Peak produce shines in dishes like shishito peppers with kimchi aioli and super-fresh avocado salad with tamari vinaigrette, and no order is complete without a squishy, wood-fired pizza. Sharing is your best bet with the wide-ranging offerings—and so you can save room for pastry chef Natalie Saben’s inspired desserts.

32
Pequod's serves pan pizza.
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, Pizza

Pequod’s Pizza

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

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.

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33
Photograph: courtesy the Publican
Restaurants, American

The Publican

icon-location-pin West Loop

The tagline for this West Loop mainstay is laughably accurate: “Beer, pork and oysters.” While there’s plenty of those, diners are also treated to a smorgasbord of ballsy food done well: barbecued carrots, fried pig brains and spicy pork rinds. An absolute must is the charcuterie plate, which changes from week to week but always has a solid mix of choices from pâtés to sausages and head cheese served with pickles and mustard.

34
Brown Bag Seafood
Photograph: Neil Burger
Restaurants, Seafood

Brown Bag Seafood Co.

icon-location-pin Loop

Seafood and fast food don't typically go hand in hand, but the folks at Brown Bag are trying to change that. The quick-service restaurant has six locations throughout Chicago—from the Loop to Roscoe Village. Choose from the laundry list of fresh fish and pick your base—we're particularly fond of pairing the crispy cod with the veggie box, which is loaded with tender Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans and kale. The best part? Most meals ring up under $15—a total bargain for fish fiends.

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Smoque.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Donna Rickles
Restaurants, Barbecue

Smoque BBQ

icon-location-pin Irving Park

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.

36
J.P.GrazianoGrocery.Venue.jpg
Photo: Martha Williams
Restaurants, Italian

J.P. Graziano Grocery

icon-location-pin West Loop

J.P. Graziano's has been selling meat since 1937, but its wait-worthy 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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37
Revival Food Hall bar
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Food court

Revival Food Hall

icon-location-pin Loop

We’re cheating a bit by naming Revival one of Chicago’s best, because it’s technically an under-one-roof collection of the city’s finest establishments, where you can sample pristine fried chicken at the Budlong, addictive handhelds from Antique Taco and decadent pastries at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate Bakery. There's also a book and record shop as well as a stocked bar with excellent cocktails and wine.

38
CalumetFisheries1.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Brendan Lekan
Restaurants, Seafood

Calumet Fisheries

icon-location-pin South Deering

Remember the bridge-jumping scene in Blues Brothers? It happened right next to Calumet Fisheries, Chicago’s quintessential cash-only takeout counter. The best way to get there is to drive—your car will double as your table when you leave with your bounty. You’ll find plenty of smoked-fish (the restaurant’s specialty) and fried-fish dinners, but we love to nosh on the crispy shrimp and smoked salmon. And since the small counter’s open every day except New Year’s, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, there’s never a bad time to try it out.

Local chefs, restaurants and concepts we love so much that we welcomed them into Time Out Market

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Bars, Breweries

Band of Bohemia

icon-location-pin Lincoln Square

Armed with the admirable mission to upgrade classic brewpub grub, Alinea vets Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar turned heads when they left the fine-dining powerhouse to open Band of Bohemia, in Ravenswood, in 2015. With their all-star team, the duo serves up mind-blowing beers and flavor-packed dishes, like the signature eggplant naan with creamy Old Bay aioli and punchy sport peppers. But perhaps we’ve buried the lead: Band of Bohemia was the world’s first brewpub to earn a Michelin star, which it has retained since 2016.

Goat Albondigas at Dos Urban Cantina
Photograph: Courtesy Dos Urban Cantina
Restaurants, Mexican

Dos Urban Cantina

icon-location-pin Logan Square

Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart lay claim to the ultimate Chicago love story: They met while working under storied chefs Rick Bayless and Charlie Trotter, respectively. Years later, they opened Dos Urban Cantina in Logan Square, where they use contemporary ingredients and flavors to put their own spin on Mexican staples, like the tamal tots—hunky nuggets of masa served with spicy habanero crema. The only way you can mess up your order here is by skipping Jennifer’s famed chocolate cake, which we’re convinced is laced with loads of cocoa and pure magic.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, American

