The Chicago Guide
Fresh off the heels of our Chicago goop pop, we can’t seem to shake the feeling that Chi town is our spirit city. In the two weeks we were lucky to call the Waldorf Astoria our home-away-from home, we’ve explored countless boutiques, bars, bakeries, and eateries, taking note of the ones that made our hearts skip a beat along the way. And while some may still see Chicago as the Second City, as evidenced by the deep list of restaurants we’ve amassed, the ever-expanding food scene is second to none.
Schwa1466 N. Ashland Ave., Wicker Park | 773.252.1466
The absolute highlight of any Chicago trip is eating at Schwa. Chef Michael Carlson and his staff are so punk rock that they don’t even answer the phone, which makes getting a table difficult, yet weirdly fascinating. From the outside, Schwa looks like it has been condemned. Inside, the dining room is small and spare yet cozy. The formality of the service and menu (no orders taken until the whole party arrives, and the elaborate tasting menu) is juxtaposed by all the hot waiters in skater clothes and the blaring hip hop/heavy metal. The food is sublime. It’s classic American comfort food by way of Ferran Adrià/Banksy/Tony Hawk. It’s off the hook. Try the 9-course tasting menu.
High Five Ramen112 N. Green St., West Loop | 312.754.0431
According to High Five Ramen, a good bowl of ramen boils down to the broth. Their version is creamy and miso-y with a nice kick. Thanks to generous helpings of chiles and pepper—as the warning on the menu suggests—the restaurant’s signature namesake dish is guaranteed to set your mouth on fire. If you like your noodles a little less intense, try the no-spice version or the “Special” ramen. Though there are only 16 seats, the wait is reasonable and the cavernous feel of the space is weirdly romantic. The alcohol offering is pretty skimpy, but the spiked coconut painkiller slushy is really all you’ll need.
Dove’s Luncheonette1545 N. Damen Ave. | 773.645.4060
A working jukebox, padded stools, and counter seating…aesthetically speaking, everything about this smallish Wicker Park restaurant screams retro luncheonette. The menu, on the other hand, is the farthest thing from greasy diner food. Chef Dennis Bernard put together an impressive selection of Southern-inspired Mexican comfort food (red chile enchiladas, grits, and a bunch of yummy chicken dishes) and a tequila-heavy drink menu to match. The seating situation is a tad unconventional and doesn't really accommodate large groups comfortably. That said, it’s ideal for a low-key one-on-one.
Lula Cafe2537 N. Kedzie Ave. | 773.489.9554
This long-standing neighborhood standby adopted the farm-to-table approach long before it was the cool thing to do. Though you’re guaranteed a great meal any time of day, it’s the weekend brunch that garners the most praise from locals. Nettle-infused creamed grains and the farm egg “Royale” are particularly delicious but there’s no guarantee either will stick around as the offering is tailored according to what’s in season. Given that Lula is operated by a husband-and-wife team, the emphasis is on community, hence the family-style Monday night prix-fixe dinners.
Boka1729 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park | 312.337.6070
About a year ago, the team behind Boka enlisted Simeone Deary Design Group to give the Michelin starred restaurant a top-to-bottom overhaul. The resulting space—an earthy mix of muted mauves, with one wall covered entirely in antique door handles and another in live moss—is the perfect setting for Chef Lee Wolen’s refreshingly unfussy take on fine dining: heirloom carrots, brandade ravioli, and the now famous roasted chicken. The desserts are pretty extraordinary too (see: 70% South American cacao mousse). The terrace opens up onto the patio and has doors that close to the main dining room for private events.
Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen100 E. Walton St., Gold Coast | 312-626-1300
This self-professed “fast-casual” eatery prides itself on giving guests a 100% customizable experience. The tech-to-table system allows for lightning-fast service (order from a digital menu board, and then take a wireless tracker to your table), though if traditional waiter service is more your speed, there’s that too. Food-wise, the focus is on healthful, fresh fare, with the menus at both locations brimming with veggie-driven dishes (for the most part, produce is sourced locally) like kale slaw and grilled artichokes, in addition to comfort staples like matzo ball soup and close to a dozen burger variations (the turkey burger is a GP favorite). There's also a location in River North.
