Savor Summer at Chicago’s Essential Waterfront Restaurants
Pretend like you're vacationing on the coast.
Nothing beats summer in Chicago. The al fresco dining is arguably what leads to the locals’ winter amnesia. But thanks to the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, the city gives guests the opportunity to transport themselves to another world. Along the shimmering water, under a shaded corner, winter (and the last two years spent inside) feel like a distant memory. Take advantage of the city’s unique topography at one of the 15 best places to enjoy the water. Make a reservation whenever possible and plan around the fireworks.
Somehow the chaos of a noisy downtown evaporates when you make your way to the dining area for Robert’s Pizza & Dough Co. Besides having one of the best pizzas in the city (a brick oven-baked, thin-crust evolved from its owner’s 20 year-old obsession to fine tune his dough recipe for the ultimate crust) its subtle ambiance will leave you wanting more. The restaurant is located on a beautiful, tree-lined terrace and bordered by the Chicago River where boaters can pull up to to pick-up their food. The restaurant boosts plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. Its patio is dog-friendly and if you dine in on Wednesday or Saturday evening in the summer, you’ll catch the dazzling display of fireworks from Navy Pier.
Located in the heart of Chicago’s downtown business district, Bar Mar is the upscale dining the area needs. Come with work colleagues, girlfriends or make it a trip to see and be seen. Its high, airy ceilings bring complimentary light and energy to a modern menu focused on surf and turf. Expect classics like fried calamari, lobster rolls and ceviche at Chef José Andrés' newest restaurant in Chicago.
Don’t let the name deceive you. Pizzeria Portofino is more than just a pizza place. It offers a number of seafood and pasta dishes, inspired by its Italian namesake. The restaurant is located on a busy stretch of real estate that’s perfect for people watching (on land and water). Guests arriving via water can park their boat at the restaurant or pull up and carry out directly onto their boats from the Marina Menu.
Near North Side
Cielo Rooftop at Azul is one of the city’s largest open-air rooftops and perfect for big groups. The Latin American inspired bar and restaurant features views of the Chicago skyline on one side and views of the Chicago River on the other. The waterfront bar offers a seafood focused menu by Chef Michael Hernandez that includes lobster empanadas, street tacos and ceviche.
The Kitchen’s expansive indoor and outdoor dining space offers killer views of the Chicago River alongside an international-inspired menu by Chef Michael Bertozzi. Its farm-to-table options include a foie gras burger, a mortadella melt with pistachio gremolata and swiss fondue; and tuna tiradito with yuzu kosho, avocado and cilantro. Their drink menu is designed for slow slips on a hot summer day and includes non-alcoholic options.
Enjoy a breezy and breathtaking view of the City at Theater on the Lake. The upscale bar has a number of indoor and outdoor options where you can watch runners, bikers and walkers enjoy the lakefront path—while also keeping an eye on how well your favorite Chicago sports team is doing. Gaze directly east and you’ll be hypnotized by the lake’s rolling waves. Turn south and watch the sky change behind a skyline that includes the iconic Hancock building. The menu includes burgers, brisket and chicken tacos. Expect local craft beers, spirits and wine on the drink menu.
Most of the city’s waterfront dining is concentrated on the Northside. However, Reggie’s on the Beach is doing something about that. The Southside bar brings its seasonal offerings to the 63rd Street beach. The music venue and eatery serves up wings, burgers, and blackened catfish salad alongside a number of free shows. Every Thursday and Sunday night, guests are treated to the sounds of reggae, blues, jazz, funk and jam. Guests can even rent a jet ski, kayak or paddleboard from the beachfront locale. Seating is first come, first serve.
Au Cheval in the West Loop gave the city one of its best burgers. Its sister restaurant, Small Chevall, allows more people to experience the juicy and decadent burger via its riverfront location. The no frills counter gives guests the opportunity to dine indoors, complete with views of the river, or grab and go where they can find their own cozy spot on the riverwalk to enjoy their meal. The tiny outpost is quintessential Chicago—everything you need without the hassle.
Reservations not accepted.
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.
Stop by this stylish chophouse for breathtaking riverfront views and perfectly seared USDA Prime steaks (or the vegan vegetable risotto) 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 star sighting or two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.