The Best Restaurants in Chicago

restaurats in chicago
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One thing that I simultaneously love and hate about Chicago is the incredible restaurant scene.  On one hand, to survive as a restaurant in Chicago you have to be good.  Like really, really good.  But on the other hand, this means that the demand for eating at these incredible restaurants is high; which means that to eat at the most sought-after restaurants in the city you need to book reservations months in advance.  This can be frustrating if you’re planning a last-minute trip to Chicago or if you’re wanting to have a fun night out at the spur of the moment.

But whether or not you can get into some of the most sought-after restaurants in the city, each place on this list is somewhere that I would highly recommend trying.  And luckily, not all of them have a three-month waiting period.  (Ps keep reading for tips on how to get coveted reservations in Chicago!).

 

The Very Best Restaurants to Eat at in Chicago

Below you’ll find the best restaurants in Chicago organized by which neighborhood the restaurant is in.  I’ve also listed what type of cuisine each restaurant serves, when I recommend eating at the restaurant (i.e. breakfast, lunch, or dinner), and what you can expect from the atmosphere of the restaurant.  You should know that generally, Chicagoans know how to dress up when they hit the town, so I would error on the side of caution (dress up more than you dress down) when going out.

 

The Best Restaurants in the Gold Coast

Deviled Eggs from Blue Door Kitchen & Garden

 

BLUE DOOR KITCHEN & GARDEN – American

Go for:  Brunch

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$)

Blue Door Kitchen & Garden is a really fun, beautifully decorated, and elegant restaurant with an awesome patio.  They’ve proclaimed to be a “farm-to-table oasis in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast” and I can’t argue with that.  The menu is thoughtfully crafted and the ingredients are locally sourced.  If you can, I highly recommend visiting during the warmer months when the patio is open and people are spilling out.  Otherwise, the inside is just as nice.

Fun fact, the head chef was Oprah’s chef for 10 years.  If he’s good enough for Oprah, he’s good enough for me!

 

MAPLE & ASH – Steakhouse

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine Dining ($$$$)

Maple & Ash is one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago.  It’s lively, draws a good crowd, has incredible food, and the interior design is impeccable.  This fancy restaurant does have a dress code but trust me, it’s far from “stuffy” inside.  And while you can expect to pay a pretty penny dining here, they do have $30 seafood towers and $10 martinis every night of the week from 5pm – 6pm at the bar – first come, first serve.

 

The Best Restaurants in Lincoln Park

 

SUMMER HOUSE SANTA MONICA – New American

Go for:  Brunch/Lunch

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$$)

Summer House Santa Monica is another great brunch/lunch spot.  There’s usually live music and the restaurant has a warm and welcoming feel to it.  (It almost has a “summer” feel -which I extra appreciate in the winter months).  I have been to this restaurant twice now – once for a girls’ brunch and another time for apps and drinks at a bachelorette party.  Both times were so fun given the light and fun atmosphere at Summer House.

Summer House is also a fun place to go if you’re day drinking!  In the summer they open all of the windows and the bar is usually pretty packed.

 

The Best Restaurants in Old Town

 

HAPPY CAMPER PIZZERIA – Pizza

Go for:  Lunch/Dinner

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$)

This pizzeria is anything but your average pizzeria.  Happy Camper has two locations in Chicago, one in Old Town and one in Wrigleyville; plus they have a third location in Denver.  It’s a uniquely designed restaurant with odes to camping, twinkle lights along the ceiling, and tons of big-screen TVs to watch sports on.  Happy Camper is the perfect place on the weekend to grab a group of friends and watch a big football game – just make sure to make reservations in advance as it can get packed.

 

TOPO GIGIO RISTORANTE – Italian

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$)

Topo Gigio is what Italian dreams are made of!  This restaurant has the best vibe – laid-back, family-friendly, big pours of wine… it all feels very authentically Italian.  Plus their pasta dish – conchiglie alla sarda – is insane.  I crave it every single day.  Most people refer to this dish (pictured above) as “Topo crack” and it isn’t until you’ve tried it for yourself that you see why.  (I’ve even ordered it as “Topo crack” a few times out and the waiters always know what I’m talking about).

