As one of the sexiest neighborhoods in America, the food scene of this swanky 'hood is undoubtedly a total scene. But between the art galleries, luxury high-rises, and Champagne lounges lies an amalgam of excellent, unpretentious eateries, if you know where to look. And we do! So from short rib tortas to whole roasted chicken served on a picturesque riverside patio, here’s what Chicago’s trendiest neighborhood has to offer, other than beautiful moneyed people.
The Definitive River North Dining Guide
Best Peruvian: Tanta
118 W Grand Ave
Despite being the only Peruvian joint in the 'hood, this lively 100-seat space decked in pop art paintings is still very definitely the best. Try the causita (whipped Peruvian potatoes with aji), cebiche, and hearty pork fried rice, then wash it all down with a pisco cocktail while the surrealistic mural of Adriana Lima watches you.
Best Mexican: XOCO
449 N Clark St
We salute you, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, but when it comes to inventive and affordable Mexican, nothing beats Rick Bayless' quick-service café, where you can get street-food-inspired braised short rib tortas, huevos rancheros, or wood-roasted chicken pozole caldos for less than $10. Don’t leave without a house-made churro… or three. It’s sacrilege.
Best Asian fusion: Sunda
110 W Illinois St
Billy Dec and the Rockit Ranch Productions crew’s whimsical menu offers some seriously interesting eats, like barbecued octopus in a spicy gochujang sauce or beef lollipops -- sliced NY strip steak wrapped lemongrass with ginger citrus soy glaze. Definitely start with the crispy Brussels sprouts, and definitely end with the Sunda Sundae, a monstrous mix of avocado, sweet corn & cheddar, and ube-macapuno ice creams with red mung beans, jackfruit, coconut gel, sweetened condensed milk, fresh berries, and coconut. What happens in between is up to you.
Best donuts: Doughnut Vault
401 N Franklin St
Marked by a story-tall menu painted on the brick exterior, this tiny shop slings some the best old fashioned-style donuts in Chicago, let alone the neighborhood. Make sure to get there early because once the donuts sell out for the day, the shop closes until the next morning.
Best outdoor seating: River Roast
315 N LaSalle St
There’s no such thing as a "bad" patio in Chicago, but there is such a thing as the "best," and the sweeping riverside terrace at River Roast just might be it. Take in killer cityscape views while throwing back fresh oysters, impossibly juicy whole roasted chicken, and "Definitely Not Malort" shots made with dry-hopped Letherbee gin steeped in gentian root, chamomile, and wormwood.
Best steakhouse: RPM Steak
66 W Kinzie St
River North is teeming with great steakhouses, but it’s the modern, glamorous concept from the Melmans, Rancics, and executive chef Doug Psaltis that shines the brightest. Between masterfully balanced classic cocktails and virtually every cut of meat under the sun, you’ll want for nothing, save for, perhaps, another order of the bourbon-vanilla bean glazed bacon appetizer and a doggy bag for the precious remnants of whatever behemoth dry-aged steak did you in.
Best hot dogs: Portillo's
100 W Ontario St
From a perfectly steamed bun to bright, crunchy, and wholly Chicago-approved accoutrements (read: yellow mustard, onions, pickle, tomatoes, sport peppers, and celery salt, no ketchup!), the Jumbo Hot Dog, with its perfect meat-to-bun ratio, at this locally based chain hits all the right notes. Team it with a chocolate cake shake and crinkle-cut fries for the full Portillo’s effect.
Best pizza: Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
439 N Wells St
The classic-to-its-core deep-dish at Lou’s epitomizes Chicago-style pizza andhas remained a crowd favorite since its inception a few decades ago, not least because of its signature buttery, pie-like crust, and its mozzarella that’s been sourced from the same Wisconsin dairy farm for more than 40 years.
Best ramen: Slurping Turtle
116 W Hubbard St
Carnivores will dig the Tan Tan Men Ramen loaded with the Holy Pork Trinity (broth, meatball, and chashu), while vegetarians can opt for the red curry-coconut udon made with okra, a medley of Japanese mushrooms, hominy, chickpeas, and eggplant. Everybody wins.
Best Czech: Bohemian House
11 W Illinois St
Executive Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos’ inventive menu layers authentic Central European flavors with bold, modern presentations, like the grilled chicken paprikash, the roasted duck leg with sweet and sour cabbage, and the supremely hearty bacon buns -- pillowy dinner rolls lacquered with bacon fat, stuffed with bacon chunks, and paired with plum sauce and pickles. And it’s not bad for brunch, either; the egg-topped, open-faced pork schnitzel sandwich will trigger Pavlovian salivation at first sight.
