NFT Chicago Restaurants

Chicago / Restaurants

Chicago is widely regarded as a world-class food destination, and rightly so, we say. It's a goldmine for anyone searching for flavors, romantic dining or simply a place to clog arteries. Whether you're looking for a $2 hot dog at one of the city's hot dog stands, a $200 20-course marathon at one the city's foodie destinations or a meal at one of the myriad mom-and-pop neighborhood spots where you can't understand the costs because you don't speak the owner's language, you'll find it here.

In the past decade, Chicago's adventuresome appetite has come to life with a whole new school of Chicago restaurants coming to the fore. Once fueled by students of the masters: Bayless, Trotter, Gordon Sinclair, and so on, the Chicago dining renaissance is already in its second or third generation, and now the students of the students, those who honed their skills at places like Trio and Tru, are taking the reins as they charge into Chicago's culinary future. Terms like "farm-to-table," "locally sourced," and "nose to tail" have settled into the culinary community's lexicon and whatever dish or ingredient is currently nourishing foodies' every gastronomic desire.

Chicago's culinary, um, chops continue to grow with venerable mainstays and new trend-centric spots popping up weekly (poutine tacos, anyone?). And with underground supper clubs and tickets-only restaurants quickly granting access via social media, the web has become your palatable guide. What follows is a breakdown of some of our favorite spots, old and new. Of course, with every restaurant opening, there is likely another one closing. Check in with Yelp or for up-to-the-(yes)-minute local restaurant news.

Chicago Staples
Some restaurants are more than just places to eat and drink; they're defining institutions of the city where politicians scheme and drunk baseball fans pass out. The original Billy Goat Tavern (Map 3, 5, 24) is known to baby boomers as the birthplace of John Belushi's "cheezeboiga" skit, but Chicagoans appreciate it as the dank watering hole where reporters from the Tribune and Sun-Times would once gather after work to talk shop. Today, it's mostly frequented by wide-eyed tourists who play at slumming it. "The original Chicago-style pizza" is a title claimed by nearly every pizza shack in town. Of the lot, Pizzeria Uno's (Map 2) claim seems the most legit--their cheese-filled recipe dates back to 1943. Other Chicago pizza institutions include Lou Malnati's (Map 2) and Gino's East (Map 3). Equally important is the Chicago Dog--that is, a hot dog on a steamed bun "dragged through the garden" with a virtual salad on top--onions, relish, tomatoes, pickle spears, sport peppers, mustard (no ketchup, thank you very much), and a dash of celery salt. Post-pub dogs at Wiener's Circle (Map 30) are a Lincoln Park rite-of-passage--the servers are infamous for their saucy attitudes. Chicago is more than hot dogs, though. It's hamburgers and heavy metal at Kuma's Corner (Map 41) where tatted servers dish up patties named after Pantera, Slayer and other bands with guitar gods. While there are plenty of Chicago institutions that put the city on the international culinary radar, Rick Bayless' pack of restaurants, Frontera Grill, Topolobambo and XOCO (all Map 2), stands out with creative and upscale Mexican fare for every wallet.

The New Kids on the Block
Recent openings have seen a burgeoning trend in multi-purpose eateries. Head down to Pilsen's historic Thalia Hall to dine at Dusek's (Map 26), drink at Punch House and enjoy local music. Mammoth international emporium Eataly (Map 2) caters to diners looking for high-end five course Italian, a quick panini or a place to hand-select every ingredient to make it on your own; where you'll really want to make a stop is at the Nutella bar. Separately, amidst the flash of downtown spots like wine-centric Boarding House (Map 2) and seafood-heavy Nico Osteria (Map 32), neighborhood spots are becoming destinations in their own rite. Beat the crowds by lining up early outside Logan Square's Fat Rice (Map 27) for an inimitable taste of Portugal and Macau. Head to Wicker Park's Mott Street (Map 22) mid-week for Asian street food alongside strong beverages.

Chicago's Best Dining Bets
For the Diner with Dollars to Burn
So you have a lot of money? Well, congratulations. There's no better way to get rid of your cash than to go on a dining tour of Chicago's high-end dining destinations. Girl and the Goat (Map 24) arrived on the scene and wasted no time taking money from hungry guests. Alinea (Map 30) welcomes you with scientific culinary creations and sends you home with a bill that will leave your wallet limping toward the door. Diners are increasingly willing to put some work into landing a coveted table. At Next (Map 24), diners can shell out an insane amount of cash before they even eat with highly sought after tickets to experience the restaurant's frequently changing thematic menus. Schwa (Map 22) patrons enter the kitchen staff's good graces by offering up a bottle of whiskey upon arrival, and 42 Grams (Map 40) supplies diners a list of wines to purchase prior to their fixed price dining extravaganza. Looking for less maintenance and more beef? Head to Chicago steakhouse classics like David Burke's Primehouse (Map 2), Gene & Georgetti (Map 2) or sleek chophouse Chicago Cut (Map 2).

