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. 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

  • 2. 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

  • 3. 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

  • 4. 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

  • 5. 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

  • 6. Longman & Eagle

    $$ | Logan Square | American

    Chef Jared Wentworth adheres to a farm-to-table aesthetic, so the menu at this hip gastropub changes often. Look for gamey dishes such as fried...Read More

  • 7. Lula Café

    $$$ | Logan Square | American

    Locals worship Lula Café, a neighborhood favorite that's a quick walk from the Logan Square El stop. A bohemian storefront splits a spacious...Read More

  • 8. mk

    $$$$ | River North | American

    Foodies and fashionistas flock to owner-chef Michael Kornick's ultrahip spot for its sleek look and elegant menu. In a renovated former commercial...Read More

  • 9. Nightwood

    $$ | Pilsen | American

    It's almost as if a piece of Brooklyn touched down here on the southern border of the Pilsen neighborhood. Everyone who works here appears to...Read More

  • 10. NoMI Kitchen

    $$$ | Near North | American

    Suits and ties are no longer de rigueur at the Park Hyatt's NoMI Kitchen, a seventh-floor lifestyle-focused concept that goes along with NoMI...Read More

  • 11. Pump Room

    $$ | Near North | American

    Once famous for its star-studded clientele like Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart, the iconic Pump Room was on the verge of extinction before...Read More

  • 12. Sable Kitchen + Bar

    $$ | River North | American

    Sleek, stylish, and boasting one of the city's most accomplished mixology programs, it's almost hard to believe that Sable Kitchen + Bar is...Read More

  • 13. Sepia

    $$$ | West Loop | American

    The name may evoke nostalgia for the building's gritty past as a print shop, but Sepia is thoroughly forward-thinking in both its design (glassed...Read More

  • 14. Sixteen

    $$$$ | River North | American

    Uninterrupted views of the landmark Wrigley Building, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago River make it easy to overlook the food at Sixteen—but...Read More

  • 15. Sola Restaurant

    $$ | North Center | American

    While you can dine very well in Chicago's neighborhoods, most local joints aren't as ambitious as Sola, which would be right at home downtown...Read More

  • 16. Avenues

    $$$$ | Near North Side | American

    The least ostentatious of the city's cutting-edge restaurants, Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel lives a double life. The contemporary black-lacquered...Read More

  • 17. C-House

    $$ | River North | American

    Don't mind the slightly out of place chic nautical decor—celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson first envisioned the restaurant as a chop house (hence...Read More

  • 18. Charlie Trotter's

    $$$$ | Lincoln Park | American

    Plan well in advance to dine at top toque Charlie Trotter's namesake (or call the day of and hope for a cancellation). One of the nation's most...Read More

  • 19. Crofton on Wells

    $$$ | River North | American

    We like this place because it's really good and still manages to be rather low-key. Chef-owner Suzy Crofton breaks a few contemporary-dining...Read More

  • 20. Erwin Cafe

    $$ | Lakeview | American

    Striking a pose between friendly and refined, this spot has comforting food, a cozy setting, and polished service. Chef Erwin Drechsler often...Read More

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