Ada Street1664 N. Ada St., West Town | 773.697.7069
The kitchen at Ada Street (formerly held by Zoe Schor, who is kind of a local legend for having the ingenuity to serve baby octopus with buffalo sauce and potato salad) is now run by young Chicago South Side native, Joanna Stachon, who has been with the restaurant since its early days in 2012. The menu at this hidden gem (it's quite literally hidden near a Home Depot in an unmarked building) remains exciting: gnocchi with maple bacon, steak tartare with fried capers and egg yolk, PB&J bread pudding. In the summer, they open up a garage door in the back of the building to an open-air astroturf patio; head to the back to play a game of ping pong while you wait for your meal. The private dining room here is legendary, too—tucked away near the entrance to the main dining room, it's a popular pick for the film and music crowd.
MFK Restaurant432 W. Diversey Pkwy, Park West | 773.857.2540
This seafood-centric newcomer takes up a beautifully appointed but tiny sliver of a space in Lakeview. In contrast, the menu is a vast. There’s ceviche on squid ink toast, sea scallops with pickled Fresno peppers, and a cured anchovy starter that’s way better than it should be. For veggies, there’s a section of seafood and meat-free dishes (the tempura eggplant is bomb). Reservations are hard to come by so plan ahead.
Little Goat Diner820 W. Randolph St., West Loop | 312.888.3455
This is Stephanie Izard's elevated riff on the classic American diner, so expect to find vinyl booths and all-day breakfast—but know that it’ll be the farthest thing from rubbery eggs and soggy toast. It's more like spaghetti and clams, kimchi bacon & eggs, and a savory bull’s eye French toast. For lunch, go for the build-your-own burger and side of smoked fries…this is a diner after all. There’s a strict walk-in only policy, so be prepared for a wait.
Gilt Bar230 W. Kinzie St., River North | 312.464.9544
The first thing you need to know about Gilt Bar is that it’s not a bar—it’s a full-on restaurant, with a pared-down menu of small-plates that rarely eclipse the $20 mark. Here you’ll find pork meatballs, ramp risotto, and steak tartare served on toast. What’s more, there is an actual bar downstairs. It’s called Curio, and with its candlelit, subterranean vibe, and impressive classic cocktail selection, it’s arguably the best date spot in town.
Bavette’s218 W. Kinzie St., River North | 312.624.8154
Like most establishments on Brendan Sodikoff’s roster (Au Cheval, Gilt Bar), the décor at this River North steakhouse is old time-y and darkly romantic (tufted leather booths, hard-wood floors, vintage mirrors) with a dinner offering that clearly values tradition over pomp: meatloaf, crisp wedge salad, and really really good steak frites. Wash it all down with something from the classics-minded cocktail list (regulars tend to go for the Dark & Stormy).
Kai Zan2557 W. Chicago Ave., Smith Park | 773.278.5776
Collectively, twin chefs Carlo and Melvin Vizconde have spent 15 years honing their craft at respected sushi establishments before striking out on their own. So yeah, the backstory of this BYOB 22-seat sushi spot is just as interesting as the innovative offering of esclar-wrapped oyster clouds, duck skewers, and all manner of sashimi. At $60, the omakase menu is a good way to sample the best of the best.
Parachute3500 N. Elston Ave., Avondale | 773.654.1460
This Avondale 40-seater got its start from a Kickstarter campaign and is operated by Top Chef alum, Beverly Kim, with help from her husband, fellow chef Johnny Clark. In the year they’ve been in business, their Americanized take on Korean staples (pork belly and mung bean pancake, Spanish mackerel Bi Bim Bop, house-made kimchi) has proven to be a huge hit with locals who are encouraged to come in with family in tow and ask for the thoughtfully developed kid’s menu.
