Best downtown Chicago restaurants
Around noon on weekdays, this Loop food hall swells with visitors from near and far. Inside, guests can peruse menus from 16 food and beverage vendors: from the Budlong's crispy fried chicken to the Fat Shallot's stacked sandwiches to Furious Spoon's soul-warming ramen. Tourists, take note: This is a great way to sample some of Chicago's best neighborhood eats if you're short on time.
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.
Since opening in 2009, Purple Pig has established itself as one of the best restaurants in the city. Take one look at the menu—which showcases flavors from Spain, Italy and Greece—and it's easy to see why. Old-school favorites include the house-made charcuterie, crispy pig's ears, eggplant caponata and the milk-braised Berkshire shoulder. Boasting an equally impressive wine list, it's understandable that the waitlist often stretches late into the evening.
Brunch and lunch are available here, but you'll want to secure a dinner reservation at Roister, 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.
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.
Mingling California’s bounty with Asian and Mediterranean influences, Erling Wu-Bower’s sprawling River North restaurant is imaginative and intensely likable. Peak produce shines in dishes like avocado salad with fennel, persimmon and sunflower seeds, and no order is complete without a squishy, wood-fired pizza. Sharing is your best bet with the wide-ranging offerings—and so you can save room for pastry chef Natalie Saben’s inspired desserts.
Come summertime, we don't mind waiting in the long, winding line at Green Street Smoked Meats, where pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork and pork belly are available by the half-pound. Classic sides like macaroni salad, baked beans and cornbread round out the meaty menu. Claim your tray of food, grab a seat at a picnic table on the patio and prepare to get saucy.
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.
You'll feel like an undercover spy when you slide into Cherry Circle Room, which is hidden in the back corner of the Game Room inside the Chicago Athletic Association. The carpeted room is accented with velvet barstools, plush leather booths, neatly organized liquor bottles and sexy lighting. It's the kind of place you book for a special occasion (or perhaps when you're trying not to run into anyone you know).
There’s no way around it: The menu at Imperial Lamian, the first U.S. location of the modern Chinese restaurant chain, is long. There's an entire section devoted to xiao long bao (soup dumplings), several la mian choices (those are the hand-pulled noodles, and you must try them) and more than a dozen wok dishes, which feature pork, beef, poultry and seafood. While a second trip may be necessary, you can't go wrong with a basket of steamed dim sum for the table, the jasmine tea smoked ribs and the Lunar Blossom for dessert.
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 Chicago. 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 dinner menu will set you back $185 and includes indulgences like foie gras, Maine lobster, wild sea bass and chocolate soufflé.
On any given day, at any given time, during any given season, there's usually a crowd waiting outside of Au Cheval in the West Loop. If you were to ask any of those people what they were waiting for, their answer would likely be the restaurant's burger. And to be fair, it's a damn good burger, but Au Cheval also offers a fantastic bowl of matzo ball soup, sticky honey-fried chicken wings and chopped chicken liver that'll blow your mind. This is all to say: Order the burger, but don't forget about the rest of the menu.
Bellemore is one of those restaurants that you want to wander into just to get a better look at it: The sprawling interior is outfitted with rounded booths, moody artwork, funky light fixtures and plush, velvet barstools. Of course, once you get a whiff of what chef Jimmy Papadopoulos is preparing in the kitchen (like shaved foie gras with cocoa nib granola, caramelized brioche and persimmon), you'll want to sit down for a full meal.
The sister restaurant to Ēma in River North, Aba is a collaboration between chef CJ Jacobson and Lettuce Entertain You. Like Ēma, Aba offers Mediterranean-inspired bites like red beet tzatziki, yellowtail dolmas and a Jerusalem bagel. But the menu here offers something different, too: Diners will notice a larger focus on steaks and seafood, with dishes like skirt steak shawarma, char-grilled lamb chops and toasted sesame shrimp.
Whether you're entertaining out-of-towners or looking for lunch in the West Loop, the Chicago French Market has over 30 local food vendors to choose from. Nosh on lobster rolls from Da Lobster, grab a smoothie to go from Loop Juice and finish it all off with something sweet from Lolli and Pops. Other stalls include Aloha Poke, Flip Crepes, Lito's Empanadas and B.I. Tea and Dim Sum. The best part? This food hall is located near Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station, making it a worthwhile destination before hopping on a train.
There's something special about diners that serve breakfast all day—especially ones that have waffles topped with bananas, peanut-butter butter and bacon maple syrup. Celebrity chef Stephanie Izard does just that at her sweetest West Loop installment, Little Goat Diner. Order from a lengthy menu of funky morning cravings (bi bim bop breakfast bowl, anyone?), sandwiches, salads, milkshakes and more, then swing by the bakery for a loaf of bacon-gouda country bread to go.
It’s easy to see why Lou's stands out among its deep dish competitors. The trademark buttery crust (literally trademarked, they call it Buttercrust™) is somewhat reminiscent of crispy Italian breadsticks and holds in the cheese and toppings. Like most traditional deep dish pizzas, the bright red sauce is applied liberally to the top of the cheese. We recommend adding sausage, a thin patty of seasoned meat that covers the entire pizza, ensuring that every bite contains the perfect balance of crust, cheese and toppings.