Food & Drink

The New Classics of Chicago's Dining Scene

Published On 12/21/2016 Published On 12/21/2016

Alinea

Lincoln Park

Grant Achatz's three Michelin star restaurant recently reopened after undergoing a complete renovation. It's hard to believe Alinea opened in 2005 but the restaurant demonstrates its ability to reinvent itself and remain one of the best restaurants in Chicago.

Courtesy of Au Cheval

Au Cheval

West Loop

Since 2012, Au Cheval has been the site of what many deem the best burger in Chicago. No matter what night of the week, the cozy diner has insane wait times. There’s a reason both locals and tourists continue to flock to the West Loop spot.

Derek Richmond

Avec

West Loop

Avec has been around since 2003. Ever since, they’ve had us repeating those three beautiful words: chorizo stuffed dates. The narrow dining room is as famous for its shared plates as it is for its shared tables. Originally opened as a wine bar, Avec transformed into a Mediterranean-influenced restaurant shortly after opening.

Edouard Pierre

Big Star

Wicker Park

When is Big Star not packed? Trick question: never. The Mexican street food bar and restaurant has been pushing tacos, margaritas, and more since 2009. Since opening, Big Star has been synonymous with Wicker Park and expanded its patio to better serve guac-loving hipsters.

Galdones Photography

Boka

Lincoln Park

Although it first opened in 2005, Boka underwent a transformation and reopened in 2014 under Chef Lee Wolen. The upscale Lincoln Park restaurant continues to earn repeat Michelin star recognition.

Anthony Tahlier

Girl & the Goat

West Loop

Two years after winning Top Chef, Stephanie Izard opened Girl & the Goat in 2010. The restaurant was one of the first to open on the now bustling restaurant row. Nose-to-tail dishes like pig face and chickpea fritters, remain menu staples.

Anthony Tahlier

Hot Chocolate

Bucktown

After working in top Chicago restaurants, including Charlie Trotter’s, Mindy Segal opened Hot Chocolate in Bucktown in 2005. While the restaurant serves brunch, lunch, and dinner featuring seasonal ingredients, Hot Chocolate is particularly known for Mindy’s decadent desserts including cookies, pies, and of course, rich hot chocolate served with house-made marshmallows.

Flickr/Gwendolyn Richards

Kuma’s Corner

Avondale

Kuma’s Corner also opened in 2005. Since then, they’ve grown to four locations for heavy metal and meat lovers. Frequently cited on the list of Chicago’s best burgers, Kuma’s continues to pile on the toppings on burgers like the Pantera with house-made ranchero salsa, bacon, Monterey Jack, roasted poblanos, and tortilla strips.

Clayton Hauck

Longman & Eagle

Logan Square

Since 2010, Longman & Eagle has been a staple of the Logan Square dining scene. It’s a local favorite whether you’re dining on elevated brunch classics like French toast with cider compressed apples, or enjoying the extensive whiskey collection.

Lula Cafe

Lula Cafe

Logan Square

The one exception to our list of new classics is Lula Cafe, which technically opened in 1999. A true Chicago classic and industry hang out, the restaurant has hosted farm dinners every Monday since 2011, resulting in more than 2,000 unique dishes.

Courtesy of Quartino

Quartino

River North

The 600-seat River North restaurant has been open since 2005 when it started offering regional Italian dishes, house-made pastas, and cured meats. Quartino is also known for its reasonably priced wines sold by the carafe and a bustling multi-level dining room.

Courtesy of Piece Brewery & Pizzeria

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria

Wicker Park

Piece made its debut in 2001, bringing New Haven-style pizza and house-brewed beers to Wicker Park. The signature chewy crust pizzas and award-winning craft beers keep locals and visitors returning regularly.

Joni Kat Anderson

The Publican

West Loop

2008 marked the opening of The Publican in the West Loop which showcases oysters, pork, and beer on its menu. From roasted farm chicken and house pork rinds, to country ribs and duck confit, the menu is a carnivore’s paradise.

