Chicago Steakhouses: Rooted in History, Reaching Forward
By Terri Colby
Steakhouses claim a favored spot in Chicago's restaurant scene, perhaps because of the city's connection with the now-shuttered Chicago stock yards. At one point during the last century, Chicago packaged more meat than any other place in the world. But maybe it's because the best steakhouses are a bit like the city itself, down-to-earth and friendly but sophisticated, offering up generous portions of familiar food while still highlighting something that is surprising or whimsical.
The number of choices across the city grid is overwhelming. Perennial favorites like Chicago Cut Steakhouse and Gibson’s still require reservations made way in advance to score a coveted table.
And newcomers are frequent, including the stylish RPM Steak and III Forks, with its popular rooftop spot near Millennium Park. Creative chefs keep things exciting and fresh and they introduce unique ways to prepare their steaks like David Burke’s Primehouse does by dry-aging its meat in a Himalayan salt-tiled aging room.
Other restaurants serving great steak include South American joints like Tango Sur, and their large generous portions are giving the classics relentless competition.
We all know it's not just about the steak and ambiance matters. Gibson's speakeasy layout is only missing a cloud of smoke floating over dinner booths and Mastro’s live entertainment adds yet another element to an already classy establishment.
These picks are distinguished by outstanding chefs, engaging staff, decor and, most importantly, top-tier selections of sirloin.
Mike Ditka's - Chicago
Although Ditka's offers both a lunch and dinner menu, diners will only find its trademark steaks during dinner. However, its signature pork chop with apple chutney, cherry jus and mashed sweet potato can be had anytime of the day. Props go to the prime filet mignon and bone-in filet as well as the Linz Heritage Angus Prime Rib which is heavily aged, slow-roasted and served with roasted mushrooms. A 12-page drink menu includes handcrafted cocktails, signature martinis, craft beers and an impressive wine list. Sunday brunch features its own brunch menu in addition to the full lunch menu. It's not unusual to spot Mike Ditka since he makes regular appearances at his namesake restaurant. (3125878989)
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
This classic dinner club-style restaurant boasts a vaulted ceiling, dark wooden furniture and excellent lighting, making it an ideal place for a power lunch or entertaining important clients. Celebrities and athletes are routinely spotted at this River North spot. Partner of the famous Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, this gem features a selection of fresh seafood and steaks. Of course, rumor has it that the stone crab claws alone are worth the trip. Get the best of both the surf and turf worlds by ordering the petite filet mignon and jumbo Alaskan king crab or petite filet mignon and broiled lobster tail. (312-379-5637)
This Argentinean steak house offers diners a mix of traditional South American appetizers and grilled meats. It has an old-school vibe from the authentic décor to the service. It's BYOB so bring a nice bottle to enjoy and try to snag a coveted spot in the outdoor patio if you can. Start off with one of their notable deep-fried empanadas, stuffed with any number of tasty fillings from beef to cheese and ham. Then, order the Steak Parillada - a mixed grill sample platter. Save the best for last and order the flan, creamy custard topped with a drizzle of gooey caramel. The waiters are practically family and know the menu's offerings inside and out and can easily answer questions about the food they serve. (773-477-5466)
Mastro's Steakhouse - Chicago
With roots in the West Coast, Mastro's finally made its way to Chicago. The 12oz Bone-In Filet and Tomahawk Waygu Bone-In Ribeye both get high marks among meat lovers. For those who enjoy their seafood as much as their steak, opt for the Seafood Tower which allows you to create your own seafood platter. As is typical with Mastro's locations in other parts of the country, live entertainment is available and the piano bar is open until 2:00 a.m. The ambiance is elegant and sophisticated with an almost supper club feel. The dim lights provide an intimate setting but it does get louder in the main dining room as the evening continues which can make it hard to carry a conversation if your party is large. (3125215100)
Gene & Georgetti
