South Loop's best restaurants, from casual breakfast to upscale dinner

It wasn't so very long ago that one saw more tumbleweed blowing through Chicago’s South Loop than diners and drinkers. With new and refurbished hotels like Hotel Essex and dorms for thousands of college students, the neighborhood was ripe for restaurants to grab an inexpensive bite, impress a date, or enjoy a cocktail with friends. Now you can indulge in brunch hot spots like Yolk, fast-casual choices like the new dumpling den, JIAO, (just on the border of the Loop and South Loop)and fine dining at Acadia. 

Visit Barcelona by way of Mercat a la Planxa, tucked into the Blackstone Hotel or South Carolina's coast by digging into the messy and scrumptious seafood at Lowcountry South Loop. Have a taste of France at Grant Park Bistro. Sup on Chicago's own Chicken Vesuvio at Victory Tap or reckon with a classic Chicago steakhouse menu and hearty bar list at The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant. Try the signature risotto at brand new Pacino’s Classic Italian, a family-friendly eatery with a postscript of "Sicily Meets South Loop. 

Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood offers satisfying dining options without the theatrics of River North, crowds of the Mag Mile and prices of the Gold Coast. 


One thing you'll notice about Pacino's, in addition to the arresting scents emanating from the kitchen, are the prices. Pasta, pizza, panini, salads, sides and entrees are well-priced and generously sized. Chef Michael Serratore is a native Sicilian who has been baking baby clams and rolling gnocchi for 30 years and his experience shows up on the plate from the Sicilian style roasted chicken kissed with lemon and rosemary to Risotto Pescatore teeming with calamari, shrimp, clams, scallops and mussels. You can make a mind-blowing dinner on the antipasti alone: Sicilian meatballs; grilled artichokes or eggplant; carpaccio; salami, cheese and Tuscan bread. Choose among a dozen pizzas, 16 types of pasta; seven salads; and a nice steamy zuppa of the day. Cocktails, beers, and an excellent roster of primarily Italian wine round out a pretty perfect Italian meal.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Well-priced, luscious, Italian fare steps away from shops and a movie theater make Pacino's a good bet for a day in the South Loop.

Jacky's expert tip: The restaurant is a part of the Roosevelt Collection, with shops and a Showplace Icon movie theater so you can dine before or after a movie.

Read more about Pacino's Classic Italian →

It may be the most generous sampling of Nepali cuisine in Chicago, although you can certainly get satisfying renditions of popular North and South Indian dishes like Madras curry, samosas, tandoori and butter chicken, lamb. seafood and veg plus lots of naan, all at Chicago Curry House. Taste the Himalayas with momo dumplings, dal-Bhat (rice and lentils) and gundruk (fermented, dried vegetables). There are a half-dozen of completely vegan Nepalese entrees and carnivores can go crazy with lamb and goat meat dishes. The lunch buffet looks as good as it tastes (and has gluten-free and vegetarian items) and Chicago Curry House does a brisk take-out and delivery business. Cold Kheer, rice cooked with sweetened milk, raisins and almonds makes a nice finish.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Chicago Curry House provides a delightful Nepali alternative to South Loop dining and locals love its affordability and generous portions.

Jacky's expert tip: The lunch buffet is a great value since the cost for the entire spread checks in lower than many entrees.

Read more about Chicago Curry House Restaurant →

A sunny little French place on the ground floor of Hotel Essex, Grant Park Bistro offers breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch and dinner with Gallic flair. Your breakfast Benedict will be layered upon a croissant roll and lunch and dinner bring house-made terrines, quiche, French-inspired flatbreads and grilled meat and seafood. The kitchen tweaks French faves like Boeuf Bourguignon (GPB's is made with tender, braised beef cheek instead of brisket)and the Coq au Vin features chicken braised in white Vouvray - not the traditional red Burgundy. Steak Frites are oh-la-la good as are the Moules Mariniéres: PEI mussels, garlic, shallot and white wine sauce, served with grilled sourdough bread for your dunking pleasure. Cocktails are inspired by different regions in France; a 60, bottle wine list focuses on Loire and Rhône; and Kronenbourg 1664 beer is on tap, perfect to pair with a flatbread hot off the grill.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: The unpretentious French spot with views of Grant Park works for any meal of the day especially if you sit on the outdoor patio.