For the Diner Holding a Sign Begging for Dollars
So you're broke? Do not fret, dear friend. Cheap taquerias, hot dog stands, and corner grills abound. For a romantic dinner without the added weight of a bar tab, try Los Nopales (Map 39). This super delicious and BYOB Mexican spot offers authentic south-of-the-border flavors with south-of-the-border prices. Basically, order anything and go swimming in the Mole sauce. Costa Rican BYOB Irazu's (Map 28) award-winning veggie burrito guarantees leftovers for days. Head to Taqueria el Milagro (Map 26) for platillos of pollo and salsa that's like a drug (we've heard).

Pizza Pizza Pizza
Crust, cheese and more cheese. Chicago is a pizza city, and classic spots such as Pizzeria Uno (Map 2), Lou Malnati's (Map 2) and Gino's East (Map 3) attract tourists and suburbanites in droves. Locals head to Lincoln Park's Pequod's (Map 29) for signature deep dish with a caramelized crust. Art of Pizza (Map 43) has won numerous awards and acclaim for its scrumptious deep disher. If you're not into three inches of mozzarella, you're in luck: this city offers thin crust 'za, too. Piece (Map 21) serves up New Haven-style pies with a selection of microbrews crafted in-house. Farther north, Spacca Napoli (Map 39) gives the wood-fired pizza a Neapolitan twist.

Chicago for Herbivores
Yes, people love gulping down a succulent steak here, but many Windy City restaurants are introducing more veggie items than the token pasta or risotto. Additionally, more vegetarian-only restaurants been appearing on our beefy shores to let Midwestern cattle breathe a sigh of relief. Chicago Diner (Map 44) and Heartland Cafe (Map 34) (which does serve some meat) are the crunchy, old-school standard bearers. Raw foodies flock to Karyn's (Map 30) in Lincoln Park, which attracted such a following for its raw food menu that Karyn opened Karyn's Cooked (Map 2) in River North. If you're heading farther north, Mysore Woodlands (Map 33) serves vegetarian food from southern India on Devon, while Arya Bhavan (Map 33) specializes in Indian vegetarian food from the north and south. Amitabul (Northwest Chicago) does Vegan Thai on the Northwest side, and Soul Vegetarian East (South Chicago) in the Southside Chatham neighborhood. For upscale vegetarian, try the Green Zebra (Map 24), or Mana (Map 21) in Wicker Park. In Logan Square, down-to-earth scenester spot Lula (Map 27) is known for being particularly vegetarian friendly, and the redesigned interior makes this great for casual dates. For a very special and seriously spendy night, choose the fixed-price vegetarian tasting menus at Arun's (Map 38). Finally, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike line up for breakfasts served by followers of Sri Chimnoy at Roscoe Village's popular Victory's Banner (Map 42). Call first: the followers close twice each year for a spiritual retreat.

Poor Man's Steak and Other Meaty Matters
In the past few years, Kuma's Corner (Map 41) has emerged as the popular and critical favorite for best burger in the city, although Northside loyalists still swear by Moody's (Map 37), and Southsiders hanker for Top Notch Beef Burgers (Southwest). Even the fast food burger has stepped up its game. Trendy spots Owen & Engine (Map 28) and Au Cheval (Map 24) regularly vie for the title of the city's best burger. If, on the other hand, you like your meat served on the bone with tangy sauce, head to the Gale Street Inn (Northwest) in Jefferson Park, street-festival mainstay Robinson's (Map 4, 30), and Honey 1 (Map 28). Smoque (Northwest) attracts droolers from all over the city for, arguably, Chicago's best 'cue. Fried chicken is also making its way beyond the fast food set with Honey Butter Fried Chicken (Map 41) and Leghorn Chicken (Map 21). As for encased meats, Chicago has no lack of options--just follow the Vienna Beef signs.

Soul Food and Southern Cooking
We say soul food is the most American of American cuisines. Valois (Map 19) serves no frills, cafeteria-style soul food. Miss Lee's Good Food (Map 18) offers gut-busting Southern food for carry-out only. For Cajun food, try Chicago breakfast staple Wishbone (Map 24). The legion of trendy but good regional spots continues to grow with Big Jones (Map 37) and Carriage House (Map 21).

