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

    The Northeast coast makes a splash in the South Loop with this elegant enclave, where dishes are fresh, inventive, and often have a rather modernist...Read More

  • 2. Alinea

    $$$$ | Lincoln Park

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

  • 3. Arun's

    $$$$ | Irving Park

    One of the finest Thai restaurants in Chicago—some say in the country—offers a culinary tour through Thailand via a nine-course tasting menu. (An à la...Read More

  • 4. 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

  • 5. 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

  • 6. Big Star

    $ | Wicker Park

    The second the sun peeks out each spring, locals make a beeline for the 250-seat patio at Big Star because the tacos and margaritas are...Read More

  • 7. Blackbird

    $$$$ | West Loop

    Even after more than 20 years in business, a food-loving crowd still packs this hot spot run by award-winning chef Paul Kahan—they’re here for creative...Read More

  • 8. Boka

    $$$$ | Lincoln Park

    If you're looking for a Steppenwolf pretheater dinner on North Halsted Street, this upscale spot gets the foodie stamp of approval. The seasonally driven menu...Read More

  • 9. Chicago Cut Steakhouse

    $$$$ | River North

    As if steak houses don’t offer enough luxury already, Chicago Cut takes decadence to the next level with sumptuous red banquettes, floor-to-ceiling windows, and prime...Read More

  • 10. Chicago Diner

    $ | Boystown | Diner

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

  • 11. Crisp

    $ | Lakeview | Korean

    This Lakeview hole-in-the-wall specializes in Korean fried chicken glazed in a variety of unusual sauces ranging from sweet and “Seoul spicy...Read More

  • 12. 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

  • 13. Gather

    $$ | Lincoln Square

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

  • 14. Giant

    $ | Logan Square

    Huge flavors come roaring out of the tiny kitchen at Giant, where chef Jason Vincent takes crowd-pleasers like pasta, vegetarian dishes, and American classics and...Read More

  • 15. Girl & the Goat

    $$ | West Loop

    Bravo's Top Chef Season 4 champion Stephanie Izard's always-packed restaurant lives up to the hype, serving her personal brand of sharable, eclectic plates with seasonal...Read More

  • 16. GT Fish & Oyster

    $$ | River North

    The "GT" here stands for chef-partner Giuseppe Tentori, who has reinterpreted the classic seafood shack as a refined, contemporary eatery, decorated with a few well-placed...Read More

  • 17. Hopleaf

    $$ | Far North Side

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

  • 18. Le Colonial

    $$$ | Near North Side

    Formerly located around the corner on North Rush Street for more than two decades, Le Colonial continues to deliver delicate and sophisticated and French-Vietnamese fare...Read More

  • 19. 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

  • 20. 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

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