Food & Drink

The Celebrity Chef Restaurants You Should Be Eating at in Chicago

Everyone knows Chicago is one hell of a food town, and when it comes to big-name, world-class chefs we've got an embarrassment of riches. You’ve likely seen a lot of our greatest masters judging/cooking on programs like Top Chef, remaining cool under pressure on Iron Chef, or just being their charming selves on TV outside the confines of a cutthroat cooking competition. It's high time you sample the stylings of Chicago's biggest culinary personalities at their local signature restaurants.

Grant Achatz

Seen on: The documentary Spinning Plates, as a guest judge on Top Chef.
Growing up, Achatz worked in his parent’s restaurant before enrolling at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York. He cut his teeth at Thomas Keller’s California restaurant The French Laundry, often considered one of the best in the word, before taking over Trio in Evanston and opening his first restaurant, Alinea.

<strong>Alinea</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/alinea&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Lincoln Park</em><br />
The main cog in the burgeoning Achatz empire, Alinea is located in a nondescript storefront on Halsted St in Lincoln Park. One of only two three-star Michelin restaurants in Chicago (along with Grace), and 13 in the entire country, Alinea holds a global reputation for Achatz’s innovative molecular gastronomy and beautiful, vivid style of presentation. It’s also one of the hardest places in the city to get a table. As of March 2016 it is being renovated but should re-open, in all its glory, later in the year.<br />
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<strong>Next</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venues/eat/chicago/restaurants/next&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
Taking Achatz’s flair for showmanship and innovation to another level, not only does the menu at Next change every few months, but so does the entire experience, right down to the decor. Every theme has a different inspiration, from a time and place like “Chinese Modern,” or a particular food concept like “The Hunt.” The rotating concept ensures diners will have a different experience every time, and gives Achatz free reign to experiment with a huge variety of cuisines and techniques.

Stephanie Izard

Seen on: Winning season four of Top Chef as well as various Top Chef spin-offs.
An Evanston native, Izard left the University of Michigan with a sociology degree before entering the cooking world at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. She returned to Chicago and worked in a variety of kitchens including Spring and Tong before she opened her first restaurant, Scylla, in Bucktown in 2004.

<strong>Girl &amp; the Goat</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/girl-the-goat&q…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
Even the least foodie of Chicagoans have at least heard of Girl &amp; the Goat, Izard’s James Beard Award-winning small plates restaurant on Randolph St. It features an eclectic menu with influences that are all over the map from soul food to modern Asian. The menu is also a master class in textures, as anyone who’s had the famous crispy pig face with a runny egg.<br />
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<strong>Little Goat Diner</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/little-goat&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
Opening a few years after Girl &amp; the Goat made its debut, Little Goat is a more relaxed affordable take on her mash-ups of classic home comforts and non-traditional add-ins. Split between a bakery/bar on one side and diner-style eating on the other, Little Goat is a place to dig in, grab a beer and a reuben (with kimchi and havarti obviously), and relax with a few friends, preferably during patio season.

portrait of beverly kim chicago chef
Courtesy of Beverly Kim

Beverly Kim

Seen On: Season nine of Top Chef.
The former executive chef at Aria in the Fairmont Hotel, Kim got her start early at age 16 in the Ritz-Carlton. Coming up after culinary school at Kendall College, she learned the ropes under Takashi Yagihashi at his high-end asian fusion restaurant Takashi. Inspired by her mother’s cooking and family heritage she studied cuisine in Korea, developing her own style of Korean-American fusion, before being a late-round finalist on Top Chef.

<strong>Parachute</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/parachute&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Avondale</em><br />
Found along the booming food strip along Elston Ave in Avondale, Kim owns and operates Parachute along with her chef-husband Johnny Clark. While anchored in some best-in-Chicago Korean basics like a seafood hot pot, Kim isn’t afraid to go wild with foie gras sauce and fermented aioli. For a city that has come to expect its Korean cheap and quick, Parachute offers a welcome fiery alternative.

