Answers from Our Experts (13)
Chicago is a city with no shortage of top-tier restaurants, but here is the cream of cuisine crop.
Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower is a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rises high above the city and serves up succulent American cuisine accompanied by views of downtown and Chicago River that rival the fare on your plate. Everest is a Four-Star eatery from chef Jean Joho that lives up to its name both in quality and elevation — the restaurant is located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. An eclectic mix of haute and casual can be found at Graham Elliot, where your servers will wear Chuck Taylors and jeans and offer a between-course snack of Parmesan-dusted and truffle popcorn. It’s not all popcorn, though — this Four-Star eatery has prix fixe menus featuring lobster risotto with sea urchin and mushrooms or wagyu with marrow, egg, potato and watercress up the top-cuisine ante. Alinea is the Five-Star, molecular brainchild of chef Grant Achatz. You’ll experience gastro creations such as truffle-topped ravioli filled with truffle broth that bursts in your mouth and duck with mango and yogurt on a pillow of juniper air. Four-Star Tru is a treat for the eyes — an original Andy Warhol — and the tongue. Three-course prix fixe and a six- or nine-course options include dishes such as bacon-wrapped monkfish with fingerling potatoes and red wine reduction and prime beef ribeye with grilled foie gras, chanterelle mushrooms and parsley. A low-key atmosphere can be found at Les Nomades where fresh flowers and the farmhouse environment cultivate a romantic feel — not to mention the magnificent French cuisine.
I love Alinea. I love Next. I can’t say my own because if I single one out, then I’m in trouble with the rest of them. I love all of Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia’s restaurants. They do great work. The Publican, Blackbird and Avec are amazing. I love Kai Zan, which is a new little sushi restaurant in West Town. I love Arami, which is in that same area.
I like GT Fish & Oyster in River North a lot. There’s also this Peruvian restaurant that is really amazing. It’s a divey place called Machu Picchu. It’s on Ashland Avenue and it is delicious. It’s not a chichi spot, but it’s really good. They have the hottest green sauce — you can’t even dip a single tine of your fork in there it’s so hot. And they have this beef and potato dish. It’s fried and it’s mashed potatoes on the outside and meat in the center and they put it on these red onions which they must soak in lime juice for two days or something — you don’t get any of that citrus taste but you get that crunchy cold.
I still love Avec, the restaurant in the West Loop. It just feels really comfortable and casual and fun and cool. There are not a lot of places like that. Some places are a little too fancy or a bit too overdone. The small size helps because it feels intimate and cozy.
I like Floriole Café & Bakery in Lincoln Park for a little tea and pastry — they have great bread and pastries there. I like Irazú, a Costa Rican place in Bucktown. They do interesting shakes. They have one with oatmeal — it’s like an oatmeal milkshake with cinnamon in it and as long as they don’t make it too sweet it is amazing.
I love the pizza at Spacca Napoli Pizzeria — it’s on Sunnyside and Ravenswood. It’s like the chef went to Naples and learned how to make the pizza the way they do. In Naples the pizza is super soft and you can’t really pick it up with one hand. And he makes it like that. If you like that sort of doughy texture, it’s really yummy.
There’s a new place that opened in Old Town called The Glunz Tavern, which is really great. It’s right in our neighborhood, and the family is really nice. They sort of had this place just sitting empty for 90 years and used it as a store room. They recently converted back to what it would have looked like pre-Prohibition. Christopher, one of the owners, has great wine knowledge. It’s always a fun place to go; it has great beers
There’s The Purple Pig, but I’m part owner in that so I don’t know if that’s allowed, but that’s a place that we love to eat at all the time. I really like The Publican; I think it’s terrific. And I like a Japanese place called Katsu on Peterson, where you just sit at the bar and have omakase. It’s a pretty special place.
Belly Q. This street [where Girl & The Goat and Little Goat are] is just filled with good restaurants nowadays. GEB — Graham Elliot Bistro — is just across the street. Grace just opened down the street, which I’ve only been to for snacks, but I’m sure it’s amazing. Avec is a longtime favorite of mine. Publican Quality Meats and Publican, of course.
One of my new favorite ones is Yusho. We just celebrated my daughter’s baptism — of all places, we took her to a Japanese/yakitori restaurant that serves cocktails with brunch. It’s fantastic. I always love Avec. It’s been around for a long time, and it’s still one of my favorites to go to at 3 o’clock on a Sunday. GT Fish & Oyster, my favorite, does really it well — all my favorite dishes in a casual setting.
