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Everyone comes to Chicago for the deep dish and Chicago-style hot dogs, and that’s all well and good, but how many consecutive meals of deep dish and hot dogs can you eat before you never want to eat it again? In fact, after living in Chicago for the last eight years, I eat deep dish on average of about three times per year. So, if you’re wondering what locals here actually like to eat on a regular basis, this local’s guide to the 35 best restaurants in Chicago is for you.
New American, or contemporary American or modern American (essentially higher-end American), cuisine is all the rage these days, and Chicago has certainly represented itself well in this genre.
1. Giant– One of only a few Michelin-starred restaurants that won’t break the bank, Giant is worth all the hype. Dishes range from vegetables to pasta to seafood, so you’re guaranteed to find something you like here.
2. etta– The menu at etta changes daily, but all of its dishes are created around a wood-fired hearth in a relaxed setting. Like many New American restaurants, etta sources its food from some of the highest quality local producers and does a good job of embodying the farmhouse vibe.
3. Willow Room – Willow Room takes traditional American cuisine and transforms it into a high end, rustic, farmhouse cuisine. There’s also a cozy lounge and wine cellar in the basement if you’re looking for a post-dinner nightcap.
Is there anything more American than a big, juicy burger? Luckily, the days of only eating McDonald’s Big Macs are over, and now there are endless options for toppings, sauces, and flavors.
4. Au Cheval – Sometimes the best thing to do is to keep it simple, and no one does that better than Au Cheval. Order a regular cheeseburger here and top it off with a fried egg and bacon for the perfect burger. Just a heads up, the bacon at Au Cheval much more closely resembles pork belly than breakfast bacon, so be ready to take a big bite of meat. Unless you get to Au Cheval before 4pm on a weekday, expect to wait a couple of hours for a table here. Don’t have the time or patience for that? Check out Au Cheval’s little brother, Small Cheval.
5. Kuma’s Corner – Don’t want to keep it simple? Hey, that’s fine too. The burgers at Kuma’s Corner are loaded with more ingredients than you can ever dream of, and the metal biker ambiance inside will trigger all your senses. If you’re up for a challenge, order the slayer: a loaded burger on a bed of fries. And if you’re able to clean off your plate in one sitting, give yourself a pat on the back – and a long nap. You’ll need it.
6. The Bad Apple – Can’t decide between simplicity and complexity? Then you’ll want to check out The Bad Apple, where you can have both. You will also find an extensive beer list here, as well as several local breweries nearby, like Half Acre.
“Bar food” often gets a bad rap, but the brewpubs below are known for serving up not only an ice cold brew but also a decadent meal. Chicagoans know how to throw back a cold one, and our love for bar food and beer has helped birth the world’s first Michelin-starred brewpub.
7. Band of Bohemia – Carrying the title of the first Michelin-starred brewpub ever, Band of Bohemia not only has unique and deliciously crafted beers but also a drool-worthy food menu and a beautifully decorated interior (very Instagrammable). I never knew grits could taste so good until I tried their brunch shrimp and grits – now that’s some basic Southern food I can get behind.
8. Bixi Beer – Bixi Beer entered into the Chicago food scene with a bang, and at not even a year old, it’s already made its way onto every Chicagoan’s wish list. The food draws inspiration from Asian-American cuisine, and you’ll notice these flavors in their uniquely crafted beers as well.
9. Revolution – Revolution Brewing has been a Chicago staple since 2010, and unlike many breweries in Chicago that only serve beer, Revolution offers a delicious food menu as well. With such a large beer menu, it can be an impossible task to choose just one beer, so I’ve narrowed down your top options to the following three core classics: Anti-Hero, Pils, and Fist City.
Chicago doesn’t have the biggest Asian population, and its Chinatown, Vietnamesetown, and Koreatown are in existence but hardly impressive. What Chicago does extremely well, however, is Asian fusion, and the first two restaurants below are proof of that. I also had to throw in a few traditional Asian restaurants for the purists, so you’ll find some ramen, sushi, and Korean BBQ recommendations toward the bottom of this section.
10. Parachute – Parachute is the second Michelin-starred restaurant on this list and deserving of every corner of that star. The chefs at Parachute are all about Korean-American fusion, and the creativity behind every dish is represented equally well in its composition, taste, and presentation. Reservations are often filled weeks, and sometimes even months, in advance, so make sure you reserve a table now if you’re planning on visiting Chicago in the next few months.
11. Fat Rice – As the second Asian fusion restaurant on this list, Fat Rice may not have a Michelin star but is very well worthy of one. Chefs here are focused on blending cuisine from Macau with foods we’re accustomed to eating in the U.S. by taking ordinary dishes like dumplings and fried rice and infusing them with so much flavor that you start to worry whether your taste buds can even handle it.
