Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Best Restaurants in Chicago, IL
1723 N. Halsted
This amazing restaurant serves some of the most creative, progressive contemporary American cuisine to be found anywhere. It has received accolades from the press including the Gourmet magazine top restaurant of their 50 top restaurant picks in America in the October, 06 issue. The interior is dramatic yet understated, simple and comfortable, the service is polished, with the food being the star. Grant Achatz, chef-owner, and his staff serve intricate dishes that are both playful and stunning, yet display serious cooking full of incredible flavors, unusual combinations, served in creative ways that enhance the experience. There are 2 degustation menus to choose from, a 12 course and 24 course menu. The wine list is excellent and long; the wine director offers wonderful wine pairings. Expensive, but definitely worth the experience; this is food as performance art at its highest level!
2300 N. Lincoln Park West
The cozy but elegant, dark paneled art nouveau interior and the outstanding contemporary French cuisine continue to make Ambria a top choice for a romantic dinner. You can order a la carte or choose from several degustation menus, including a Tribute to Spain and a vegetarian menu. First plates might include soft shell crabs, bacon wrapped rabbit terrine or Japanese Hokkaido scallops a la plancha, all creative, succulently prepared. Soups might include classics like Lobster Bisque or the wonderful double duck consommé with sliced duck breast and julienne vegetables. Both the seafood and meat entrees are equally superb and might include wild Chinook salmon or wild black bass, oven roasted poussin, or loin of lamb with almond crust. And don’t pass up the delicious desserts that include an array of classic soufflés. The wine list is world class with one of the city's top sommeliers who will lead you to the perfect selection to match your menu choice and your personal taste.
4156 N. Kedzie
Located in a residential neighborhood of Chicago’s northwest side, this amazing, innovative Thai restaurant is the creation of chef-owner Arun Sampanthavivat. Although expensive, this is no ordinary Thai restaurant; it is one of the finest in the U.S., even rivaling the best in Thailand. The exterior is unassuming but the interior is lovely, exotic and filled with art. Dinner is a multi-course degustation menu, designed by the chef and always changing, but customized to diner’s dietary restrictions and preferences. The food combines the rich traditions of Thai cooking with the imaginative and delicate flair of Arun’s artistic cooking.
615 W. Randolph
This wine bar and restaurant is the creation of the Blackbird restaurant group, but has a completely different concept and different chef. Small plate Mediterranean cuisine is seasonal with small plates such as crispy duck leg confit, crispy short rib or chicken fricassee and entrée plates like duck cassoulet with garlic sausage and flageolets, whole roasted fish with kumquat and orange marmalade or Avec style paella with blood sausage, shrimp, mussels, pickled onion and red pepper relish. Cheese selections come from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and there are excellent desserts. The interesting wine list is mainly European and carefully thought out to create excellent pairings with the food. The small, casual, contemporary space has communal tables and is not for the antisocial, but the innovative, excellent cuisine, reasonable prices and fun wine list and wine program keep this restaurant very hip, filled and loud.
The Peninsula Chicago Hotel, 108 E. Superior
Chef Graham Elliot Bowles (Food and Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2004) has created an incredible world-class restaurant in one of the world’s great hotels, The Peninsula Hotel on Chicago’s posh Magnificent Mile section of Michigan Avenue. The food is inspiring, the wine program superb, and the service flawless. The cuisine is contemporary global/American/French, but that doesn’t really describe the amazing innovative creations. Like chef Grant Achatz, Bowles offers influences from every aspect of the culinary world, science, popular food culture, playfulness (he has been known to use crushed altoids in a dish)…but the results are always explosive and harmonious flavors. This is one of the city’s great restaurants.
339 N. Dearborn
In Chicago's trendy River North, this casual eatery, adjacent to the House of Blues, offers oenophiles and food lovers a great place to dine. A more casual, “small plates” tavern is side by side to the more formal dining room; both are sophisticated, unpretentious and wine oriented. The cuisine is contemporary global with choices like 3 tartars or steamed mussels Provencal for starters, and pan-seared Atlantic skate, roasted golden tilefish, grilled yogurt marinated lamb T-bones or pan roasted organic heirloom pork loin for some of the main course choices. The tasting menu is wonderful and reasonably priced, with the wine already paired with the food courses. Great desserts but also a very large selection of artisan cheeses make this a cheese lovers’ destination. The large, well-priced, global wine list and the whole wine program are excellent. Bin 36 includes a small retail wine shop.
110 E. Pearson
Reliable and very popular with both tourists and locals, Bistro 110 offers tasty traditional French bistro fare like steak frites and mussels, plus an excellent raw bar and their delicious, signature roasted garlic. It is located just off of Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile with outdoor seating in the summer.
1131 N. State
A wonderful neighborhood French bistrot, reasonably priced with a charming décor (including an authentic zinc bar), and delicious, reliable French classics such as steamed mussels, rack of lamb, filet mignon, braised rabbit, salade du chevre…It is located in the near north/Gold coast neighborhood, just a short walk from the Magnificent Mile.
