Proof That Iceland's Ring Road Is the World's Most Beautiful Road Trip
Inspired Greek fare with a generous serving of neighborhood charm
Don't let its neighborhood-y setting and cozy interior fool you -- the Greek eats at this newly minted spot near DePaul demand to be taken seriously. Saganaki with peppered figs and honey, pork souvlaki, Kataifi prawns wrapped in shredded filo, and beef youvetsi comprise the dinner menu, and the caramel baklava ice cream might just be one of the most creative and satisfying desserts of the year.
Your one-stop-shop for late-night tater tot wraps
Michigan's own tot-centric concept hits Chicago with its first out-of-state outpost, and comes complete with over two dozen unique tater tot wraps that range from the Hawaiian Reed (chicken tenders, ham, mozzarella, pineapple, and ranch) to the Luchador (grilled steak, mozzarella, onions, jalapenos, and Sriracha). Designed with the nighttime crowd in mind, the space is open until 4am on the weekends (2am weekdays) for when those munchies hit, and reopens in the morning with a lineup of hangover-curing wraps like the Wake & Bac'n packed with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar, Sriracha, and -- you guessed it-- tots.
A light-strewn holiday pop-up from the people behind Electric Forest Festival
Chicago's no stranger to elaborate pop-ups (hello, Riot Feast and Saved by the Max), but few can compete with this entirely extra indoor/outdoor Christmas bar. Explore the many Instagram-worthy interactive areas, like Santa's workshop and Rudolph's lounge, and embrace the festive spirit with large format rum-based Jingle Juice, Sugar Plum Fairy Wings lacquered in hoisin plum BBQ sauce and dusted with edible gold, a giant pretzel served with maple cinnabutter, chipotle cheddar fondue, and cranberry mustard, and more. As if all of that weren't reason enough to visit, a portion of the whimsical pop-up's proceeds benefits Toys for Tots and Humble Design.
Women-led Japanese fine dining in the ex-Grace space
A year after Michelin-starred Grace abruptly closed, 952 W. Randolph is resurrected, this time as a contemporary Japanese resto helmed by chef Mari Katsumura, whose resume includes Blackbird, Acadia, and Entente. Katsumura's 13-course tasting menu (which, like Grace, includes a vegetarian option), promises an artful exploration of Japanese techniques and flavors through bites like sashimi, chawanmushi, and more.
A sultry speakeasy by way of a flower shop
Part-Thursday-through-Saturday-social-club ("The Ballroom), part-restaurant ("The Library"), this two-pronged concept promises cocktails and food every bit as lavish as its English manor-inspired leather and red velvet-adorned digs. Team The Secret Garden (Ketel Botanicals vodka, lime juice, St. George raspberry liqueur, grapefruit soda, and an edible hibiscus flower) with crispy sweet breads and shareable beef short rib accompanied by pickled cranberries and bone marrow butter, and round things out with coconut creme brulee composed of foie gras mousse, parsnips, and huckleberries.
A subterranean mezcal oasis from Rick Bayless
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless steps into the bar rings with his latest venture, which is situated directly beneath his acclaimed restaurant Frontera and is accessible through an alley a la other speakeasy-style bars in the 'hood (like Three Dots & a Dash). The cocktail menu spans four categories inspired by a Mexican market that range from spicy to fruity to botanical to a tacos al pastor-inspired number made with roasted pineapple, lime, cilantro and mezcal infused with the flavors of homemade chorizo. Soak it up with roasted bone marrow and cooked-to-order Mexican paella.
A modern steakhouse within a chic Mag Mile hotel
Pedigreed chef Dan Weiland (Avec, Blackbird, Forbidden Root) takes the reins at this fresh take on a steakhouse inside the newly minted Hotel Julian. Given its hotel context, the concept will be open all day, and promises coconut milk French toast, char-grilled Hanger steak and eggs, and avocado toast laden with coffee cured salmon, pickled veggies, and arugula for the breakfast crowd and beef Wellington by the space, a 12-oz bone-in ribeye, and roasted carrots tossed with harissa, candied pistachios, and Greek yogurt for those stopping in later. Wash it all down with a playful cocktail, like the Cocoa Pebble infused Saturday Morning Cartoons or the cider-based In(Cider) Trading.
A Cuban-Filipino gem by the Montrose Brown Line stop
If you've ever simultaneously craved a Cubano sandwich and pancit luglug (respect for your well-traveled palate), this unique new mashup concept is here to curb your hunger. Its Cubano features slow-roasted Nueskes smoked deli ham that's been marinated in house mojo sauce for 24 hours, while its take on luglug is packed with scallops, uni, chicharrones, an egg yolk, and aromatic saffron. Once you're done exploring the savory options, end your meal with a halo-halo sundae (ube ice cream, flan, young coconut, red bean, and corn).
