What are the best places to stay in Chicago?

©Waldorf Astoria Chicago

Don't be surprised if the Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Chicago has a file on you. The staff meets every morning to go over who's arriving that day and what they might need, whether it's something you requested prior to your visit or something they know by scrolling through their huge database of guests. It's this flawless service that makes a stay here feel exquisitely relaxing. It also doesn't hurt that the hotel recently underwent a thorough revamp, and is just steps from the city's best shopping.

Steps away is the Five-Star Peninsula Chicago, which mixes Old World opulence with Asian-influenced style. The hotel's graceful service befits the dignified atmosphere of this gem. But the Peninsula's crown jewels are also its most delicious. The trendy Shanghai Terrace serves Asian-inspired fare and cocktails, Pierrot Gourmet is a sunny morning spot to start the day with breakfast and brunch and a late-night room service order of a famous Chicago-style hot dog is practically mandatory during any Windy City visit.

You might be confused when you walk into Five-Star Trump International Hotel & Tower. Is it a hotel? Is it a condo building? It's both, and the understated but upscale lobby is a precursor to everything this well-done hotel has to offer: A sophisticated but relaxed lounge; a gorgeous, Five-Star fine dining restaurant, Sixteen; lavish rooms where every detail has been taken into consideration (down to Sub-zero refrigerators); and amazing views from everywhere.

Located high atop Water Tower Place along Michigan Avenue, Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton Chicago underwent a major renovation in 2010, giving rooms a sophisticated and modern makeover. The Deca restaurant on the 12th floor is a chic place for cocktails and bistro fare.

The Four-Star Waldorf Astoria Chicago is adorned with chandeliers inspired by Coco Chanel's jewelry and features only 10 rooms per floor, which include fireplaces, terraces, and white Carrera marble bathrooms. The elegant Parisian-style building has a cobblestone motor court, a Greek-columned spa, handsome bar and two fantastic restaurants.

With its cherry-wood design and gold and mocha accents, the Four-Star Park Hyatt Chicago is a prime choice for a striking stay in Chicago. Anything you could need is a question away with the hotel's butler service and oversized tubs and room views of the Windy City's famous skyline and Lake Michigan guarantee your a fair share of relaxation and beauty during your stay.

  • On July 1, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What is Chicago’s cultural scene like?

    In a word, diverse. Like a lot of other American cities, Chicago was founded by several bands of immigrants, which is visible in pockets of the modern city such as Pilsen (Mexican-American), Andersonville (Norwegian-American), Jefferson Park (Polish-American), Lincoln Square (German-American), and dozens of others. This diversity accounts for an incredible calendar of celebrations, a number of unique museums and historical sites and, my favorite benefit, an incredible array of cuisine. It’s possible to sample traditional dishes from India, Poland, Mexico, Vietnam and Norway, all within a few miles’ radius on the North Side. And depending on what neighborhood you’re hanging out in, you’ll see signs in Chinese or Spanish, Polish or Czech. Chicago is a cultural melting pot in the best sense of the term.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are Chicago’s hottest restaurants?

    The list is long but varied both in cuisine and location—good news if you’re interested in trying a few on your next visit.

    At the top is Grace, perhaps the most anticipated opening of the past year. At Grace’s helm is chef-owner Curtis Duffy, whose resume reads like a punch card of the top restaurants in Chicago’s culinary history (Charlie Trotter’s, Trio, Alinea, Avenues), and who has since risen to recognition as one of the top chefs in the country.

    Selling itself as “new gatherer” cuisine (everything is foraged, whether from forests or farms or really good provisioners elsewhere), Elizabeth opened last fall and has been met with fondness among the local dining elite. Reservations are handled via a ticket system—the same one used by Grant Achatz’s nonpareil restaurants Next and Alinea—and dining experiences are staged based on the number of desired courses.

    Brindille (pronounced brawn-DEE) is the follow-up to renown chef and restaurateur Carrie Nahabedian’s Naha, which over its decade in business has not faltered with Chicago’s increasingly discerning tastes. In the same neighborhood is Nahabedian’s just-opened French bistro, a sexy yet refined addition to the white-tablecloth dining scene.

