Tea at Alinea, Chicago, Midwest - Courtesy Christian Seel


If you are up for a culinary adventure, the three Michelin-starred Alinea is surely one of the most exciting restaurants in the country. Chef Grant Achatz, previously of the French Laundry, combines haute cuisine, science and art in set menus that change frequently and come in three different "experiences." The most casual boasts 10-12 courses, while the most exclusive is a meal at the Kitchen Table, for six guests only. The ingredients may be unfamiliar, the flavor combinations unconventional—butterscotch and bacon, quince and foie gras, soy and chocolate—but the result is simply delicious and wholly unforgettable. And the presentations are so exquisite, they’re almost too pretty to eat.

The décor is elegant and the service warm and incredibly precise; at one point at a neighboring table, six servers worked in tandem to make sure the six diners were served simultaneously. Allow two to three hours for dinner, come hungry, and reserve at least two months in advance.

Editors' Picks

Au Cheval

For some of the best burgers in America, head to Au Cheval. Its decadent, high-quality hamburgers–often loaded with fried eggs or bacon–have graced the pages of almost every major food publication in America, and for good reason. No reservations required, and there are plenty of craft beers on the menu.

Food at Avec, Chicago, Midwest - Courtesy Chloe List


Owned by Paul Kahan, Avec is a local favorite for its creative cuisine. It’s also tiny, narrow and cramped, with wooden tables packed together and a communal atmosphere (and, due to its no-reservations policy, a reliably lengthy wait list). Open for weekday lunch, Sunday brunch and until late for dinner, it offers a choice of mouthwatering small plates (burrata with smoked persimmon and a walnut-anchovy vinaigrette; chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates) or large ones (braised lamb neck with charred brussels sprouts; roasted mushroom pizza with butternut-squash pesto and arugula) prepared by chef Perry Hendrix. There’s also a wide selection of wines and eight artisanal cheeses.

For larger groups, check out Avec's sister restaurant in the River North neighborhood.

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avec River North

Far larger than its sister restaurant in the West Loop, avec River North serves Mediterranean-inspired bites along with an extensive wine list. The expansive outdoor patio is ideal for soaking up the sunny Chicago summers.

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Doc B's Restaurant (Gold Coast)

For lowkey and casual dining, stop by Doc B’s Restaurant for quick salads and light entrees near the Gold Coast neighborhood.

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Duck Duck Goat

James Beard Award-winning Chef Stephanie Izard–also the first female chef to win Bravo’s Top Chef—opened Duck Duck Goat as a way to celebrate the Chinese-American cuisine she has loved her whole life. The vibe here is buzzy, with groups sharing plate after plate of dim sum like soup dumplings (aptly made with duck and goat), pork steam buns, spicy chicken wings with a chili crunch, along with hand-pulled noodle dishes, fried rice and other classics (the Peking Duck and grilled beef with broccoli, a soy mayo, and shallots are particular highlights). In summer months there is outdoor seating as well.

Exterior and Interior of bakery in Chicago

Floriole Café Bakery

This Lincoln Park bakery is a delightful place for a quick bite or sweet pick-me-up. The bi-level space is bright and airy, with display cases exhibiting the French-style pastries and terrific sandwiches on house-made bread. The crowd includes well-heeled residents picking up a rustic fruit tart to serve at a dinner party later on and families enjoying a leisurely breakfast on the flower-bedecked sidewalk patio. If the Peanut Butter & Jelly Cookies are among the day’s offerings, you’d be remiss not to order a few.

Food at Frontera Grill, Chicago, Midwest

Frontera Grill

An inventive Mexican restaurant owned by celebrity chef Rick Bayless and his wife, Deann, Frontera Grill was a hot spot even before it won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant in the United States. It takes very few reservations, and tends to be packed and cacophonous.