619 W. Randolph
Chef/owner Paul Kahan creates seasonal, fresh contemporary American cuisine in one of Chicago’s more popular restaurants. Located in the West Loop, near the beginning of the popular Randolph Street restaurant area, Blackbird is a sleek, minimalist restaurant with a trendy crowd and sophisticated but unpretentious service. Delicious food pairings such as the grilled California sturgeon and braised oxtail with knefla, baby parsnips, local apples and curry, or seared loin of venison with pickled damson plums, hen of the woods mushrooms, caramelized shallots and guanciale vinaigrette are brilliant. The creative desserts include chocolate pot de crème with sweet cream milk shake and cocoa meringue cookies. There is a sophisticated wine list. The experience is consistently high quality, which is one reason why Chicagoans love this restaurant.
130 S. Green St.
When it opened, Butter was named one of the best new restaurants by Esquire magazine in November 2005. Located in the West Loop, Butter has a stylish, elegant and inviting modern design, where talented chef Ryan Poli cooks delicious and innovative, contemporary American cuisine. The menu includes several degustation menus and caviar service in addition to the a la carte choices. With super fresh ingredients and rich flavors the dishes are artfully presented, and the service is efficient, knowledgeable and friendly but very professional.
739 N. LaSalle Dr.
Cafe Iberico is one of the most popular Spanish tapas restaurants in Chicago. Owned by Jose Lagoa, originally from Spain, this cafe style eatery also offers Chicagoans one of the best values in dining out while maintaining a diverse menu. High quality ingredients are showcased in dishes such as Jamon Iberico - Spanish style cured ham with manchego cheese and tomato bread, pulpo a la plancha – grilled octopus with potatoes and olive oil, chorizo y morcilla - a combination of grilled Spanish style sausages and paella Iberico (they have several types of paella). Over 50 Spanish wines are offered. It is a loud, high-energy place and often offers Spanish television in the bar area.
980 N. Michigan
The crowd is casual but very chic at this smart urban trattoria serving excellent Italian basics and imaginative new combinations. One of the best views of the city is available from this second story location where diners get a bird’s eye view of Michigan Avenue shops and shoppers from the window tables. This restaurant is the casual, less expensive, brother of the main Spiaggia restaurant down the hall, whose famous chef, Tony Mantuano, presides over both. The handmade pastas, the sophisticated entrees and decadent desserts are all first class; the setting is stylish and beautiful.
702 W. Fulton
In a West Loop warehouse, Carnivale creates lots of fun, loud energy in a visually stunning, very large space as backdrop to the excellent, creative Nuevo Latino cuisine. The crowd is stylish and trendy; the colorful environment gives it a Latino party atmosphere. The food does not disappoint with great ceviches and starters like the sweet plantains and Cuban braised beef, and main courses like the rum-glazed pork shoulder, wood-grilled lamb T-bones, or the grilled skirt steak.
816 W. Armitage
Chef Charlie Trotter is one of America’s greatest chefs and his endless quest for perfection in food, wine (over 1,000 selections), service, and decor has given his restaurant a unique reputation for incomparable contemporary cuisine. The menu is ever changing; the food is luscious and beautiful; freshness is an obsession, using organic and free-range products. Ingredients from all cuisines are brought together in thrilling fusions. Three degustation menus are offered, the Grand Menu, the Vegetable Menu and the Kitchen Table Menu. The bill is steep, but patrons are never disappointed in the dining. Reserve well in advance (at least a few weeks) for those very special occasions when everything must be perfect. This is one of America’s finest restaurants. It is located in the beautiful Lincoln Park neighborhood of the city.
The Cheesecake Factory
Hancock Building, 875 N. Michigan Avenue
Down a flight of steps from bustling Michigan Avenue, past the courtyard's fountain, into a cave-like interior you'll find a series of cozy warrens, each one giving a glimpse of something more to come. A large and varied menu offers seafood, steaks, pizza, hamburgers, pastas and salads are available in a variety of preparations and generous portions, but this is an especially fine place to enjoy a late dessert -- cheesecake, of course.
The Chicago Diner
3411 N. Halsted
Chicago Diner has served vegetarian and vegan cuisine (including many gluten free selections) since 1983 in the hip Lakeview neighborhood. It is very popular and for good reason; a large selection of tasty foods that range from comfort to experimental, plus beers and an all-organic wine list. There is a garden patio for warm weather months.
300 W. Hubbard
This classic River North space, a sophisticated and dramatic loft feel that is elegant yet casual, Coco Pazzo is easily one of Chicago’s finest Italian restaurants, specializing in Tuscan cuisine. The kitchen makes ample use of the wood-burning oven, not only for pizzas but also for roasted vegetables, special appetizers and some fish and meats as well. The antipasto table is full of delicious offerings. Rich, homemade pastas, fresh and elegantly prepared fish, seasonal offerings and daily risottos are always interesting and delicious, although it is hard to go wrong with any choice. The all-Italian wine list is extensive. Pricey but well worth it – this is not your average dime a dozen Italian restaurant.
