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. Au Cheval

    $ | West Loop | Diner

    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

  • 2. 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

  • 3. 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

  • 4. Blackbird

    $$$$ | West Loop | Modern 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

  • 5. 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

  • 6. 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

  • 7. The Bristol

    $$ | Bucktown | Modern 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

  • 8. 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

  • 9. 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

  • 10. 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

  • 11. A10

    $$ | Hyde Park | European

    Hyde Park is experiencing a bit of a culinary renaissance thanks to a few new faces in the crowd. Take chef-owner Matthias Merges, who does...Read More

  • 12. Balena

    $$$ | Lincoln Park | Italian

    This place burst onto the scene with a prime location across from Steppenwolf Theatre and a sexy Italian-inspired design that draws a respectable...Read More

  • 13. Japonais by Morimoto

    $$$$ | River North | Japanese

    As if this supersleek Japanese-fusion restaurant wasn't hot enough, Japonais got an added boost from the presense of internationally renowned...Read More

  • 14. Longman & Eagle

    $$ | Logan Square | Modern American

    Chef Jared Wentworth adheres to a farm-to-table aesthetic, so the menu at this hip gastropub changes often. Look for gamey dishes such as fried...Read More

  • 15. Lula Café

    $$$ | Logan Square | Modern 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

  • 16. Maude's Liquor Bar

    $$$$ | West Loop | French

    A classic French menu of dishes like chicken liver mousse and French onion fondue is the only thing traditional about this sexy Randolph Street...Read More

  • 17. Nellcôte

    $$ | West Loop | Modern European

    Inspired by the French Riviera mansion where the Rolling Stones recorded "Exile on Main Street," Nellcôte blends European opulence with raw...Read More

  • 18. Nightwood

    $$ | Pilsen | Modern American

    It's almost as if a piece of Brooklyn touched down here on the southern border of the Pilsen neighborhood. Everyone who works here appears to...Read More

  • 19. NoMI Kitchen

    $$$ | Near North | Modern American

    Suits and ties are no longer de rigueur at the Park Hyatt's NoMI Kitchen, a seventh-floor lifestyle-focused concept that goes along with NoMI...Read More

  • 20. Paris Club Bistro & Bar

    $$ | River North | French

    A stuffy French bistro this is not: lighting is low, music is loud, and space is usually tight, but that's what attracts the well-heeled diners...Read More

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