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Best contemporary American restaurants in Chicago

Whether it's comfort food or new dishes using the best ingredients, these contemporary American restaurants in Chicago don't disappoint.
Lula Cafe
By Time Out editors |

New American is basically a term describing food that doesn't fit under one certain category—and that's just fine by us. Just like the people in America (and Chicago), the dishes found at these restaurants are a mix of different nationalities and flavors. Whether it's Belgian-inspired mussels or awesome farm-to-table offerings, the exciting menu items at these Chicago eateries will keep you coming back for more. All of these contemporary American resturants are must-visit places.

RECOMMENDED: Best Chicago restaurants

Contemporary American restaurants in Chicago

Restaurants, Contemporary American

Ada St.

icon-location-pin River West/West Town

Michael Kornick and David Morton (DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar) are behind this hybrid cocktail bar–restaurant. The room is lovely, and so is the food: the deep-fried black-eyed peas are the perfect drinking snack, and Chef Joanna Stachon's light touch with steak (dressed in nothing more than brown butter), salads and even doughnuts makes sense with the food-friendly cocktails coming from behind the bar.

Restaurants, Mediterranean


icon-location-pin West Loop

This nationally acclaimed small-plates spot looks like a sauna, has communal seating, doesn’t take reservations and is loud as hell. But it remains a must-eat spot for foodies in the know. Chef Perry Hendrix 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 brunch has meant two things: one more meal to enjoy Avec's cuisine and the ability to eat bacon-wrapped dates in the morning.

Restaurants, Contemporary American

The Bristol

icon-location-pin Bucktown

This popular Bucktown restaurant has matured, from its stronger than ever cocktail program to its desserts. We have a hard time moving away from the signature dishes, like the salad of heirloom apples and the devastatingly delicious egg-and-ricotta–filled raviolo, but it’s worth it to try the unusual, always-changing daily specials, from marinated beef tendon salad to cold-smoked salmon with bacon-dill dumplings.

Restaurants, Cafés

The Cafe at Ikram

icon-location-pin River North

The ladies who lunch have seriously been holding out on us: This restaurant on the second floor of Chicago’s most exclusive boutique is a gem. Blackbird alum Christopher Sullivan’s dishes are bright and beautiful, from the complimentary olives and bite-size gougéres that begin the meal to the creamy housemade ice creams that complete it. In between, main courses—such as a perfectly cooked salmon set atop snap peas, spring onions, fava beans and radishes in spring—overflow with the bounty of the season.

Restaurants, Contemporary American


icon-location-pin Evanston

Owner Amy Morton and chef Nicole Pederson (C-House and Lula Cafe) have given Evanston the restaurant it’s been searching for: a place that’s casual (and relatively affordable) enough for Northwestern students seeking a sandwich and a beer and yet civilized enough for suburbanites wanting a three-course meal. Whether you like the found object–inspired decor is a matter of personal preference, but Pederson’s thoughtful, unfussy food (small plates like juicy lamb meatballs with pistachios, entrées like oven roasted pork chop with sweet potato mash) has universal appeal.

Bars, Beer bars


icon-location-pin Uptown

Thought this was just a bar to belly up to with a Belgian brew in hand? One bite and you’ll know there’s much more. Our perfect night involves sampling the drafts at the bar while slurping down the famous ale-steamed mussels, but you could also class it up, grab a proper table and dig into seasonal rotations such as wood-roasted spring chicken with morels and favas. Beer geeks know this is the place in town to school their palate on craft brews, and they do come in droves, but the addition of an adjacent space helps keep the place from feeling like a sardine tin.

Restaurants, Contemporary American


icon-location-pin Wicker Park
Mindy Segal rehabbed her Bucktown restaurant in 2012, making it sunnier and adding a huge garage door that opens to let in warm weather. You're likely going there for the desserts, but the savory menu includes risotto with truffle sauce and crispy half skin chicken with polenta.
Restaurants, Contemporary American


icon-location-pin Logan Square

Breakfast is dinnery at Jam: It starts with an amuse-bouche, and can continue with sophisticated dishes such as a breakfast sandwich featuring pork shoulder topped with plum preserve. Lunch is also a high-low experience: Homey soups are poured tableside, and what would otherwise be a basic B.L.T. is elevated by boar belly. Blue Plate specials read like diner staples and for dessert, there’s pie. What’s not to like?

Photograph: Erica Gannett
Restaurants, American

The Lobby

icon-location-pin Streeterville

Service is as formal and polished as at the best fine dining restaurants, but the food is marvelous in a different way. This is essentially simple food, dressed up and prepared with obsessive perfection: duck breast with duck egg and broccoli rabe, whipped potatoes accented with black truffle and parsley, chestnut tagliatelle with umami bouillon. Desserts don't hold up their end of the bargain, but even so, the Lobby is a winning bet.

Restaurants, Contemporary American

Longman & Eagle

icon-location-pin Logan Square

The menu changes often, but includes inventive dishes like beef tallow beignets or a wild boar sloppy joe. Pastry chef Jeremy Brutzkus (formerly of the defunct Coco Rouge) ends on the kind of indulgent notes best appreciated with a fork in one hand and whiskey in the other (think chocolate ganache terrine with flavors of caramel, espresso and brown butter chestnut). Too full to leave? Inquire about one of the six rooms in the high-design inn upstairs.

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