Takashi Yagihashi

Seen On:Top Chef Masters, Top Chef Duels, Iron Chef.
A world-renowned chef of Asian, French, and Italian fusion food, Yagihashi is originally from Mito, Japan, but moved to the US when the restaurant he was working in relocated. Yagihashi worked his way up in Chicago before moving to Detroit and then Las Vegas to run the heralded Tribute and Okada respectively. In 2007 he moved back to Chicago and opened Takashi, his Michelin starred restaurant in Bucktown, that sadly closed in 2014.

<strong>Slurping Turtle</strong> (<a href="http://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/slurping-turtle&…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>River North</em><br />
Long before the flood of ramen shops came rushing into town, Yagihashi was manning his own popular noodle outpost. His polished River North restaurant doles out generous bowls of punched up broth, chunks of meat, and crunchy Asian vegetables. If you’re in the mood for something just as tasty but even more indulgent, try the duck fat fried chicken.

Rick Bayless


Seen On:Top Chef Masters, Mexico: One Plate at a Time series on PBS
Raised in Oklahoma in a restaurant family, Bayless went on to study Spanish and Latin American culture and get his Ph.D. in anthropological linguistics from Michigan, during which time he spent six years in Mexico studying local cuisine. After publishing his heralded cookbook Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, he settled in Chicago opening a variety of award-winning restaurants.

<strong>Frontera Grill</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/drink/chicago/bar/frontera-grill&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>River North</em><br />
The little Mexican place that started it all, Frontera was opened to stage everything Bayless loved about his time living abroad. Starting with a commitment to authentic and fresh ingredients that was pretty revolutionary for the 1980s and tastes just as good today, Frontera has filled its walls of vibrant Mexican art with the smell of tamales, red-chile, and marinated carnitas ever since.<br />
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<strong>Topolobampo</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/topolobampo&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>River North</em><br />
Now past it’s 25th birthday Topolobampo is still the king of high-end Mexican dining in the city. One of the only Mexican restaurants in the country with a Michelin star Topolobampo remains a place for daring modern flourishes with menu categories like ‘Ancient,’ ‘Soulful,’ and ‘Enchanting.’ If you know Bayless it should go without saying that every one of those descriptions hits the mark.<br />
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<strong>XOCO</strong>&nbsp;(<a href="http://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/xoco&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>River North</em><br />
XOCO and its Wicker Park offshoot are Bayless’s most recent gifts to the city of Chicago. A fast-casual style joint in River North, XOXO features Mexican street food with bold tortas and soups filling the menu and the bustling clienteles stomachs. If you have the time and the inclination (you should), stick around for some churros and hot chocolate after your pork belly.

mindy segal celebrity chef chicago restaurants
Courtesy of Mindy Segal

Mindy Segal

Seen On:The Today Show, Martha Stewart, and Food Network
Coming out of Kendall College dessert wizard Mindy Segal worked at a veritable who's who of a Chicago restaurants including Spago, Gordon, Charlie Trotter’s, and Ambria. However, it was her partnership with Michael Kornick at MK that brought her widespread acclaim and made her one of the most well-known pastry chefs in the country.

<strong>Mindy's Hot Chocolate</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/mindys-hot-choc…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Bucktown</em><br />
A casual, mid-range Bucktown gem where, as you can probably guess by the name, the desserts are the stars. Dinner and weekend brunch bring many a West Side 20-something to plates of warm brioche doughnuts and indulgent milkshakes. As for the hot chocolate? It is unrivaled in the city and comes with house-made marshmallows to boot.

Sarah Grueneberg

Seen On: Season nine of Top Chef
Grueneberg grew up in Houston, infused with a love of cooking and baking from her grandparents. After culinary school she traveled extensively in Italy and cooked in several top Italian kitchens, including Del Pescatore a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Lombardy. After working her way up through the ranks at Chicago’s Spiaggia she became executive chef, and entered season nine of Top Chef, where she was runner-up.