 

The Best Restaurants in River North

Wagyu Crispy Rice from Sunda

 

BAVETTE’S BAR & BOEUF – Steak House

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$$)

Bavettes is another fun and unique Chicago restaurant.  This classic and upscale steakhouse is incredibly good, and quite small, meaning that you usually have to book a reservation in advance (currently they are accepting reservations 30 days in advance and you can’t book for more than six people due to their small size).  If you can’t get a reservation, the bar allows walk-in guests.  What I like most about Bavette’s is that if you take a bottle of wine and share a glass with another table, the corkage fee is waived.  This is fun because sometimes you’re at the table that gets gifted wine!

 

GILT BAR – American

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$)

Gilt Bar is one of those restaurants that transform the world around you and takes you back to a later time.  It has such an “old school” feel to it with plush chairs, ornate decor, upholstered walls, marble floors, and timbered ceilings, all contributing to a moody and elegant feeling.

There is also a speakeasy in the basement called “The Library”, open Thursday-Saturday, reservations not accepted.

 

SUNDA – Southeast Asian

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$$)

I’ve struggled to find good Asian food in Chicago (but don’t worry – Italian food is plenty!).  But luckily, Sunda changed my mind and showed me that Chicago CAN do Asian right.  Located in River North, Sunda is a hip restaurant that focuses on Southeast Asian cuisine and sushi.  Sunda focuses heavily on sharing food and celebrating culture from Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and China.

 

The Best Restaurants in the West Loop

Crisp Short Rib and Sumac Hummus from Avec

 

ABA – Mediterranean

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$)

Aba is by far the most fun restaurant that I’ve dined at in Chicago.  It’s upbeat, posh, lively, and is not only impeccably decorated indoors, but also has an amazing rooftop patio situation.  The Mediterranean menu is designed to be shared and is influenced by Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece.

 

ALLA VITA – Italian

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$)

Remember above when I was saying that it is nearly impossible to get into some of Chicago’s premier restaurants?  Well, Alla Vita is one of those restaurants.  Serving some of the best Italian food in Chicago (their wood-fired table bread is divine) Alla Vita has it all – unique decor, incredible food, a lively atmosphere.  It’s created such high demand that people wait for months to get in and even then, the reservations aren’t always ideal having you dine early in the evening or at closing time.  But if you’re lucky enough to get a coveted table at Alla Vita, I say you take it no matter what.

 

AVEC – Mediterranean

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$)

Avec is one of those restaurants that I was on the fence about before trying it.  I made last-minute dinner reservations for a Saturday night out, and it bothered me that there were so many open tables to choose from – I worried that the restaurant wasn’t going to be good.  But boy was I mistaken!  Avec stole my heart from the second that I sat down.  This restaurant is innovative – both in terms of design and food – and not a day goes by that I don’t crave the crisp short rib and sumac hummus (pictured above).  Not to mention Avec hosts monthly dinner parties that are all themed and come with wine pairings, a great activity if you’re looking to do something aside from your typical dinner out.

You should also know that there are two different locations.  One in the West Loop, the original restaurant, and one in River North.  I highly recommend visiting the West Loop restaurant if you can get in.

 

DUCK DUCK GOAT – Chinese

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$$)

Created by the famous chef Stephanie Izard, Duck Duck Goat has to be one of my all time favorite restaurants in Chicago.  The restaurant has an incredible homey feeling, while also being unique, vibrant, and fun.  Not to mention, the food is absolutely incredible.  Chef Izard has three other restaurants in Chicago, Cabra, Little Goat Diner, and Girl and the Goat.

 

LITTLE GOAT DINER – American

Go for:  Breakfast

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$)

As mentioned above, Little Goat Diner is owned by the esteemed chef Stephanie Izard.  It has to be my favorite brunch – ever – and has a bit of an Asian spin on comfort food.  Little Goat Diner frequently has a long line out the door so I highly recommend making reservations ahead of time.

 

LÝRA – Greek

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$)

LÝRA is the hottest new restaurant to come to the West Loop.  Serving Greek food, the chef and most of the cooks hail from Greece, specifically Mykonos, so there’s a bit of a party vibe at this hot new restaurant.  The lamb gyros were incredible, and each dish that is served is a bit of a show.  You’ll also notice that many desserts come out with sparklers on top, giving it the ultimate Mykonos party vibe feel.