Drink More, Spend Less
Nothing says romance like a bottle (or box) of wine, and Chicago's restaurant scene makes it easy to keep your beverage total low with an array of BYOB spots. If you're looking to savor South American flavors while sipping your own bottle of red, head to Tango Sur (Map 43) for massive cuts of Argentine steak. Forget travel restrictions and bar tabs when you head to 90 Miles Cuban Cafe (Map 42) where you'll find a more casual dining experience and more meat. Sushi also tastes better when you're not paying for cocktails, so head to Coast (Map 28) for slow service that lets you drink more. For non-seaweed options, Cozy Noodles 'N Rice (Map 43) serves up noodle dishes close to the endless line of bars in Wrigleyville. Grab a bottle of tequila for house made margaritas at Chilapan (Map 26) with authentic Mexican far beyond the average taco.

Passport to Good Eating
Culinarily, you can travel the world and never leave Chicago. While some of Chicago's dining emporiums fly high on the local radar, we have a soft spot for the ramshackle storefronts where the home cooking's happening. You don't have to live in Chicago a long time to discover that Devon Street is the place to go if you crave Indian food. We love Hema's Kitchen (Map 30, 33), and the Pakistani fare at Rogers Park's Ghareeb Nawaz (Map 34). Pilsen is the destination neighborhood for Mexican muy authentico. Nuevo Leon (Map 26) has been serving revelatory Mexican home cooking for ages, and Birreria Reyes de Ocatlan (Map 26) is a favorite of celebrity chef Rick Bayless. Off the Pilsen path, Birrierra Zaragoza (West) serves a traditional goat stew that really shouldn't be missed. The city's best Vietnamese can be found in the New Saigon section of Argyle Street, right under the L stop, and Albany Park is the place to go for Middle Eastern and Korean fare. Of the former, we think the classic falafel sandwiches at Dawali (Map 38) really are something special, stuffed with potatoes and cauliflower as well as the formed garbanzo balls. The greater northwest side is bountiful with Eastern European restaurants and supper clubs. You'll find plenty of great African and Caribbean food behind no-frills storefronts in Rogers Park. As for Good to Go Jamaican Jerk and Juice Bar (Map 34), the name says it all. We shouldn't have to tell you to head to Chinatown for dim sum or Greek Town for flaming cheese or Little Italy for a sampling of Sicily. Perhaps one of the most surreal ethnic dining experiences in Chicago is the Thursday night-only all-you-can-eat Korean vegan buffet at Dragon Lady Lounge (Map 41), the ultimate dive bar.

There is one crucial ingredient for the morning after an extended evening of exploring Chicago's magnificent miles of bars: breakfast. Well, more like brunch. From syrupy-soaked goodness at Waffles (Map 9) to a brick of a breakfast burrito at Kitsch'n (Map 42), you and your hangover can travel anywhere in the city and find some solace with a fork, a plate and perhaps a Bloody Mary.

Sometimes you just want a cup of joe and a patty melt, and other times you just want a five-egg omelet, which you'll find at Pauline's (Map 36). If that cholesterol-raising recipe isn't up your alley, Chicago has plenty of other greasy spoon options, including Salt and Pepper Diner (Map 43), Nookies (Map 30), Salonica (Map 19), Lou Mitchell's (Map 4), Hollywood Grill (Map 22), and The Golden Apple (Map 43).

Sweet Home Chicago
Amidst the overwhelming array of options for dinner, pastry chefs are giving us more reasons to forgo dinner for dessert. Try Mindy's Hot Chocolate for velvety cocoa and house made marshmallows, or indulge in the donut craze at Glazed and Infused (Map 1, 21, 29). For frozen concoctions, don't miss Black Dog Gelato (Map 21), Margie's Candies (Map 28, 39) and the Original Rainbow Cone (Southwest). For a superior slice of chocolate pecan? Bang Bang Pie Shop (Map 27).

Flavors on the Go
A rapidly developing food trend in Chicago is unfortunately one that we can't place on a map: the food truck craze. From macaroni and cheese to falafel to cupcakes, Chicagoans have fallen in love with flavors served from the back of a truck. The location of these mobile businesses varies from day to day, and many residents follow their favorite four-wheeled chefs on social media to be the first in line at whatever corner they're calling home for the day.

Foodies on the Web
Need a Recommendation?
Both professional food critics and the vox populi weigh in on the popular restaurant sites of the Chicago Reader (, the Chicago Tribune's Metromix (, and Time Out Chicago ( All offer search categories, so you can find places by location, price, type of cuisine, etc. If you're going somewhere off-the-beaten path, however, be sure to phone first.

Professional chefs and passionate eaters chat about both the latest hot spots and hidden neighborhood gems on the LTH Forum ( The foodie debates, all in the spirit of fun, can get raucous, and sometimes even local celebrity chefs enter the fore to throw down. A warning: Regular posting on the LTH Forum is a tell-tale sign of your descent down the slippery slope of food geekdom.

