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

    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

  • 2. 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

  • 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. Sepia

    $$$$ | West Loop

    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, which features...Read More

  • 5. Spiaggia

    $$$$ | Near North Side

    Refined Italian cooking dished alongside three-story picture-window views of Lake Michigan make Spiaggia one of the city's top eateries. Executive chef Joe Flamm, the Top...Read More

  • 6. CDA

    $$$ | Near North Side

    French cuisine sometimes gets knocked for being too rich, too heavy, and too expensive, but that's an image that French-Canadian-born chef Cliff Crawford is doing...Read More

  • 7. Coco Pazzo

    $$$$ | River North

    There are a lot of good things to come when you enter this Tuscan-inspired restaurant, namely lusty, richly flavored pastas, an antipasto table, impeccable seafood,...Read More

  • 8. Ditka's

    $$$ | Near North Side

    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...Read More

  • 9. Everest

    $$$$ | Chicago Loop

    You might not expect romance at the top of the Chicago Stock Exchange, but at Everest, there are sweeping westward views of the city's sprawl,...Read More

  • 10. Gene & Georgetti

    $$$$ | River North

    This old-school steak house, in business since 1941, is a Chicago institution that attracts high-powered regulars and celebrities who pop in for lunch or dinner....Read More

  • 11. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

    $$$$ | Near North Side

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

  • 12. Les Nomades

    $$$$ | Near North Side

    Intimate and elegant doesn't make headlines, but Les Nomades quietly serves some of Chicago’s best French food in the warm dining room of this Streeterville...Read More

  • 13. Mercat a la Planxa

    $$$$ | South Loop

    Catalan-inspired restaurant Mercat offers a stylish respite from Michigan Avenue with a view of Grant Park and a menu of small to midsize plates, all...Read More

  • 14. Nico Osteria

    $$$ | Gold Coast

    On a premier corner of the Gold Coast, in The Thompson Chicago, is this seafood-focused gem helmed by award-winning chef Jacob Verstegen. Go here for...Read More

  • 15. RL

    $$$$ | Near North Side

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

  • 16. Shanghai Terrace

    $$$ | Near North Side

    As precious as a jewel box, this red, lacquer-trimmed 80-seat restaurant hidden away in the Peninsula Hotel reveals the hotelier's Asian roots. Come for stylishly...Read More

  • 17. The Grillroom Chophouse & Winebar

    $$$ | Chicago Loop

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

  • 18. The Lobby at the Peninsula

    $$$ | River North

    While many contemporary restaurants lean toward the avant-garde, The Lobby continues the tradition of classic upscale hotel dining with all the frills. During the day,...Read More

  • 19. RIA

    $$$$ | Near North Side

    After a few moments of oohing and ahhing over the fairytale castle facade of the Waldorf-Astoria, head to the third floor for a romantic evening...Read More

  • 20. Baffo

    $$$ | River North

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

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