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Best restaurants in the Loop

The Loop's best restaurants are diverse and range from quick-serve lunch spots to fine dining places with tasting menus

Photograph: Martha Williams
Sepia and octopus is on the menu at Acanto, one of the best restaurants in the Loop.

By virtue of containing all the office buildings, hotels and many tourist attractions, the Chicago Loop's restaurants tend to be either quick service breakfast and lunch spots or crowd-pleasing places for dinner. This is not to say that there's nowhere good to eat—there are a quite a few. Start your day with coffee and a croissant at Toni Patisserie, pick up a falafel sandwich at Naf Naf for lunch and end the day with Acanto's well-executed Italian menu. It may not be cutting edge, but you'll be more than satisfied.

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The best Chicago Loop restaurants

Acanto

The Gage's little sister, Acanto recently opened to replace fine dining spot Henri. Acanto is more casual than Henri, but the food is just as good. Start with a cheese plate, which comes with an array of accompaniments, before moving onto well-executed pastas, fried artichokes and tender octopus. End with the smoothest, creamiest gelato in town.

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Blackwood BBQ

Blackwood brings in spices from the Spice House to use in its sauces and rubs, and the meats are smoked for hours on site. Blackwood’s menu is very simple—choose brisket, pulled pork or pulled chicken and get it on a platter, in a sandwich or on a salad. Then you pick your sauce and side dish. The menu is even more simple, because here is exactly what you’re going to get—pulled pork with mustard sauce, a side of warm cornbread and the lemonade that’s made in house. The pulled pork is tender and flavorful and the mustard sauce is tangy and an exact replica of the sauces you find in South Carolina. Be prepared to wait though—this place gets busy during the lunch rush.

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Everest

For years, Everest has lived up to its name for those looking for a lavish experience, and in the process it has become the pinnacle of high-end French dining in the Windy City. Atop the Chicago Stock Exchange, it is still the height of elegance, with views of the rooftops that made the city famous. Chef Jean Joho’s menu offers carefully executed dishes such as roasted rack of lamb, foie gras and poached halibut, each given some sort of Alsatian flair or French accent. If you’re looking for fancy, you found it.

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Frontera Fresco

Recommended

Marshall Field’s-turned-Macy’s has brought celeb chef Rick Bayless into the fold with this food-court counter. You’ll find tortas, huaraches, quesadillas, tamales, salad and soup, all of which counter most fast-food notions. But we’re biggest fans of the torta Cubana, and all of its smoked pork loin and applewood bacon glory. At $9 for a creative Loop lunch, don’t be surprised if lines rival Frontera Grill’s queues.

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The Gage

Recommended

Owner Billy Lawless nailed the gastropub with this Mag Mile hit. The whiskey list is lengthy, beer options reach beyond the basics, and wines are accompanied by clever, straightforward descriptions. The food is rich and aggressively flavorful, from the perfect-for-snacking Scotch egg to the Gage venison burger, served a juicy medium-rare and dripping with pickled onions and gouda.

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M Burger

The latest M Burger is in the Thompson Center’s subterranean food court, which gives it a Sbarro-like quality. This is not a great thing. However, as if to make up for the lack of ambience, this location offers a couple of things the others don’t: 1) A daily “Shake Break,” where shakes are half price from 2pm–close; 2) A special off-menu burger called the Old Fashioned, which gets you a burger with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mayo (a classic combination that, surprisingly, has been unavailable at M Burger until now). Of course, the normal M Burger fare (cheeseburgers, fries, an unexpectedly good side salad) is here, too, and that alone makes up for the location.

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Mercat a la Planxa

Recommended

Being Catalan cuisine, which includes a lot of tapas, the menu isn’t terribly ambitious—rather, it’s simple by design. But for what it is, some of it is near perfect. A short-rib flatbread topped with bacon marmalade has only four or five ingredients, but it’s just as indulgent and delicious as it sounds. Traditional tapas are as good as they can possibly be: Croquetas are hot and crispy, with a creamy interior hiding savory bits of ham, and pulpos con patatas get the texture of both the octopus and potatoes exactly right. You can’t do too much with these things and maintain their integrity, but chef Jose Garces, who has garnered a reputation as a tapas master at his restaurants in Philadelphia, does just enough.

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Naf Naf Grill

Recommended

With a falafel joint on every corner, the Loop is competitive territory in which to open a Middle Eastern restaurant. Fortunately, Naf Naf (which has locations in the suburbs) is a veritable lion, a place whose creamy falafel, juicy chicken shawarma or crispy chicken schnitzel can easily go head-to-head with any existing quick-serve spot in the city. The secret to the success: exceptional condiments and the just-out-of-the-oven pitas (rolled and baked on site).

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Pastoral

Small-batch artisan cheeses are cut to order at this friendly, well-stocked wine-and-cheese shop. The place is attitude-free, and menu items, like the Nut N’ Chutney sandwich of spiced almond butter and cranberry chutney on cracked wheat bread, are perfect for a quick lunch in one of the handful of seats on the outdoor patio and Spanish cheese plates (with Mahón, rosemary Manchego and pata cabra) are perfect for a picnic.

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Russian Tea Time

Recommended

A classy choice for the symphony set and couples looking to indulge, this institution proves excess is best. Slide into a cozy booth and start the assault with classic borscht, sour cream–slathered dumplings and caviar blini. Follow up with creamy beef Stroganoff or oniony, nutmeg-laced, ground beef–stuffed cabbage rolls. Finish up with hot farmer’s-cheese blintzes or Klara’s apricot-and-plum strudel, a family recipe. Be sure to order a flight of house-infused vodkas (horseradish, black currant tea, coriander and more).

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