Coco Pazzo Cafe
636 N. St. Clair
This is the more casual, less expensive offshoot of Coco Pazzo, located steps off of Michigan Avenue. This stylish trattoria specializes in Tuscan and Northern Italian cuisine. The homemade pasta is excellent, especially the gnocchi and butternut squash raviolini, as is the braised baby eggplant and braised lamb shank. All the food is flavorful and this restaurant deserves its popularity.
580 E. Illinois
Located close to Navy Pier copperblue serves superb French Mediterranean food with influences from northern Italy and Spain. Artist Paul Schuster created the beautiful murals in the dining room for the restaurant. The menu, created by chef-owner Michael Tsonton, contains some amazing seafood dishes including scallops in a sea of foam, as well as delicious meat and poultry, such as the duck 2 ways. Flavorful and sometimes playful, the food is always satisfying.
Crofton on Wells
535 N. Wells
Chef/Proprietor Suzy Crofton uses French technique to create contemporary American cuisine with lots of global influences. A simple, sophisticated dining room is the backdrop for her innovative cuisine: seafood, game, meat and vegetarian dishes all beautifully prepared with a reasonably priced and well thought out wine list. The menu changes seasonally with signature dishes like crab cake bound with shrimp mousse and a Creole mustard sauce. Top off the meal with one of the delicious desserts.
2030 S. Wabash
Located in the up and coming far South Loop neighborhood, cuatro is a showy, lively Nuevo Latino restaurant featuring Latin American and Caribbean cooking. The cooking is imaginative and flavorful and there is a late night menu available. Many nights live Latin, Caribbean or jazz music is featured.
Hotel Blake, 500 S. Dearborn
One of three restaurants of highly talented chef Shawn McCain (including Green Zebra and Spring), Custom House has an artisanal meat focused menu, although wonderful seafood and vegetable dishes are also available. Fresh, seasonal, organic, locally sourced and sustainable products are emphasized; the food is innovative regional American with a Mediterranean influence. You might experience creative entrees like the braised bone-in short rib with horseradish cream puffs, or the wild game cassoulet, or the roasted free-range capon. The room is warm, stylish and modern; the location is in the Printers Row neighborhood at the south part of the Loop’s business district, an architectural landmark district that was once the printing and publishing center of Chicago. The area is filled with beautiful buildings from the very late 1800’s and early 1900’s, now a hip and artistic residential area next to the loop.
Cyrano’s Bistrot / Wine Bar and Cabaret
546 N. Wells
This delightful French country bistrot is actually owned by a friendly, talented Frenchman, Didier Durand. Reasonable prices and a casual, charming atmosphere keeps this River North restaurant a local favorite, as well as the delicious and varied menu of French favorites. Downstairs is the Parisian style cabaret, Café Simone, with live music on the weekends. In the summer there is a dog friendly sidewalk café.
814 W. Randolph
de cero calls itself a modern day taqueria and they do have a fresh take on Mexican cuisine served in a rustic, hip setting. It is upscale but affordable Mexican and a great addition to the West Loop’s Randolph Street corridor. There are 15 or more tacos, many with creative and unusual fillings, as well as several tamales, appetizers, entrees, side dishes and of course desserts; the focus is on fresh ingredients. The drink list includes their popular specialty drinks and an extensive list of Agave Tequilas.
640 N. Wells
There never was an "Ed Debevic" but this memorabilia-filled faux 50’s diner makes it feel as though there must have been, including the sassy staff. Sandwiches include grilled cheese, turkey clubs, and all sorts of wieners and hamburgers are frequent favorites, as well as chili and comfort foods like “Ed’s Mom’s meatloaf” and “homemade pot roast”. Children, teens, and adults who remember their teen years fondly love it here.
One Financial Place, 440 S. LaSalle Street
A rare cityscape view from the 40th floor combines with great new French cuisine. Entrees of seafood, beef, veal and game are prepared to perfection, changing seasonally, to create an outstanding dining experience. Guests may order a la carte or the seven-course tasting dinner (either meat or vegetarian) as a good way to savor the skills of award-winning chef Jean Joho. His Alsatian heritage is reflected in the menu and the world-class wine list. A three course pre-theater pre fixe menu is also available. Although expensive, the meal is well worth it.
erwin, an american café and bar
2925 N. Halsted
Located in Lakeview, a lively, upscale lakefront neighborhood, erwin is a longtime local favorite. The delicious, well-prepared food is a blend of both contemporary American and comfort food, and the menu retains old favorites with new seasonal offerings. Unpretentious but sophisticated, it is a comfortable restaurant with good value.
FOGO DE CHAO
661 N. LaSalle
Part of a Brazilian chain, Fogo de Chao does an excellent job with the popular southern Brazilian style steakhouse (Churrascaria), based on the Gaucho tradition of churrasco (roasting meats over spits of fire). A sleek interior with traditional touches, the dining room boasts a prominent wine cellar in the center with an impressive array of international choices. For a prix-fixe price the all you can eat menu includes a sumptuous hot and cold buffet of salads and side dishes plus unlimited servings of 15 different cuts of fire-roasted meats including filet mignon and other cuts of beef, lamb, chicken and pork, and delicious slow roasted sausages. Gaucho garbed servers bring the skewers of meat to your table and carve your portion whenever you turn a 2 sided disk to its green side. It is quite a feast of wonderfully cooked meat!
