Chicago is a relaxed town, and that extends to fine dining; Chicago restaurants skip the pretension, focus on great flavors and experiences and even feature craft beer pairings along with wine. Many of Chicago's best chefs, like Grant Achatz or Iliana Regan, prefer whimsical and experimental dishes over traditional fine dining fare. Candy balloons? Why not? (They're at Alinea, by the way). Some are even BYOB restaurants or have great bar food, which lessens the sticker shock a bit. But some also require jackets for men, so make sure you check the dress code before you head out.
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Best fine dining in Chicago
Chef/mastermind Grant Achatz serves food the likes of which you’ve never seen. Sit back and enjoy the show, a well-orchestrated ride that plays with textures, temperatures and notions of “normal” cuisine, while somehow remaining grounded in season, flavor and flawless execution. Past menu stunners have included squab with peppercorn custard, sorrel and strawberries; and cocoa-coated watermelon with cubed Kobe beef. But you never know what dish will steal the show when you’re in the audience.
The tiny Uptown restaurant has made a huge mark on Chicago's dining scene since launching in 2014. It's BYOB, and there are only 18 seats, so it has the intimate feel of a dinner party. Just, you know, one where your hosts, chef Jake Bickelhaupt and GM Alexa Welsh, earned two Michelin stars their first year in business.
Curtis Duffy is no stranger to fine dining, and this lush eatery (which Duffy owns with sommelier Michael Muser) traffics in a lot of upscale tropes: textured fabrics, a hushed room and long, multicourse tasting menus. Yet Grace makes a few subtle tweaks to the fine dining formula. However fussy the food may be, it is plated to appear as if it came from nature. And though much of it leans sweet, it’s ultimately balanced and clean. Still, perhaps the biggest achievement is that even with three dessert courses, you don’t feel stuffed when you walk out of here. You simply feel satisfied.
Sixteen has transformed itself under chef Thomas Lents. With creative, themed tasting menus like Chicago History, more approachable service and two Michelin stars, the restaurant is solidly in the top tier of fine dining restaurants in Chicago. While the tasting menu is firmly in "splurge" category (dinner for two with wine pairings is around $1,000), the patio offers an even better view of the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, as well as less expensive food.
To dine at Grant Achatz’s follow-up to Alinea is a rare—and rarefied—opportunity to submit oneself to a very specific vision of what great dining might look like. That vision changes every three months, from French food to Italian food to modern plates that don’t even look like food. Usually the experience is more lighthearted and lively than Alinea. But it is in no way less delicious.
Forager and self-trained chef Iliana Regan serves "new gatherer" cuisine at her tiny Lincoln Square storefront. Dishes may include thin slices of bear, placed atop a rice crisp and served on a rock; foie gras shaped like owls; or a fried hunk of mushroom with garlic aioli. You won't find food like this at any other fine dining restaurant.
Fewer than 30 diners can fit in this tiny restaurant, and all of them must have made reservations weeks in advance. But as a 2006 Food & Wine best new chef, chef-owner Michael Carlson has a right to call the shots. Let him. You’ll be treated to intriguing creations like pine-flavored peekytoe crabs with marinated royal king mushrooms or sumptuous venison with a white chocolate foam. The menu changes often, but whatever Carlson has up his sleeve, you’re certain to have a meal like nowhere else in town.
Chef-owner Ryan McCaskey’s South Loop fine dining respite is a study in rich whites, a rare exercise in the restaurant as a space of tranquility and elegance. Flashes of inspiration light up the menu—shrimp paired with cuttlefish noodles and cauliflower, a charcuterie plate starring gently smoky “duck ham”—but the overall focus is on food that is rich and satisfying rather than revolutionary.
Topolobampo is the most sophisticated and upscale of Rick Bayless's restaurants, and the one most frequented by President Obama and his family. As with all of Bayless's restaurants, the products used here are local and seasonal. So whether you're eating fresh oysters or ceviche or one of the beautiful moles, you know you're eating the best the season has to offer. An ever-changing menu means it's hard to predict exactly what will be on offer day to day—but because Bayless is involved, it never really feels like a gamble.
Chicago has a few small, far from downtown places where chefs have carved out personal enclaves for high-level fine dining. But perhaps none were born with the maturity and finesse of this 34-seat, off-the-beaten-Lincoln-Square-path BYOB from husband-and-wife Chris and Nina Nugent. Chris, a veteran of Les Nomades, brings precision to every dish on the nine-course, $135 tasting menu. The food is technically flawless, while Nina’s front-of-the-house charm brings the personality.
This iconic West Loop kitchen is still one of Chicago’s best. The beautiful, constantly changing seasonal plates are full of surprising elements—chilled sweet corn soup with arctic char roe; barbecued sturgeon and pork belly with snap peas, marinated shiitake and peanut consommé—which makes for exciting and, sometimes, challenging eating. Drinks from bartender Kyle Davidson are elegant, and the wine list offers exceptional wines.
Want to skip rent this month and have the best Italian fine dining experience in town? Splurge here. For its 30th birthday in 2014, Spiaggia received a refresh—new chef, new somm, new look. The space has been redone—the entrance features bottles upon bottles of wine, the tables all face the windows and offer views of Michigan Avenue, there are new chandeliers and everything is brighter and fresher. The menu is now a tasting menu, with well-cooked proteins, fresh crudos and house-made pastas (don't worry, the gnocchi with ricotta and black truffle sauce remains).
Chef Carrie Nahabedian delivers an upscale experience minus the pomp, courtesy of a snazzy room and a seasonal menu that reads like a who’s who in regional, sustainable foods. The menu changes weekly, so expect anything from seasonal veggies—French wild asparagus, spring peas and sugar snap peas—accompanying a wild Yukon River Alaskan salmon to Spanish-inspired bread pudding with saffron ice cream, candied orange peel, crème fraîche and bacon.