Romantic Dining in Chicago: Cocktails, Candles and Exceptional Cuisine

For decades, Chicagoans' go-to restaurants for romance involved stunning views (think Signature Room on the 95th Floor of John Hancock Center, Spiaggia and Everest. Or the old reliable Geja's Cafe for spinning melted Swiss or chocolate around a bread cube or a strawberry. All nice ideas, but they're everyone's ideas so book your table months in advance if you thinking of a Valentine's Day experience. 

Our list recognizes that for every couple that goes for a dark, hushed room another gets the fuse lit by an airy elegant space; and while oysters and chocolate are the de rigueur choices for friskiness, some have a shared affinity for anything but the expected. 

Ella Elli is a 75-seat restaurant dotted with sofas, two-person bar stools and alcoves seating for a sexy getaway from the bustling Southport Corridor. If you want to witness the physical incarnation of "connection," get to Artango  in Lincoln Square and feel the endorphins. Let's not forget about the animal magnetism of a nicely charred steak, either, whether a cowboy cut or a slab of cauliflower. Chicago has it all. 




Signature Room at the 95th

Like Geja's, it sits on most "most romantic" lists but there are good reasons. It's way up there (on the 95th floor of John Hancock Center), it's famous and the views are genuinely breathtaking. How's the food? The kitchen supplies refined takes on classic American dishes, such as Half Roasted Chicken (the meal Prince Harry and Megan Markle were nibbling when he proposed); an impressive seafood tower; roast rack of lamb; an array of steaks; and great sides from herb mushrooms to truffle potato croquettes. You can take in your love's beauty across the table as well as all the city's stunning looks, day or night, with 360-degree bird's eye views. Spendy? Of course, but it's a destination, an event and the epitome of old fashioned romance. You'd have to be on an aircraft to get such views and the company wouldn't be quite so charming.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Two-story windows insure wondrous sunsets and, frankly, you're dining in the sky.

Jacky's expert tip: Climb up one more floor to the 96th and linger in the lounge with a nightcap and more glittering city lights.

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It's not the whirlpool suite at the airport motel that was named the "Ultimate Romantic Dipping Place in North America" (by Food Network) - it's Geja's Café, the fondue sharing cavern that finds its way on many "romantic" lists from OpenTable to USA Today's reader poll in 2015. Relationship is all about sharing and fondue is an interactive, fun culinary adventure that you can undertake ala carte or full dunk dinner by way of a Premier option: cheese fondue, salad, a choice of meat or seafood combinations with assorted vegetables, eight dipping sauces, flaming chocolate dessert fondue and coffee Low lighting, small booths and tables with swaths of fabric, live classical and flamenco guitar fan the flames.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Geja's has been the site of 144,354 first dates and 16,561 engagements. Case closed.

Jacky's expert tip: Gluten free and vegetable broth options make Geja's a fond-do for everyone.

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Osteria Langhe
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Osteria Langhe

The casually romantic eatery serves truly authentic Italian food in the cozy dining area lined with white lights and candlelit tables. Best known for fresh pasta (which Chef Cameron Grant learned how to make in Langhe, Italy near the border of France), don't miss some of the other popular choices such as Wagyu sirloin, vegetarian options such as house crepes filled with butternut squash, cauliflower, kale, broccolini, and spicy fontina fonduta or the daily risotto creation. Finish the meal with hazelnut cake or bombolini (Italian donuts). There's a thoughtful selection of wine, cocktails and digestivis, too. Osteria Langhe is akin to visiting a neighborhood eatery in the Piemont region in northwest Italy.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Located in the hottest 'hood in the city. this spot offers candlelit tables, creative cocktails and a definitively intimate dinner experience.

Jacky's expert tip: Try their famous "plin," a rich, cheesy, hand-pinched ravioli made with fresh pasta.

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Artango Steakhouse and Bar exudes romance from the dimly lit, stunning atmosphere to its Argentinian chef-driven menu by Saul Roman. Located in historic Lincoln Square, the restaurant aims for a passionate, sensory experience through delicious South American food, sturdy South American cocktails and Argentinian wine, art, music and dance. Guitar virtuosos, cellists, Brazilian jazz groups and European cabaret artists check in on a regular basis as well as Flamenco and tango dancers. Learn the art of the passionate partner dance with free tango lessons weekly. Indulge in ceviches, empanadas, Argentinian grilled meats and seafood and three-couse prix fixe menus that offer good value and a nice introduction to Argentinian food. Desserts give the French a run for their Euro with options like chocolate mousse cake, dolce de leche ice cream, or a rustic pear and almond tart, accompanied by blackcurrant semifreddo, salted caramel sauce and candied almonds.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Artango is owned by married couple, Maria and Sebastian Casanova. Maria is a tango dancer and he is an artist who designed the restaurant.

Jacky's expert tip: Eggplant "caviar" is great for vegetarians and everyone should try one of the smoking cocktails. Be sure to check the web site for the live entertainment and dance lesson schedule.

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GT Prime feels like a film set with details like a crystal chandelier and soft faux fur upholstered chairs. You wouldn't be surprised if Allie and Noah from The Notebook were seated next to you. Even the chef's name, Giuseppe Tentori, evokes romance. He refashions traditional steakhouse fare by offering a variety of cuts of the finest Filet, Rib Eye, Wagyu, Skirt Steak, Venison, and Bison sliced for guests making steak easy to share without mangling it at the table yourself. Culinary curious lovers can try caviar service; pasta like duck tortellini or white truffle risotto; or roasted rabbit. There's a robust offering of sides (how about shishito and corn with Parmesan sauce); starters from the ethereal (hamachi crudo) to the old timey (chicken liver mousse); small but impressive dessert menu; plus rare teas, La Colombe coffee and an extensive roster of grapes.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: It's the refined and sexy steakhouse of the 21st century.