Jacky's expert tip: Stop in the adjacent Petite Vanille serving croissants, pain au chocolate and almond croissants, French macarons and cake slices plus cups by local Chicago roaster Big Shoulder Coffee.

Read more about Grant Park Bistro →


This is the first Yolk outpost to open (in 2006) and the Chicago chain has added eight more Yolks in Chicago as well as others in Florida, Indiana and Texas. The appeal appears to be fresh food, large portions and reasonable prices. What's not to love? Yolk is known for its many versions of Eggs Benedicts (try the Caprese or pot roast version) but also for pancakes, five-egg omelets and create-your-own scramblers. Fan favorites include green chilaquiles, West Coast crepes, Red Velvet French Toast, house-made corned beef hash and Nutty Monkey Cakes. The menu changes twice a year and there are limited-time offerings such as a Pancake of the Month. Little noshers can enjoy challah French toast strips, Oreo pancakes and various combinations of eggs and pancakes. You can also swing by for hefty burgers and sandwiches plus chili, soup and salads (but it closes at 3 pm daily).

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Yolk is a sure bet for outstanding, generous, fresh breakfast and lunch offerings in the South Loop.

Jacky's expert tip: You can avoid waiting in line by adding your name remotely to a waitlist via the free Yelp app. They don't add names over the phone or via email.

Read more about Yolk. →

Victory Tap has been stoking the pizza oven for more than 60 years and the South Loop location offers not only perfectly executed tavern style and pan pizza but also Italian American favorites from Rosebud's former executive chef Joe Farina. The tavern-style pie has a thin, crispy crust, hearty sauce, deep flavors and square cuts plus a dusting of cornmeal providing extra crispiness and delicious mouthfeel. Other popular choices include Joe Mama's Meatballs; an eggplant stack with eggplant Milanese, vine tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and aged balsamic; and homemade pasta like the 2018 Bacon Fest People's Choice Winner, agnolotti stuffed with bacon, ricotta and parmesan cheese in a sage butter sauce. This location offers its rectangular Yardstick Pizza, which is great for a group! Moisten the pipes after all of the yelling at a Bears game or concert with classic cocktails, 18 craft beers on tap or wine.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Victory Tap Chicago, just blocks away from Soldier Field and the Museum Campus, offers a hearty menu of Chicago-style Italian cuisine just like grandma's.

Jacky's expert tip: Try Victory Tap's nostalgic Italian American dishes like Chicken Vesuvio and homemade lasagna which are particularly satisfying in the fall and winter.

Read more about Victory Tap Chicago →

Choose to visit the seafood boil concept in the South Loop for a recreation of a sweet family trip south when you'd stop for a bag o' seafood after a day of swimming in the ocean. Belly up to the picnic table with your mallet and appetite to chow down on your protein choices: shrimp, mussels, Snow or King crab legs, and seasonal crawfish, Dungeness crab or lobster. Pick a sauce and heat level, add-ons like potatoes, Andouille sausage or corn on the cob and even some tasty extras like jalapeno cornbread, garlic noodles, pickled veg or crab hush puppies. Everything is cooked just right: potatoes are not mushy and cornbread is moist, beignets authentic, sizable mussels, fresh-tasting shrimp. The most popular item is the combo that includes shrimp and Snow crab with corn, potato and a side of cornbread. It's messy, delightful and delish.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Lowcountry is a reliable, fun, casual alternative to a stuffy seafood restaurant.

Jacky's expert tip: Lowcountry serves crawfish when in season (Feb to July) and steamy gumbo in the winter.