Sunda

Sunda

River North

In 2009, Sunda opened its doors to share modern Asian cuisine with diners in River North. From wagyu skirt steak and spicy pork bulgogi, to panang chicken and miso black cod, Sunda takes its influence from across Asia. Fresh sushi selections and specialty cocktails round out the extensive menu.

Courtesy of The Purple Pig

The Purple Pig

Streeterville

Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s swine and wine bar opened in 2009 off Michigan Ave and is still crowded every night of the week. Mediterranean shared plates including antipasti, cured meats, and cheeses, as well as pork-centric dishes, make for a great accompaniment to The Purple Pig’s impressive wine list.

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1. Alinea 1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Alinea, the three-star Michelin restaurant in Lincoln Park, is a pinnacle of technique and creativity. If the ticketed reservation system tells us anything, it’s that a night at Alinea is more than just a meal: it is an unforgettable culinary experience featuring modern molecular gastronomy at its finest. And if its slew of accolades tells us anything -- namely that it is consistently included in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants List” -- it’s that Alinea is one of the best restaurants in the world. The revolutionary restaurant on Halsted is the brainchild of acclaimed Chef Grant Achatz -- who cut his teeth under Thomas Keller -- and the dining room is his stage to fuse art and science into dynamic, sensory-evoking menus. Deep pockets required.

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2. Au Cheval 800 W Randolph, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This upscale West Loop restaurant is known for its European flair and sophisticated American diner-style eats. Au Cheval usually has a wait out the door at peak dinner hours because it's home to iconic signature items like the fried house-made bologna sandwich and the so-called single burger, which actually comes with two thin patties and is topped with American cheese, house Dijonnaise, pickles, and if you know what's good for you, the optional bacon and fried egg add-ons. The brasserie-like space includes an open kitchen and a bar where local, domestic, and international beers are all on tap.

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3. Avec 615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661 (West Loop)

With celebrity chef Paul Kahan at the helm of this tiny West Loop restaurant, it's not a surprise that Avec continues to draw crowds of devoted regulars, first-time tourists, and everyone in between. The Mediterranean menu is all about small plates, and the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates are a perennial crowd favorite that hopefully will never come off the menu. Everything works and tastes beautifully with the comprehensive wine list featuring selections from Southern France to Portugal.

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4. Big Star 1531 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

A lot of things about Wicker Park's Big Star will make you feel like you're in Texas. First, there's the taco-centric menu that features a dozen taco varieties and necessary sides like guacamole and queso. Then there's the drink selection, which is heavy on whiskey, tequila, and craft beer. The massive outdoor patio begs for you to order a margarita and drink the day away, especially during the summer when the seasonal music series is in full swing.

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5. Boka 1729 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

Romantic enough for a date night and inventive enough to surprise even the most jaded of palates, this time-tested and Michelin-starred favorite in Lincoln Park promises good food in a good atmosphere. Crafted by visionary Lee Wolen, Boka serves a contemporary menu (heirloom carrots with pistachio crumbles, bulgur, and smoked goat cheese, for example) available à la carte or as a seven-course tasting. Make sure to order cocktails and dessert -- both are downright indulgent.

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6. Girl & The Goat 809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard's West Loop restaurant is a perennial hot spot that defines the Chicago food scene. The menu is filled with incredibly innovative meat, vegetable, and fish small plates meant to be shared and devoured. Of course, a meal at Girl & the Goat isn't complete without an order of goat, served a variety of ways (in empanadas, as carpaccio). Reservations are hard to muster but you'll snag one eventually and find that the wait is so worth it.

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7. Mindy's Hot Chocolate 1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Wicker Park)

Pastry chef Mindy Segal's Bucktown restaurant is synonymous with comfort food from both the sweet and savory sides of the spectrum. Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, Mindy's Hot Chocolate serves soul-warming dishes, like the Slagel Farm beef burger topped with a fried egg, creamy mac & cheese, and daily soups with crusty sourdough bread. Of course, a meal here isn't complete without dessert, which should include an order of the amazingly rich hot chocolate and a slice of the daily cake (or anything off the dessert menu -- it's all addictive).