Jacky's expert tip: GT Prime's only commandment is "Indulge. Imbibe. Explore." so try the Carnivore Plate or the popular mushroom and Brie side dish.

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Lake View
Ella Elli
Photo courtesy of Galdones Photography

After years of food trucks, fast-casual food halls, take-out and stand-up noshing, date night is back as evidenced by the raves elicited by the Lakeview sizzler, Ella Elli. Amid a chic 1920's inspired interior, couples choose among private booths, canoodling under the stars on the secluded enclosed patio and having a drink at the bar sidled up to their honey in a loveseat bar stool. The senses are further tickled by the scent of the wood-burning oven and shared plates encourage sensual dining. The eclectic menu is inspired by the cuisines of Italy, France and Spain and expect a distinct wine list and classic cocktails like Singapore Sling and Old Fashioned. Try charcuterie and an array of toasts that are fun to nibble and share; pizza and pasta; artfully plated seafood and meat; more than a half dozen veg options; and gorgeous desserts.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: It's actually not Justin Timberlake but Ella Elli bringing sexy back with loveseats, secluded patio and private alcove booths adding to the amorous atmosphere.

Jacky's expert tip: Ella Elli now accepts online reservations.

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Think beyond River North, Logan Square and Bucktown and fan the flames on the south side. The Promontory, located in Hyde Park, offers a sweet setup for snuggling and staying warm by the open hearth brick oven. Ask for seats at the chef's counter and dine with your paramour on delights from Chef Carlos Cruz: blistered Shishito peppers; chilled oysters; eggplant Parmesan; scallops with popcorn grits; and duck breast with coffee parsnips; among the options. (There's a short but tasty late night menu available between 11 pm and 1 am, too). Nibble from the cookie plate or share a sundae. Cocktails are fun to consider like the Figment In Thyme made with fig and thyme gin. Check the music sked and book seats to a show in the modern second floor music hall. The state-of-the-art sound system can only be matched by your state-of-the-heart.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: This date-night spot offers a romantic experience with a casual yet warm charm and the music venue adds another layer.

Jacky's expert tip: Perhaps a night at the new SOPHY Hyde Park boutique hotel will put an exclamation point on the night. Rooms offer a record player with a selection from local musicians on vinyl.

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Everest is a romantic, high-end, French Country restaurant on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange building offering some breathtaking views of our gorgeous city. Acclaimed chef Jean Joho brings a taste of Alsace to the Midwest which is pure gastronomic sensuality. Start with a glass of wine from a world class, 1,600-bottle selection, from all points across the planet. Then choose among specialties like baked wild sea bass or dry-aged New York steak, Alsace potato gnocchi and braised Belgium endive. Sacre bleu, indeed. Dishes such as Magret of Mulard Duck and Filet of Sole New Meuniére are just a couple of the items on which Everest has built its outstanding reputation. There's a seven-course degustation menu; a seven-course vegetarian degustation menu with alluring edibles like fricasse of wild forest mushrooms with truffle vinaigrette; and three and four course pre fixe menus, too.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Celebrating more than 30 years in Chicago, Everest provides a truly fine dining experience perched 40 stories above the urban fray with stunning city views.

Jacky's expert tip: Those shunning meat will appreciate Everest's phenomenal seven-course vegetarian degustation menu.

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One of the best parts of coupledom is feeling taken care of and Chef-owners Chris and Nina Nugent nourish guests through their creative cuisine and sincere hospitality. The seasonally driven multi-course tasting menu has French flair and the intimate 30-seat space adds to the romantic ambience with nary a shred of cheese. Although the multi-course tasting menu is elaborate, it's never pretentious - and Goosefoot is BYOB easing the stab of the tab. (Check the team's wine recommendations online before you head to the liquor store). The pace is unhurried, the food is astonishing to look at and taste and the experience is memorable.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Goosefoot is an exciting dining experience: an unhurried discovery of flavors artfully presented with friendly service.

Jacky's expert tip: Reservations are required and since Goosefoot serves only four night a week, book well in advance for a special occasion.

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Gold Coast

Even when the temps outside hover in the single digits, it's tropical Southeast Asia in the 1920s inside the doors of Le Colonial, a French-Vietnamese gem on the Gold Coast. Ensconced in a lovely vintage rowhouse, the space is dressed in turn-of-the-century décor. Although surrounded by pricey designer boutiques and budget busting steakhouses, the 20-plus year resident of the Gold Coast offers a menu that's moderately priced. And it's probably some of the best Asian food in the city of Chicago - light, elegant and brilliantly flavored. Start with wok-seared monkfish with chili, turmeric, lemongrass and peanuts to pile upon crisp toasted sesame crackers. The grilled sea scallop salad with garlic noodles and lime vinaigrette is the kind of dish you'll crave again in a day or two. Go exotic with grilled trout served steamed in a banana leaf. Warm Banana Tapioca Pudding is the way to go for dessert.

Recommended for Romantic Dining because: You almost expect Bogie and Bacall to enter the second floor lounge and ask you for a light.

Jacky's expert tip: Don't miss sweet and satisfying Vietnamese coffee made with Café du Monde chicory blend, filter-dripped over sweetened condensed milk.

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Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky