Best West Loop restaurants
Located just off the beaten path of restaurant-crowded Randolph Row, Oriole is a lauded dining destination that's fit for special occasions or treat-yourself moments (the tasting menu will run you $190 per person sans drinks). If we can offer one piece of advice, it's this: Don't peek at the 13-course tasting menu before you go. Instead, allow every dish to be a surprise, as intended by the kitchen. Each bite is more surprising than the last, and the service is so personalized that you'll feel like you're the only table in the house. The cherry on top? The pastry chef sends each guest home with sweet morsel; save it for breakfast to extend the luxury of this unforgettable meal.
Let’s get this out of the way: Roister is not your typical fine dining establishment. It’s loud, it’s boisterous and you sit at a bar. The concept that occupies the former iNG space comes from Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, with chef Andrew Brochu (Alinea, EL Ideas). “The kitchen is the restaurant, the restaurant is the kitchen,” is the slogan on the website, a nod to the fact that for the most part, seats surround the open hearth. We'll make this easy on you: Pick either the whole chicken and chamomile or the Rohan duck and a handful of sides (the Yukon fries, aged cheddar rillettes and hushpuppies are to die for).
This nationally acclaimed small-plates spot is now under the watch of chef Perry Hendrix, who mostly sticks to the Mediterranean formula that original chef Koren Grieveson put into place (and has wisely held on to her most famous dishes, such as the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates). The addition of lunch during the week has meant one thing: one more meal to enjoy Avec's cuisine almost whenever you please.
The cozy spot from husband and wife David and Anna Posey (he of Blackbird, she of the Publican) has a name that comes from the Danish word for “love”—a nod to David’s heritage and the fact that the couple got engaged in Copenhagen. The food, however, is not Danish; the menu was made with simple fare and seasonal ingredients in mind. You can choose from a prix fixe menu (eight courses) or à la carte options. Elske is a perfect intro to fine dining, with reliable and approachable dishes that will school diners new to coursed meals on what to expect—with complicated ingredients that are still complex in flavor, but without overly meticulous plating.
Sepia has become a bona fide West Loop stalwart for elegant dining. The warm and sophisticated room is a destination for dishes like duck breast over crushed potatoes, tapenade and blueberries—not to mention a cocktail and wine program that sets the bar for Chicago. No time for dinner? Opt for a smooth pisco sour alongside plates of cheese and charcuterie in the lounge.
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. Tempura elotes or roasted baby potato carbonara? Baby octopus or raw tuna? BBQ lamb ribs or Wagyu sirloin? It’s not for the indecisive, but Proxi has officially landed on the short list of restaurants we’d gladly frequent every weekend if we could.
Sarah Grueneberg left Spiaggia to open her own restaurant in 2015, and while she brought along the masterful Italian techniques she honed there, she left the fine dining trappings on Michigan Avenue. Monteverde is warm and welcoming, making it ideal for a boozy weekend brunch or an indulgent date night dinner. It'd be a crime to visit and not try the house-made pastas—from wok-fried arrabbiata with gulf shrimp to the massive egg yolk-filled raviolo to the pecorino-showered cacio whey pepe. Balance out the meal with a few piattini (small plates) and stuzzichini (snacks); just be sure to save room for dessert.
Chicago is a meat and potatoes city. We love our burgers and steakhouses deeply and unabashedly. So when we found out that Heisler Hospitality (Pub Royale, Queen Mary Tavern, Sportsman’s Club and others) was opening a vegetable-focused concept on Randolph Street, we were curious how local diners would react. As it turns out, this meat-loving city has a thing for veggies, keeping Bad Hunter regularly packed most nights of the week. We’re also going to tell you something you won’t hear often—skip the meat. Chef Dan Snowden (Nico Osteria) makes veggies the main course here, and it totally works.
This iconic West Loop kitchen is still one of Chicago’s best. The beautiful, 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.
You practically trip over all the perfectly executed, endlessly cravable food at Brendan Sodikoff’s “diner:" the exemplary matzo ball soup. The devastatingly delicious chopped chicken liver. The gloriously messy double-decker burgers. But there’s not a whole lot of lighter fare to start a meal here with. Likewise, there aren’t many dishes that won’t make you feel as if you’ve just eaten a pound of butter. So head to Au Cheval when it will serve you best: for a burger and a beer at the bar, for a plate of fried chicken after hitting the bars, or both.
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.
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, grilled Deleware oysters topped with garlic aioli and the smoked pork ribs glazed with apple cider.
When temperatures drop, many feel the urge to escape to somewhere remote and exotic. After one (or four) slushies in this hidden oasis under Green Street Meats in the West Loop, you can almost pretend you’ve been transported to a gritty basement ramen shop in Tokyo. Reminiscent of the cautioning one might find from a buffalo wing-centric sports bar, the menu begins with a stern warning of how spicy the soup can be—and spicy it is, but worth the momentary pain. Balance the flecks of chili in the classic High Five Ramen with one of the milder bowls like the Shoyu or Special Ramen, which are still impressive without the seductively creamy tonkotsu broth. The bracingly chilly bite of the fruity slushy cocktails will help tame the heat, too.
The third of chef Bill Kim’s “belly” restaurants is an Asian barbecue joint that's loud, sceney and sprawling. Start with a thoughtful cocktail and the habit-forming Thai-style fried chicken. Finish with the rich-but-refreshing soft-serve. In between, order with abandon. With choices like griddled broccoli, tea smoked duck breast and roasted pork butt, it's hard to go wrong.
Cocktailers hit Maude’s around midnight, but we make a point to get there earlier, when the kitchen is still open. That way we can nosh on butter-smooth chicken-liver mousse slathered on toast with shallot marmalade, smoky slabs of pork belly, fanned over a pitch-perfect salad Lyonnaise and roasted chicken paillard. At dessert, only crème brûlée or fancy chocolate squares are offered, a display of brass that would be maddening—if only this hot spot wasn’t so dead-on.
The Boka group's (Boka, GT Fish & Oyster and others) foray into Japanese fare is a huge success, with a variety of elegant raw fish dishes and other classics of the cuisine. The namesake momotaro tartare melds dehydrated tomato, a spicy hit of Dijon and onion puree into a slightly sweet, savory spread, while roasted crab legs come to the table dripping in butter.
Diners come to this megaproject from Paul Kahan, chef Cosmo Goss and crew for three things: to sample the massive list of brews while basking in the golden-hued, beer hall–like space; run through the current roster of impeccable charcuterie and oysters; or begin their weekend days with arguably the best brunch in town (think housemade ricotta with buttery tea cakes and thick slabs of housemade bacon).
If Greektown makes you feel as if you’re drowning in a sea of bad food and obnoxious tourists, here’s your life jacket. The Kontos family serves food that is impeccably fresh, importing organic olive oil and oregano from the family farm in Sparta. Look for starters like feta, olives and peppers to hit your palate with fresh herb flavor. Like most of the seafood, the whole red snapper needs nothing more than a squeeze of lemon to show off its delicate flesh and subtle flavor. You may jump a little every time a ball of flaming saganaki cheese erupts at nearly every table, but if your nerves can handle it, your taste buds will thank you.
Just when it seemed that the fried chicken bubble was dangerously close to bursting, here is Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, a storied Memphis import that serves tender chicken cocooned in a light, thin exterior that shatters when you cut into it. It’s spicy, with heat that gently sneaks up on you, though not remotely close to the incendiary Nashville-hot style at the Roost and not so hot that it doesn’t benefit from a squirt of Crystal hot sauce out of a plastic packet.