Food & Drink

Savor Summer at Chicago’s Essential Waterfront Restaurants

Pretend like you're vacationing on the coast.

Chicago may be Midwestern to its core, but the swath of Lake Michigan shoreline and winding river mean that it’s easy to cop a coastal vibe in this otherwise land-locked state. From a secluded retreat at the edge of a pond to a bustling steakhouse on the bank of the Chicago River, here are ten of the best places to raise a socially distanced waterfront glass to this excruciatingly endless summer. Just remember: Try to reserve your seat ahead of time and no mask, no meal. Rinse and repeat, sailor.

North Pond

Lincoln Park
With its picturesque surroundings and seasonally driven tasting menu, this waterfront hideaway nestled within Lincoln Park is easily among the most romantic restaurants in Chicago. Tasting menus run the gamut from baby beet salad laced with creme fraiche, habanero, smoked trout roe, beet vinaigrette, and delicate white chocolate to roast duck with glazed carrots, Mirabelle plums, turmeric pudding, crispy carrot tops, and a dusting of carrot powder. Each artful dish reflects the historic Arts and Crafts building’s sublime natural setting.

River Roast

River North
Whether you’re out for a midweek patio power lunch or an alfresco date night, executive chef Cedric Harden's expansive riverside tavern is a must-try outdoor dining experience during the summer months. Small bites like buttery shrimp and crab brioche toast piled with ripe avocado and shrimp mousse and pork meatballs swimming in tomato sauce, spicy giardiniera, pillowy ricotta gnocchi set the stage for the main event: one of the restaurant’s substantial roasts, carved table-side and dressed to impress.

Chicago Cut

River North
Stop by this stylish chophouse for breathtaking riverfront views and perfectly seared USDA Prime steaks to match. The timeless hideaway and adjoining open-air patio is a favorite among local celebrities and other big shots -- if you’re lucky, that juicy, dry-aged Delmonico might even come with a (safely socially distanced) star sighting or two.

City Winery Chicago Riverwalk

Loop
This festive downtown outpost is positioned directly along Chicago's riverwalk and comes outfitted with plentiful umbrella-shaded seating for comfortable outdoor dining and imbibing. Score wine through the concept's unique tap system, and dine on a curated lineup of gourmet sandwiches and salads and a rotating selection of sorbets and gelatos to help you stay cool.

Riva Crab House

Streeterville
This effortlessly elegant Navy Pier gem boasts sweeping harborfront views alongside a mouthwatering array of oceanic entrees, as well as massive seafood towers flush with oysters, shrimp, King crab bites, and more. There’s also a small selection of steaks and chops for those who are red meat-inclined.

Gibsons Italia

West Loop
Sleek contemporary stylings, cheffy housemade pastas, high-end chops flown in farm-fresh from Australia and Japan, and a postcard-perfect waterside setting combine to make this one of the Windy City’s top upscale dining destinations. Consider this date night gold.

RPM Seafood

River North
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ sprawling, multi-level seafood emporium debuted to much fanfare just before the pandemic and has flung open their gleaming riverside doors yet again, welcoming Chicagoans back with safely spaced open-air seating and a plethora of culinary delights. Look for a finely stocked raw bar, sushi grade tartare, and a surf and turf combo for the ages: hand-cut Creekstone filet paired with plump Alaskan King Crab.

Beatnik on the River

Loop
The downtown offshoot of the popular West Town hangout mirrors its sister location’s bohemian-chic vibe with a bounty of lush greenery, Mediterranean-accented cosmopolitan fare, and vibrant, loungey decor. Add a sundrenched patio with plenty of room, a shimmering riverside backdrop, and a cooling breeze and you’ve got your new brunchtime no-brainer.

Metropolitan Brewing

Avondale
Head up north and grab a seat on this friendly neighborhood taproom’s inviting patio to experience house-brewed beer done right: crisp German-style lagers served along a quiet stretch of the Chicago river with a side of good, old-fashioned fresh air. Food is BYOB -- takeout and delivery options abound -- and adventurous drinkers are more than welcome to ditch the wheels and paddle on over instead, hitching up their kayak to the adjoining pier before grabbing a well-deserved cold one.

Offshore Rooftop & Bar

Streeterville
Said to be the largest rooftop bar in the world (!!), this recent Navy Pier addition is shaking up craft cocktails against a to-die-for Lake Michigan panorama. Spend a leisurely afternoon counting the boats bobbing along the horizon as you sip, pausing to load up on creative bar bites like poke bowls, Nashville-style hot chicken sandwiches, and chicken tinga tacos kicked off with tangy lime crema.

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Kailley Lindman is a contributing writer for Thrillist Chicago, as well as a freelance food photographer, food blogger at KailleysKitchen.com, and recovering vegetarian. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @KailleysKitchen.
Meredith Heil is a contributor for Thrillist.