Francesca’s Bryn Mawr
1039 W. Bryn Mawr
1576 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Francesca’s on Taylor
1400 W. Taylor
3311 N. Clark
These four casual, friendly but sophisticated and urbane Italian restaurants are the city establishments that are part of a family of local Italian restaurants throughout Chicagoland. Mia Francesca was the first one and is located in the Lakeview neighborhood, while Francesca’s on Taylor is in the Little Italy neighborhood. Francesca’s Forno is in Wicker Park while Francesca’s Bryn Mawr is located in Edgewater. Except for Forno, the other three restaurants feature the cuisine of Rome, Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, while Forno emphasizes the cuisine of northern Italy with a small plate format. Although extremely popular and usually crowded the staff never rushes you. The zesty and delicious dishes plus fair pricing make Francesca’s popular.
445 N. Clark
Award-winning chef Rick Bayless creates authentic regional Mexican specialties in a casual cantina atmosphere. There is a sidewalk cafe for our warm weather months. Experience the wondrous variety of perfectly balanced moles, chilies and other sauces from among the regions of Mexico. Meat, seafood and vegetarian entrees can be complimented by awesome margaritas, wine or anything from the full bar selection. The food is outstanding, using the freshest ingredients, often organic, and from sustainable farms and fisheries, supporting local and artisinal producers. Enjoy the vibrant artwork and pick up a copy of one of Bayless' cookbooks, or a jar of one of the salsas for dipping or cooking at home.
Gaylord Fine Indian Cuisine
678 N. Clark
Gaylord restaurant was established in the River North area in 1972, one of many opened around the world by a successful, quality restaurant in India. Since then, consistent, quality food has been served here, some of the best in a city with many fine Indian restaurants. A specialty is tandoori food (grilled food, marinated and roasted in a large clay oven with charcoal heat right in the oven itself). However, all the food is delicious including their shuruat (exotic appetizers), gosht laziz (fragrant lamb dishes), bahar-e-sabaz (vegetarian entrees) or sumunder se (seafood dishes).
Gene & Georgetti
500 N. Franklin
Founded in 1941 and located in River North, this Chicago classic serves prime aged charbroiled steaks and chops (a la Italian), befitting Chicago's former reputation as "meat packer to the world." One fan describes it as "a man's place, with portions so big, the onion rings are spilling off the plate and if you order the liver and onions they serve you everything the cow yielded." Those with smaller appetites can just request a bag for leftovers. Expect a crowd and brusque waiters -- it's part of the "charm" that has never changed.
1028 N. Rush
This classic Chicago steakhouse has been serving incredible meat and excellent seafood, for almost 20 years in the Gold Coast. Loud and friendly, it is a high roller haven where martinis, meat, red wine and big portions are king.
200 S. Halstead
Greek specialties including wonderful lamb dishes, pastitzio and moussaka are featured in a boisterous Greektown atmosphere. Finish with a piece of achingly sweet baklava. Wash it all down with a glass of fine retsina or other Greek wine specialties. Friendly waiters assure that you will be part of the family, even if you are dining alone. This is a Greektown classic.
1460 W. Chicago
This marvelous contemporary vegetarian focused restaurant in West Town is the brainchild of Shawn McClain, its highly honored chef/owner. The complex and inventive small plate vegetarian dishes make meat unnecessary, but in case you must, there are a few fish and chicken offerings, also beautifully done. The menu changes often with the seasonality of ingredients and freshness being key. You might begin with a shaved artichoke salad, parmesan, preserved lemons and red pepper foam, and then have a sweet parsnip soup with vanilla parsnip panne cotta, continuing with a warm blue cheese cake, pea tendrils, almond ice cream and port reduction. In addition to desserts, there is an excellent selection of artisanal cheeses; all served in a chic, modern, serene room.
1055 W. Argyle
2723 N. Clark
The original Hai Yen on Argyle Street is a standout, even though there are loads of great pan Asian restaurants (mostly Vietnamese and Chinese). Slightly more upscale than most of its neighbors, Hai Yen serves tasty Vietnamese cuisine with influences of French and Chinese cooking. The newer Hai Yen, located in tony Lincoln Park, is minimal and trendy looking, serving the same delicious food. Fresh ingredients, great sauces, a large variety of dishes including meat, seafood and vegetarian, plus reasonable prices make this a popular spot.
3404 N. Halsted
Owners Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh won “The Next Food Network Star” culinary competition in 2005 (now into season three). A diverse and trendy crowd that includes gays, straights, young and old frequent their very popular creative American restaurant located in Lakeview (Boystown area). You might order tasty dishes like French chicken breasts served on Brussels sprouts, fingerling potato and bacon hash and topped with lemon poppy seed butter, or mint and garlic rack of lamb on flageolet bean mash with rose petal jelly pan sauce, or shellfish tajine, a dish of mussels, clams and shrimp steamed in white wine with haricots verts, pearled couscous, oven dried tomatoes, fennel seed and herbs, all showing the global influences on the contemporary American theme. HB’s is popular for dinner as well as for the wonderful weekend “New Orleans style” brunch. The restaurant is BYOB, a great way to have an excellent meal and save on the wine!
