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. Au Cheval

    $ | West Loop | American

    A menu packed with burgers, fries, and chopped liver might sound like your classic dive, but Au Cheval is no greasy spoon. Exposed brick, dim...Read More

  • 3. Avec

    $$ | West Loop | Mediterranean

    Go to this Euro-style wine bar when you're feeling gregarious; the rather stark space has seating for only 48 people, and it's a tight fit....Read More

  • 4. Big Star

    $ | Wicker Park | Mexican

    It's cramped and noisy, and the service is often ambivalent, but most locals are willing to bear the substantial waits at Big Star because the...Read More

  • 5. 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

  • 6. 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

  • 7. 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

  • 8. 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

  • 9. Girl & the Goat

    $$$$ | West Loop | Eclectic

    Bravo's Top Chef Season 4 champion Stephanie Izard's highly anticipated restaurant lives up to the hype, serving her personal brand of sharable...Read More

  • 10. GT Fish & Oyster

    $$ | River North | Seafood

    The "GT" here stands for chef-partner Giuseppe Tentori, whose latest restaurant coup reinterprets the classic seafood shack as a refined,...Read More

  • 11. Hopleaf

    $$ | Far North Side | American

    When hops devotee Michael Roper added a dining room onto the back of his beloved tavern, swillers were thrilled with the opportunity to sop...Read More

  • 12. Little Goat

    $$ | West Loop | Eclectic

    Following the wild success of her flagship restaurant, the Girl & the Goat, Top Chef alum Stephanie Izard switches gears with this all...Read More

  • 13. Mindy's Hot Chocolate

    $$ | Bucktown | American

    The city's most celebrated pastry chef, Mindy Segal, goes solo at Hot Chocolate, and as you might expect, it's a hit for a really great dessert...Read More

  • 14. Slurping Turtle

    $$ | River North | Japanese

    Slurping is not only allowed at this casual River North noodle shop—it's encouraged. Chef Takashi Yagihashi's ramen gained a cult following...Read More

  • 15. 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

  • 16. The Publican Restaurant

    $$$ | West Loop | American

    Don't call this beer-focused hot spot a gastropub—Chef Paul Kahan (of Blackbird fame) prefers "beer hall" (though wine is available, too). Certainly...Read More

  • 17. The Purple Pig

    $$ | River North | Mediterranean

    The Magnificient Mile is known for many things—stunning architecture, historical landmarks, world-class shopping—but dining isn't usually one...Read More

  • 18. 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

  • 19. Trenchermen

    $$ | Wicker Park | Eclectic

    When many people think of "adventurous dining," the first thought usually turns to offal. But this Wicker Park hot spot is full of unusual flavors...Read More

  • 20. Yusho

    $$ | Logan Square | Japanese

    Yes, it's Japanese, but a standard sushi-teriyaki spot this is not. Charlie Trotter's veteran Matthias Merges gives diners a cheffed-up look...Read More

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