How does one choose the best restaurants worthy of your time and money in a city? Should it based solely on food or do ambiance, price and location come into play? Choosing the top 10 best restaurants in Chicago isn’t for the faint of heart, but neither are our winters.
These 10 places promise a stellar experience and a taste of Chicago that you just can't miss.
Fine dining is often done right but in some spots in Chicago, it’s a downright experience. Reservations at places like Alinea, goosefoot and L2O can take months to secure but once you’re in, expect a three to four hour experience that involves all of your senses at these Michelin-star standouts.
In the west loop area, also known as some as Restaurant Row since it’s full of great restaurants, Blackbird, Grace and Maude’s Liquor Bar are particularly known for their inventive dishes and outstanding drink menus.
A little more casual but just as outstanding are Sable Kitchen and Bar, Trencherman and Longman and Eagle. In addition to great dinner menus, each serves up a decadent brunch and one even offers a place to stay for the night (true story).
One’s best restaurant, admittedly, may not be another’s best. And, we’ll admit, there are dozens more we wanted to include because there really are some great restaurants in Chicago. These 10 are among the best restaurants in Chicago and I'd be happy to dine in any of them on any given day or night. Bon appetit!
Maudes Liquor Bar
Like many other restaurants along what seems to be restaurant row in the West Loop, Maude's Liquor Bar has a very industrial and trendy feel to it from the outside. Don't let the outdoors fool you. Once you enter through the dark colored doors, an interior punctuated with lit candles on tables and soft lighting overall gives it a beautifully romantic atmosphere. The menu features both traditional French food and French food with a twist. The seafood tower is enormous and decadent while their roasted bone marrow has created a cult following. Just as exciting is its extensive drinks menu. If you don't have time to dine here, at least belly up to the gorgeous bar and order a drink. (312-243-9712)
The warm and rustic décor in Balena complement the earthy meals you'll enjoy at this Italian outpost best known for its rich pasta dishes and pizza like you've never had before. The restaurant isn't tiny. Although it has high ceilings, the exposed wooden beams, heavy wooden tables, thoughtfully-placed lighting and the bar really comes together to give you the feeling of a special restaurant. Just as impressive are its wine menu which includes some of the best wines throughout Italy. Don't overlook the dessert menu which features Tiramisu and gelato sundaes. Or, spice it up and order one of Sarah's famous hot chocolates (you'll have three from which to painfully choose, two are spiked with alcohol). ((312) 867-3888)
What was once a Russian bath house is now Trencherman which pays homage to the building's history by incorporating some of its old features into its industrial chic decor (you'll find some of the white subway tiles along one wall). These days it's doubtful most of the patrons to this Wicker Park hotspot have a clue of the building's history because they're more focused on the new American cuisine in front of them. Brunch gets major accolades as does its cocktail menu. Fresh ingredients stand out in each dish which are prepared to look good just as much as taste good. The attention to detail is obvious and appreciated by its diners. ((773) 661-1540)
Unlike some fine dining establishments that tend to incorporate science experiments within their dining experience, diners at Grace have only the meal at hand to enjoy although it still feels like you're eating pieces of art with every dish. Grace offers two 8-12 course Chef's Tasting menus (called Flora and Fauna). One focuses mostly on vegetables and can be created vegetarian upon request while the other highlights meat and seafood. A sommelier is available to make wine pairing recommendations from its full wine list. The décor is sleek and elegant and diners can enjoy watching their meals being prepared since the kitchen is exposed via clear glass. (312-234-9494)
Longman & Eagle
Best known for its extensive whiskey selection (148 selections currently available), the bar and restaurant offers an ever-changing menu with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. Chef Jared Wentworth keeps things fresh but fun with dishes that delight all of your senses including taste, sight and smell. Once you walk in there is no mistake that this is a Logan Square spot complete with the dark wood décor, dim lighting in the front and all of the bartenders sport plaid shirts and beards. Consider a flight offering or ask which whiskeys are available for tastings. There are usually a few dozen whiskeys available daily for $3 a shot. ((773) 276-7110)