3324 N. California
A few miles northwest of downtown is another Chicago food institution, Hot Doug’s, which calls itself “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium”. In this restaurant, the hot dog stand is taken to new heights! The menu has 18 to 20 sausage choices from the delicious Chicago style hot dog or Polish sausage, to exotic and gourmet sausages and hot dogs such as Calvados and apple chicken sausage, Cognac infused smoked pheasant sausage or Tuscan wild boar sausage. The basics are available everyday but the special sausages change daily. They offer fries and homemade condiments; the duck fat fries are particularly yummy and only available on Friday and Saturday. Hot Doug’s is only open 10:30 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday (closed on Sunday).
Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House
1024 N. Rush
Owned by and next door to Gibson’s steakhouse, this lively, popular Gold Coast restaurant emphasizes seafood, although steak is available. Another Chicago classic, the menu changes daily, the portions are large, and yes, you can order frogs legs.
600 W. Chicago (Larrabee St.)
Contemporary Japanese cuisine in a spectacular setting, this upscale, ultra-trendy restaurant and lounge is a favorite with the beautiful people. The downstairs lounge overlooks the Chicago River with a luxurious outdoor section in warm weather; upstairs is the main dining room. The menu is innovative with Japanese dishes often fused with other Asian cuisines and sometimes with European influence, plus extensive and ultra fresh sushi selections. The Kobe beef is expensive but heavenly. There is a large selection of wine, sake and other bar selections. The whole experience is very “chic”, very “happening”.
5203 N. Clark
In the hip and trendy Andersonville neighborhood on the north side of the city, Jin Ju is as hip as the neighborhood, serving excellent contemporary Korean cuisine. The food is creative but very approachable and their takes on Korean favorites like bulgogi, bi bim bap and kalbi are delicious! A clean, contemporary décor and fun and playful cocktails add to Jin Ju’s popularity and it is especially busy on weekends.
9 W. Hubbard
This restaurant gem with French-Asian-International cuisine is located in River North. The dining room is sleek and comfortable with Asian touches. Owner/chef Kevin Shikami creates dishes whose complexity is created with clear, simple flavors, like the sautéed breast of duck and duck moo shu pancake in orange-star anise sauce, or the roasted Alaskan halibut in olive oil basil broth. His cooking is brilliant and the food is beautifully and artfully presented. There is outside sidewalk seating in summer.
1958 N. Damen
This intimate French bistro has become an institution in the Bucktown neighborhood and feels like a bit of Paris. Chef owner Jean-Claude Poilevey’s classic French bistro fare includes favorites such as delicious steamed mussels, onion tart, steak frites, roast duck, sautéed rabbit and lamb shanks. Always busy and loud, this very affordable restaurant is fun and full of high energy.
749 N. Clark
A beautiful and stylish décor to outstanding French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine, Le Lan is a gem located in the River North. Like the cuisine, the elegant décor is a fusion with both French and Vietnamese artwork, including a dragon mural. The complex, delicate and rich flavors of France are blended artfully with the spicy, aromatic, and equally complex flavors of Vietnam. An example is the innovative and flavorful roasted rack of lamb with red curried loin. Succulent desserts, a well thought out international wine list tailored to the cuisine, and elegant service completes this upscale, fine dining experience.
222 E. Ontario
Located off Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, Les Nomades was once a private club and still retains a romantic, serene and civilized atmosphere. The gracious and friendly owner, Mary Beth Liccione, usually greets you. The superb contemporary French cuisine of chef Chris Nugent is rich, flavorful and totally luxurious. There are fine cheese selections, exquisite desserts and an extraordinary wine list. The service is refined, quiet and gracious. What a lovely spot for a special dinner or romantic evening!
Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli
1141 S. Jefferson
This has been a Chicago institution since 1942 (although not in its original location), serving huge portions. Enjoy delicious Jewish deli sandwiches and comfort foods such as potato pancakes, borscht, meat loaf and brisket of beef. There are also daily specials. A favorite of politicians and locals, this colorful cafeteria serves breakfast and lunch, not dinner. If you crave an old-fashioned corned beef or pastrami on rye, or any of your childhood deli memories, visit Manny’s on the near south side.
McCormick & Schmick's
41 East Chestnut (at Rush)
1 East Wacker Drive
The Oregon based seafood chain now has 2 locations in Chicago, one on Chestnut in the Gold Coast and one on Wacker in the loop. The always-fresh-seafood restaurant with its lengthy list of offerings, updates its menu daily to announce the 20-30 varieties available from the kitchen. There is a club-y atmosphere, spacious bar area, especially in the Gold Coast location, and a long wine list including many West Coast by-the-glass offerings. The seafood at this restaurant never disappoints.
623 W. Randolph
This upscale Japanese and sushi restaurant in the West Loop prides itself with combining both contemporary and traditional Japanese; it is named after the enlightened Meiji period in 19th century Japan. The simple, sleek, elegant dining room has a dramatic granite and Brazilian steelwood semicircular sushi bar as the centerpiece. The sushi and all the ingredients are ultra fresh with fish flown in from Japan, and they grate their own wasabi. If you call ahead, you can order a special 7course Omakase menu, which is a Japanese menu determined by the chef.