Fat Rice2957 W. Diversey Ave., Logan Square | 773.661.9170
We don’t come across perfectly executed Macanese cuisine every day, but co-owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo have a deep understanding of the complex fusion of Portuguese, Chinese, and Indian flavors. From curries, to the crowd-favorite Piri Piri chicken, to the signature Fat Rice, everything on the menu is served family style out of a bustling open kitchen. Getting in is not easy, but the just-launched weekday lunch service promises to relieve some of the pressure.
Maude’s Liquor Bar840 W. Randolph St., West Loop | 312.243.9712
It may be billed as a bar (and yes, the cocktails are something else), but there’s a lot more to Maude's than that—mainly, the fact that it has a full dinner menu. On offer you’ll find expertly prepped French classics (escargot, French onion fondue) as well as a great selection of fresh oysters. The space is on the small side, but the exposed brick walls and dim lighting make it exactly the kind of place you’d want to tuck into for a cassoulet on a cold night…followed by the crème brûlée.
Mirai Sushi2020 W. Division St., Wicker Park | 773.862.8500
"Unfussy" is probably the best word to describe the fresh fish at this sexy little sushi joint. All the chefs are traditionally trained, so while the more out-there rolls and daily specials are great, it’s the beautifully cut sashimi and nigiri that steal the show. It’s also important to note that while the offering is topnotch, the atmosphere is decidedly low-key, just right for a weeknight dinner. This outpost also offers delivery and takeout, while the one in Gold Coast does not.
Next & The Aviary955 W. Fulton Market, West Loop
How could we do a Chicago guide without mentioning Grant Achatz, the Midwestern wunderkind of molecular gastronomy? His restaurant, Next, and bar, The Aviary, are tops in our book. Expect flavors, textures, and combinations that you’ve never encountered before. Next is an interpretation of French cuisine harkening back to 1906. The Aviary is more than a cocktail bar or lounge. It’s a lab. To get a coveted reservation (or a ticket, as the website indicates), sign up online.
Avec615 W. Randolph St., West Loop | 312.377.2002
Avec is one of Chicago's enduring food destinations. It boasts a sleek all-wood interior, and rows of communal tables that aren't exactly comfortable, but do the job (particularly because long lines dictate that you shouldn't exactly linger). It’s technically a wine bar, so there’s an extensive wine list in addition to a selection of beers and cocktails. Food-wise, the menu is broken up into shareable plates that range from charred octopus to stuffed dates, and large plates like confit chicken paella and whole roasted fish.
Riccardo Trattoria2119 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park | 773.549.0038
This is the kind of authentic Italian standby that has no need to futz with the basics. Everything, whether it’s a seasonal pasta or ossobuco, is prepared perfectly and true to tradition, the way chef Riccardo Michi has been doing it for years (go if you're especially hungry, as portions tend to run large).
Au Cheval800 W. Randolph St., West Loop | 312.929.4580
Exposed brick, leather banquettes, and mood lighting make this the ideal date spot—whether it’s of the romantic or friendly variety. They don’t take reservations, so we suggest cozying up at the bar for a classic burger (many say it’s the best in town) and a cold beer (there are tons of domestic and international options). The brunch shouldn’t be missed—the fried house-made bologna sandwich with a side of hashbrowns is the restaurant’s most popular order.
Mythos Greek Taverna2030 W. Montrose Ave., Lincoln Square | 773.334.2000
Greektown can get a little touristy, so it’s nice to know this family-run Greek spot in Lincoln Square is frequented almost exclusively by locals (and a few well-informed out-of-towners). The owners are sisters (one operates the front of house and the other mans the kitchen), which contributes to the convivial atmosphere. Plus, it’s BYOB, which pretty much guarantees a good time.
