Chicago Dining and Drinking
The foodie scene is alive and well in Chicago; from the celebrated local versions of hot dogs and pizza to the ultramodern creations that have won the city international attention. If you’re coming to the City of Big Shoulders, bring a big appetite.
564 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661, USA
West Loop denizens can get their fill of locally made spirits at this distillery and cocktail bar, where cofounder and head distiller Tremaine Atkinson bottles up just about everything of an ABV nature—with a bespoke spin. Its vodka may be its flagship offering, but it’s proved its aptitude with a handful of other liquors as well, from gin and rum to amaro and limoncello. If you can’t make one of its Tuesday or Saturday tours, swing by anyway for a dram; a full cocktail list pairs up with bites throughout the week and features go-tos like the Cease & Desist, a melding of CH London Dry Gin, Lapsang souchong, ginger, honey, and lemon.
3500 North Elston Avenue
Diners fill the seats on the nightly at this Avondale eatery, where wife-and-husband team Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark dole out American-meets-Korean cuisine with big-time twists and turns (done with such genius that they’ve already earned themselves a Michelin star and several James Beard nominations). Kick things off with their take on a Whiskey Sour (made with Amaro Sfumato and rooibos tea), then delve into the main event: leek pancakes with squid and smoked trout roe, hanger steak with black garlic and dragon beans, and, of course, the bi bim bop, a rotating house specialty cooked in a stone bowl with flavors like burdock root, Korean soy sauce, and ginseng.
2nd Floor, Suite 1, 980 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
This iconic Italian eatery has been delivering modern fine-dining experiences to Gold Coast crowds for more than 30 years. Those decades have given Spiaggia plenty of time to acquire the reputation it boasts today—one built on several James Beard Award nominations, not to mention its one-Michelin star status since 2011. Credit goes to chef and owner Tony Mantuano’s commitment to only the best Italian ingredients and preparations, from gnocchi with white truffles to wood-grilled scallops, a seasonally changing plate that’s become a quick favorite for newcomers and regulars alike (including Barack Obama).
1350 West Randolph Street
This modern-American spot from husband-and-wife team David and Anna Posey places a strong emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients—a simple approach that’s already taken them far. Within just months they’ve earned “best new restaurant” titles nationwide for their aptly executed and flavor-packed plates, like the duck-liver tart with buckwheat and salted ramps, the soft scrambled eggs with chicken thigh and sweet and spicy peppers, or the sunflower-seed parfait with sour honey, licorice, and bee pollen. After dinner, be sure to grab a drink and head out to the patio, where a hearth, benches, and blankets await.
177 N Ada St #101, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
Not only do husband-and-wife team John Shields and Karen Urie Shields share an impressive culinary background (one that entails gigs at Tru, Alinea, and Charlie Trotter’s between them), they now share two restaurants: the Loyalist, a neighborhood restaurant focused on farm-fresh fare, and Smyth, an upscale tasting-menu eatery embodying those same sourcing philosophies. It’s the latter that garnered a Michelin star within just six weeks of opening, thanks to an incredibly ingredient-focused approach that often means making key elements of dishes in-house. Dungeness crab with saltwater-poached foie gras and scrambled kani miso continues to be a favorite for diners, as is the egg-custard dessert—a brilliant and beguiling bowl of egg yolk, salted licorice, and frozen-yogurt meringue.
661 W Walnut St, Chicago, IL 60661, USA
The team at this West Loop dining destination wanted to create a space that felt less like a restaurant and more like a home, and upon first glance, it looks like they succeeded (thanks to a freight-elevator entrance, exposed timber, potted plants, and on-point hospitality). It’s only when embarking on the 14-to-18-course menu that you start to realize you’re somewhere much more special, with bites like Beausoleil oysters with Mangalica ham consommé, capellini with Périgord truffles and rye berries, and croissants with Ashbrook cheese and apple butter. Others have noticed the place’s potential for staying power too—in just one year the restaurant garnered two Michelin stars and was dubbed Best New Restaurant 2017 by the Jean Banchet Awards.