Home of a sumptuous foie gras tart
With a name that literally translates to "south" in French, it's no wonder that here, you'll travel to the south of France by way of house-made charcuterie, rabbit leg a la Provencal, sardine escabeche, and haricot vert tossed with lemon, thyme, and brown butter at this bi-level spot. Its facade is washed in cheerful hues of yellow and teal that practically implore you to step inside; it's charming interior, with its wine bottle-lined exposed brick walls and two bars, ensure a welcoming atmosphere to match.
A cult-favorite food truck lands a brick-and-mortar shop
If you're familiar with Chicago's illustrious food truck culture, you're probably also acquainted with -- if not a die-hard fan of -- the Fat Shallot, a beloved gourmet sandwich shop on wheels. The brand's expansion began with a kiosk at Revival Food Hall, and is gaining steam with its first standalone restaurant. Devour classics like the truffle BLT, Muenster grilled cheese, and spicy sesame fries, as well as a small selection of starters like chilaquile nachos.
Committed to locally sourced ingredients since the '90s
This OG Logan Square favorite was embracing the farm-to-table philosophy long before it was cool, and has remained one of the North Side’s most in-demand weekend brunch destinations since opening in 1999. The menu is subject to change depending on the seasonal availability of certain ingredients, but "The Royale" breakfast sandwich, which is currently made with turkey leg confit, Gruyere cheese, braised bacon, parsley salad, and a sunny-side egg on sourdough, is a sure bet.
A hearth-centered haven with California looks
One Off Hospitality (Publican, Blackbird), former Nico Osteria chef Erling Wu-Bower, and partner Joshua Tolden have teamed up to open this hotly anticipated spot. The sleek, Midcentury modern digs emanate West Coast cool, while an ever-changing, ingredient-driven menu keeps things fresh and seasonal. Try the in-season ramp and ham pizza, dungeness crab chitarra, wood roasted baby carrots with onion-tahini puree, zhoug, almond, and dill, and more.
If you've never had duck heart, try it here
Former Bohemian House chef Jimmy Papadopoulos is back in the restaurant game and has teamed up with Boka Restaurant Group to resurrect the long-vacant Embeya space. While BoHo showcased Papadopoulos' penchant for Eastern European flavors and cooking techniques, the menu here proves his versatility: a savory oyster custard flirts with Osetra caviar, creme fraiche, lemon dressed apple, and dill in the inventive oyster pie, dry-aged duck is glazed with raspberry vinegar and teamed with duck heart en crepinette, and venison tartare balances earthy grilled mushrooms with pumpernickel and lime. In addition, the restaurant also offers a six-course tasting menu for those who want to take the guesswork out of their meal.
You might actually end up eating the crust first
While classic deep dish is undeniably "Chicago," it’s worth noting that some of the best pies in the city don't necessarily conform to expectations. Case in point: the dreamy pan pizza with signature caramelized cheese crust at this Clybourn Ave mainstay, which scored a place on our Chicago Bucket List for good reason.
Equal parts romance and practical culinary magic
Romantic enough for a date night and inventive enough to surprise even the most jaded of palates, this time-tested favorite promises a great atmosphere (including a breathtaking “living wall” punctuated with anthropomorphized animal paintings) and even greater food. Crafted by visionary Lee Wolen, the Michelin-starred menu is an exercise in mixing complementary flavors and textures; no dish better exemplifies this than Wolen’s heirloom carrots, which come to life with pistachio crumbles, bulgur, and smoked goat cheese. And by all means, save room for one of pastry chef Meg Galus’ equally whimsical desserts.
Gimmick-free yet highly Instagrammable breakfast hash
With its hippie spirit and namesake hash lineup, this whimsical diner is one of West Town’s coolest hidden gems. Pull up a seat at one of the mosaic-topped tables and revel in the porcine magic that is the bacon fat hash with pork shoulder, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts laden with rich mustard cream sauce.
The dry-rubbed smoked meats King of the North
This Texas-style barbecue joint has been slingin’ its signature brisket and ribs for the better part of a decade, and remains steadfast as the North Side’s top dog for smoked meats. It’s BYOB, so arrive hungry and with a frosty six-pack of your favorite local brew in tow to fend off the inevitable meat sweats.
The only donuts in town worth fighting lines and crowds
Brendan Sodikoff's award-winning donut shop sets the bar unattainably high with its supremely dense, moist old-fashioned-style donuts. The crave-worthy dough rings come in flavors like toasted almond, classic buttermilk glazed, and lemon-poppy seed, and in limited production daily, which means, once they sell out, they're gone 'til the next morning. Pro tip: If you're lucky, you can also score them at some of Sodikoff's other concepts, including 3 Arts Club Cafe, Sawada Coffee, and C. C. Ferns.
