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. Au Cheval

    $ | West Loop

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

  • 2. Avec

    $$ | West Loop

    Head to this Euro-style wine bar when you're feeling gregarious; the warm, intimate space has seating for only 55 people, and the results are loud...Read More

  • 3. Frontera Grill

    $$ | River North

    Devotees of Chef Rick Bayless queue up for the bold flavors of his distinct fare at this casual restaurant brightly trimmed in Mexican folk art,...Read More

  • 4. Little Goat

    $ | West Loop

    Following the wild success of her flagship restaurant, Girl & the Goat, Top Chef alum Stephanie Izard switched gears with this all-day counterpart. The diner/bakery/bar...Read More

  • 5. Lula Café

    $$ | Logan Square

    Locals worship Lula Café, a neighborhood favorite that has been serving modern, seasonal dishes (and a cult-favorite brunch menu) in a spacious location with counter...Read More

  • 6. North Pond

    $$$$ | Lincoln Park

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

  • 7. Slurping Turtle

    $ | River North

    Slurping is not only allowed at Chef Takashi Yagihashi's boisterous, casual noodle shop—it's encouraged. Bursting with umami, the ramen is almost a religious experience and...Read More

  • 8. The Publican Restaurant

    $$ | West Loop

    Don't call this beer-focused hot spot a gastropub—chef Paul Kahan prefers "beer hall" (though wine is available, too) and with the long communal tables, at...Read More

  • 9. Walker Bros. Original Pancake House

    $

    Be prepared to stand in line for the mouthwatering apple cinnamon pancakes, a massive disk loaded with apples, or the German pancake, a puffy oven-baked...Read More

  • 10. Walker Bros. Pancake House

    $

    Be prepared to stand in line for the mouthwatering apple cinnamon pancakes, a massive disk loaded with apples, or the German pancake, a puffy oven-baked...Read More

  • 11. 312 Chicago

    $$$ | Chicago Loop

    Part handy hotel restaurant, part Loop power diner, and all Italian down to its first-generation chef, Luca Corazzina, 312 Chicago earns its popularity with well-executed...Read More

  • 12. 3rd Coast Cafe & Wine Bar

    $ | Near North Side

    The oldest coffeehouse in the Gold Coast pleases just about everyone with breakfast all day, a nightly dinner specials. They stay open until 9 pm...Read More

  • 13. Adorn Bar & Restaurant

    $$$ | Near North Side

    James Beard--award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer explores the use of ingredients from close to home while preparing global cuisine at this sleek restaurant on the seventh...Read More

  • 14. Allium

    $$$ | Near North Side

    Believe it or not, one of Chicago's finest hot dogs is hiding at the Four Seasons luxury hotel, and the famed Chicago-style dog with "housemade...Read More

  • 15. Ann Sather

    $ | Lakeview

    This Scandinavian mini-chain, open since 1945, is a Chicago institution for good reason: the aroma of fresh, gooey cinnamon rolls put this place on the...Read More

  • 16. Batter & Berries

    $ | Lincoln Park

    Bright yellow walls and a soundtrack of classic house music make for a convivial atmosphere at this daytime spot, a favorite with students from nearby...Read More

  • 17. Beatrix

    $$ | River North

    If you’re finding it difficult to accommodate everyone’s cravings, Beatrix is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. The restaurant offers comfort food with a healthy twist for breakfast,...Read More

  • 18. BellyQ and Urbanbelly

    $$ | West Loop

    With chef-owner Bill Kim’s ramen restaurant and Korean barbecue house under the same roof, you have two chances to try his pan-Asian cuisine—head to the...Read More

  • 19. Big Jones

    $$ | Far North Side

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

  • 20. Bistronomic

    $$ | Near North Side

    Classic French dishes using local and sustainable ingredients have been the ethos of Bistronomic (Bistro-Economic) since it opened in 2011. Escargots, onion soup, and mains...Read More

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