Chef Grant Achatz’s three-Michelin-starred institution (the only one of its kind in Chicago) is a total sensory experience. In 2016, the Lincoln Park stalwart underwent a massive renovation, swapping its dark, sexy interior for an airy, timeless space. Though Alinea’s tasting menus will set you back $205 to $395 a person, every course is a theatrical masterpiece delivered with flawless service: Prepare for lots of dry ice, exotic fruits and playful servingware. End the evening with one of Achatz’s signature helium taffy balloons, which fill the dining room with smiles and high-pitched laughter.
When it comes to dining out, Chicagoans are positively spoiled. As of 2021, the city is home to 24 Michelin-starred kitchens that range from one of the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago to the latest project from former Grace chef Curtis Duffy. One of the fanciest breweries in Chicago even made the list. And eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant doesn't mean dropping an entire paycheck on a meal—there are a handful of relatively affordable options on this year's lineup.
What's the deal with a tire company handing out stars to restaurant? The Michelin Guide (which began as a physical book issued to drivers) assesses the best restaurants in Chicago on a number of criteria, but the coveted stars are awarded based on quality of food alone. Inspectors look for top-notch ingredients, mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in his or her cuisine, overall value and consistency. One star represents high quality cooking that's worth a stop; two stars indicate excellent cuisine that's worth a detour; and three stars denote exceptional cuisine that's worthy of a special journey. With all of that in mind, take a look at the Chicago restaurants that earned Michelin stars for 2021.