Meritage Cafe and Wine Bar
2118 North Damen
This was one of the first restaurants on what has now become one of the best dining streets in this trendy Bucktown neighborhood. The cozy storefront setting, plus a covered outdoor terrace for year round dining and a garden for warm weather bring in the locals. The contemporary American cuisine (with Asian and French influences) is dominated by many Northwest-inspired dishes such as fresh seafood treated to wood-smoke techniques, but there are also great meat, game and poultry selections, and sometimes vegetarian as well. Except for French Champagne, the extremely large wine list is all American, with a large cellar selection and almost 20 wines by the glass.
868 N. Franklin
Michael Kornick, owner of this upscale, chic, high energy fine dining River North restaurant, turns out top quality contemporary American cuisine with French and Italian influences. The inventive food always has a good mix of seafood and meat; the dishes have clear and focused flavors, and desserts are delicious. It has a sleek, minimal bi-level interior.
216 W. Cermak Road
Mandarin and Shanghainese dishes make up the menu at this popular Chinatown location. Traditional Chinese “comfort food” favorites like steamed dumplings and Peking duck are available but also more unusual dishes such as eel sautéed with bamboo shoots and greens are on the menu for the more adventurous. A varied clientele from hip 20 somethings to old time locals enjoy this inexpensive, casual restaurant.
945 W. Fulton Market
Along with ALINEA and Avenues, this is one of the restaurants redefining contemporary cuisine in America. The futuristic, contemporary cuisine is set in elegant and very minimalist surroundings. The attention is focused on the food. Chef Homaro Cantu has been praised and written about for his post-modern fusing of science and cuisine, pushing the envelope of sensory experience. The constantly changing menu has 3 degustation meals, a 5, 10 and 18 course grand menu. Cantu draws inspiration globally, using the freshest ingredients. Be prepared to be awed by his mind bowing creations; he is like a mad scientist in the kitchen. The service is impeccable, the wine list eclectic and filled with wonderful global gems; they will also pair wines with your courses, if you request. There is also a lounge with signature cocktails and samples of Cantu’s cuisine.
500 N. Clark
The creative, contemporary American cuisine in this lovely fine dining restaurant in the River North neighborhood has strong Mediterranean influences, including touches from chef Carrie Nahabedian’ Armenian heritage. Flavors are diverse and clean, masterfully pulled together into stunning combinations. The clean, cool, contemporary design is accented with the dramatic artwork of a local artisan. Service is superb and the global wine list is excellent. The front lounge offers “small plate” dishes.
2610 North Cannon Drive in Lincoln Park
This jewel may be hard to find, but it's worth it. It was once a warming station for skaters on the lagoon in Lincoln Park. In its reincarnation it’s been designed to honor the trees, pond and park around it and retains the elegant, but homey arts and crafts interior. Chef Bruce Sherman creates seasonal menus to celebrate artisan producers and farmers, stressing local and organic, and always using fresh ingredients at their seasonal peak. His creative American cuisine with global influences could include a cinnamon-hazelnut-chanterelle mushroom tartelette with warm goat cheese crumb, mushroom glace and baby leek as a first course, followed by a pastry-wrapped quail and thyme-basted veal sweetbreads with wild mushrooms and baby red beets. You might also want one of the creative salads, as well as one of the succulent desserts such as the warm chocolate waffle with a hazelnut chocolate semi-freddo, sour cream mousse and blood orange syrup. There is an excellent international wine list as well. Although on the pricey side, it is truly well worth it. As you gaze at the skyline in the distance over the pond, eating a delicious and finely crafted meal, it's hard to believe you are right in the heart of the city.
900 N. Michigan Avenue, 6th floor
Located in one of the Magnificent Mile's tonier retail buildings, it's a cheerful place for breakfast or lunch before or after shopping or a quick bite before a movie. An extensive and varied menu includes big salads, great sandwiches from corned beef and hamburgers to more trendy offerings (like duck breast with mango chutney), blue-plate specials. and well-made omelet’s. If you can, try to get a table that looks down on Michigan Avenue.
1301 S. Wabash
Located in the up and coming trendy South Loop neighborhood, Opera restaurant has an exotic, open, colorful and dramatic interior. Home to the brilliant contemporary Chinese cuisine of chef Paul Wildermuth, the food is full of flavor and interest. Loud and lively, this is not your everyday Chinese restaurant.
Millennium Park,11 N. Michigan Ave.
In the amazing, world famous Millennium Park, under the sleek Cloud Gate sculpture, sits an excellent restaurant, Park Grill, whose eclectic American cuisine with global influences has become very popular with tourists and locals. The menu includes delicious versions of classics like hamburgers but they have excellent fine dining offerings as well such as red wine braised lamb shank, glazed duck breast, goat cheese and wild mushroom ravioli or rushing waters rainbow trout. In the summer they offer an outdoor terrace as well as a large outdoor café that takes over the ice skating rink in front of the restaurant creating the largest outdoor dining room in Chicago, with a more limited menu and sporadic live entertainment. Casual and always packed, reservations are a good idea.