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8. Kuma's Corner 2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Kuma's does burgers, and a lot of them. With its bloodthirsty bear paintings and Slayer-grade metal on repeat, you’ll know you’ve stepped into carnivorous territory long before a tatted waitress brings you one of several hunks of meat, like, say, the Neurosis, a massive, juicy beef patty smothered with sharp cheddar, Swiss, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and horseradish mayo.

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9. Lula Café 2537 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This Logan Square restaurant has been embracing the farm-to-table philosophy long before the term was so ubiquitous. Open since 1999, Lula Café is a weekend brunch destination with lines running out the door for unreal breakfast sandwiches and veggie-centric mains. The menu is always changing given ingredients' availability, but you'll find it hard to be disappointed by whatever's in store. The garden patio area is the perfect spot for sipping morning cocktails and people watching on Sundays.

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10. Longman & Eagle 2657 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Longman & Eagle, the Michelin-starred gastropub in Logan Square, has an exclusive whiskey selection (clocking in at over 400 labels), a craft cocktail menu, and an extensive beer list all fit for the most pretentious of drinkers, in the least pretentious of atmospheres. Longman takes a flavor-forward, honest approach to eating and drinking, and because it doesn’t accept reservations, there is always a wait for brunch, happy hour, and dinner alike. (And it is always worth it.) While whiskey may be king, the regional American fare has just as much to offer, hence the Michelin star. The menu changes often, but expect anything from beef tallow beignets and veal brains to wild boar sloppy joes, chicken and waffles, and a burger that, if you know what's good for you, you will order.

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11. Quartino 626 N. State St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Quartino ditches massive portions in favor of smaller, shareable plates. To get the full experience, enlist a couple (okay, maybe five) dining companions to help you eat your way through an assortment of meats and cheeses; veal meatball sliders; braised, pork-stuffed ravioli; penne alla vodka; fried calamari; and, most importantly, zeppole.

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12. Piece Brewery and Pizzeria 1927 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

Chicago might be known for its deep-dish pizza, but this bustling joint in Wicker Park makes phenomenal thin-crust pizza. The paper thin, New Haven-style pies are topped with red sauce, parmesan, oregano, and toppings that run the gamut from BBQ sauce and goat cheese to peppers and Italian sausage. Piece brews award-winning craft beer in its seven-barrel brew house. There's probably no better place to go in Chicago if you're in the mood for pizza and beer.

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13. The Publican 837 W Fulton Market St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Town)

Paul Kahan's West Loop restaurant feels like the Midwest; big and welcoming with communal tables, it's a farmhouse and a beer hall at the same time. The menu focuses on three things: beer, pork, and oysters, but you'll also find vegetable and fish alternatives. The beer selection features brews from all over, with a fair share from Belgium and Chicago.

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14. Sunda 110 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Toeing the line between swanky hotspot and sophisticated dining destination, this Asian fusion concept from Rockit Ranch Productions is a worthy choice for an undeniably hip meal out in River North. The menu offers some seriously interesting eats (duck breast kimchi, oxtail pot stickers) and includes sushi, sashimi, and plenty of wok dishes. The beer list is heavy on the Asian pours, and there are sake and speciality cocktails as well. Sunda's decor feels just as sleek as the menu with polished black bamboo and high wooden tables.

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15. The Purple Pig 500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611 (River North)

All-swine-everything is the name of the game at this River North staple from James Beard award-winning chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. The Mediterranean menu features meats, cheeses, and adventurous tapas-like plates like fried pig's ear, pork liver pate, and housemade sausage served with a poached lobster tail. The lively space is dominated by an L-shaped bar and high-top communal tables, complemented by a few tables-for-two along the wall. The Purple Pig attracts a mixed crowd of suits and skinny jeans, especially for post-work drinks. Note: it doesn't take reservations.