Read more about Lowcountry →

It took Chicago awhile to get an authentic soup dumpling joint outside of Chinatown and JIAO is a fine dumpling palace, indeed. JIAO touts a 300-year-old secret recipe used in its made-to-order orbs and it's the first restaurant in the country to offer authentic soup dumplings through a quick-served model. Owners spent $1.5 million to transform a former clothing store into a casual den able to satisfy 500 customers per day, for dine-in and take-out. Choose among eight dumplings (pork and cabbage; lamb and coriander; beef and onion; chicken and mushroom; shrimp, leek and egg; zucchini, vermicelli and wood ear mushroom; tomato and egg; and truffle), and decide if you want them steamed or pan-fried. Appetizers include spicy cabbage kimchi and wood ear mushroom salad and cold tea drinks can be topped with "cold, cream foam." JIAO's proprietary ordering system means you'll have fresh dumplings within 10 minutes of ordering.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: They're not only delicious and fun, JIAO''s dumplings are full of healthy and premium ingredients like truffle and grass fed chicken.

Jacky's expert tip: For serious dumpling noshers, the JIAO app allows you to order and track for pick-up and dine-in to save time.

Read more about JIAO →

Large arched windows allow plenty of light and views of Grant Park and the vibrant colors in this Catalan restaurant (located in the Blackstone Hotel) add to the fiesta feel. Mercat's menu features meats and seafood served a la planxa or on the grill, inspired by Spain's inimitable Catalan region. The bar offers Spanish-influenced cocktails, as well as an extensive collection of Spanish sherries, wines, sangrias and beer. Tapas abound and new selections include short rib canelon with farm chicken foie gras and creamy truffle béchamel; cold almond soup with marinated sardine, cava vinegar, and green grapes; and couscous with pumpkin, tomato, turnip, zucchini, red pepper, sofrito, parsnip, ginger, coriander, and turmeric, Olé! There are a number of paella dishes, recommended for two diners, featuring ingredients sourced right from Valencia, Spain.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Tapas originated in Spain and Mercat a la Planxa's dishes may be the closest you'll get to a night in Barcelona.

Jacky's expert tip: You can even order paella to-go and keep the pan for an extra $20.

Read more about Mercat a la Planxa →

Former Engine Company 104 is a gorgeous restaurant with its original fire pole, tons of warm woods, a second-story veranda, solarium, grand bar/lounge and lush backyard patio. And, it's walkable to Soldier Field and the museum campus. Expect a classic Chicago steakhouse menu but the hearty bar list is also appealing: a Prime cheeseburger or a Prime Rib sandwich; meatball and peppers; short rib poutine; chicken lollipops with bleu cheese cream among the choices. Sunday brunch may be the winning ticket with various Benedicts, fried chicken and two-fisted hand-helds plus Bellinis, Mimosas and a surf-n-turf Bloody Mary. Street parking isn't bad around here but valet service is also available. Use the RESY app for reservations or call directly. Happy Hour takes place between 4-6 pm daily offering outstanding value on a short but appealing list of bites and drinks.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: Celebrating 20 years in 2020, The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant was instrumental in the development of the South Loop.

Jacky's expert tip: The movie BACKDRAFT was filmed at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant.

Read more about The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant →

It may not look like much on the outside, but on the inside is one of Chicago's best restaurants. The recipient of multiple Michelin stars, award-winning chef Ryan McCaskey serves contemporary American cuisine in either 5-course or 10-course menus. Yes, it's pricey - expect to spend at least $150 per person, but you'll have some of the finest, artistically presented dishes, like Shetland Island salmon, Stonington lobster, and Madagascar chocolate. Many of the dishes pay homage to the Northeast, especially Maine. The lovely, minimalist-style dining room has comfortable, plush seating. You can also find excellent food at the bar, such as a lobster roll, oysters or an Acadia burger.

Recommended for South Loop's Best Restaurants because: It's one of the best contemporary American restaurants in Chicago.

Jacky's expert tip: For a quicker meal, with options like a lobster roll or an Acadia burger, try the bar menu.

Read more about Acadia →


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