[April 2016 Update: This guide is totally out of date and needs updating. Hopefully soon. I still endorse all of the places on this list, but there are so many places missing. In the meantime, Bon Appetit recently published a guide that I really like.]
About this guide: Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and we tend to stick to our own. This is by no means a comprehensive review of the Chicagoland dining options. These are simply the places I love and think you might too. I will add to this guide as I discover new restaurants or remember ones I forgot. I purposely do not include pizza in this list. I don’t know how to judge pizza because even the bad stuff tastes pretty good to me. This information is also available on a Google map which you can access by clicking HERE.
This restaurant may be a-once-in-a-lifetime meal for most of us but I can honestly tell you that it is worth whatever insane price you have to pay for dinner. It is one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life.
A very charming Italian spot in Andersonville. Crazy good food and nice people. I am especially fond of their outdoor patio during the summer months.
A perfectly perfect little restaurant and a Chicago classic.
Consistently good neighborhood restaurant that receives national attention. Local, seasonal, casual. One of my favorite places to bring friends.
Another Evanston favorite that serves excellent Italian food in a charming atmosphere. Great for a weeknight meal or a special occasion.
Chicago’s best bakery. Sandra Holl and her team have taken one of the best things about Green City Market and turned it into one of the best things about Chicago. The bakery and cafe is a beautiful space and perfect for enjoying everything from a croissant and coffee in the morning to a fantastic lunch or light dinner. Beautiful space, friendly people, and the best pastries in the Midwest.
The popularity of this market continues to grow. So much so that long-time shoppers, like myself, can get a bit annoyed by the crowds on Saturdays. I try to remind myself that the hundreds of people buying local, organic produce from farmers they can get to know is a good thing. The Wednesday market is much more peaceful.
Just pies. Wonderful pies. Enough said.
We may all go there for Mindy Segal’s desserts but dinner is also worth a trip. They serve a mean brunch on weekends.
Is Hot Doug’s the most written-about hot dog stand in the world right now? Maybe. It deserves it. Phenomenal encased meat products. Good fries. The line will be almost a block long when you arrive—it is worth the wait.
This popular Costa Rican restaurant situated on Milwaukee Avenue between Wicker Park and Logan Square is worth going to for the tamarind shake alone. The excellent shakes accompany flavorful food and friendly service.
Chicagoans can argue for a long time over the best beef and the best pizza. Truth is, most of it tastes pretty good. Johnnie’s is great. It is my favorite and judging from the long line, I am not alone.
Logan Square’s Inn/nighborhood pub is one of my favorite spaces in Chicago. Beautifully designed, there is no better place to hang out and enjoy a snowy Chicago winter night with friends. Whiskey is cheap and plentiful. The service is among the finest and friendliest in Chicago and the food is delicious too! Wow.
I may have eaten at Logan Square’s Lula Cafe more than any other restaurant in Chicago. And have never had a bad meal. It is a Chicago classic that focuses on local, seasonal foods. Still cool after all these years.
If you have met Paco, the chef/owner of New Rebozo, you love Paco. OMG! And you will likely also love his restaurant because of him (the tasty Mexican food and well crafted moles also help).
I discovered this place late and am full of regret for the years I went not knowing I could actually get a good bagel in Chicago. It is open 24 hours a day, which I also like.
Located on the north side of the city in Albany Park this is one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Chicago. Serving delicious Persian cuisine to very devoted regulars. The plate of feta, radishes and onions that they serve at the start of the meal is pure genius. And there are some good Middle-Eastern markets and bakeries in the neighborhood to wander through afterward.
Donuts. I am like Homer Simpson when it comes to donuts. I don’t know if there is a food I like better. The donuts that are fried up fresh every Saturday morning at the Oak Park farmers markets are among the best I have eaten. Like really, really amazing. They also feature a nice selection of vendors, many of which also sell at Green City Market.
Pleasant House Bakery has quickly become one of my favorite places in Chicago. Proprietors Art and Chelsea (and their crew) make everyone feel like regulars. Their delicious British food (savory pies, pasties, and chips) will have you coming back for more. You can enjoy your pie in the charming dining room, or head next store to Maria’s, order a beer, and your pies will be delivered to you—magic. Pleasant House also provides all of us with another good reason to spend time in Bridgeport, a great Chicago neighborhood.
Platters of oysters make me very happy and the Publican has some very nice oysters. The menu at the neo-Belgian Beer hall focuses on pork and fish, serving them in a beautifully designed space. This place deserves all of the praise it receives. Fantastic beer selection.
A new addition to the Chicago dining scene from some trusted veterans. It is probably silly of me to put a restaurant that just recently opened on this list but I had such a good experience here that I am doing it anyway. I also know that many of you stay on Michigan Avenue when visiting Chicago and this is the first time good food has found its way onto the magnificent mile. The fried deviled eggs are crazy good and I dream about their olive oil soft serve.
Honestly, I haven’t been so impressed with a new restaurant in years. A cozy little space and some of the most delicious food to be found in Chicago. An empanada stuffed with kimchi and oaxaca cheese, topped with creme fraiche chimichurri sauce sounds annoying, but it isn’t. Like everything at Ruxbin, expectations are blown away. Their BYOB policy makes this an affordable way to have a very fine meal. Also, it is fun going to the bathroom.
My favorite barbecue in Chicago, perhaps the world. A lot of bbq places focus on the meat and serve rather forgettable sides—not Smoque. Everything is superb: Mac & Cheese, Fries, Brisket, cornbread, pulled pork. It is just crazy good. Worth the trouble of getting there and waiting in the long line.
Okay, so here’s the thing: I like both of these places alot but I think they are a little inconsistent and if they have been hyped up to you I am afraid you could order wrong and be disappointed. Some things amazing, some don’t quite work for me. The overall experience is good though. So, I recommend them. With reservations. However, I have no reservations about the soft serve by Mindy Segal (see Hot Chocolate) at Belly Shack.
My favorite place to get a cocktail in Chicago. Avoid it on weekends when it turns into long waits and silly people. Go on a Wednesday after work and enjoy the peaceful space, and have a Daisy 17 for me.
A family Mexican restaurant located in an ugly strip mall in the suburbs of Chicago may not be your idea of a dinner worth traveling for, but you would be wrong. A couple of years ago I had a 3 melon soup here that Bryan and I still talk about. Consistently good, and often great, food.
Rick Bayless does it again. This is my favorite of his Chicago restaurants serving tortas and soups that will knock your socks off. But let’s be honest, I go there for the churros.
Guide last updated February 2012