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 $190 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 $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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Just don’t let the name fool you: To get into this teeny-tiny destination, you’ll need a reservation.
In its 15 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.
Meaning love in Danish, Elske is an appropriate name for a venture from husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey. Take the guesswork out of the experience and order the affordable tasting menu, then sit back and prepare to be wowed by the unbelievably precious New American fare.
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.
Chefs and co-owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo bring killer Macanese fare to Logan Square with a lineup of curries, noodles and dumplings. If it’s your first time, order the namesake arroz gordo, a shared dish best 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 and more.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.