What makes a restaurant in an unequaled restaurant city one of the best? It’s a delicate formula of fresh food, innovative presentations, cutting edge ideas, interesting combinations plus price, ambiance and service.
These 10 places promise a stellar experience and a distinctive taste of Chicago.
At most of the listed Chicago spots, it’s more than a meal but rather a downright experience. Reservations at places like Alinea can take a while to secure but expect a multi-hour session that involves all of your senses at a James Beard award-winning and Michelin-star standout. The model of successful chef-driven restaurants? That would be Boka.
A stop at aba is like a whirlwind taste voyage to the Mediterranean with visits to Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece, if you can wrap your brain and taste buds around that. Temporis’ menu defines “seasonal” and the restaurant’s own indoor hydroponic garden brings a bounty of herbs, greens and flowers to the courses year round. Daisies won a Jean Banchet Award for Best Neighborhood Restaurant in Chicago in 2018 and its vegetable-driven and pasta focused menu continues to wow in a comfortable, unfussy atmosphere. Everyone loves Mexican food but combine it with French technique and Michelin starred phenom, Chef Carlos Gaytan, and expect fireworks at Tzuco.
The Publican is a sure thing for Happy Hour, dinner or weekend brunch, indoors or out and Smyth is the embodiment of the celebration of the table. Diners are treated to an authentic home-cooked experience, heritage techniques and secret family recipes at Virtue. And you can’t beat the exceptional, seasonal, Piemontese fare at Osteria Langhe.
Taste, of course, is subjective and if there were a list of the 50 best in Chicago, we would probably hit on many of your choices. Let’s call these 10 among the best restaurants in Chicago, so if you’re in the market for an inevitably impressive dining experience, make your reservation.
Known for lighter Mediterranean food and inspired spirits, an expansive rooftop patio and airy dining room, aba also offers brunch among its menus of delights. Launch with any of Chef CJ Jacobson’s delightful spreads or hummus renditions escorted by house bread sprinkled with za’tar. Crispy short rib hummus dotted with grilled onions, sherry and beef jus is hearty and comforting. Don’t miss house made Stracciatella, a soft cheese surrounded by marinated tomatoes, sherry vinaigrette and shards of torn bread. If Brussels sprouts are still on your “must-order” list, you’ll love aba’s orbs doused in sherry glaze with shallots and pumpkin seeds. Green falafel and grilled cauliflower kebabs make vegetarians grin while meat eaters graze on slow braised leg of lamb, various kefta kebabs lolling on basmati rice and short rib shakshuka. Cr–me Brûlée pie showered with pomegranate arils or Pistachio Cake make fine endings.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Americans are eating lighter and aba’s Mediterranean mosaic tantalizes the collective taste buds in airy surroundings.
Jacky’s expert tip: Complement victuals with seasonal cocktails or rare Mediterranean-inspired wines and spirits.
Read more about Aba →
The intimate and casually romantic dinner spot serves delicious Italian food from the Piedmont region of Italy (bordering France and Switzerland at the foot of the Alps). The small dining area is lined with white lights and candlelit tables. The eatery is best known for fresh pasta, which Chef Cameron Grant learned how to make in Langhe, Italy. Other popular choices include a favorite of the region – raw Piemontese beef, cured egg yolk and cracker bread. Or get the beef poached served with tuna citrus caper aioli, arugula and crispy egg. Ask your server about daily preparation or comforting risotto. Piemonte produces high-quality hazelnuts so opt for any dessert featuring the rich nut. Piedmontese wines, like Barolo, can be redolent of cherries, roses and love, so order a bottle!
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Osteria Langhe serves exceptional, seasonal, Piemontese fare and the lush wines of the region in a completely comfortable setting.
Jacky’s expert tip: Be sure to try the famous “plin,” a rich, cheesy, hand-pinched ravioli made with fresh pasta.
