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. 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

  • 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. Topolobampo

    $$$$ | River North | Mexican

    Chef-owner Rick Bayless wrote the book on regional Mexican cuisine—several books, actually—and here he takes his faithfully prepared regional...Read More

  • 6. TRU

    $$$$ | Near North | French

    More than a decade after TRU opened under the direction of former chef/partners Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, the award-winning progressive French...Read More

  • 7. Arun's

    $$$$ | Irving Park | Thai

    One of the finest Thai restaurants in Chicago—some say in the country—is also one of the most expensive, featuring only seven-course tasting...Read More

  • 8. Baffo

    $$$ | River North | Italian

    Chicagoans are typically wary of outside chefs, but it seems that celebrity chef Mario Batali has received the local stamp of approval judging...Read More

  • 9. Café des Architectes

    $$$ | Near North | French

    French cuisine sometimes gets knocked for being too rich, heavy, and expensive, but this is an image that Southern-born chef Greg Biggers is...Read More

  • 10. Everest

    $$$$ | Loop | French

    No one expects romance at the top of the Chicago Stock Exchange, but Everest does its best to throw you a curve wherever and whenever. Consider...Read More

  • 11. Han 202

    $$$ | Chinatown | Chinese

    Tasting menus tend to come with sky-high prices, but that's not the case at this BYOB spot in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, just south...Read More

  • 12. Le Bouchon

    $$ | Bucktown | French

    The French comfort food at this charming-but-cramped bistro in Bucktown is in a league of its own. The onion tart has been a signature dish...Read More

  • 13. Les Nomades

    $$$$ | Near North | French

    Intimate and elegant doesn't make headlines, but Les Nomades holds a torch for tender refinements. Wood-burning fireplaces and original art...Read More

  • 14. 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

  • 15. 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

  • 16. Moto Restaurant

    $$$$ | West Loop | Eclectic

    Mad-scientist chef Homaro Cantu has become a cult figure in the Windy City. His restaurant-cum-laboratory is sequestered in the city's still...Read More

  • 17. Nacional 27

    $$ | River North | Latin American

    Named after the 27 nations south of the U.S. border, this Pan-Latin restaurant serves a smattering of cross-cultural dishes from the Caribbean...Read More

  • 18. Next Restaurant

    $$$$ | West Loop | Eclectic

    Grant Achatz's buzzworthy sophomore effort is big on concept: the restaurant completely transforms itself every three months to focus on a unique...Read More

  • 19. Nico Osteria

    $$$ | Gold Coast | Italian

    The Thompson Hotel is one of Chicago’s hottest hotel destinations, so it seems fitting to tap one of the city’s finest chefs to make its restaurant...Read More

  • 20. Petterino's

    $$ | Loop | Italian

    Theatergoers to the Goodman, the Palace, and the Oriental pack Petterino's (next door to the Goodman lobby) nightly. Not that the Italian supper...Read More

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