Chicago Restaurants

Sure, this city has great architecture, museums, and sports venues. But at its heart, Chicago is really a food town. This is evident in the priority that good eating takes, no matter the occasion. Rain or shine, locals will wait in a line that snakes around the corner for dolled-up doughnuts at Doughnut Vault. They’ll reserve part of their paychecks to dine at inventive Alinea. And they love to talk about their most recent meal—just ask.

It's no wonder that outdoor festivals are often centered on food, from Taste of Chicago in summer, which packs the grounds at Grant Park, to smaller celebrations, like the German-American fest in Lincoln Square, a mini-Oktoberfest in fall.

Although the city has always had options on the extreme ends of the spectrum—from the hole-in-the wall Italian beef sandwich shops to the special-occasion spots—it's now easier to find eateries in the middle that serve seasonal menus with a farm-to-table mantra. For the budget conscious, it's also a great time to dine: some talented chefs aren't bothering to wait for a liquor license, opening BYOB spots turning out polished fare (just try Ruxbin in West Town).

Expect to see more Chicago chefs open casual concepts—Rick Bayless, Paul Kahan, and Michael Kornick have a head start with their respective sandwich, taco, and burger spots. Yet the goal remains the same: to feed a populace that knows good food and isn't willing to accept anything less than the best. In the following pages, you'll find our top picks, from quick bites to multicourse meals, in the city's best dining neighborhoods.

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  • 1. Acadia

    $$$ | South Loop | American

    The Northeast coast makes a splash in the South Loop with this elegant enclave from chef-owner Ryan McCaskey. Dishes are fresh, inventive, and...Read More

  • 2. Alinea

    $$$$ | Lincoln Park | American

    Believe the hype and secure tickets—yes, tickets—well in advance. Chicago's most exciting restaurant demands an adventurous spirit and a serious...Read More

  • 3. Au Cheval

    $ | West Loop | American

    A menu packed with burgers, fries, and chopped liver might sound like your classic dive, but Au Cheval is no greasy spoon. Exposed brick, dim...Read More

  • 4. Blackbird

    $$$$ | West Loop | American

    Being cramped next to your neighbor has never been as fun as it is at this hot spot run by award winning chef Paul Kahan. Celebs pepper the...Read More

  • 5. Boka

    $$$ | Lincoln Park | American

    If you're doing Steppenwolf pretheater dinner on North Halsted Street, this upscale spot gets the foodie stamp of approval, especially with...Read More

  • 6. Chicago Diner

    $ | Boystown | American

    Belovedby vegetarians and vegans, this eatery should also appeal to anyone simply looking for a satisfying, comforting meal. The Chicago Diner...Read More

  • 7. Gather

    $$ | Lincoln Square | American

    Class meets comfort in this upscale neighborhood eatery. The service is top-notch and everything on your plate is made in-house from scratch...Read More

  • 8. Grace

    $$$$ | West Loop | American

    Breakout culinary star Curtis Duffy (veteran of Avenues and Alinea) makes a home for his inventive white-tablecloth cuisine at this West Loop...Read More

  • 9. Hopleaf

    $$ | Far North Side | American

    When hops devotee Michael Roper added a dining room onto the back of his beloved tavern, swillers were thrilled with the opportunity to sop...Read More

  • 10. Mindy's Hot Chocolate

    $$ | Bucktown | American

    The city's most celebrated pastry chef, Mindy Segal, goes solo at Hot Chocolate, and as you might expect, it's a hit for a really great dessert...Read More

  • 11. North Pond

    $$$ | Lincoln Park | American

    A former Arts and Crafts–style warming house for ice-skaters at Lincoln Park's North Pond, this gem in the woods fittingly champions an uncluttered...Read More

  • 12. The Bristol

    $$ | Bucktown | American

    While Bucktown isn't wanting for dining options, this self-proclaimed "eatery and bar" sets itself apart by focusing intently on the food. Chef...Read More

  • 13. The Publican Restaurant

    $$$ | West Loop | American

    Don't call this beer-focused hot spot a gastropub—Chef Paul Kahan (of Blackbird fame) prefers "beer hall" (though wine is available, too). Certainly...Read More

  • 14. Allium

    $$$$ | Near North | American

    Believe it or not, one of Chicago's finest hot dogs is hiding at luxury hotel Four Seasons. The hotel is still all swank, but the restaurant...Read More

  • 15. Beatrix

    $$ | River North | American

    Finding it difficult to accommodate everyone’s cravings? Beatrix is the ultimate crowd pleaser, pulling only the best menu items from the Lettuce...Read More

  • 16. Big Jones

    $$ | Far North Side | American

    Even if you weren't raised by a Southern grandmother, the heirloom cooking at this Andersonville restaurant will make you feel right at home...Read More

  • 17. Billy Goat Tavern

    $ | River North | American

    The late comedian John Belushi immortalized the Goat's short-order cooks on Saturday Night Live for barking, "No Pepsi! Coke!" and "No fries...Read More

  • 18. Dove's Luncheonette

    $ | Wicker Park | American

    None of award-winning chef-owner Paul Kahan’s restaurants are alike, so it's little surprise that his latest concept is another trendy original...Read More

  • 19. Ed Debevic's

    $ | River North | American

    Gum-snapping waiters in garish costumes trade quips and snide remarks with customers at this tongue-in-cheek re-creation of a 1950s diner, but...Read More

  • 20. Eleven City Diner

    $ | South Loop | American

    For all its great food, Chicago is not a big deli town, which endears Eleven City Diner, an old-school deli and family restaurant in the South...Read More

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