    Chicago is no longer wanting for Macau cuisine thanks to Fat Rice. A blend of its owners’ heritage—Chinese and Portuguese, the same cultures celebrated in this special far-eastern region—Fat Rice was the sleeper hit of last fall’s new-openings season, and has become a destination dining room on a busy corner in Logan Square.

    A kind of a sequel to chef Ryan Poli’s Tavernita, the Gold Coast’s Little Market Brasserie is the new go-to for casual bistro fare in a neighborhood overrun with white tablecloths and lounges. Deviled eggs and charged cocktails—housemade sodas mixable with spirits of your choice—present win-win choices.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best steakhouses in Chicago?

    One of the newest on the scene is on my list of favorite restaurants: Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, from local restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff. Opened last year, Bavette’s pays homage to the best elements of classic steakhouses—from the personable service at your table to the wood paneling behind your booth—and embellishes it within a handsome, dimly lit den of fine dining. Service is thorough but casual, and on the plates are killer steaks and chops, plus an incredible wedge salad and cocktails worth the trip alone.

    Perhaps Chicago’s best-loved steakhouse is Gene & Georgetti in River North. Founded in 1941, it’s a classic room—rosewood paneling, red and white tablecloths, leather bar stools lining the long wooden bar—but doesn’t feel dated, thanks to its owners’ care for keeping diners interested.

    One of seven David Burke–owned restaurants across the country, David Burke’s Primehouse is a modern interpretation of a classic American steakhouse. Seven years in, it recently underwent a massive renovation which refreshed and expanded its bar--a great spot to settle in for a long, enjoyable meal beyond the cozy dining room. In addition to classics (filet mignon, aged ribeye) are a handful of modern additions, like wagyu beef sashimi and tempura veggies.
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  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best Italian restaurants in Chicago?

    Taylor Street serves as Chicago’s modest Little Italy (it’s small, but charming), and one of the best restaurants on the block is Davanti Enoteca. Its roots tied to a much larger Italian chain local to Chicagoland, the Francesca’s Restaurants group. In fact, Davanti is located kitty-corner from Francesca’s on Taylor, also recommended, but Davanti is more fun, with an emphasis on pizza and pasta, and everything that makes Italian food delicious.

    The newest Italian kid on the block is Siena Tavern, the giant River North restaurant from Top Chef contestant Fabio Viviani. With a massive bar and deep dining room, Siena Tavern is designed to pack in the crowds and does so on a nightly basis, only in part because of its location. The bigger draw is the food, all of which is quite good, consumed in a fun, modern atmosphere.

    Also in River North is RPM Italian, named for its partners—among them Bill and Giuliana Rancic—who have a three-tiered stake in this sleek black-and-white dining room. With a packed reservations book, the vibe is see-and-be-seen (especially at the long, central bar), and the generous menu (nearly 70 items) has a focus on housemade pasta and risotto.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best steakhouses in Chicago?

    One of the newest on the scene is on my list of favorite restaurants: Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, from local restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff. Opened last year, Bavette’s pays homage to the best elements of classic steakhouses—from the personable service at your table to the wood paneling behind your booth—and embellishes it within a handsome, dimly lit den of fine dining. Service is thorough but casual, and on the plates are killer steaks and chops, plus an incredible wedge salad and cocktails worth the trip alone.

    Perhaps Chicago’s best-loved steakhouse is Gene & Georgetti in River North. Founded in 1941, it’s a classic room—rosewood paneling, red and white tablecloths, leather bar stools lining the long wooden bar—but doesn’t feel dated, thanks to its owners’ care for keeping diners interested.

    One of seven David Burke–owned restaurants across the country, David Burke’s Primehouse is a modern interpretation of a classic American steakhouse. Seven years in, it recently underwent a massive renovation, resulting in a TK AESTHETIC in which to settle in for a long, heavy meal. In addition to classics (filet mignon, aged ribeye) are a handful of modern additions, like wagyu beef sashimi and tempura veggies.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best Chicago restaurants for wine?