2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
It took no time for this neighborhood restaurant from chef and owner Diana Dávila to garner major fandom. The menu—a compilation of antojos, or Mexican small plates—is a nod to Dávila’s Mexican heritage and an invitation to diners to experience the country as she did growing up. Expect that journey to unfold with the likes of fish with yellow mole, enchiladas potosinas, and an array of taco options (from beer-can chicken to butternut squash). Drinks are just as groundbreaking—opt for the Chicana, a floral and herbaceous coming together of hibiscus, mezcal, gin, Chartreuse, and maraschino.
1729 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614, USA
The dishes are as gorgeous as the environs at this Lincoln Park eatery, where chef and partner Lee Wolen serves contemporary American fare by way of seasonally driven and artfully composed plates. Grilled bass with charred eggplant and cucumber or slow-roasted-beef short ribs with gem lettuce and sweetbreads are just a few displays of the award-winning chef’s creativity—but he shares the stage with pastry chef Meg Galus, who centers her masterful desserts around one main ingredient of the season (like summer’s Blackberry, with huckleberry, black sesame, and crème fraîche, or autumn’s Pear with wattleseed, pistachio, and buckwheat).
1020 West Madison Street
The combination of a Top Chef alum slash James Beard Award winner, a buzzing Chicago neighborhood, and an in-house pastificio (Italian for “pasta factory”) was a surefire recipe for success for this Italian hot spot. It’s here that chef Sarah Grueneberg is in her element, serving up pasta-centric fare with far-reaching influences, from gnocchetti con pesto to the Cacio Whey Pepe, which includes Mancini bucatini pasta, pecorino Romano, and ricotta whey. Grueneberg’s prowess extends far beyond noodles, too—take, for example, the Octopus Speidino, a grilled favorite that comes with aioli, leeks, pimentón, and shishito peperonata and that was inspired by Japanese yakitori. In between bites guests can check out the “pasta TV”—an antique mirror that reflects the pasta team’s made-to-order work.
330 North Wabash Avenue
Situated on the second floor of the Langham Hotel, this restaurant is open around the clock—and after tasting the team’s handiwork, we’re all the more thankful. Seasonal American cuisine is the specialty here, a focus that chef Ricardo Jarquin honors in plates like the Charred-Tar (a steak tartare twist with tenderloin, A1-sauce aioli, fried quail eggs, and truffle oil), watermelon salad (a summer favorite that includes shrimp, jicama, and cucumbers), and grilled Nigerian prawns (with lemon butter and herbs). Whatever you do, save room for dessert; pastry chef Scott Green has a knack for sweets that look as good as they taste. Case in point: the lemon pavlova, with lemon cream, coconut dacquoise, and lemon croutons.
1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
Hot chocolate isn’t the only thing Mindy’s has going for it, although the varieties are epic. Mexican chocolate with spicy cinnamon, French chocolate made with 72 percent cacao, and Belgian chocolate mixed with mint, chai, and...more chocolate. The menu changes seasonally, but if bacon-chocolate cookies are on it, get them. If you can add chocolate to it, Mindy Segal—who clinched the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012, after being nominated five times—does it. Mindy’s serves a full menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner surrounded by the fantastic shopping, boutiques, and live music that make up Wicker Park. Mindy’s is a must-eat, must-drink stop on the perfect day in Chicago.
1466 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622, USA
Schwa is kind of a difficult place to describe; it’s such an eclectic bundle of everything, you just have to experience it for yourself. The exterior of the building makes it look like it should be condemned, but it’s actually structurally sound. Upon entering you’ll be greeted by the always hustling, yet always friendly staff, who will get you to one of the only 26 seats in the small but comfortable dining room. Music—usually heavy metal or rap—is played at a pretty high decibel level, and actually gets inside your brain at times, but for some odd reason it totally works in this place. Overhead the light fixtures are mini works of art that seem literally cobbled together, and to get to the bathroom you actually walk through the kitchen. But once you indulge in all that is unique and wonderful about the place, then you can settle in and indulge in the Michelin-starred food. Anything is fair game here, from Fruit Loop–inspired courses to a curried paste that came in a real-deal petri dish, to the crab that was perched on top of a glass of smoke (you removed the top to inhale the flavored scents—and then ate the crab). And we were told not to play with our food as children! Schwa’s chef Michael Carlson surely did not heed that advice growing up, and as a result we get to reap the benefit of his creative food fantasies coming to life.