<strong>Monteverde</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venues/eat/chicago/restaurants/monteverde&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
Monteverde announces what it is all about with no hesitation, an elevated floor behind the bar, complete with an overhead mirror, gives a clear view of a team of cooks making the handmade pasta that is essential to Monteverde’s soul. None of the inspired Italian dishes will disappoint, nor will the simple but excellent cocktails, but it’s the fresh pasta like the cannelloni saltimbocca with prosciutto, lamb, and top-shelf balsamic, that will keep you coming back.

Art Smith

Seen On: All over TV on Iron Chef, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Unique Eats, Top Chef Masters, and, of course, Oprah
One of the biggest names in Chicago food, Smith grew up in Jasper, Florida before being accepted to the prestigious culinary internship at the Walt Disney Magic Kingdom College Program. He launched his career cooking at the Florida governor’s mansion, as executive chef to Governors Bob Graham and Jeb Bush. After traveling he settled in Chicago and became personal chef to Oprah Winfrey in 1997, a position he held for almost a decade. Besides his many TV appearances he has also authored four highly praised cookbooks.

<strong>Table Fifty-Two (soon to be Blue Door Kitchen &amp; Garden)</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venues/eat/chicago/restaurants/blue-door-kitc…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Gold Coast</em><br />
Nestled in a carriage house on Elm and Dearborn that predates the great Chicago fire Table Fifty-Two has been the city’s home for upscale Southern comfort food for years, including some of the best fried chicken north of the Mason-Dixon. In fitting with modern trends and Smith’s own health transformation Table Fifty-Two is currently being updated and will be reopened as Blue Door, which will have a more fresh-focused and environmentally friendly take on Smith’s Southern classics, including free-range birds for the aforementioned chicken.

Tony Mantuano

Seen On:Top Chef, Top Chef Masters
Mantuano grew up in an Italian family in Kenosha that owned both a local Italian grocer and restaurant. Early in his career Mantuano worked at some the top restaurants in Italy while learning about a wide variety regional Italian cuisine that was, at the time, unfamiliar to many Americans. Returning to Chicago in 1984 he opened Spiaggia, still widely considered one of the best Italian restaurants in the country, as well as a favorite of Barack Obama.

<strong>Spiaggia</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/spiaggia&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

The top-tier Italian mainstay where Mantuano made his name was given a more contemporary subdued makeover a few years back and the update has done wonders to reinvigorate an institution that barely needed to change a thing in the first place. Wood-seared scallops and gnocchi with black truffles are classics that no Italian-loving Chicagoan should miss, and don’t sleep on Spiaggia’s other star and secret weapon, sommelier Rachael Lowe.<br />
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<strong>Bar Toma</strong>&nbsp;(<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/drink/chicago/bar/bar-toma&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Gold Coast</em><br />
On the other end of the dining spectrum from Spiaggia we have Bar Toma, Mantuano’s attempt to recreate the neighborhood pizza shops he loved growing up. While the menu contains a few classic dishes like chicken Vesuvio and rigatoni Bolognese, the pizza is rightfully front and center, crispy, chewy dough loaded with sausage and chiles, or burrata and bourbon figs.<br />
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<strong>River Roast</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/river-roast&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>River North</em><br />
Inside the historic Reid Murdoch building along the Chicago River, Mantuano’s River Roast is a relaxed and communal counterpart to Spiaggia, River Roast’s menu may look simple, with only five sharing-sized entrees to choose from, but things will get decidedly less simple when you see the wood-smoked whole chickens and cider-brined shanks of pork roll up to the tables around you, ready to be carved fresh at the table. Oh, and then there is the river part, RIver Roast has one of the best damn patios in the city overlooking it.<br />
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Graham Elliot

Seen On:MasterChef, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, and Top Chef Masters
Dropping out of high school, Elliot started as a busboy and dishwasher before attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales University. After being named one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs in 2004 he moved to Chicago to work under Charlie Trotter at Tru. After helming the kitchen at the Peninsula he opened his own restaurant Graham Elliot to wide accolades and a two Michelin star rating.

