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 $190 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.
Serving New American dishes inspired by coastal Maine, Acadia is the brainchild of chef Ryan McCaskey, who opened this consistently great fine-dining establishment in the South Loop in 2011. Over the last handful of years, Acadia has garnered praise from the Michelin Guide (rising from one to two stars in 2015) as well as the Jean Banchet Awards and area critics. Guests can dine a la carte at the bar or opt for the eight-course tasting menu. The latter goes for $185 and includes a lineup of rotating dishes inspired by McCaskey's upbringing in Maine. The current menu features dishes like A5 Miyazaki with charred pineapple yuzu kosho and uni mayonnaise as well as a strawberry mousse with duck yolk crema.
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 $215 14-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.
John Shields and Karen Urie Shields’s two-for-one special in the West Loop offers elevated tasting menus upstairs and the city’s best burger (yeah, we said it) in the dark, sultry basement. But we're here to talk about what's happening on the ground floor, at Smyth, where diners can book three different experiences, including the reasonably priced $95 tasting menu. The offerings change daily based on the couples' trips to a 20-acre farm located south of the city. The stunning and delicate dishes on offer incorporate fresh, seasonal produce, making every experience feel very, very special.
Make note: This Ravenswood spot is the first-ever Michelin-starred brewpub, which means you should start with a beer (Jasmine Rice is our go-to). There's a $75 tasting menu, but you can just as easily piece together a stellar lineup from the à la carte offerings. If you can, grab a seat at the chef's table, where you can watch the culinary team plate lobster-ricotta ravioli and build intricate desserts. Return for brunch on Saturday and Sunday, when you can tuck into caviar crepe cake and a Croque Madame dripping with caramelized onions.
Celebrating the big 2-0 this year, the unshakable Blackbird set down roots in the West Loop before it was the place to be for restaurants. One look at the menu and it's not hard to see why—roasted rohan duck with artichoke, marinated mussels with yuzu, and kampachi crudo with roasted potato dashi. But the best deal can be yours over the lunch hour: $28 for a high-end three-course tasting menu. For that price, you can afford to throw in a bottle of wine.
In its 15 years on Halsted Street, Boka has racked up a trophy case worth of accolades, including one long-standing Michelin star and a handful of Jean Banchet Awards. But we prefer to let chef-partner Lee Wolen’s impeccable techniques—on everything from chilled beef tartare and grilled octopus to ricotta dumplings—do the talking.
If you're scouring the Michelin list for something very approachable, Dusek's in Pilsen is a great place to start. The come-as-you-are atmosphere makes an excellent backdrop for brunch, lunch, dinner, late-night eats and cocktails with friends. Start with an order of beef fat fries before moving into small plates like the black truffle and foie gras fondue and the shishito hush puppies. No trip is complete without the Juicy Lucy, a burger that's stuffed with American cheese and topped with red onion-bacon marmalade, tomato and lettuce.
The self-proclaimed "most unlikely of Michelin-starred restaurants," EL Ideas is situated in Douglas Park and offers set, group-based seatings Tuesday through Saturday. The crew here aims to take the stuffiness out of the fine-dining experience and removes the barrier between diners and chefs through an open floor plan. Think of it like a dinner party at a new friend's home—if that friend served 10-plus courses and charged you $155 for a seat.
Whimsy is the name of the game at Iliana Regan’s Lincoln Square restaurant, which is equal parts fascinating and adorable. The plates here are works of art and culinary prowess, combining unlikely ingredients like stone fruit, mushroom and pepita. Or foie gras, caramel corn and bubblegum ice cream. Look out for Regan's brilliantly themed menus, such as Dr. Seuss and Wes Anderson.
Translating to love in Danish, Elske is an appropriate name for a venture from husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey. Take the guesswork out of the experience and order the semi-affordable tasting menu, priced at $90 per person, then sit back and prepare to be wowed by the unbelievably precious New American fare. Best to save room for Anna’s delightful desserts, like a sunflower seed parfait with sour honey, licorice and bee pollen.
So you’re new to the whole fine-dining thing, eh? This Lakeview spot is a good place to start. Helmed by owner Ty Fujimura and chef Brian Fisher, Entente drops pretension in favor of approachability, offering a curated menu of rotating appetizers and entrées plus food-friendly wines and cocktails. The easygoing dining room, which is often bumping Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar, doesn’t hurt either. Day-one favorites include the wedge salad—a halo of iceberg lettuce filled with creamy green-goddess dressing and topped with chunks of bacon, tomato puree and gobs of Cambozola cheese—and the Carolina Gold, a warm hug of a dish that’s topped with shaved truffles, pea tendrils, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a duck egg.
Owners Chris and Nina Nugent preside over this intimate 30-seat, BYOB-friendly Lincoln Square destination that incorporates classic French techniques with modern, playful touches. The multi-course menu goes for $145 a head (did we mention the BYOB policy and the fact that they don't charge a corkage fee?) and lasts for approximately three hours. Diners can expect wildly creative platings and intensely seasonal ingredients like summer truffle, English peas, meyer lemon and fennel.
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. 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 $165 tasting menu starts with an oceanic lobster salad paired with a smooth-as-silk cauliflower purée. From there, it’s on to carefully executed dishes such as wild Alaskan halibut, Colorado lamb and Midwestern cheese, each given some sort of Alsatian flair or French accent. If you’re looking for fancy, you found it.