Gemini is a buzzy neighborhood bistro serving classic American fare in Lincoln Park. Despite being small, the menu packs a punch with a variety of dishes and is accompanied by an extensive wine and spirits selection–plus, live music. On weekends, grab brunch or the Sunday fried chicken dinner special.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse serves up surf and turf classics (think shrimp cocktail appetizers, loaded wedge salads and steak cuts for every taste), in an upscale, retro setting in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

Girl & The Goat

James Beard Award-winning Chef Stephanie Izard–also the first female chef to win Bravo’s Top Chef—continues to impress with exciting and fresh New American cuisine at this Randolph Street stalwart. It can be difficult to get a reservation, so a good alternate option is to snag a seat at the bar area (the cocktails are delicious) and order off the bar menu which features all of Izzard’s signature dishes. And yes, one of her signature dishes is “Pig Face.” The name is jarring, but the product—cheeks, snout, and tongue seasoned with cilantro and lime, rolled like porchetta and cooked in a wood-fired oven and then topped with a fried egg—is delicious.

Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House

Upscale seafood restaurant in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Menu highlights include the crab cakes and frog legs.

Food at Le Bouchon, Chicago, Midwest

Le Bouchon

This cute tile-floored French brasserie serves staples like steamed mussels with white wine, pâté de campagne, boudin noir with caramelized apples and boeuf à la bourguignonne. It’s a good choice for an early dinner after shopping Bucktown & Wicker Park.

Les Nomades

Located in a beautiful townhouse in the Streeterville neighborhood, Les Nomades serves classic French cuisine–foie gras and soufflés are a must order—in a warm and romantic setting. Owner Mary Beth Liccioni and chef Roland Liccioni have been at the helm of this iconic restaurant for several decades, with servers that have been a part of the institution from the beginning. Definitely a spot to celebrate special occasions.

Note: Les Nomades is closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

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Lula Cafe

This farm-to-table institution is beloved by locals and took inspiration from Chez Panisse for its seasonally driven fare. Though the dishes are of the same caliber as Chicago heavy-hitters Avec or Sepia, the ambiance (and pricing) are of a relaxed neighborhood eatery. The menu changes constantly but has included ocean trout with brandade-stuffed peppers and short ribs with cauliflower three ways. Staples like the satisfying pasta “yiayia” (bucatini, cinnamon, feta, garlic and brown butter) and beet bruschetta remain year-round. Note that this no-reservations joint is perpetually mobbed on the weekend, but makes a peaceful venue for a weekday lunch.

Editors' Picks
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Mindy’s Bakery

Founded in the Wicker Park neighborhood by well-known pastry chef Mindy Segal in 2020 (after running beloved Chicago restaurant Hot Chocolate for 15 years), Mindy’s Bakery serves up carbs in a variety of deliciously baked forms, both sweet and savory: seasonal bialys, coffee cakes, cinnamon rolls, croissants, brioches are all on offer. One carry-over from Segal’s Hot Chocolate, of course, is the hot chocolate itself.

Food at Monteverde, Chicago, Midwest - Courtesy Galdones Photography


Top Chef runner-up Sarah Grueneberg puts a personal twist on Italian classics, and pastas are the heart of her menu, with the noodle offerings divided into two sections: Atipica and Tipica. The latter includes such sublime dishes as corzetti discs in a rich duck ragu, while the former boasts untraditional dishes like wok-fried orecchiette and cacio e pepe augmented with creamy whey and four types of peppercorns. If you sit at the bar, you’ll witness pasta-makers crafting pappardelle, tortelli and the like for your own enjoyment.

NoMI Kitchen

NoMI serves American cuisine with a French twist in a contemporary setting on the 7th floor of the Park Hyatt Chicago. Guests can dine indoors or in the lovely garden with views of the iconic original water towers–the two buildings that remain from the Chicago Fire of 1871.

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North Pond

Because of its off-the-beaten-path location—not only is it in Lincoln Park, but you actually have to walk through the grounds to get there—locals consider North Pond a beloved hidden gem. Its rustic Arts and Crafts design and lake view make it a romantic spot on a summer evening. Chef-partner Bruce Sherman, a native Chicagoan, prepares market-driven cuisine that makes the most of unusual ingredients: shaved foie gras with cocoa-beet jam, for instance, and cider-brined pheasant with rainbow chard, pear and sweet potato rosti. The spot is fitting for an intimate date, and also serves a delicious Sunday brunch.