<strong>Graham Elliot Bistro</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/graham-elliot-b…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
After closing his eponymous award-winning restaurant &nbsp;Elliot has left us with G.E.B. as it’s called, a more casual, simple dining experience with multifarious rock and roll meets food meets, something, vibe. While many other celebri-chefs have gone high end or trendy G.E.B. has gone a little more populist, with ingredients like homemade cheez-its and sides of popcorn. Food's still good though.

Paul Kahan

You’ve Seen Him On:Vice Munchies, Unique Eats
Background: Like a lot of other great chefs on this list Kahan grew up in a food family, his parents owned a deli in Chicago. He developed a love and understanding of Midwestern food working in the kitchens at Metropolis and Erwin. After a short stint with Rick Bayless at Topolobampo he opened Blackbird, which is credited with starting the wave of more casual upscale restaurants that have come to dominate the city.

<strong>Blackbird</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/drink/chicago/bar/blackbird&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
Kahan’s farm-fresh Midwest-loving early-period masterpiece, Blackbird has stayed an exemplary member of Chicago’s modern American club for almost 20 years. The minimalist interior leaves all the focus on the food, where it belongs. Balanced mélanges of local American ingredients in endlessly inventive combinations, there is a reason this guy is so big.<br />
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<strong>Dove's Luncheonette</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/doves-luncheone…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Wicker Park</em><br />
Continuing Kahan’s slow takeover of the Damen Blue Line stop,&nbsp;Dove’s takes the affordable Mexican street fare of neighbor Big Star and marries it to diner classics in an invitingly simple retro space that evokes the cheap neighborhood haunts that have mostly fled the area. There is no doubting Kahan’s sincere reverence for his inspirations when you grab a counter seat for a plate of burnt ends hash tossed with poblanos and queso fresco along with Dark Matter coffee.

<strong>Avec</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/avec&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
Avec is Blackbird’s small-plates and wine, sister restaurant. While still highbrow, it offers a warmer more relaxed ambiance than Blackbird, with a menu that is just as inventive but a little-less classic American. People who eat the chorizo-stuffed dates have been known to ramble on about them for days.

<strong>Nico Osteria</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/nico-osteria&qu…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Gold Coast</em><br />
Kahan threw a bit of a curveball but knew exactly what he was doing with his latest venture Nico Osteria, a rustic Italian seafood sensation in the Gold Coast’s Thompson Hotel. Kahan has paired an open glassy interior and vine covered walls with shrimp and calamari-stocked minestrone and swordfish meatballs. It may be a little too Gold Coast-y, but damn if Kahan doesn’t know what he’s doing.<br />
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<strong>The Publican</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/eat/chicago/restaurants/the-publican&qu…; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>West Loop</em><br />
The Publican is the quintessential Fulton Market restaurant and it’s hard to say that’s not intentional. If Blackbird was a modern love letter to Midwestern ingredients, Publican is Kahan’s full on bear hug. Open and communal and filled with mouthwatering plates of charcuterie, pork, and any other meat American’s eat and love, the Publican does right by all the Fulton meat markets that came before it.<br />
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<strong>Big Star</strong> (<a href="https://www.thrillist.com/venue/drink/chicago/bar/big-star&quot; target="_blank">address and info</a>)

<em>Wicker Park</em><br />
Oh, Big Star, your tacos are good and so are your drinks, but people have moved on to less crowded pleasures up in Logan Square and down in Pilsen. Still Big Star displays Kahan’s commitment to showcasing the whole range of Chicago’s culinary offerings, as well as reaching out to a more light-pocketed class of diner. Worthy goals, and like we said, it’s still a damn fine place to grab a taco and tequila.<br />
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<em><a href="https://www.thrillist.com/authors/matt-spina&quot; target="_blank">Matt Spina</a> is a writer in Chicago and a cultish devotee to the religion of the celebrity chef. Witness him grovel <a href="https://twitter.com/mr_spina&quot; target="_blank">@MR_spina</a></em>