    One of the best restaurants for wine is also among one of the most talked about. The Boarding House, which opened last winter, is the crowning achievement of master sommelier Alpana Singh, a household name among local wine snobs and then some. The ceiling of its dining room features a sculpture made of around 4,000 wine bottles, and while the menu has significantly less (about 500), it’s still impressive.

    An oldie but a goodie, Bin 36 was Chicago’s first modern restaurant to take wine seriously, and its expertly executed menu still draws both loyal and new diners. At the base of iconic Marina City, it’s a big, downtown dining room with lots of little corners, and every item on the extensive menu of new-American staples references a specific bin, making pairing a cinch.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best kid-friendly restaurants in Chicago?

    Whenever I’m out with friends with wee ones, Wishbone is at the top of the list, and it’s pretty high on the list without kids in tow, too. The theme is southern reconstruction—think jambalaya, po’boys, pulled pork—and the children’s menu offers significantly more options than most places. The noise level is buzzing—great for masking any unwanted fuss, but not so loud that you feel like you’re at a theme park.

    For breakfast and lunch, Lakeview’s charming Bakin' & Eggs is a neighborhood go-to. The generous dining room has room for high chairs and stroller parking, and the menu is packed with crowd-pleasing sandwiches and breakfast fare (frittatas, french toast, burritos).
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best romantic restaurants in Chicago?

    My favorite romantic dining room is RM Champagne Salon, on Randolph Street in the West Loop (aka Restaurant Row). Focused on grower champagnes, RM is more of a lounge than a sit-down restaurant, but it’s perfect for date-night drinks, with the opportunity to jumpstart dinner with oysters and small bites like tartine and frites, or stop in after dinner for a sweet ending thanks to a massive selection of petit fours.

    Just down the street is Maude’s Liquor Bar, the most feminine of the stellar restaurants in restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s mini-empire. A true French bistro, the ground floor’s exposed brick and patinated mirrors offer a romantic backdrop for bistro tables crowded with seafood towers and steak-frites. Upstairs, the lights and music are dimmed further, for romantic effect.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What are the best food experiences in Chicago?

    For a true food experience, the name in Chicago is Grant Achatz. But tickets to his restaurants, Next and Alinea, are hard to come by unless planned months in advance.

    Alternatively, plan for a little adventure: some of the city's best food experiences are on the fringes. Southwest of downtown is Chinatown, where the best meal in the neighborhood can be found at La Sze Chuan. This is Chicago Chinese-food maestro Tony Hu’s flagship restaurant (he owns several, with several more on the way), and arguably his best. Everything on the menu is excellent.

    Another popular food experience in Chicago is a trip to Devon Street in West Rogers Park, the city’s Indian hub. There are authentic cafes and markets lining the street for the better part of a mile, but my favorite sit-down restaurant in the ’hood is Udupi Palace, which is consistently great.

    Chicago’s Vietnamese food scene is small but mighty. It’s centered in the Uptown neighborhood along Argyle Street east of Broadway, and the jewel in its crown is Tank Noodle, a delicious, cheap bare-bones noodle shop at the neighborhood’s crossroads—often with a line out the door.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Lauren Viera answered the question: Lauren Viera

    What is Chicago’s restaurant scene like?

    In a word, casual. In a few more words, the scene depends more on the neighborhood than the dining room -- and Chicagoans love paying attention to who’s in the kitchen.

    As a rule, downtown restaurants are generally more formal (Spiaggia on the Magnificent Mile, for instance, is among the Obamas' favorites), and almost any address on Restaurant Row (Randolph Street in the West Loop) is going to be modern both in execution and aesthetic, cuing wardrobe upgrades from its diners (Grace, for instance, is drop-dead gorgeous, and stylishly formal).

    But for the most part, eating out in Chicago’s neighborhoods is much more about what’s on the plate than what's on the walls. There's a lot of Mexican (both of the Rick Bayless variety, and authentic taquerias in Pilsen), there's a lot of meat worship (Logan Square's Longman & Eagle is being a key fixture), there's a whole lot of farm-to-table (one name to remember: Lula), and there are very interesting pockets of Asian (BellyQ's Bill Kim is the local king). Especially now, when Chicago’s culinary scene is bursting with talent, the choices are endless.
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