Spiaggia. That’s kind of an obvious choice. Yusho, I like that place a lot. Balena is good.
I’m a big fan of Yusho in the Avondale neighborhood. Then I have to plug my old place of work, The Gage, because I just think it’s an excellent restaurant. You can go in there with anyone —your mother-in-law, kids, people who are really snobby — and everyone can get something that they want. There’s a really good beverage program, beer, cocktails, wine. I really love Café Spiaggia. I’ve eaten there for years. And it’s the same quality of food you get in its expensive restaurant, but it’s a little more casual. You still get the beautiful lakefront views on certain tables, not all of them. Blackbird is a classic, wonderful restaurant that’s been around 10 or 15 years. Paul Kahan is always amazing. Those are among my favorites.
Aside from Gibsons, I would have to definitely say GT Fish & Oyster. I’m a big oyster fan, and I believe they have the best oysters in the city. And there hasn’t been a time that I’ve been in that restaurant when I haven’t seen chef Giuseppe [Tentori]. Being an owner, there are times when you want to go home and want to be with your family; but you also have to be with your family at the restaurant. It’s just the sacrifice that it takes. Every time I’ve been in there, he’s been in there. He’s the face of the restaurant, and he’s the driving soul and the force. He really defines the restaurant, and he’s an extraordinary person — and no surprise, the restaurant is extraordinary. It has a great energy to it, too.
There are so many great restaurants in Chicago. I can go on and on: Schwa, Yusho, Great Lake pizza, Big Star, Maude’s Liquor Bar, Katsu.
I love GT Fish & Oyster for oysters. I love to sit at the bar. If you want to sit in a room and do some interesting people watching, maybe even see a celebrity, RL Restaurant [at Ralph Lauren] is that place. I think Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse is by far one of the best steakhouses in America. And you can’t beat a Chicago hot dog.
Chicago's restaurant scene has been expanding for so many years now that it's no longer undergoing a boom; it's simply a matter of fact that some of the best restaurants in the country, if not the world, claim Chicago zipcodes. The cream of the crop is Alinea, chef Grant Achatz's critically lauded 18-course-dinner restaurant driven by molecular gastronomic principles. While highly coveted, tables at this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant are easier to secure than tickets to Achatz's sophomore establishment, Next, whose fixed menu changes seasonally, and to which seatings disappear like rock concert tickets: often sold-out within minutes of their release.
Chicago is home to several other fine dining establishments that, like Alinea, have earned coveted Forbes Travel Guide star-rated status. For a Five-Star experience, try Sixteen. It's located on — you guessed it — the sixteenth floor of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, and when weather permits, the tables on this restaurant's alfresco terrace are the best places to dine in the city.
If you can't get a reservation at a Five-Star restaurant, you can't go wrong with one of four Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurants in the city: the eclectic and edgy Graham Elliott, warm and elegant French hotspot Les Nomades, the haute and avant-garde Tru or the sophisticated Alsatian eatery Everest.
Elsewhere, there are numerous less stressful reservations to be made. Chicago has no wanting for top-quality steakhouses, but one of my favorites is also among the newest: Bavette's Bar & Boeff has the dark, leathery air of a decades-old chophouse, with refreshingly unstuffy service and an impeccable Cognac Old Fashioned. A decade ahead of its time, avec pleases with small plates and a cozy, wood-paneled atmosphere that fuels neighborly conversation. And Nightwood, located in the city's otherwise Mexican-food-dominated neighborhood of Pilsen, offers an always-changing menu hinged on farm-fresh ingredients, thoughtfully served with intricate details.
Boy, are there a ton of restaurants to choose from in Chicago. Even low-key fare gets the gourmet treatment here — there are a slew of joints that have elevated street food to fine fare, from hotdogs (my favorite spot is Hot Doug’s) to doughnuts (Glazed and Infused is a must-visit).
But for a true fine-dining experience with a killer view, book a table at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star restaurant Sixteen. If you plan far in advance you might be able to score a table at chef Grant Achatz’s Five-Star Alinea. For upscale Chinese, head to The Peninsula Chicago’s Shanghai Terrace not only for the food, but for the incredible rooftop patio, too.
And while every Chicagoan has their own opinion on the best restaurants, I think you can’t go wrong with dinner at Girl and the Goat and The Publican in the West Loop, Trencherman in Bucktown, Frontera Grill in River North and Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. Each of these spots has excellent food and the type of laidback vibe that feels very Chicago.