Read more about Osteria Langhe →
The Publican has become a part of the fabric of Fulton Market highlighting farm-to-table fare long before it was a culinary catch-phrase. Among the first to open in the uncharted meatpacking district in 2008, its star has not dimmed. Driven by seasonality with menus shifting constantly, you can always count on some of the best bread in the city fresh from the restaurant’s own bakery. Although known for charcuterie and meat (butcher shop, Publican Quality Meats, opened in 2012), expect wonderful hand-selected and sustainably-raised fish, seafood and vegetables, too. Briny oysters, whitefish Milanese, barbecued carrots, ham chop, Slagel Family Farm chicken, it’s all great. The Publican has been with us for over a decade but the constantly evolving menu and extensive international beer roster keep it in the Top 10. Weekend brunch is among the best in the city, too.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: More than a decade in and The Publican shines in food, drink and conviviality with refreshingly zero pretension.
Jacky’s expert tip: Expect exterior dining opportunities, too: greenhouses (2-4 guests), domes (4-6 guests) and a heated tented dining room.
Read more about The Publican →
Although the Chicago dining orbit feels the tourism gravity in River North, you’d do yourself a favor by giving the south side some love. Virtue is an American southern restaurant in Hyde Park oozing hospitality, gratefulness and just great food. Chef Erick Williams, formerly Executive Chef of lauded restaurant MK and partner of Michelin rated County Barbeque, combines all that celebrated experience with his passion for southern culture. The restaurant evokes the warmth of Williams’ great grandmother’s home and honors his ancestors through the intricate recipes: biscuits with homemade butter and pimento cheese; rice dirtied with gizzards and gravy; collards with smoked turkey; gumbo, BBQ pork steak with smothered cabbage; roast chicken; and blackened catfish with Carolina gold rice.
Cocktails can be sturdy like the Hyde Park Sazerac or alcohol-free (like the Hummingbird with basil and bitter lemon).
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Diners are treated to an authentic home-cooked experience by way of heritage techniques and secret family recipes.
Jacky’s expert tip: If Chef is offering banana pudding, order the iconic Southern dessert done perfectly at Virtue.
Read more about Virtue →
Everyone loves Mexican food but combine it with French technique and Michelin starred phenom, Chef Carlos Gaytan, and expect fireworks.
The River North eatery recently expanded adding more space and airflow, patio seating and semi-outdoor seating with retractable, floor-to-ceiling doors. Expect a sophisticated and contemporary ambience and a sexy marriage of Mexican and French cuisine (like French onion soup with poblano peppers, Gruyére cheese and crostini). You’ll find fine tuna ceviche on the menu alongside steak tartare and mussels in saffron beurre blanc pulsing with dried chorizo, pickled jalapeño and. of course, a baguette for the slam-dunk.
Tzuco brought aboard two celebrated pastry talents from Mexico City so plan your caloric intake pre-dessert.
Fans of the culinary sorcery known as mole should order an Old Fashioned that resonates with Old Forester Bourbon, mole syrup, mole bitters and chile ash.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Everyone loves Mexican food but combine it with French technique and Michelin starred phenom, Chef Carlos Gaytan, and expect fireworks.
Jacky’s expert tip: In addition to many of Tzuco’s signature dishes, the weekend brunch menu offers selections like Tzuco Shakshuka, Mushroom Cazuela and Shrimp Hurache.
Read more about Tzuco →
An outstanding neighborhood restaurant, Daisies is a vegetable-driven and pasta focused eatery featuring fresh ingredients from Tim Frillman’s Frillman Farms. Tim is the brother of Daisies executive chef/owner Joe Frillman, so you know the veg is the best.
Between the rustic, seasonal menu and heated al fresco dining on the plant-filled patio, the Logan Square eatery embodies comfort. Come for lunch and hit the jackspot with satisfying sandwiches like braised Italian lamb with giardiniera and Provolone or smoked whitefish dappled with pickled ramps, trout roe and Swiss chard on multigrain bread. Even a side of white bean salad is made extraordinary with roasted fennel, bacon and truffle vinaigrette.
Handmade pasta stars at dinnertime with the likes of mushroom ragú draped over ribbons of pappardelle and sweet potato gnocchi enlivened with burnt cabbage, pickled cherry, Pistachio and buttery Fontina cheese. Daisies’ brunch is a local favorite.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Inspired by the Midwest and a root-to-fruit philosophy, Daisies offers a rustic menu and a heated patio for comfy alfresco dining.
Jacky’s expert tip: Take a peek at Daisies Market for fresh Frillman Farms produce, gourmet and imported items and handmade sauces and pastas from the team.