619 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661, USA
When it opened doors in 1998, this West Loop destination helped pave the way for Restaurant Row and all of the gastronomic glory that would follow. Ever since, Blackbird’s been filling seats (intimate banquette seating, thank you) with diners eager for refined New American fare, like ahi tuna poke with lamb bacon and sorrel, roasted Rohan duck with new potatoes and grilled gem lettuce, Slagel Farm beef striploin with eggplant and dandelion, everything as enjoyable to look at as it is to eat. Try the tasting menu, a 10-course meal showcasing of some of the season’s best finds. For shared plates in a more casual setting, head next door to Avec, the restaurant’s sister spot specializing in Mediterranean-inspired fare.
449 North Clark Street
Rick Bayless opened his upscale Mexican restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in the late 1980s and then won a litany of James Beard Awards, including Outstanding Restaurant (in 2007 and 2017). He took the top spot in the first season of Top Chef Masters in 2009, and then opened Xoco, a Mexican street-food stand next to his other two restaurants, creating a “Bayless block” at the corner of Clark and Illinois streets. Of the three Bayless restaurants, I would recommend Xoco (pronounced SHO-ko). If it’s on the menu, have the torta with guacamole and bacon, and don’t leave before you try the churros and chocolate. There might be a long line to get in, but it’ll move fast, so stick around.
800 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
Why the best burger in Chicago is served at a bar with a French name might be a question for the ages. But rather than question it, just go there! The single burger at Au Cheval is actually a double, and don’t even ask about the double cheeseburger! You will get your burger(s) covered in cheese, served with Dijonnaise and a fried egg—just as the French have always intended. That first bite will make you think you’ve never really had a burger before; maybe you’ll even start to wonder about your country allegiance. Au Cheval calls itself a diner but the space, cozy with dark wood, dim lights over a row of chrome-leg barstools, and tufted leather booths along the wall, has the look of a classic bar and lounge.
1520 North Damen Avenue
The first rule of the speakeasy is that it can’t be easy to find. The Violet Hour’s door is directly across the street from Big Star. Look for the handle on the wall and the light above it, because the door mural changes frequently and cleverly disguises the space. It doesn’t take reservations, so expect to wait in line as the number of people in the bar at any time is also tightly controlled. This is good, because it won’t ever be packed! The Violet Hour isn’t a get-up-and-mingle kind of joint, which makes it the perfect dark, sexy lounge for romantic dates and quiet conversations about world domination. The cocktail menu changes frequently, so even if you’ve been before, you should go again. (And try the Finocchio Focaccia.)
3201 West Armitage Avenue
Scofflaw breaks all the craft-cocktail-bar rules by serving strong, affordable drinks that arrive quickly with no snooty attitude. There’s even street parking, something anyone driving in Chicago will appreciate. I’m not sure what else you could want for a night out, but here are a few more reasons to drop by: 1. Gin. There are more kinds here than you’ve probably ever seen—small-batch, big brands, high-end, even the bar’s own Old Tom gin. If it’s made with juniper, then Scofflaw has it, and knows how to mix it. 2. Chocolate chip cookies baked at midnight. Why aren’t you there already? 3. Wide recognition as a top-notch watering hole. Be sure to get there early and stake out a space.