Sable Kitchen & Bar
Adjacent to Kimpton's Hotel Palomar Chicago in a quiet, darker setting sits Sable Kitchen & Bar. Sable is a gastro-lounge that pairs seasonally-inspired New American cuisine presented by Chicago veteran and Bravo's Top Chef alum, Chef Heather Terhune, with an artfully designed cocktail, spirits and wine program presented by Head Bartender Mike Ryan. Best known for its small plates of comfort food, anything on the menu can be ordered in half or full sized portions, too. The ambiance is sleek and sexy with seating for up to 158 guests. The space includes a bar, lounge, dining room and patio. Sable is a refreshing update on the glamour of the 1940's, as old Hollywood charm mingles effortlessly with modern industrial touches and classic Chicago warmth. (312-755-9704)
The West Loop's Randolph Street is something of a restaurant row, anchored by Blackbird from local hero Paul Kahan. His food is modern and upscale but deeply committed to local sources and truly seasonal in its changes. The place has the feel of an art gallery: a little stark and a little hushed when empty. But that state doesn't last long into the evening. Blackbird has an upscale, celebratory feel. To understand Kahan's idea of everyday food, in this case Mediterranean small plates and some of the city's best house-made charcuterie, angle for a seat at one of the communal tables next door at tiny Avec, where off-duty chefs are known to gather after hours. (312-715-0708)
Are you sure this is the right way? That's what you'll be asking yourself all the way to the front door. On a busy street in a very residential neighborhood sits goosefoot, one of Chicago's recent shining stars on the dining scene. The husband and wife team took great pains to open this modernly-designed restaurant which only serves dinner four nights a week and reservations can take months to secure. The seasonally-inspired menu changes but diners can always expect a prix fixe dining experience with nine courses. The restaurant is BYOB and doesn't include a corkage fee. Recommendations on wine pairings can be found online along with a list of local places to pick up a bottle or two. (773-942-7547)
The alinea, or paragraph mark, signals the start of a new idea. The restaurant Alinea aims at nothing short of revolutionizing dinner. Chef Grant Achatz, who trained with the likes of Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, merges art and science, drawing foodies worldwide. He often gets lumped in with molecular gastronomists, but he's after something deeper with his wow-producing plates (they change constantly on the 20-course menu), but imagine the kind of madness it takes to devise a peeled grape, coated in some sort of peanut casing and served on the stem as an homage to PB & J. The all-small courses may arrive on pillows inflated with lavender air, mini pedestals or wire hangers; each piece of service wear is custom-designed by Martin Kastner of the local firm Crucial Detail. It's dinner as theater, best appreciated by open minds and deep pockets. (312-867-0110)
Hidden (it really is hidden) within a large apartment complex overlooking the Lincoln Park Conservatory is L2O, winner of two Michelin stars. The fine dining restaurant experience is best known for its outstanding tasting menu which is heavily based on its seafood dishes served as interactive performance art. Ever enjoyed oyster with green apple gel? It's part of the menu at L2O. As if it wasn't possible to outdo the preceding course, the next one comes out even more spectacular. Service, as would be expected at establishments like these, is second to none. From the moment you call for a reservation, drive the car up to the valet and walk in the door to the minute you leave, you will be catered to and made to feel like a million dollars. (7738680002)
About Megy Karydes
Megy Karydes has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and most of her life in Chicago. While she’s traveled extensively internationally, visiting each of the 50 states is on her bucket list.
An adventure seeker, she’s game for anything from mixed martial arts training to competing in obstacle course races. A self-proclaimed coffee snob and “greenie” who loves farmer-grown food and locally-grown craft beers & wine. She’s yet to find an outdoor beer garden she doesn’t like.
Mixing writing and food/drink is her specialty, especially when it involves travel.
To read her work, visit http://karydesconsulting.pressfolios.com/.
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