 

PARLOR PIZZA BAR – Pizza

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Casual ($$)

Surprise!  Another pizza restaurant on this list – it is Chicago after all, what do you expect?  Parlor is one of my favorite pizza bars in the city for its lively atmosphere, great pizza (hot chix is my all-time favorite), and don’t even get me started on the nachos that I have proclaimed are “the best nachos in the world”.  Whenever guests visit me in Chicago, Parlor is a staple restaurant that I revisit time and time again.  It’s the perfect spot to grab some grub and stay to hang out for the night, and the perfect spot for a bigger group of people.

There are two locations, West Loop and River North, and the West Loop location blows the River North location out of the water.

 

ROSE MARY – Croatian

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$)

Similar to Alla Vita, Rose Mary is another one of those Chicago restaurants where you need to book reservations months in advance to be able to get a table.  Rose Mary was opened by award-winning Top Chef Joe Flamm.  The restaurant is named after his wife’s grandma and his grandma – Rose and Mary.  One has an Italian background and the other has a Croatian background which is how the concept for an Italian Croatian restaurant came to be.

If you’re lucky enough to snag a table at Rose Mary, don’t miss out on the stracciatella.

 

TRIVOLI TAVERN – American

Go for:  Dinner

Atmosphere:  Fine-ish Dining ($$$)

Trivoli Tavern blew me away.  When I looked at this restaurant online, I thought it looked completely sub-par.  (And don’t get me started on the amount of food on the menu).  It turns out I was mistaken.  Trivoli Tavern is a restaurant that feels like it has transported you back in time to the 1920s (similarly to Gilt Bar).  The food is incredible, the music was unlike any playlist I’ve heard at a restaurant, and the dark interior made me feel as though I was just escaping prohibition.

 

Chicago Restaurants to Skip

While most restaurants that I’ve come across in Chicago are incredible, there are a few that just didn’t do it for me and I don’t want you wasting any time on a bad meal (that can ruin a trip after all).  The following restaurants just weren’t up my alley be it mediocre food, bad service, not worth the hype, or just a general bad vibe.  And while I usually suggest trying things for yourself, if you’re visiting Chicago on a limited timeframe I would avoid eating out at the following restaurants:

  • Pizzeria Portofino – Pizza; Located on the Chicago Riverfront
  • Roka Akor – Japanese; Located in River North
  • sushiDOKKU – Sushi; Located in West Loop
  • Tree House – Pizza; Located in River North

 

Tips for Getting Restaurant Reservations in Chicago

Happy Camper Pizzeria

Below you’ll find some of my tried and true tips for getting coveted restaurant reservations in Chicago.

 

KNOW WHEN RESERVATIONS OPEN UP

The first step in getting restaurant reservations is to know when restaurant reservations open up.  For example, at the time of writing, Bavette’s opens their reservations one month in advance and Alla Vita opens their reservations two months in advance.  If you have a specific day that you want to eat at a popular restaurant, I suggest setting an alarm on your phone in advance so that when reservations open up you can be one of the first to grab a table.

 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO CALL/WALK-IN

Even if a restaurant looks as though it doesn’t have a reservation available, in the past I’ve either called or walked in and have had mediocre luck.  It can go either way but it doesn’t hurt to try!  If I’m going to walk in, I usually like to have a backup plan or know other restaurants nearby that I can pop into in case plan A doesn’t work out.

 

DOWNLOAD ALL THE RESTAURANT APPS

Each Chicago restaurant uses its open app when it comes to making reservations, and the popular ones are OpenTable, Resy, or Tock.  Find out which app the restaurant you want to eat at uses and make sure to download it to your phone.  You can then set notifications if a table were to open up at any random point.  As long as you can be flexible, this is a great way to get in at a hot restaurant.

 

BE FLEXIBLE

For restaurants that are hard to get into, typically making a reservation early or late will do the trick.  Be flexible in when you eat whether that means that it’s when the restaurant opens or right before the restaurant is closing.

 

I hope that you find this guide to restaurants in Chicago helpful!  What restaurants am I missing?  Leave a comment so I can add them to my ever-growing Chicago bucket list!

 


If you’re a foodie (like me!), you may find these restaurant guides in other cities helpful:

15+ of the Best Restaurants in San Francisco

The Ultimate Guide to the Seattle Food Scene


 

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passportsandpreemies
passportsandpreemies

Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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