3154 W Diversey Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
If there were ever a city where a tiki bar is bound to succeed, it’s Chicago—during warmer months, they can help us embrace our short-lived summers; and during winter months, they help us escape the reality of subzero temps. As such, the seats of this Logan Square hangout are always filled, and bartenders tirelessly mix cocktails like the Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri (with overproof Jamaican rum, overproof demerara rum, spiced rum, banana, coconut, and lime, served with a banana dolphin) and the Tic-Tac-Taxi (a frozen drink with aged multi-island rum, overproof Jamaican rum, coconut, passion fruit, and lime). A recently opened kitchen serves up dishes like pork dumplings with scallion and ginger, and curry udon with summer squash and coconut crème fraîche.
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614, USA
For serious food lovers, a trip to Chicago isn’t complete without a visit to Alinea. For some, a trip to Chicago would be because of Alinea. Chef Grant Achatz’s culinary playground has earned three Michelin stars since opening in 2005, the first restaurant in town to do so. Once inside the sleek, no-tablecloths space, expect the unexpected—Achatz is known for defying all expectations, as evidenced by dishes that include “pearls” of spiced orange juice, balloons made of green apple and helium, and a dessert that uses the entire tabletop as an edible art canvas. Three different dining experiences (and price points) are on offer—the Salon Menu, the Gallery Menu, and the Kitchen Table—ensuring guests can find the option that works best for them. For a totally secluded, front-row seat to the magic, book the latter—it offers an unobstructed view of the kitchen.
565 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661, USA
Leather, hand-glazed tiles, rich velvets, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling define this 5,000-square-foot space, which was carefully renovated to preserve elements of the building’s original occupant, the Werner Printing Company. The bold, global flavors from chef Andrew Zimmerman’s kitchen showcase his prowess for modern technique and his love for travel. Come with a group to taste through a medley of shareable dishes, from tempura elotes and grilled sweet potato salad with cashew dukkah to Vietnamese crêpes and fried fish collar with Thai garlic-chili sauce. Pastry chef Sarah Mispagel incorporates the same international flair into her dessert program, a collection of clever, crowd-pleasing plates like black raspberry kulfi with pistachio granola or a Chinese egg tart with shiso and matcha. Stick around for post-dinner drams—namely the Jean Claude Pandan, a modern-day Swizzle cocktail made with Absolut Elyx and pandan leaf-infused coconut milk.
1415 N Wood St, Chicago, IL 60622, USA
The team behind this Wicker Park newcomer took several research trips to New Orleans before opening up, the better to channel that city’s mom-and-pop joints, dive bars, and corner stores. Now Chicago diners can enjoy iconic Southern dishes (think po’ boys, towers of seafood, and authentic beignets) as well as an impressive cocktail selection. Jorie Taylor heads up the bar program, which riffs on vintage recipes with concoctions like the Papa Doble (a spin on a Hemingway daiquiri, made with white rum, Rhum Agricole, lime, and maraschino) or the Rex Organization (a Pimm’s Cup made with gin, an agave-cucumber ice cube, and loads of mint). Enjoy it all within rustic-hip environs boasting exposed brick, wood furnishings, and Americana-inspired vintage signage—a host of home-away-from-home elements inviting patrons to stay a while.
2152 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
Locals, out-of-towners, and food-and-bev industry crowds alike flock to this Bucktown restaurant—one of the first to modernize the fine dining scene in Chicago with louder music, less showiness, and no white tablecloths. Settle into banquette seating for chef Todd Stein’s contemporary American plates, all of which feature a strong focus on nose-to-tail cooking. Experience it in favorites like the crispy pig ears (with kimchi BBQ sauce and lime), Amish half-chicken (with mustard and dill spätzle and chicken jus), whole trout (with manzanilla and caper relish), and porchetta (stuffed with fennel-garlic sausage alongside brussels sprouts and plums). Do save room for dessert—the Basque cake, a decadent finale with pastry cream, seasonal fruit compote, and walnuts, is one of the city’s most celebrated sweet fixes.
