The best rule of thumb for choosing where to eat in Chicago is: if it’s a national chain restaurant, skip it. Chicago has dozens of incredible restaurants, from hot dog stands to Michelin Star restaurants. If you visit during the spring, summer, or fall, make sure you have at least one meal on a patio or rooftop – it’s a Chicago favorite. Here are some of my favorites:
- Yolk (American): Yolk has a few different locations throughout the city and provides a lively atmosphere, which is great for kids and adults.
- Meli Cafe (American): Meli has some of the best breakfast and brunch options I’ve ever had. It’s on the pricier side, but the fresh ingredients and delicious fresh juices can be worth the splurge.
- Shaw’s Crab House (Seafood): For the seafood lovers, Shaw’s has an awesome, all-you-can-eat brunch. At $59/person, it’s not cheap, but it’s delicious. Kids 6 and under eat free and 7-12 are $10.
- Lula Cafe (American): Lula Cafe is a favorite place to eat in Chicago for locals. It is located in Logan Square, making it a bit of a trip from downtown, but well worth the effort. Logan Square is a great neighborhood to check out while you’re there too.
- Xoco (Mexican): Xoco is the casual alternative to Rick Bayless’s Topolobompo. It features Bayless’s take on Mexican street food and is beyond delicious.
- Au Cheval (Upscale diner): Au Cheval has what is largely considered the best burger in Chicago (or maybe even the country). They don’t take reservations though so be prepared to wait several hours or go during a slow period.
- Small Cheval (retro burger joint): Small Cheval is the little sister to Au Cheval. Amazing burgers and a much shorter wait in the Wicker Park neighborhood, but a much more limited menu.
- Big & Little’s (tacos): Big & Little’s is great for a quick and affordable lunch. They’ve got plenty of options for everyone too.
- Quartino (Italian): This is my favorite place to take guests from out of town. The food is great, atmosphere is lively, and the prices are reasonable.
- Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! (Spanish tapas): Another favorite for out-of-towners, the Spanish tapas, paella, and pitchers of sangria make for a fun night at this Lincoln Park restaurant.
- Bavettes or Chicago Cut (Steak): If you’re a steak lover, this should be on your list of things to do in Chicago. Chicago has a number of phenomenal steakhouses, but these are couple of the best. Be prepared to shell out top dollar for these fine establishments. And if you’re bringing the kids along, shoot for an early dinner time for a slightly more casual atmosphere (I’d probably skip the steakhouse if you’ve got toddlers or infants).
- Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (American, desserts): Mindy’s is great for weekend brunch, dinner, and dessert. They’re hot chocolate is to die for and the rest of the menu is excellent as well. It’s located in the Wicker Park neighborhood as well, a nice place to go for a walk after your meal.
- Piccolo Sogno (Italian): Piccolo Sogno is especially popular during the summer for their gorgeous patio dining, but this is a fantastic option any time of the year.
Michelin Star dining:
If you’ve got a baby sitter and a bunch of cash burning a hole in your pocket, these are the places to head to. It’s one thing to eat in Chicago, but a totally different experience to dine at one of the many Michelin-starred establishments. Disclaimer: Next doesn’t actually have a star, but only because it doesn’t qualify due to it’s drastic menu changes each season. Number of Michelin Stars are indicated by *
- Next or Alinea*** (varies): Both owned by celebrity chef Grant Achatz, these are two of the best restaurants in the world. Alinea features a more traditional fine dining menu while Next completely reinvents itself every few months for a drastically different menu. Be sure to reserve far in advance for either of these.
- Naha* (American and Middle Eastern): Naha is a great option if you’re looking for something upscale yet safe. I’ve never had a bad experience here and would recommend it to anyone.
- Spiaggia* (Italian): Spiaggia is perhaps my favorite place to eat in Chicago. You would be hard-pressed to find Italian food this good anywhere outside of Italy itself.
- Schwa* (American): Schwa is without a doubt, one of the most fun dining experiences you’ll ever have. The restaurant is very small, seating less than 30, and the chefs double as the waiters. They play loud, unconventional music and generally are just having a great time each night. However, Schwa is notorious for never answering their phones so it’s very difficult to get a reservation. You probably won’t be dining here without a bit of luck.