Best restaurants in Chicago
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.
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 $215 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.
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.
So you’re new to the whole fine-dining thing, eh? This Lakeview 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. The easygoing dining room, which is often bumping Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar, doesn’t hurt either. 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.
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, clam chowder dip and hamachi crudo, and you'll see what all the hype is about.
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 $185 tasting menu? Sit at the bar and enjoy eight "snack" courses for just $45. It's one of the city's best-kept secrets.
Thick handmade tortillas, salsas made to order, cinnamon-laced coffee. 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.
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.
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.
Break up the monotony of 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. Standout plates include the Everything Wings, glazed with soy and dried chilies and tossed in everything-bagel seasoning, and the stuffed cabbage, comprised of pork butt swaddled in Napa kimchi and accented with sticky rice. Return for Sunday brunch, when coconut pancakes and an indulgent pork-jowl skillet give you a reason to roll out of bed.
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.
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.
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 softshell 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).
John Shields and Karen Urie Shields’s two-for-one special in the West Loop offers 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 very special occasion.
A few years back, 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. Just don’t let the name fool you: To get into this teeny-tiny destination, you’ll need a reservation.
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.
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.
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.
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 crunchy, squishy manchego gougeres, ham and cheese skewers, and white bean puree on toast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Plenty of new Mexican restaurants have set up shop in Chicago over the past couple of years, but Mi Tocaya in Logan Square is 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.
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.
Celebrating the big 2-0 this year, 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.
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. Day-one favorites include the buttery cornbread madeleines, luscious Maine lobster dumplings and organic fried chicken with fermented hot sauce and creamed corn.
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).
If truffles, hand-pinched ravioli and droolworthy ragu are your idea of a good time, consider this Piedmontese-centric spot your new Shangri-La. Osteria Langhe is raising the bar on Italian grub, one supple plin at a time.
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.
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.
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.
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 avocado salad with fennel, persimmon and sunflower seeds, 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.
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.
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.
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 five 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.
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.
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 can switch out but always has a solid mix of choices from pâtés to sausages and head cheese served with pickles and mustard.
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.
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, Detroit-style pizza at Union Squared 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.
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.
Named for a mythical weapon used by the Hindu God of Thunder, Vajra explores Nepali cuisine through adaptations of the classic dishes like steamed momos (dumplings) and vegetable-based curries. Prepare for a total sensory experience that's matched by theatrical cocktails and some of the city’s finest service.
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.