1460 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642, USA
Partners Dave Park and Jen Tran opened this Noble Square newcomer earlier this year, with the same modern Korean cuisine that gained them a loyal following (and a nomination for a James Beard Foundation award) at Hanbun, an elevated take on a food-court stall. Now in their own 40-seat brick and mortar restaurant, the team has room to show more personality in dining and in décor. Korean rice paper wall dividers, hammered brass lighting fixtures, and hanbok dress uniforms reveal a Korean-inspired aesthetic. Guests can partake in an a la carte or tasting menu. Go with the latter—priced at only $87 for seven courses, it’s one of the best values in town—which showcases some of the kitchen’s best, from silken tofu (with king crab, maesil, and chili braised fern) to kimchi (in a truffle emulsion with flank steak and sunchoke croquettes).
3472 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
After five years of filling seats at Avondale’s modern Korean restaurant, Parachute (and earning the kitchen an annual Michelin star, as well as sharing last year’s James Beard Foundation award for the Best Chef: Great Lakes category), Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark had proved they definitely had what it takes to open a second venture, right down the street. Wherewithall, a 50-seat restaurant, is intimate and inviting, thanks to felt-lined banquette seating, light wood details, and an open kitchen. Unlike the a la carte option at Parachute, Wherewithall offers a four-course prix-fixe menu that changes nightly, and has included matcha-tinged onion beignets with sherry-glazed Norwegian trout, and bavette steak with hollandaise and gooseberry-laced semifreddo. Those seeking just a few bites can sit at the bar, where cocktails are just as exciting as the eats (try the 50/50 martini, made with flavors of coriander, cardamom, and apple from New York-based Neversink Gin).
630 W Lake St, Chicago, IL 60661, USA
When the team from the two Michelin-starred Oriole announced they were teaming up with cocktail ace Julia Momose for a new bar-driven concept venue, Chicago diners knew there were good things to come. Those things happen nightly at Kumiko, as Momose and chef Noah Sandoval explore fine line between food and drink with meticulously crafted courses and cocktails—all rooted in Japanese flavor and technique. Upstairs, steal glimpses everywhere of “kumiko,” an ancient Japanese woodworking art focused on joinery, where no nails are used. Downstairs, discover Kikko, a subterranean space outfitted with just eight bar seats for an intimate, omakase-style tasting menu. A meal here means libations from Momose thoughtfully paired with seven show-stopping bites from Sandoval, including Ora King salmon sashimi with toasted genmai, kanpachi nigiri with Maine uni, and torched Japanese milk toast with honey ice cream.
737 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661, USA
Sushi chef B.K. Park waited 20 years to open his own omakase restaurant, and in March 2019, his dream came true. In September, just five months after it opened, Mako obtained a Michelin star. Those familiar with Park’s work at Lincoln Park’s Juno were among the first to reserve seats at this latest venture, knowing that he would be bringing the same precision and dedication to quality to the table. The restaurant has two seatings a night for 22 guests, with 12 courses served over two hours. Each bite is as flavorful as the last, from poached sea bass with tosaka aioli, crispy skin, and yuzu vinaigrette to soy-marinated A5 wagyu with shio kombu. Any seat here is a good one—a minimalist vibe throughout the space helps diners to zero in on the fare in front of them—but, try to score a spot in front of Park.
2537 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
Chef Jason Hammel opened Lula Café more than 20 years ago at the corner of Logan and Kedzie, helping to pioneer a farm-to-table philosophy that would put Chicago—and most definitely Logan Square—on the dining destination map. In the decades since, Hammel has stayed true to his hyper-seasonal approach, turning frequently to local farmers for the ingredients that land on his daily changing menus. Experience those practices any time of day with dishes like sweet potato gnudi (dumplings with ground cherries and hen of the woods mushrooms), Rushing Waters trout (with Genesis Farm cucumbers and poppy seed), and challah French toast (with Klug Farm peaches and butterscotch). For a prix-fix taste of what the team here does best, visit for the Monday Farm Dinner Series, when the kitchen creates a $45 three-course meal of local and organic dishes that rotate weekly—and are never repeated.