Athenian Room807 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park | 773.348.5155
This beloved neighborhood haunt was recommended to us by a goop pal who swears it's one of the best family-friendly meals in town. The menu is packed with tasty dishes that are just simple enough to accommodate a kid’s palate. The roasted chicken in particular seems to net the most acclaim from diners both big and small.
Trenchermen2039 W. North Ave., Wicker Park | 773.661.1540
It’s hard to figure out where to focus your attention upon entering Patrick Sheerin’s beautiful restaurant—antiqued fixtures and strategically scattered knickknacks all vie for attention, including the gleaming white tiles which are a throwback to a time when the space was occupied by a Russian bathhouse. The menu (cinnamon-cured coppa, pickled tots, and the cauliflower Picatta are a few of standouts) is just unique enough to fit the environment without being pretentious. The brunch is said to be one of the best in the city.
The Bristol2152 N. Damen Ave., Bucktown | 773.862.5555
Don't be fooled by the clean, no-frills setup at this Bucktown bistro, Chef Sean Parr's menu is complex and downright experimental at times (wagyu tartare, duck-fat fries). At brunch time, things take a more low-key, but equally satisfying turn with smoked ham benedict, braised pork chilaquiles, and a pork-broth noodle situation hilariously called the hangover breakfast. The sprawling second floor is reserved for private parties of up to 75 people. There are two other arrivals from the same company, which both justify a visit: Balena and Formento's.
The Publican837 W. Fulton Market, Fulton Market | 312.733.9555
Dining at The Publican is always a treat. It’s kind of the ideal menu, with oysters, roast chicken, fries, and lots of delicious sides. The room is big and light and open, plus, many booths have little saloon style swinging doors on them for privacy. Their butcher shop and cafe (Publican Quality Meats) is next-door, and offers a full butchery plus sandwiches and old-fashioned breakfasts; it can be converted into a dining room in the evening for private events.
Q1160 N. Dearborn, Gold Coast | 312.642.1160
By far the best BBQ in Chicago. The menu is short and, unsurprisingly, meat heavy but what makes Q special are the house wood-smoked meats and the distinctive rubs and pickles they concoct so consistently.
Arami1829 W. Chicago Ave., West Town | 312.243.1535
This West Town gem was recommended by a goop friend for the freshest sushi in town. The Japanese dishes here—uni shooters, sashimi, nigiri—are all authentically modern, a testament to Executive Chef Frederick Despres.
Longman & Eagle2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Logan Square | 773.276.7110
This is another great Chicago gastropub that has pretty impressive and rarified food and drinks. There are also a few very affordable and sleekly decorated guestrooms, featuring the work of some great American craftsmen and designers, just upstairs.
Piccolo Sogno464 N. Halsted St., River North | 312.421.0077
A collaboration between a chef and a wine connoisseur, Chef Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo opened Piccolo Sogno in 2008. The modern and rustic Italian food is all about the freshest, seasonal ingredients and Italian wines. The best seats in the house, especially in the summer, are in their quiet outdoor patio.
Girl & the Goat809 W. Randolph St., West Loop | 312.492.6262
We love Stephanie Izard's Girl & The Goat because craft is the key to every single one of the dishes. The food is separated into three categories—meat, fish, and vegetables—with plenty of crossover in between. Combinations are unexpected and bold flavors abound, all with a feminine, comfortable touch. Don’t miss the selection of house-made breads served at the beginning of each meal, and if you’re a beer drinker, you will be pleased with their unusual collaborations with Three Floyds. The "Underground Goat," their private dining space below the restaurant, is one of the most sought-after party venues in town.
RL115 E. Chicago Ave., Magnificent Mile | 312.475.1100
RL Restaurant (yes that’s RL for Ralph Lauren), has the old-fashioned feel of an English club, with dark paint on the walls, leather seats, and art arranged salon-style on the walls. It’s a prime spot for ladies who lunch. Stop by for their chopped salads, club sandwiches, and tomato soup.