314 S. Halstead
Since 1968 this Greektown restaurant has served the flaming cheese appetizer called saganaki (they claim to have invented this dish), as well as taramosalata, dolmades, moussaka, red snapper, great lamb dishes, and other Greek specialties. And if you crave a whole roasted suckling pig (and you have a dozen or so hungry friends), this is the place to go. Just be sure to call ahead. The restaurant is loud, boisterous, fun and reasonably priced.
130 S. Halsted
This popular, well-priced and atmospheric Greektown restaurant has a wall of seascape murals and a skylight. The traditional Greek dishes are very well prepared, the wine list is fairly extensive including some unusual Greek wine choices, and service is friendly and efficient. When the weather is mild, visit the roof garden with an Eastern cityscape view and a methzethes menu (Greek style tapas).
29 E. Ohio
619 N. Wabash Avenue
Although now a nationwide chain, Pizzeria Uno is the chain’s original restaurant, and the Chicago style deep-dish pizza was invented here. The restaurant was so successful that Pizzeria Due was opened a short time later just down the block with the same menu. The pizza here is in a league of its own. The wait for a table can be long, usually an hour or more, but people do wait. In the town that gave birth to deep-dish pizza, Pizzerias Uno and Due are known as the original and for many the best.
Symphony Center, at 65 East Adams
Executive Chef Doran Payne, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, brings the experience of working at some of the great restaurants of Paris and other cities of Europe to create innovative, contemporary American cuisine (with lots of global influences), in this sleek and elegant restaurant at the re-designed home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The menu is inventive and stylish, the wine list extensive and well thought out, the service efficient and friendly. If you have symphony tickets, make dinner reservations early. If not, make your reservation after curtain time when the dining room clears out and a sense of calm-after-the-storm will add to your dinner enjoyment. There is a lively bar and a lovely outdoor patio for warm weather evenings.
Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Avenue
Located on Navy Pier, Riva boasts a stunning lakefront view through the floor-to-ceiling windows, which makes this an especially popular location for watching Chicago's frequent fireworks displays. Fresh seafood dishes in a variety of tasty presentations predominate including a wonderfully fresh raw bar, with beef and often other meat dishes regularly available. Pasta dishes and the daily specials are a dependable choice too. There is a large exhibition kitchen where you can view the preparation of the meals.
1466 N. Ashland
At the fringes of the Wicker Park neighborhood, Schwa is a small, simple, unpretentious and comfortable restaurant that serves spectacular contemporary American cuisine. A native of Chicagoland, chef/proprietor Michael Carlson (one of “Food and Wine” magazine’s Best New Chefs for 2006) creates innovative cooking that often incorporates high tech techniques in a philosophy reminiscent of Achatz (Alinea), Cantu (Moto) or Bowles (Avenues). He focuses on seasonal and organic ingredients, and supports local growers and sustainable production. This is definitely “food as art”, amazing presentations and flavors. Although pricey (and certainly worth it), the cost can be offset because the restaurant is BYOB. And be sure to make a reservation as the restaurant has gained quite a following.
Shaw's Crab House & Shaw’s Oyster Bar
21 E. Hubbard
Fresh fish is flown in daily from both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico to supply this popular River North restaurant established in 1984. In the main dining room, reminiscent of a sophisticated east coast 1940’s seafood establishment, there are more than 40 fresh seafood entrees plus chicken, steak and pasta dishes. There is, of course, a full selection of crabs, including king crab, Florida stone crabs, soft shell crabs and Maryland crab cakes. The informal New Orleans style oyster bar features regional oysters on the half shell as well as menu of other dishes, mainly fresh seafood and sushi; it also hosts live blues or jazz every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday night.
2039 W. North Ave.
Spring was the first restaurant of chef/owner Shawn McClain (he was recently awarded James Beard 2006 Best Chef Midwest). His other 2 restaurants are Dream Zebra and CUSTOM HOUSE. Spring is seafood focused (with a few meat and vegetable entrees), contemporary American with strong Asian influences. The food is fresh and exciting, full of subtle flavors, and the wine list is outstanding. It is located in an old bathhouse (turn of the 19th century) in the hip Wicker Park neighborhood, with a renovated interior that is serene, simple and beautiful. Eating at Spring is a very sensual experience.
842 W. Randolph
Uncluttered, simple and urbane, this artfully executed restaurant attracts a hip crowd. Located on the Randolph street corridor of restaurants in the West Loop, Sushi Wabi serves contemporary Japanese cuisine and sushi. Always fresh and full of interesting dishes, both classics and imaginative new creations, you can count on delicious food!
445 N. Clark
Unless one of your forbearers was an Aztec king you may never have experienced fine Mexican food that proprietors Rick and Deann Bayless provide here. Topolobampo is the sister restaurant to Frontera Grill and shares the front door and bar. However it is a different restaurant, the sleek, elegant, more upscale and expensive sibling that serves what is probably the finest, most creative, but authentic regional Mexican food found anywhere in America. In addition to the regular menu there is a chef's tasting dinner that is a good introduction to the authentic regional flavors of this award-winning restaurant; there is also a wine pairing option. There is an extensive wine list that is well thought out for the ethnic Mexican cuisine. Come for the outstanding food, but enjoy the decor, too. Be sure to call for reservations in advance.