Read more about Daisies →
Earning two Michelin stars in less than two years, the combo tasting menu restaurant (Smyth) and downstairs tavern (The Loyalist) make up a fever dream for which Chicagoans want no cure.
Executive Chef John B. Shields, a veteran of Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea, and his Executive Pastry Chef wife, Karen Urie Shields (TRU and Charlie Trotters) have created some genuine magic with their seasonally driven multi-course menus at Smyth. This is the place where farm-to-table really lives as the couple sources directly from The Farm, located an hour south of Chicago, that grows ingredients exclusively for the restaurant. It may sound hoity-toity but the atmosphere is informal and warm featuring an open kitchen and wooden tables in a homey atmosphere.
Come as you are and choose the “Classic”, “Smyth” or “Omaha”tasting menu (two, two and a half and three hours) that can be complemented with an optional beverage pairing.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Smyth is the embodiment of the celebration of the table.
Jacky’s expert tip: “Smyth” refers to five years the couple lived, worked and cooked in Smyth County, Virginia, before coming back to Chicago.
Read more about Smyth →
In Latin, “temporis” refers to the passage of time but you may want time to stand still so your ten-course tasting menu of progressive American cuisine will last forever.
Executive chef Troy Jorge’s menu defines “seasonal” and the restaurant’s own indoor hydroponic garden brings a bounty of herbs, greens and flowers to the courses year round.
Your experience may launch with canapés of
Wagyu, apple and pear and move onto octopus shored up with perky ‘Nduja, celery root and Vidalia onion. Progress to foie gras, veal cheek and A5 Wagyu Ribeye then an intermezzo refreshes before dessert courses. Your only regret? Not being able to ask for seconds.
Choose a wine or alcohol-free beverage pairing to complete the intimate experience.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Refined nuance on the plate as well as in the polished service – sans pretension – make a completely memorable dining experience at Temporis.
Jacky’s expert tip: Michelin-starred Temporis, in the heart of West Town, has just 20 seats so be sure to reserve yours well in advance.
Read more about Temporis →
The Alinea, or paragraph mark, signals the start of a new train of thought. The restaurant Alinea has been revolutionizing dinner since 2005 and it’s the only restaurant in Chicago to retain three-star Michelin status (latest in 2020).
Chef Grant Achatz’ intersection of art and science draws culinary enthusiasts worldwide wanting to sample one-of-a-kind plates that change constantly on the 20-course menu. The all-small courses may arrive on pillows inflated with lavender air, mini pedestals or wire hangers. It’s dinner as theater, best appreciated by open minds and deep pockets.
The first-floor Gallery experience is offered in two “showings” per night for parties of two or four only. The Kitchen Table, for parties of six, is the most intimate and cutting-edge experience. Three salons offer a multi-course tasting menu for parties of two, four or six. Book anything two months in advance online and leave the kids with a sitter.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Alinea creates a hallucination of culinary genius – it’s art, it’s science and it’s unforgettable.
Jacky’s expert tip: During the pandemic, Alinea has been offering some of its extraordinary food to go.
Read more about Alinea →
Boka is like the kid in high school who was not only the quarterback and star of the musicals but you couldn’t hate him because he was also a great guy. Four consecutive Michelin Stars, Best New Chef and Pastry Chef awards and an extensive redesign attract a conga line of curious diners old and new. Award laden Chef/Partner Lee Wolen has his way with seasonal American cuisine elevating even pedestrian vegetables so they stagger the taste buds. Imagine what he does with Whole Roasted Dry Aged Duck or Slow Cooked Arctic Char? Winning starters include Ricotta Agnolotti with black Trumpet mushrooms, Pecorino and toasted yeast and Shaved Foie Gras with quince, endive and rye.
Don’t miss arresting, right-sized desserts by Meg Galus that won’t make you groan but glad. Service is impeccable and you’ll leave with an “everything is beautiful” feeling despite the steep tab.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: You have to give the Boka Restaurant Group props – it has written the definitive menu on successful chef-driven restaurants.
Jacky’s expert tip: Don’t fear the seven-course tasting menu because dishes are light, flavor-focused and it’s one surprise after another.
Read more about Boka →