El Che Bar

icon-location-pin West Loop

Housed in the former Checker Taxi building, El Che Bar is Chef John Manion’s Argentine-American restaurant, a love letter to his time traveling throughout the country. Locally sourced vegetables, grilled meats, and whole seafood are cooked on custom-built grills and chapas in an open hearth. Menu standouts include herbed Parisian gnocchi with mushroom stroganoff, swiss chard, charred rosemary vinaigrette, shaved parmesan and hazelnuts, the spiced quail with jalapeno and coriander salsa verde, saffron cous cous, dried apricots and pomegranate. The beverage program centers on spirits of the Americas and the dessert offerings trades in your average chocolate lava cake for the playful flavors of fire cakes, melting pionono and smoking affogato. 

Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Restaurants, American creative

Entente

icon-location-pin River North

So you’re new to the whole fine-dining thing, eh? This River North spot is a good place to start. Helmed by owner Ty Fujimura and chef Brian Fisher, Entente drops pretension in favor of approachability, offering a curated menu of rotating appetizers and entrées plus food-friendly wines and cocktails. Day-one favorites include the wedge salad—a halo of iceberg lettuce filled with creamy green-goddess dressing and topped with chunks of bacon, tomato puree and gobs of Cambozola cheese—and the Carolina Gold, a warm hug of a dish that’s topped with shaved truffles, pea tendrils, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a duck egg.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Funkenhausen

icon-location-pin River West/West Town

Mark Steuer takes traditional German staples—think bratwurst, spätzle and schnitzel—and remixes them with the dishes he grew up eating in Charleston, South Carolina. For example, a monstrous schnitzel sandwich is glazed with sinus-clearing Nashville hot sauce. Anchoring the kitchen, the chef’s counter offers a multi-course tasting menu that reads like a hit list of his greatest creations, including the signature Big Garlicky Pretzel accompanied by pimento-beer cheese and white Alabama BBQ sauce.

FatRice.venue.jpg
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, South Asian

Fat Rice

icon-location-pin Logan Square

At Fat Rice, James Beard Award-winning chef Abraham Conlon and his business partner Adrienne Lo explore the cuisines of the Potuguese-speaking world, paying special attention to Macau, China. The bumping Logan Square restaurant offers a refreshingly ambitious menu that's loaded with hits, including the namesake arroz gordo, a shared dish best for groups of at least four, filled with jasmine rice, curried chicken, char siu, wood-roasted beef and chilli prawns.

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Restaurants, Vietnamese

HaiSous

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

When we think about HaiSous, in Pilsen, two words come to mind: unapologetically authentic. Thai and Danielle Dang’s Vietnamese kitchen is nothing short of delightful, and we’re willing to bet you haven’t had anything like it in Chicago—or anywhere else. Unsurprisingly, our favorite menu section is called “For Fun,” and it includes refreshingly delicious starters like prawn summer rolls, tender octopus with confit eggplant and a papaya salad that’s dotted with chef Dang's house-made Vietnamese beef jerky. The $44 chef’s tasting menu reads like a hit list of the joint’s most popular dishes and provides a no-brainer entry point for newcomers.

Lost Larson
Photograph: Anthony Tahlier
Restaurants

Lost Larson

icon-location-pin Andersonville

This Andersonville bakery and café pays homage to the neighborhood's Scandinavian roots in the most delicious way. Chef and owner Bobby Schaffer—whose star-studded resume includes Grace and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York—is the culinary mastermind behind a drool-worthy pastry program that encompasses cardamom-scented chocolate croissants, lingonberry almond cakes and calamansi meringue tarts. Savory enthusiasts have plenty to look forward to, too, with Lost Larson's selection of open-face sandwiches that are topped with fresh produce and quality meats. The shop doesn't close after the sun goes down, but instead turns into Vinbar, a natural wine bar offering pours by the bottle and glass plus composed plates that spotlight farmers-market–fresh ingredients. It's the kind of place you'll find the excuse to visit for breakfast, lunch and dinner—which is A-okay in our book.

