Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Chicago Right Now

Updated On 11/13/2019 at 04:46PM EST Updated On 11/13/2019 at 04:46PM EST
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WoodWind | Tim McCoy

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Courtesy of Ciccio Mio

Ciccio Mio

River North

Modern Italian from the team behind Au Cheval
Hogsalt Hospitality strikes again with the opening of this River North restaurant, the latest to join a portfolio that includes the likes of Au Cheval, Bavette’s, and Green Street Smoked Meats. Once inside the intimate, 44-seat space, explore a menu of modern-day takes on Italian classics, from saffron-laced arancini and skewered swordfish to truffle bucatini and chicken Parmesan (not to mention that prosciutto di Parma, aged a cool 700 days). With an impressive grappa list and aperitivi selection, drinks are just as internationally inspired, including an amaro shaved ice.

Margaret Rajic/Papa Cenar

Papa Cenar

Logan Square

Mediterranean tapas honoring a local literary legend
This colorful restaurant is an homage to Chicago-born Earnest Hemingway -- and to the multitude of European cafes that welcomed him throughout his writing career. Bring a group and journey through the tapas selection, a mélange of Mediterranean and Spanish flavors via falafel with whipped feta, halloumi with eggplant caponata, and patatas bravas with garlic aioli. Post-small plates, more substantial fare awaits: namely, the smoked short ribs or whole grilled branzino with mole rojo. And in true Hemingway form, don’t miss the cocktails. The Sangria Blanca embraces all things Spain with pear liqueur and ginger, while the Papa’s G&T is a nod to the icon with Mahon Gin and house-made tonic.

Centre Street Kitchen

Centre Street Kitchen

Lincoln Park

Do-good dining with standout seafood 
The team from Woodie’s Flat and Hopsmith are behind this Lincoln Park newcomer, where diners are bound to feel instantly uplifted, thanks to lush living walls and a bright neon sign reading “I’ve never had a bad day in my life.” It’s all in an effort to dine well and do good -- a commemorative “donation wall” encourages guests to make their own mark, with all participating proceeds benefiting Never Had a Bad Day Foundation, a nonprofit supporting pediatric cancer patients. Speaking of good, there's the medley of crowd-pleasing plates: char-grilled octopus with beluga lentils, salmon poke crunch in tamari-ginger emulsion, and wild striped bass with wild mushrooms and leeks, to name a few.

Claudia | Kristen Mendiola

Claudia

West Loop

A beloved pop-up goes brick & mortar
After functioning as a fine-dining pop-up for over five years, this restaurant found a permanent space to call its own. Helmed by chef Trevor Teich (L20, Acadia, NoMI), the multi-course tasting menu is rooted in French and Asian flavors (think canape bento boxes with squid ink madeleines or “pot-au-pho” with beef filet and root vegetables). Expect to see dishes inspired by Teich’s upbringing with his mother Claudia, too -- case in point with the “Snails in the Woods,” a showcasing of mollusks alongside truffle and pine that stemmed from the chef’s early foraging days with family. While the 16-seat venue plans on offering wine pairings soon, it’s BYOB for now, but find bottle suggestions aplenty on its website.

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WoodWind

Streeterville

Contemporary American in a huge, sky-high space 
Satisfy hunger pangs and a desire for epic city views simultaneously at this 18th-floor stunner, which occupies the former GreenRiver space. Chefs Matt O’Neill and Donald Young serve a menu of plates at once playful and refined that progresses from snacks to larger entrees (further categorized into “Fields & Ranches,” “From the Sea,” and “Mostly Vegetables”). Adventurous appetites can dive into options like a foie gras “bao mac” or bourbon luge-accompanied bone marrow, while the entire table can find comfort in options like fire-roasted carrots, grilled short rib, and house ricotta. If the skyline views alone don’t enamor diners, the 12,000-square-foot space will -- a destination comprised of marble tabletops, olive green banquettes, and covetable chef’s table seating.

best of the best

Kyle Kissel

Lula Café

Logan Square

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.

Pacific Standard Time Chicago

Pacific Standard Time

River North

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.

Bellemore

Bellemore

West Loop

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.

Kailley Lindman/Thrillist

Pequod's Pizza

Lincoln Park

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.

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Boka

Lincoln Park

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.

HASH

Hash Chicago

Humboldt Park

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.

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Smoque BBQ

Irving Park

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.

Doughnut Vault

Doughnut Vault

River North

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.

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Roister

West Loop

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."

Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers

Calumet Fisheries

Calumet Heights

A legendary fish shack on the South Side
Get 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.

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Fat Rice

Logan Square

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.

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Owen & Engine

Logan Square

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.

Acadia

Acadia

South Loop

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.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

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.

Galdones Photography

Monteverde

West Loop

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.

Smyth

Smyth & The Loyalist

West Loop

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.

GT Prime Steakhouse

GT Prime

River North

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.

Kailley Lindman/Courtesy of Arami

Arami

West Town

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.
 

Kailley Lindman

Oriole

West Loop

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.

Stephen Green

Osteria Langhe

Logan Square

The hearty, traditional cuisine of Northern Italy in one spot
T
his 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.

El Ideas

EL Ideas

University Village

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.

Entente

Entente

River North

Beautifully plated dishes that taste even better than they look
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 and the Slagel Farms shortrib with bulgogi and one marrow butterscotch. 

Matt Haas/Thrillist

Mi Tocaya Antojería

Logan Square

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.

Eric Kleinberg

Clever Rabbit

Wicker Park

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.

Temporis Restaurant

Temporis

West Town

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 $145 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.