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. Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!

    $$ | Lincoln Park | Spanish

    The name is kitschy cute, and it's jammed with partying Lincoln Parkers, so you might not think the food is a selling point—but you'd be wrong...Read More

  • 2. Café Iberico

    $ | River North | Spanish

    A Spanish expat from Galicia runs this tapas restaurant hailed by visiting Spaniards and local families, dating couples, and cheap chowhounds...Read More

  • 3. 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

  • 4. Vera

    $$ | West Loop | Spanish

    Coffee bar by day, Spanish wine bar by night, this café run by husband-and-wife team Mark and Elizabeth Mendez is bound to have the fix you...Read More

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