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. 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

  • 2. Chicago Cut Steakhouse

    $$$$ | River North | Steakhouse

    As if steak houses didn’t offer enough luxury already, Chicago Cut takes decadence to the next level. Sumptuous red banquettes and floor-to...Read More

  • 3. Frontera Grill

    $$ | River North | Mexican

    Devotees of chef-owner Rick Bayless queue up for the bold flavors of his distinct fare at this casual restaurant brightly trimmed in Mexican...Read More

  • 4. Spiaggia

    $$$$ | Near North | Italian

    Refined Italian cooking dished alongside three-story picture-window views of Lake Michigan make Spiaggia one of the city's top eateries. The...Read More

  • 5. 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

  • 6. 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

  • 7. Coco Pazzo

    $$$ | River North | Italian

    The spread of antipasti that greets you upon entrance into this Tuscan-inspired restaurant is a sign of good things to come. Coco Pazzo serves...Read More

  • 8. Ditka's

    $$$ | Near North | Steakhouse

    NFL Hall-of-Famer Mike Ditka was one of only two coaches to take the Bears to the Super Bowl. Sure, it was back in 1985, but Bears fans have...Read More

  • 9. 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

  • 10. Gene & Georgetti

    $$$$ | River North | Steakhouse

    This old-school steak house, in business since 1941, is a Chicago institution. It thrives on the buddy network of high-powered regulars and...Read More

  • 11. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

    $$$$ | Near North | Steakhouse

    Chicago movers and shakers mingle with conventioneers at Gibsons, a lively, homegrown, Gold Coast steak house renowned for overwhelming portions...Read More

  • 12. 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

  • 13. Mercat a la Planxa

    $$$ | South Loop | Spanish

    Inside the Blackstone Hotel, this Catalan-inspired restaurant offers a stylish respite from Michigan Avenue. Philadelphia-based chef Jose Garces...Read More

  • 14. Naha

    $$$$ | River North | Mediterranean

    Cousins Carrie and Michael Nahabedian lend their name (well, the first two syllables, anyway) and considerable culinary and hospitality skills...Read More

  • 15. 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

  • 16. RL

    $$$ | Near North | American

    Power brokers, moneyed locals, and Michigan Avenue shoppers keep the revolving doors spinning at RL, the initials of designer Ralph Lauren who...Read More

  • 17. 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

  • 18. Shanghai Terrace

    $$$ | Near North | Chinese

    As precious as a jewel box, and often as pricey, this red, lacquer-trimmed 70-seat restaurant hidden away in the Peninsula Hotel reveals the...Read More

  • 19. 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

  • 20. The Grillroom Chophouse & Winebar

    $$ | Loop | Steakhouse

    If you're going to see a performance at the Bank of America Theatre across the street, you're close enough to dash over here for a drink at...Read More

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