Note: There is only indoor dining available as outdoor seating is not permitted by the Chicago Park District.

patio of restaurant with yellow umbrellas and garden

Piccolo Sogno

Just west of downtown (but not quite in the West Loop), Piccolo Sogno serves fresh and authentic Italian with a great wine list. Dine on the large outdoor terrace in the warmer months.

mediterranean salad and rigatoni vodka shrimp with a menu

Pizzeria Portofino

Pizzeria Portofino serves thin crust pizzas and salads right on the river. With a large outdoor space, it’s popular with friend groups, who post up for the day with rosé to watch as the boats go by. (If you’re on the water yourself, dock pick-up for orders is also available.)

Riccardo Trattoria

For exceptional Northern Italian fare in a relaxed space, head to one of Chef Riccardo Michi’s restaurants in Lincoln Park. Formerly the executive chef at Bice, Riccardo opened the Trattoria over 20 years ago and the smaller, more casual Enoteca across the street several years later. Both locations serve essentially the same–very popular–menu (pastas, seafoods, meats); reservations are recommended.

interior of restaurant with portraits on the wall

RL Restaurant

RL, situated on the ground floor of the Ralph Lauren store, feels like the library of an English gentleman’s club (think dim lighting, wood paneling, leather chairs and lots of books). The walls are chockablock with gilt-framed paintings and contemporary black-and-white photographs, a provocative mix that somehow works perfectly. The crowd is buzzing, the whole place cacophonous and fun. Such classics as Dover sole and club sandwiches share the menu with great salads, like the arugula with pine nuts and shaved Parmesan in a tangy champagne vinaigrette. There’s also a small mahogany bar up front.

Food at Sepia, Chicago, Midwest - Photo Courtesy : Sean Henderson


Emmanuel Nony, a charming Frenchman who looks a little like Sting, opened Sepia in 2007. The charming restaurant, housed in a restored 1890s print shop, has a warm ambiance, with exposed brick walls, custom Art Nouveau tile floors and communal tables. “We tried to keep a lot of the original architectural details,” Nony explains. “Like the setting, the cuisine is inspired by tradition and craftsmanship; it’s rustic and simple but prepared with the best materials.”

The contemporary American menu is constantly changing, but you might start with fresh scallops with grapefruit and pig ears, and progress to the delicious duck breast with apricots and mushrooms. The cocktail program turns out tempting homemade specialties, like the well-balanced Ginger Ninja (George Dickel whiskey with fresh ginger).

Sweet Mandy B's Bakery

Sweet Mandy B’s is Chicago’s answer to Magnolia Bakery. Located next to Floriole and Old Pueblo Cantina in Lincoln Park, it is the perfect pitstop for a cupcake after lunch (or pre-dinner). Expect old-fashioned cakes, pies and desserts–including gluten free options and extravagant customized cakes.

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Swift & Sons

Swift & Sons is an elegant spot for top-quality steaks, wedge salads and martinis in the buzzy West Loop neighborhood. The vibe here is decidedly swanky, which makes for a great evening on the town. Menu highlights include steakhouse classics, as well as uniquely Chicagoan additions, like ricotta pierogi.

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The Aviary

It comes as no surprise that Chicago’s most innovative tipples are the work of celebrated chef Grant Achatz (Alinea, Next). The Aviary takes craft cocktails to new levels of whimsy and drama, and even the reservation system is unique—patrons buy tickets in advance for limited reservations, much like purchasing a seat at the theater. At the swanky West Loop lounge, you might imbibe a warm Rooibos tea cocktail boosted by gin and maraschino, or perhaps opt for the Truffle, a black truffle–enhanced negroni. The bartenders often employ ice chefs, slingshots and Bunsen burners to prepare the various concoctions. In any case, much like dinner at Alinea, many foodies consider a cocktail at the Aviary a defining experience in this booze-mad town.

Editors' Picks


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