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Mini Mott
Photograph: Morgan Olsen
Restaurants

Mott St. + Mini Mott

icon-location-pin Logan Square

Only in Chicago could a burger be so good that it deserved its own eatery. The story of Mini Mott's signature dish began in 2016, when the patty at parent spot Mott St was recognized as one of the nation's best. At the time, the burger was available only at the restaurant's tiny bar. Mini Mott was born to supply the demand, turning out juicy patties layered with melted American cheese, hoisin aioli, pickled jalapenos, miso butter, pickles, sautéed onions and a cloud of sweet-potato frizzles. We'll give you a second to catch your breath.

Pretty Cool Ice Cream
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants

Pretty Cool Ice Cream

icon-location-pin Logan Square

Inspired by the memory of standing at the end of her driveway with change in her pocket, waiting on the ice cream truck, Dana Salls Cree opened Pretty Cool Ice Cream in Logan Square. The cute-as-a-button shop slings beautiful popsicles in fascinating flavors. Lick a peanut butter-potato chip custard bar, a plant-based blue moon pop or a strawberry buttermilk bar. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear that classic ice cream truck jingle from your childhood.

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Purple Pig
Photograph: Morgan Olsen
Restaurants, Contemporary American

The Purple Pig

icon-location-pin Streeterville

Purple Pig is one of those essential Chicago experiences you want to share with out-of-town friends and family, as if to say, "We've got it good." No matter the day or season, the River North restaurant likely has a line out the door—and for good reason. Chef and owner Jimmy Bannos Jr.'s menu is filled with carnivorous delights like housemade 'nduja, ham croquettes, crispy pig's ears, duck sausage and beef tendon chicharrones. Pair your meaty bits with a food-friendly pour from the lengthy wine list and lose yourself in the restaurant's natural clamor.

Split-Rail
Photograph: Jason Wang
Restaurants

Split-Rail

icon-location-pin Ukrainian Village

For as long as she can remember, chef Zoe Schor has loved craggy, oil-dappled fried chicken. What started out as a crowd-pleasing recipe to bring together family and friends eventually grew into a restaurant devoted to the stuff—and it’s not hard to see why. Schor’s fried chicken is a study in balance: The bird-to-breading ratio is just right, and every bite shatters a crisp exterior to reveal the juicy meat within. Psst: Don’t skip the buttermilk biscuit, a melt-in-your-mouth pastry that’s crowned with a dollop of chili-maple butter.

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ArtofPizza.Venue.jpg
Photograph: Brendan Lekan
Restaurants, Pizza

The Art of Pizza

icon-location-pin Lake View

What makes Art Shabez's slices stand out in a bona fide pizza town like Chicago? Sure, the gooey mozzarella, fennel-flecked Italian sausage and market-fresh veggies are all stellar, but the real star of the show is the fan-favorite red sauce, which bursts with vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh oregano and basil, and a faint hint of red pepper. Luckily for us, the stuff is slathered all over every pie. The Art of Pizza has elevated itself to the status of an institution, making it an essential for anyone who claims to be a pizza aficionado or for anyone who loves pizza, which is everyone.

Duck Fat Dog
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, American

The Duck Inn

icon-location-pin Bridgeport

Located on the border between Bridgeport and Pilsen, the Duck Inn is chef-owner Kevin Hickey's temple to carnivores, with offerings like duck wings coated in Japanese BBQ sauce, a signature rotisserie duck with all the fixings and the famous Duck Inn Dog. To be fair, calling it a ‘hot dog’ doesn’t quite do it justice. The sausage—a decadent blend of all-natural beef and duck fat—is grilled and topped with elevated Chicago-style ingredients: house-made relish, beer mustard, pickled serrano chilies, a fat pickle, garden-fresh tomatoes, raw onions and a dash of celery salt.

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Restaurants, Pan-Asian

Urbanbelly

icon-location-pin Wicker Park

Chef Bill Kim keeps our bellies happy with his playful menu of Asian staples at this sunshine-filled restaurant in Wicker Park. Start with an assortment of dumplings, which are available by the piece in flavors like pork and cilantro and chicken red curry. You'll want to save room for hearty entrees like ramen with braised pork belly, creamy coconut curry pho, fried rice bowls and Thai fried chicken. The youngsters won't feel left out: The kids' menu offers fan-favorites like belly-warming noodle soup and PB&J soft serve.

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