Gene & Georgetti's, serving steaks and Italian specialties in the shadow of Chicago's El tracks since 1941, is a classic restaurant still in the same family that opened it. The T-Bone Steak is a favorite, but multiple strip, rib eye and loin options are served up thick and crusted in a broiler without any seasonings. The portions are large and there's enough variety to please large groups with chicken, seafood and pasta options sharing menu space with the beef. You can get spinach, sautéed or creamed, and a shrimp cocktail for an appetizer. Long a favorite of celebs visiting the Windy City, even regular joes get the star treatment here. The dessert menu has a classic feel, too, with chocolate fudge cake, cannoli and spumoni among the offerings. (312-527-3718)
A modern yet elegant space in the city's high-rise neighborhood of Lakeshore East, the Chicago outpost of this Dallas-based chain holds its own with local standouts, offering Wagyu beef in a 46-ounce tomahawk rib-eye cut, and appetizers including a delightful wild yellow tail Hamachi with fried shallots. Order the high end steaks and the manager will arrive at your table with a wooden tray filled with specialty knives for you to "choose your weapons." Six-cheese potatoes and lobster mac and cheese are memorable side dishes. The stylish entryway features a glass wine room with more than 3,000 wines on display. Valet parking at $14 is a bargain for the neighborhood. The roof-top lounge attracts a lively crowd on summer even ((312) 938-4303)
One of Chicago's newest contenders in the steakhouse category, RPM (denoting principals Bill and Giuliana Rancic, chef Doug Psaltis and restaurateurs R.J., Jerrod and Molly Melman) offers a sleek and elegant dining space with butter-soft leather seating in cream and brown. Among the popular beef choices are the 8-ounce Allen Brothers Prime filet mignon and 10-ounce The Duke. Beef lovers have a lot of options: grass-fed, dry-aged, butchers' cuts and Wagyu Japanese-style beef. For non-carnivores, there's a substantial range of fish selections including a nicely done roasted salmon. Old-school desserts like baked Alaska, flambéed tableside, add to the classic feel of this comfortable space. The Millionaire's Potato, is a standout side, a twice-baked, cheese- and truffle-infused carb worthy of its hefty price tag. ((312) 284-4990)
David Burke's Primehouse in the James Hotel
David Burke's Primehouse at The James Hotel, in Chicago's Rush Street entertainment district, is known for dry aging its beef on premises in a room lined with Himalayan salt tiles. Indeed, menu choices include ribeyes aged 28, 40, 55 or even 75 days for a noted "intense beef flavor." Serious steaks aside, the restaurant's signature dessert is its red velvet cake, cooked in a tin can, preceded by cake beaters for licking, and iced at the table with cream cheese frosting. The shellfish tower of shrimp, lobster and crab and oysters on the half shell will keep fish lovers happy. Don't miss the Caesar salad, mixed tableside. (3126606000)
Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse
A classic, Chicago-style restaurant with convivial bar and clubby dining room, Gibson's has its own USDA prime label on its meat. Portions are large for the meat, the sides and the desserts, and Gibson's is happy if you want to share any of it: no unfriendly extra plate charges here. The signature steak is W.R's Chicago Cut, a 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye named for Bill Rice, former food and wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune. A different house-made soup is available every day of the week: don't miss the mushroom soup on Tuesdays. This is the kind of place where conventioneers rub elbows with politicians and where the bartender knows how to make a Manhattan. Save room for dessert. The portions are designed to be shared by everyone at the table. Macadamia Turtle Pie is a favorite. (312-266-8999)
Chicago Cut Steakhouse
Chicago Cut Steakhouse celebrates its USDA-certified prime beef but its service surely helps to keep it on top. Owners work the room like politicians, stopping to greet newcomers along with the CEOs and law firm partners who are regulars. Expect lots of business people in suits, but you'll be welcomed as a friend even if you come in jeans. An outstanding bone-in rib eye and a prime burger have their devotees. All the beef is dry-aged and hand-cut in house. With enough fish options and side dishes to satisfy a variety of tastes, you don't have to come only for the beef. The light-filled dining room adjoins a vibrant outdoor patio that sits riverside. (312-329-1800)
About Terri Colby
A Chicagoan by birth and by choice, there's no other place Terri Colby could ever call home. She loves visiting exotic destinations as a travel writer, but insists on spending at least part of the summer in Chicago, when her city by the lake really shines. A long-time journalist, Colby has covered presidents and personal finance, crime and punishment, and literature and sports.
Read more about Terri Colby here.