The best place to not take a vegan Tinder date
All-swine-everything is the name of the game at this Mag Mile staple from Jimmy Bannos Jr. Pig out on pork-fried almonds spiked with rosemary and garlic, milk-braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes, and plentiful cured meats, and if you're the adventurous sort, don't miss the "JLT" made with pork jowl, tomato, frisee, and a duck egg fried sunny-side up.
Alinea's approachable little sister with a penchant for fried chicken
New from Grant Achatz and his team behind three-Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning Alinea, this decidedly-more-casual concept balances world-class eats with a sleek, streamlined aesthetic and lively energy. Music plays through the speakers at a slightly-above-normal volume, constant commotion flows through the open kitchen outfitted with a roaring hearth, and vibrant dishes like scallop crudo with mustard, charred daikon, and passion fruit and soy-dusted Yukon fries flecked with bonito flake, splashed with rice vinegar, and paired with tofu mayo prove that "casual" doesn't mean "sacrificed creativity."
Seafood worth a little South Side road trip
Make the trek to the South Side for all the smoked seafood you can handle at this legendary fish shack. The small but mighty institution has been in the biz for over half a century, and is one of very few Illinois smokehouses still in operation. Stop in to score smoked black cod, catfish, sturgeon, and more by the pound.
The restaurant's name is also your go-to order
You can (and should!) come to this Asian fusion mainstay for dishes other than just the eponymous arroz gordo ("Fat Rice"), but first-timers shouldn't leave without at least a taste of the shareable Macanese entree. The massive dish is served in a cast iron bowl, and features a base layer of jasmine rice laced with sofrito, chorizo, and salted duck that's topped with everything from curried chicken thighs and linguica sausage to prawns and tea eggs.
Go for the burger, stay for the late-night pub fare
This British gastropub makes a mean fish & chips, but it's the Slagel Farm beef burger that keeps people coming back for more. The elite burger boasts a monstrous patty blended with locally sourced ground brisket, short rib, and chuck, a pile of subtly sweet caramelized onions, and a house-made potato bap, and is best washed down with a selection or two from the exhaustive beer list.
South Loop's gift to Chicago's fine dining culture
With two hard-earned Michelin stars in tow, this contemporary American spot helmed by Chef Ryan McCaskey effortlessly toes the line been upscale and approachable cuisine. Guests may choose between five- and 10-course seasonally driven tasting menus or an a la carte bar menu flush with elevated bites like fried Jidori chicken, a Maine lobster roll, and a burger loaded with bacon jam and taleggio mornay.
Near North Side
The steaks are big, and the desserts require mountain climbing gear
With nearly three decades under its belt, this old-school steak giant is a Chicago bucket list must for locals, tourists, and everyone in between. In addition to a bevy of steaks certified under the restaurant's house USDA Angus Beef program, the Viagra Triangle destination is also known for mammoth desserts, like macadamia turtle pie and carrot cake, that will handily leave a family of four in its wake of sugar coma-inducing destruction. Pro tip: Gibsons is also a favorite among celebs and high rollers; if you're lucky, you just might rub elbows with someone famous.
Pasta is the name of the game
Spearheaded by Spiaggia alum chef Sarah Grueneberg and outfitted with a pastificio, it's hardly a stretch to assume that this noodle-centric concept would focus on classic Italian preparations. While the menu isn't without hand-rolled gnocchetti sardi with fresh-grated tomato, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, basil, and ricotta, there's so much more to it than that. Surprising highlights including skate wing schnitzel with caper salsa verde, grilled summer squash, local greens, cherry tomatoes, and parsley new potatoes, wok fried strangozze with head-on gulf shrimp, tomato, garlic, and hot pepper oil, and prosciutto butter toast.
A twofer with a kickass burger downstairs and a fanciful tasting menu upstairs
Husband-and-wife team John Shields and Karen Urie Shields have successfully bridged the gap between casual bar fare and cheffy tasting menu with their separate-but-synergistic duo. The Loyalist leans casual and approachable, with a burger that handily upstages the neighborhood's long-reigning champ, bar seating and cozy booths, and a sophisticated lemongrass sundae topped with molasses and blueberries, while Smyth leans upscale with a seasonally driven tasting menu packed with locally sourced ingredients.
