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Queso fundido next to tacos and salsas.
Photograph: Martha Williams

The 17 best restaurants and bars to visit before a United Center event

Pregame with great food and drinks before hitting the stadium.

Amy Cavanaugh
Jeffy Mai
Written by
Amy Cavanaugh
&
Jeffy Mai
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Home to the Bulls, Blackhawks and a wide range of concerts, the United Center is a popular destination year round. And thanks to its close proximity to the best restaurants and bars in the West Loop, there are plenty of places to fuel up before going to an event. The following spots are either convenient, quick or simply just excellent—all qualities we can appreciate when there are post-meal festivities to attend. If you want a burger, the Loyalist or Billy Goat Tavern are sure to hit the spot. Have some time to spare? Grill your own meat-filled feast at Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ. Heck, there’s even a Wisconsin-inspired supper club inside the stadium for those who don’t want to stray far. Regardless of what you’re craving, check out our guide to the best spots around the United Center so you don’t have to settle for average concession foods the next time you’re headed there.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to the best restaurants in Chicago

Where to eat before an event

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • United Center
  • price 3 of 4

The United Center upped its dining game in 2018 with the addition of a Wisconsin-inspired supper club and cocktail lounge. Folks headed to the stadium don’t have to go far for a good meal as brandy old fashioneds and tender, herb-crusted prime rib await at Queenie’s. It’s leagues better than the standard concession stand and best of all, you’re only a hop, skip and jump away from post-dinner festivities. The restaurant is only open on event days, but diners do not need a ticket to enter.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

The casual sibling to fine-dining standout Smyth is perpetually busy but if you swing by when doors open at 5pm, you’ll usually be able to snag a seat right away. An early bird dinner also gives you plenty of time to sit back and enjoy the menu of French-inspired fare before heading to the United Center. You’ll see most tables ordering the Loyalist cheeseburger and for good reason—it’s arguably the best in the city, dressed with melted American cheese and a mess of pickled and charred onions.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • River West/West Town
  • price 2 of 4

One of the best pizza places in Chicago isn't far from the United Center, so get there early and dig into the pies, which have a charred, bubbly crust and crisp edges. We're fans of the 'nduja, with béchamel, fresh mozzarella and chili flakes.

  • Restaurants
  • Korean
  • United Center
  • price 2 of 4

You won’t have to worry about working the grill for your Korean barbecue at this casual spot. Let the kitchen handle all the hard work—which saves time as well—while you sit back and savor marinated meats like kalbi, bulgogi and pork belly. On cold days, the budae jjigae is a spicy fusion stew that will soothe the soul with tofu, ramen noodles, rice cakes, Spam and much more. A selection of soju and beers is also on offer.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105925010/image.jpg
Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • West Loop

Pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci brought his world famous restaurant to the States several years ago with a location in the West Loop. Bonci’s Roman-style pizza al taglio has a focaccia-like crust and is topped with a variety of cured meats, artisanal cheeses and seasonal produce that change daily. The rectangular slices are sold by weight, meaning you can try several flavors and order just the right amount of food.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Greek
  • Greektown
  • price 2 of 4

The massive outdoor patio with a close-up view of the city skyline is the main draw of this Greektown spot in the warmer months, but there are reasons to dine inside, too, such as creamy taramosalata (fish roe spread), charbroiled octopus and well-seasoned gyros. Opt for the dreamy galaktoboureko, lemon custard in honey-coated phyllo dough, for dessert.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop

If you’ve got time to spare and are hankering for a meaty feast, Japanese steakhouse chain Gyu-Kaku is the place to be. Choose marinated cuts of meat, seafood and veggies to cook on the grill at your table. Our go-tos are the kalbi and the skirt steak, but there’s no going wrong with any of the options. And save stomach space for dessert—s’mores made by roasting marshmallows over the open flames. The biggest appetites can opt for the AYCE menu, priced between $48-$68, which provides unlimited items for 90 minutes.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • United Center

If you're looking to grab a pint or two or three before the game, the sleek taproom at Goose Island's Fulton & Wood Brewery will do the trick. They have a variety of Goose Island mainstays like their IPA, but also pour a selection of taproom exclusives and cask-conditioned beers.

  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Strings Ramen owner Kenny Yang opened a new shop in the West Loop this past year that specializes in a type of ramen not commonly found stateside—Gyukotsu style. While it’s traditionally produced by boiling beef bones, Yang uses bison instead at Gyuro. The creamy, rich broth doesn’t overwhelm the palate and you can add extras like filet mignon to it. For those who are super ravenous, get the indulgent premium bowl loaded with wagyu, beef tongue, beef chashu, braised beef and truffle-wagyu wontons.

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Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • Gastropubs
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

If Ron Swanson opened a restaurant, it would be Kaiser Tiger. The specialty is the Bacon Bomb, a five-pound, bacon-covered meatloaf made with beef, pork and more bacon. It's a behemoth, but also available in a more manageable sandwich form. Kaiser Tiger features craft brews and sausages on its menu as well, perfect for filling up before heading to the game.

  • Bars
  • Sports Bars
  • United Center
  • price 1 of 4

By selling beer and being in the direct path of the throngs of people coming to and from the United Center, this slick sports bar has the hard part of its job covered. Completing the task are super bright TVs on every surface, including in the booths; a surprisingly good beer selection; and a hell of a burger.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • United Center
  • price 1 of 4

Tacos are one of the ultimate on-the-go foods so for those who are running behind, this cheery taqueria has you covered. The crispy beer-battered shrimp, served on house-made tortillas with caper aioli and spicy habanero ketchup, is the move here but meat lovers will be plenty happy with the al pastor pork that’s shaved from a trompo.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105925010/image.jpg
Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • American
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Even on non-game days, the Palace Grill feels like an offshoot of the United Center. The space is bedecked with Blackhawks paraphernalia, and the patrons wear it as well (the diner is open late on Blackhawks game nights). It's a classic diner, which means it serves all-day breakfast and a menu of sandwiches, salads and burgers, including a superlative patty melt layered with grilled onions.

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  • Restaurants
  • Portuguese
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

The fast-casual chain based out of South Africa runs a few locations around town, including one in the West Loop. Nando’s marinates chickens for 24 hours in its signature piri piri sauce before flame grilling them to order. Customers can choose their level of heat (medium is the perfect balance in our opinion) and complement the succulent, Portuguese-style poultry with sides like macho peas and crispy fries.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105925010/image.jpg
Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • Hamburgers
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

Although it’s most synonymous with Cubs lore, this iconic burger joint has an outpost near the United Center, too. Order a single, double or triple patty “Cheezborger” (made popular in an SNL skit) on a kaiser roll bun and finish it with whatever extras you like at the toppings station. There’s a fully stocked bar for your pregaming needs and the restaurant extends its hours on event nights so you can stop in for a bite on your way home.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105925010/image.jpg
Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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  • Restaurants
  • West Loop
  • price 1 of 4

A quintessential Chicago experience, Harold’s serves up some of the finest fried chicken in the city. The thing that sets the local chain apart from the competition is mild sauce, a zingy condiment that tastes like a blend of ketchup, barbecue and hot sauce. Seating is limited and the chicken is cooked to order so you’ll have to wait a bit, but you won’t care about such minor inconveniences after one bite of the crisp skin and impossibly juicy flesh.

https://media.timeout.com/images/105925010/image.jpg
Jeffy Mai
Editor, Time Out Chicago
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