12. Ramen Takeya – Ramen Takeya does one thing and does it really well: ramen. Order the chicken paitan ramen, or opt for the spicy chicken paitan if you’re in a spicy mood. Their takoyaki and plum wine aren’t up to par with what I had in Japan, but beggars can’t be choosers halfway around the world, and if you have a craving, you can satisfy it here.
13. Yuzu – You almost won’t even want to eat the sushi here because it looks so darn beautiful. Yuzu combines sushi with art, and you won’t be able to resist snapping a few photos of your food here, no matter how much you pride yourself in not being “that person.”
14. Daebak Korean BBQ – So good that it doesn’t even need a website, Daebak is my go-to for Korean BBQ in the city. Don’t get confused by it’s location in Chinatown – the food here is authentically Korean, down to every last kernel of that cheesy corn. A couple of notes of caution: (1) it’s located upstairs with no elevator access, and (2) there is almost always a wait here, so either show up really early, or be prepared to wait.
Chicago has the third largest Italian population in the U.S., so it is no surprise that we also have some of the best Italian food. While deep dish pizza is most famous to tourists, you won’t find locals at deep dish hotspots like Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, or Gino’s East. You will, however, find them at the following restaurants.
15. La Scarola – You’ll feel like you stepped into an Italian grandpa’s home as soon as you walk in. The food is delicious and authentic without feeling pretentious, and you won’t regret pairing it with a glass or bottle of Italian wine. My #1 favorite Italian restaurant in the city.
16. Monteverde – If you’re itching for a pasta fix, you need to go to Monteverde. All of their pastas are made in house, and they serve up a robust gluten free pasta menu as well. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better pasta spot outside of Italy than Monteverde.
17. Parlor Pizza – When a restaurant expands from one location to three in as short a time as Parlor has, you know it’s good. Not only can you find great pizza here, you can also find a large beer menu and outdoor seating on a nice summer day. If you require a pizza fix that doesn’t involve deep dish, head to Parlor.
Despite not having the largest Latin American population, Chicago has become home to some of the best Latin American restaurants. You just have to know where to look.
18. 90 Miles Cuban Cafe – Having traveled to Cuba twice, I can attest that the food at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe is at least as good as the food you’ll find in Havana. Don’t forget to bring your own booze of choice, as the restaurant is BYOB, and be sure to make a reservation in advance or be prepared to wait for a table.
19. Irazu – The food isn’t the only thing at Irazu that embodies Costa Rican culture. This laid-back, pura vida-esque restaurant transports you to Costa Rica even in sub-zero Chicago temperatures. Beware that the plates here are huge, so make sure you bring your appetite.
20. Cafecito – Cafecito doubles as a cafe where you can hunker down for hours while cramming for a deadline and a casual spot for Cuban pressed sandwiches when you’re not in the mood to full out indulge at 90 Miles. With several locations around Chicago, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a Cafecito location near you.
With a large number of transplants from surrounding BBQ meccas, Chicago knows how to make a good BBQ rub. Whether you’re looking for a quick and casual BBQ lunch or a nice sit down BBQ dinner, we’ve got it all.
21. Green Street Smoked Meats – While Chicago isn’t known for its barbecue like Kansas City or Memphis is, it can hold its own with restaurants like Green Street Smoked Meats. Grab a tray when you enter, and load up with as many meats and sides as your stomach can hold. Don’t forget to grab a beer to wash down all the meaty goodness and pick a seat in the quiet outdoor alley when the weather is being kind.
22. Chicago Q – When you’re craving BBQ but also want a nice evening out, head to Chicago Q. You won’t be digging in with your hands and ripping up your ribs here, but you will be getting a nice sit down dinner with all the flavors you’re craving and a refreshing cocktail on the side.
23. Blackwood BBQ – For something quick, tasty, and affordable, head to Blackwood BBQ. With several locations around the city (and more opening in the near future), you won’t have to look very hard to find one near you.
Fried chicken is yet another genre that most people wouldn’t immediately associate with Chicago, but ask any local about the following places, and I guarantee you they’ve been there or are wanting to go there. These spots aren’t nightly go-to’s (lest you want to throw your waistband to the wind) but are the perfect occasional indulgence.
24. Honey Butter Fried Chicken – Hands down the best fried chicken spot in Chicago, Honey Butter not only serves the tastiest fried chicken but also the most ethical, so that you can “feel good about your food.” Honey Butter sources all of its chickens from Miller Amish Farms in Indiana, where the chickens are raised humanely and antibiotic-free. You can’t go wrong with any dish here, but if you only try one thing, you’ve got to try the traditional wings.