Get it Delivered
Finally, if the sun scares you from leaving the comfort of your home, Grub Hub and Seamless are your hook-ups for delivery that isn't pizza. Well, there's pizza, too, but you can also choose from a massive array of culinary hotspots where you might not be able to get a table.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Hunter Hicks
Photo:  Hunter Hicks

The Snail Thai Cuisine
Feng Shui buff? Dollar-store Valentines Day decorations alongside a gigantic painted nautical scene alongside some abstract pieces of art alongside traditional carvings make for an adorably kitschy dining experience. Yet miraculously, nothing feels out of place; it's simultaneously as tacky and as comfortable as your grandmother's dining room. The Snail boasts one thing that your grandmother's dining room didn't have (unless of course your grandmother was a Thai restaurant)... orgasmic Thai dishes. If Curries to suit all tastes, adventurous noodle dishes topped with artfully carved carrots, and plates of Pad Thai generous enough to sate an emaciated University of Chicago student bring people to The Snail, it's the versatility of the menu that keeps people coming back. Sick of the same-old, same-old? Try it with shrimp instead (or scallops or beef or chicken or pork or tofu or duck or squid). Have them make it mind-meltingly spicy and then treat yourself to the soothing condensed-milk bliss that is Thai iced-tea. Looking for a real challenge? Order the chive dumplings and try to figure out exactly what's in them (besides unadulterated happiness). No matter what, you're sure to find great food, super friendly staff, and some hearty laughs at The Snail.

Posted By:  Joseph Hernandez
Photo:  Joseph Hernandez

Honey 1 BBQ
Savory, sweet BBQ sauce with a kick on the back end. Sweaty rib tips sharing a tight squeeze in a small basket with hot links. Stringy, peppery, soft pulled pork--topped with a tangy coleslaw--spilling from a pregnant bun. This, friends, is Honey 1. A small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it storefront BBQ joint in West Bucktown, Honey 1 makes one glad to be American. Ignore the swine-decorated red walls upon walking in; instead, take in a glorious whiff of hickory, courtesy of the in-house smoker. The Arkansas-style BBQ is the real-deal. You can't go wrong with the brisket lunch special (served w/ fries) at $6.99 or a full slap of baby back ribs at $15.99. God bless America, indeed.

Posted By:  Joseph Hernandez
Photo:  Joseph Hernandez

Big Star
Taquerias are a dime a dozen, yet Big Star takes the familiar formula of cheap street fare and classes it up. Like, a lot. Utilizing organic, sustainable ingredients, the former Pontiac space slings some first class tacos, amongst other things. The borrego is a must: braised lamb shoulder, radish, and scallion come in the perfect corn tortilla, not too dry or meal-y. The panza is just as good, with queso fresco, crispy pork belly and guajillo salsa. Both come in at $3, only a little more than the other taquerias. An all-star cast (Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander, Peter Garfield, Paul Kahan and Edward Seitan) transformed the former Pontiac space into a cavernous garage of sorts (think concrete and wood bar). Classic honky tonk is the music of choice, while whiskey and beer specials (and the patio) keep the beautiful people coming. Unlike other bars in the uber-trendy 'hood, there is no air of pretension, just lots of satisfied bellies. Big Star has a tendency to be busy, but the attached walk-up window alleviate most of the traffic, perfect if you decide to walk your pup and get an inexplicable (inevitable?) craving.

Posted By:  David Donze
Photo:  David Donze

Hecky's Barbeque
Hecky's is one of those places that everyone who grew up around it just assumes you know about. Say the name in Evanston, and most people will understand it means barbecue, and it's that kind of to-the-point description that suits them here. What you see is what you get at Hecky's, and it's a pretty decent view with pork ribs, chicken, hot links, and a host of standard barbecue sides like greens, beans and rice, and mac and cheese. Nothing fancy about the Kansas City style flavors here, but fancy and barbecue don't always get on together anyway. A couple of things to keep in mind here; get there early for the ribs before they're all gone on the weekends, and the half-order sides are pretty small, so order accordingly if sharing.

Posted By:  David Donze
Photo:  David Donze

Taco Chino
Among the multicultural culinary delights that dot the Albany Park landscape, this small taco stand has delivered the delicious inevitability of fast food fusion to the north side neighborhood. Visible from the Brown Line train as you reach the last station at Kimball, Taco Chino is a quick trip to Mexico via Korea. Kimchi tacos are the marquee dish here, made with a classic version of the Korean staple, but do not sleep on the Korean beef, al pastor, or chicken varieties. The menu includes familiar taqueria offerings, as well as reworkings of Korean staples into Mexican-style street food. These subtle twists on Mexican classics are served up in a bright, clean storefront by friendly polyglots, and the prices are more than affordable. You can stop by for a full lunch, and easily spend under $10.

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