676 N. St Clair
One of Chicago’s great temples of dining, TRU is a minimal, but stunning, serene, art filled environment, a fitting setting for the great, French influenced progressive cuisine. Executive Chef Rick Tramonto and Executive Pastry Chef Gale Gand are two of Chicago’s culinary stars. The combinations of flavors and textures are amazing; the ingredients are fresh and simple. There is whimsy in all this serious dining as well, such as the caviar staircase or the Versace cups or the elegant ottoman put next to a woman’s seat to hold her purse. Desserts are spectacular, there is a huge, award winning wine list and the service is impeccable. There are several tasting menus plus certain selections are available a la carte. This is an expensive restaurant but well worth the splurge when you want to be wowed on a special occasion or just to treat yourself!
Twin Anchors Tavern
1655 N. Sedgwick Avenue
A great Chicago institution since its founding in 1932, Twin Anchors occupies an historic 1881 building in the Old Town neighborhood. Above the dining room entrance a faded sign advises, "Positively No Dancing." As if there was room to dance! And when you order the barbecued ribs, they don't bring you a steak knife; they don't need to. Their slow-cooked ribs are so tender they fall off the bones if you stare at them hard enough. Other traditional favorites include fried chicken, steak and shrimp; plus they have a variety of sandwiches and salads. The ribs were a favorite of Frank Sinatra whenever he was in town; we're certain a part of his spirit remains here. Enjoy the outdoor café in the summer. The restaurant is very popular with the neighborhood residents, so expect a wait.
10 W. Hubbard
This hip River North restaurant serves cutting edge Indian/Latin fusion cuisine, and does it beautifully. They start with similarities between the two cuisines and come up with dishes such as ceviche with Indian spices or tandoori skirt steak over sautéed garlic spinach with fried plantains. The room is contemporary and chic with lots of white accented with black and vermilion and large black and white photographs by India’s top fashion photographer. A front lounge with a Latin and Indian dance music soundtrack is open late and serves drinks, fusion tapas (such as the Latin empanadas spiced with Indian style chutney), and desserts.
3257 N. Halsted
This highly successful restaurant serves imaginative, high quality, Contemporary/French/Asian cuisine at reasonable prices. The French trained Japanese chef, Yoshi Katsumura, always includes a good variety of fish, meat and vegetable options on the menu. Located in a hip and diverse section of Lakeview (Boystown area), Yoshi’s loyal local clientele is hip and diverse. The service is friendly, the atmosphere is casual and there is a sidewalk café in summer.
Food Venues Other Than Restaurants
Here are just a few of the fun food related options in this amazing food city:
The Merchandise Mart Plaza, suite 107
4747 N. Lincoln
The Chopping Block has become one of the city’s great food resources with two gourmet retail stores featuring a full line of professional quality cookware and kitchen tools plus gourmet and ethnic ingredients. In addition, the Chopping Block Cooking School offers a great variety of classes at both locations for the home cook, from demonstrations to hands-on cooking for all cooking levels. There are a great many topics and the facilities are state of the art. It is Chicago’s largest recreational cooking school. They also cater events at both locations, whether it is a party, luncheon, corporate event, etc. The Merchandise Mart location is downtown, the Lincoln Ave. location is in the trendy Lincoln Square neighborhood on Chicago’s north side.
Chicago Neighborhood Tours
The City of Chicago’s Office of Tourism Visitor Services offers a unique way to learn about Chicago neighborhoods with 3 types of tours, Neighborhood Tours, Special Interest Tours and Summertime Sampler Tours. One of the Special Interest Tours is the very popular monthly tour, “Taste of the Neighborhoods” which explores various ethnic communities around the city to learn about and taste the different ethnic cuisines. They are professional, educational tours that are fun and delicious! Call or check the web site for more information.
Another way to explore Chicago’s diverse cultural heritage through ethnic cuisines is to sign up for a class at the World Kitchen, the marvelous culinary program that is also part of the City of Chicago’s Department of Tourism. In this state of the art facility topics are very diverse such as ethnic cuisines, how to prepare fish, desserts, using spices, one pot meals, etc. There is always a focus on culinary skills and technique with hands-on participation. These classes are a delightful way to learn about food from many different angles and appeal to all different types of food lovers from serious home cooks to the food curious.
Alan Gordon is a Culinary Concierge for the City of Chicago’s Department of Tourism and the Cultural Affairs Department, as well as an independent food, wine and travel consultant. With a total of 30 years in the food and wine industry, for over 25 of those years, Alan was Senior Wine, Spirits and Fresh Food Buyer for all of the Marshall Field’s Department Stores throughout the Midwest (now Macy’s North). Always maintaining an interest in the arts (he graduated with an architecture degree), and in travel, he combines all of his interests and experiences to create educational but very fun events, and plans interesting trips for clients, as well as his concierge work with the city and his consulting for retail and wine industry organizations. Email: email@example.com or call: 773.780.1890 (cell).