A new school steakhouse with amazing non-steak offerings
Boka Restaurant Group's fresh take on the steakhouse experience is exactly what Chicago has been waiting for: hulking cuts replaced with a shareable selection of prime beef, game meat, and more, a moody atmosphere inspired by a cabin-in-the-woods fairytale, and a variety of small plates and desserts, like mortadella arancini, veal cheek with lemon grits, escarole, and miso, and coffee and stout donuts with creme anglaise and brown sugar streusel, that share the stage with the meat.
Exceptional sushi best enjoyed omakase-style
Reopening after a fire temporarily shuttered its doors, Arami is back and newly remodeled. What this cozy, no-frills Japanese concept lacks in ambiance and aesthetic it makes up for with elegantly composed dishes and simple yet sophisticated maki and nigiri. The one-bite toro tartare is a harmonious blend of minced fatty bluefin tuna, Asian pear, chive, caviar, and house soy sauce, Hotate-Su featuring Hokkaido scallops balanced with Hawaiian hot pepper water, coconut-lime sauce, hearts of palm, Thai basil, and passionfruit,, and sushi offerings range from maguro spicy sake maki with jalapeño, cilantro, avocado, ikura, fried shallots, and yuzu to yellowtail with mushroom and aromatic truffle oil.
A clandestine Michelin-starred spot devoid of pretension
Inconspicuously tucked away on an alley-like road, this 28-seat literal hidden gem has remained one of Chicago's best-kept secrets since it opened this past spring. That is, until Michelin spilled the beans by awarding it not one, but two coveted stars. Chefs/partners Noah Sandoval and Genie Kwon prove that teamwork does, in fact, make the dream work through an ever-evolving tasting menu comprised of explosively flavorful bites, like Beausoleil oyster with Iberico consomme and finger lime, capellini with Burgundy truffle, rye berry, and yeast, and lemon tea sorbet with hibiscus, Asian pear, and bitter greens.
The hearty, traditional cuisine of Northern Italy in one spot
This acclaimed spot in Logan Square has matured into Chicago's preeminent destination for both Northern Italian eats and an outstanding selection of Italian wines. Menu standouts include Chef Cameron Grant's handmade plin tossed with la tur, parmesan, thyme, and butter, tajarin with Northern meat ragu and grana padano, panna cotta.
Geek-out-worthy molecular gastronomy for the adventurous
This progressive fine-dining destination flies a bit under the radar given its location in Douglas Park, but it should be on every self-respecting food enthusiast's bucket list, if for no other reason than the always-on-menu "French fries and ice cream." One of over a dozen courses, the nostalgic dish evokes the sweet-meets-savory magic of fries dunked in a Wendy's Frosty, featuring potato-leek soup topped with liquid nitrogen-chilled vanilla ice cream. An expansive open kitchen and pretension-free atmosphere punctuated with graffiti-style art complete the unique experience.
Beautifully plated dishes that taste even better than they look
Tucked away in the former Ani space, this charming spot offers artfully plated fare and a no-frills, minimalistic atmosphere. Explore Executive Chef Brian Fisher's inventive approach to cooking by way of an extraordinarily photogenic wedge salad topped with Benton's bacon, cambozola, tomato, and house Green Goddess, truffle-froward Carolina Gold with duck egg, pea tendrils, and Parmigiano Reggiano, and Slagel Farms shortrib with bulgogi and one marrow butterscotch. Complete your meal with an intricate dessert of milk chocolate, raspberry, roses, and hazelnut.
Some of the best cheffy yet authentic Mexican food around
The chef-driven Mexican fare at Diana Davila's vibrant concept is as thoughtfully crafted as it is satisfying. You can score a heaping basket of chips and salsa, but the other offerings are anything but basic. Team an aromatic elderflower margarita with a caldo de res made with short rib and bone marrow, or smoked beer-can chicken tacos with xoconostle, and don’t miss out on the mouthwatering tres leches.
Vegetable-forward dishes so good, you won't need to think about meat
This veggie-centric spot highlights a "root to leaf" approach, with inventive dishes a crudite platter that changes on the daily and comes packed with raw and pickled veggies, cultured butter, tomato jam, and more, roasted carrot dumplings with lemongrass aioli, and zucchini and gold bar squash with monkey bread, as well as some non-veggie items like sockeye salmon and pork belly bao for those looking for a protein fix. There are also garden-to-glass cocktails including a carrot margarita made with Piedra Azul Reposado and booze-free "cottontails" like a cranberry ginger fizz.
Minimalist design with fancy AF eats
With a mere 20 seats and a sleek, modern aesthetic, this fine-dining hideaway promises an intimate meal with creative flavor pairings. The $125 tasting menu changes often, but always includes hyper-local ingredients grown in the restaurant's hydroponic garden. Courses range from king crab with saffron, satsuma, and steelhead roe to foie gras with passion fruit and sauternes, black sesame, and a canele.