25. Crisp – If you’ve never had Korean fried chicken before, then you’ve got to check out Crisp. Their homemade Korean-American fusion sauce is a little spicy, a little sweet, and a little smokey – the perfect recipe for a wing addiction.
26. Parson’s Chicken & Fish – What Parson’s lacks in flavor from Honey Butter, it more than makes up for in menu variety and spaciousness. Parson’s isn’t just for the chicken lover – they also cook up a mean fried fish that will leave you wondering whether you might actually want your last meal on death row to be a huge fish and chips platter. It’s also got a beautiful outdoor seating area and a lot more space to spread out indoors, too.
Brunch isn’t just a meal, it’s a culture. On weekends, Chicago restaurants are packed with brunchers – primarily 20- and 30-somethings getting together with a group of friends in their favorite outfit so they’re ready for that Instagrammable moment should it arise. If you’re aiming to get into any of the following brunch spots on a weekend between 10am-2pm, your best bet is to make a reservation in advance.
27. Beatnik – Beatnik takes its name from the Beat generation of the 50s and 60s, and you’ll see that represented in the furniture and decor as you move from the jungle-like feel of the front room to the medieval palace-like feel of the back room. The food is equally as eclectic and worldly, drawing influence from Asia, the Middle East, Mexico, and South America.
28. Lula Cafe – Lula Cafe started as a small storefront with thrifted pots and pans in 1999 and has grown to become a Chicago icon spanning three storefronts in 2019. With a roster of self-taught chefs who cared more about serving farm-fresh ingredients than anything else from day one, Lula Cafe entered the farm-to-table movement before farm-t0-table was even a thing. Today, you’ll find simple yet sophisticated plates at Lula, and you’ll feel right at home whether you choose to go with a group of friends or with your favorite book.
29. Mott Street – Built by an all-Asian team, Mott Street serves a variety of plates with a common theme: feel good comfort food, like lamb belly ribs and kimchi udon. It’s also known for its Mott Burger, which has been touted as the best burger in Chicago and one of the top 10 in the country. If you can’t get a reservation at Mott Street, try its little brother, Mini Mott.
Since my work is all online, I am always looking for good cafes to post up at and do some work while eating a meal when I travel to a new city. Chicago has so many great cafes to post up at, but the following three are my favorite.
30. DropShot – Hope actually discovered this place when she came to visit me in Chicago. DropShot is hidden inside the FieldHouse Jones Hotel, which isn’t your typical hotel but rather a re-imagined living space consisting of different kinds of rooms, vacation apartments, and communal spaces. DropShot is located on the first floor right when you walk in, and the seating area is cozy, spacious, and my favorite place to be with my laptop on a Saturday morning.
31. Dollop – Dollop has expanded quite rapidly throughout Chicago over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. With delicious coffee, spacious seating, and freshly made sandwiches for when you get hungry, it’s easy to camp out at Dollop for hours and not even realize how long you’ve been there.
32. Sawada Coffee – Sharing a space with Green Street Smoked Meats, Sawada is the perfect place to get some work done before meeting your friends out for dinner or drinks in the West Loop. All of their lattes come with beautiful latte art, which is no surprise considering its owner is Hiroshi Sawada, a world-renowned barista and latte art expert.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, don’t leave Chicago without trying some of our best dessert offerings. In addition to the following recommendations, also give Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits a try if you’re a big pie guy.
33. Magnolia Bakery – Magnolia Bakery is not a Chicago specialty but rather a global chain, but that doesn’t take away from how delicious their cupcakes are. Try one of the cupcakes with their specialty buttermilk frosting, and you’ll never taste frosting the same way again. Another must-try at Magnolia Bakery is the banana pudding, which you will not be able to put down until you’ve licked your cup clean.
34. Mindy’s Hot Chocolate – If you think all hot chocolate is created equal, you’ll have your world turned upside down after experiencing Mindy’s. Mindy’s Hot Chocolate is a Chicago staple that has been around since 2005 when Mindy Segal decided to showcase her talents in her own restaurant. You can try a plethora of hot chocolate flavors here, as well as a variety of desserts and pastries.
35. Chiu Quon Bakery – For something a little less sweet and different from the usual cookies or cupcakes, head to Chinatown and check out Chiu Quon Bakery. You’ll find all the traditional Chinese pastries and desserts here, like egg tart, wife cakes, and different types of buns. Keep in mind that Chiu Quon Bakery and many places in Chinatown are cash-only, so make sure you have some cash on you when you go.
Looking for more fun things to do in Chicago? Then you might want to check out these posts:
- A Local’s Guide to Visiting Chicago for the First Time
- 35 Free Things to do in Chicago
- 7 Awesome Things to do in Chicago
- Kayaking in Chicago With REI
- 25 Most Instagrammable Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes in Chicago
- A Local’s Guide to the 15 Best Breweries in Chicago
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