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Billy Goat Tavern
Photograph: Grace Allen

Where to find hidden restaurants in Chicago

A long history of speakeasies and secret dining rooms is honored at these great hidden restaurants in Chicago.

Edited by
John Bills
Written by
Samantha Nelson
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Chicago has a long history of speakeasies, hidden bars established during Prohibition so that those in the know could still get a drink. Even when alcohol became legal again, Chicagoans continued to enjoy the allure of secretive subterranean bars, and that mystique extends to hidden Chicago restaurants you might miss unless you really know what you’re looking for. Some operate within other restaurants or stores, while others are tucked away in parks and schools. From acclaimed fine dining establishments to a historic Chicago burger joint in the bowels of the city, here are the hidden restaurants in Chicago that are worth searching out.

Hidden restaurants in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • Hamburgers
  • Magnificent Mile
  • price 1 of 4

You need to go beneath Michigan Avenue to find the Billy Goat Tavern, which has been serving up “cheezborgers” since 1964. The spot’s proximity to Tribune Tower made it a popular hangout for journalists, and the restaurant boasts a “Wall of Fame” featuring pictures and writing from columnists including Mike Royko, Richard Roeper and Studs Terkel. The subterranean space also celebrates its namesake, the pet goat of tavern owner William Sianis, who was blamed for the Cubs’ century-long losing streak.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park’s Quality Crab & Oyster Bah serves a wide variety of seafood, but the shellfish obsessed will want to visit its all-you-can-eat sibling spot Crab Cellar. Originally located downstairs, the concept has moved to the restaurant’s top floor to provide more space between the tables full of bib-clad diners chowing down on whole Maine lobster, jumbo shrimp, Maryland blue crab dip, and boardwalk fries. Reservations are required, and the spot is only open Friday through Sunday.

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Kendall College Dining Room
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • River North

Students studying at the Kendall College of Culinary Management and Hospitality Management at National Louis University get hands-on experience working at the Dining Room at Kendall College, where you can enjoy a great deal on dinner by being part of their training. A $40 seasonal three-course menu includes dishes like seared scallops with salmon roe, braised beef short rib with polenta and housemade sorbet. There's also a menu of affordable cocktails, wine and beer from local breweries. It's definitiely not dining hall fare!

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Little Italy, UIC
  • price 3 of 4

Located at the end of a one-way street next to the train tracks near Douglas Park, EL Ideas is just 10 minutes from the West Loop but feels a world away. This one-star Michelin restaurant is a reservation-only, offering a nine-course synchronized tasting menu that allows you to watch each dish prepared and learn about the inspiration behind it. Chef Phillip Foss redefines fine dining by stripping away the stuffiness, creating a BYOB dinner party-like atmosphere, and serving his elevated cuisine in a super chill, industrial space.

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

The subterranean spot in River North offers classic American tavern fare, including bone-in ribeye, spicy bourbon mussels, and raw oysters. The Franklin Room has an extensive selection of whiskey you can enjoy straight or in a cocktail like their signature Old Fashioned. Come from 5–6pm daily to enjoy half-price whiskey pours. If you really want to feel like part of a secret club, buy a bottle to stash in the Whiskey Keep to enjoy whenever you visit.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

Grab a seat at the long cedar ramen bar hidden beneath Green Street Smoked Meats and warm up with a signature tonkatsu bowl featuring sliced pork belly in pork and miso broth with egg, black garlic oil, locally grown bean sprouts and scallions. Vegetarians can opt for the maitake, made with mushroom miso broth. Whatever you order, you can test your heat tolerance with High Five Ramen’s tear-jerking kanabo spice. Cool your mouth with a boozy slushie or a bottle of sake.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • South Lawndale
  • price 1 of 4

Tucked inside La Chaparrita Grocery in Little Village, La Chaparrita Taqueria offers an authentic taste of Mexico with carne asada, beef tongue, housemade longaniza and al pastor tacos—all accompanied by onions, cilantro, sliced radish, lime wedges and a trio of sauces. Grab one of the colorful chairs in the plant-lined dining area and enjoy your meal with an agua fresca, smoothie or tepache, a sweet fermented drink made with pineapple rind.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 3 of 4

Originally built in 1912 as a warming shelter for Lincoln Park ice skaters, the Arts and Crafts-style waterfront building housing North Pond also informs the restaurant’s menu of seaonal dishes served with minimal ornamentation. Chef Cesar Murillo’s tasting menu features produce from small, local farmers, ranging from braised beef cheeks with sunchoke cheddar puree to chicken liver mousse with pickled golden beets. Add wine pairings to your meal or sip a cocktail while you enjoy the skyline views.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Loop
  • price 1 of 4

If you don’t see the sign advertising fresh hummus, falafel, and chicken shawarma outside the Wabash Jewelers Mall, you'll probably miss the Oasis Cafe. Tucked in the back of the jewelry store, the restaurant offers cheap, healthy eats with an emphasis on vegetarian fare such as spinach pie and tabbouleh salad. Once you find it, you’ll want to stop in regularly thanks to the friendly service and rotating specials such as Moroccan couscous with steamed vegetables on Fridays or kofta served with rice, hummus, and Egyptian fava beans on Thursday.

  • Shopping
  • Department stores
  • Loop
  • price 3 of 4

The first restaurant to ever open in a department store, the Walnut Room takes its name from its walnut Circassian paneling that dates back to 1907 when the restaurant was a tea room operating within Marshall Field’s. Located on the 7th floor of the Macy's store on State Street, the elegant space features Austrian crystal chandeliers and a menu featuring classic comfort food dishes like chicken pot pie and meatloaf. The restaurant began offering drag brunches during Pride Month 2021, and the events proved so popular that they're now a regular weekend fixture at the restaurant.

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