Best burger: Bottlefork
441 N Clark St
So $17 for a burger might seem a little excessive, but so is Chef Kevin Hickey’s juicy ground bacon bespeckled beast. Topped with Vermillion blue, special sauce, and shoestring potatoes, few things are more digestively destructive, yet satisfying.
Best for a super-fancy occasion: Sixteen
401 N Wabash Ave
Chef Thomas Lents’ theme-driven tasting menu changes completely with each season, which ensures a vastly different dining experience each time. Recent themes include the "History of Chicago" and "Food In Progress: Assessing an American Food Revolution." With two Michelin stars, the elegant fine-dining spot perched on the sixteenth floor of Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago is a no-brainer for times when other people are paying.
Best sandwich: Mr. Beef
666 N Orleans St
Grungy and unassuming, this small shop has been serving juicy Italian beef sammies with house giardiniera to the Downtown crowd for more than 30 years. It’s simply a Chicago classic.
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1. Tanta118 W Grand Ave, Chicago
2. XOCO449 N Clark, Chicago
3. Sunda110 W Illinois St, Chicago
4. Doughnut Vault401 N Franklin St, Chicago
5. River Roast315 N LaSalle St, Chicago
6. RPM Steak66 W Kinzie St, Chicago
7. Portillo's Hot Dogs100 W Ontario St, Chicago
8. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria439 N Wells St, Chicago
9. Slurping Turtle116 W Hubbard St, Chicago
10. Bohemian House11 W Illinois St, Chicago
11. Bottlefork441 N Clark St, Chicago
12. Mr. Beef Chicago666 N Orleans St, Chicago
13. Sixteen401 N Wabash Ave Fl 16, Chicago
Tanta celebrates Peru’s diverse culture by injecting Japanese and Spanish flare into an otherwise Peruvian street-food-centric menu. In addition to traditional street anticuchos (skewers), there's a selection of ceviche, nigiri, and causitas, or whipped potatoes fused with seafood. The restaurant's lively atmosphere -- and creative menu -- tempts you to indulge in fruity, colorful cocktails made with pisco brandy made in the wine regions of Peru.
Conveniently next door to Top Chef master Rick Bayless' upscale Mexican joints Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, XOCO (derived from Mexican slang for "little sister") is a quick-service cafe with communal tables and a central wood burning oven. The aromas of Bayless' take on classic made-to-order south of the border street fare is sure to draw crowds from all over.
Toeing the line between swanky hotspot and sophisticated dining destination, this Asian fusion concept from Rockit Ranch Productions is a worthy choice for an undeniably hip meal out in River North. The menu offers some seriously interesting eats (duck breast kimchi, oxtail pot stickers) and includes sushi, sashimi, and plenty of wok dishes. The beer list is heavy on the Asian pours, and there are sake and speciality cocktails as well. Sunda's decor feels just as sleek as the menu with polished black bamboo and high wooden tables.
This wildly popular fried-dough purveyor in River North (it has a second location in West Loop and a "Vault Van" that changes location every day) breaks hearts with its limited amount of fresh-baked donuts. DV only bakes a certain amount of donuts every day, and once they run out, they're gone 'til the next morning. The dense, old fashioned-style donuts come in flavors like buttermilk glazed, toasted almond, and lemon-poppy seed. Stop by on the early side (it opens at 8am on weekdays, 9:30am on weekends) for the best selection and the shortest lines.
On the north bank of the Chicago River is River Roast, an upscale tavern that combines traditional British roasts with new American ingredients. The menu revolves around roasted proteins -- fish, beef, chicken, pork -- that are carved table-side for two. There are also a variety of small plates and vegetables to share. The large space includes two bars and an expansive riverside patio.
Located in River North, this sophisticated steakhouse collaboration between the Melmans, Rancics, and Chef Doug Psaltis effortlessly bridges the gap between old and new school. The black truffle burger topped with rich foie gras butter is one of the most luxurious power lunch options in town, while the expertly crafted cocktails, vegetable sides, steaks, and table-side baked Alaska share the spotlight at dinner.
Portillo's is a Chicago-area hot dog chain serving up authentic char-dog-style frankfurters.
With more than 40 locations across the greater Chicago area, Lou Malnati's is synonymous with deep-dish pizza, not least because of its signature buttery and pie-like crust, exclusive sausage blend, and mozzarella that's been sourced from the same Wisconsin dairy farm for more than 40 years. According to pizza lore, Lou's dad probably invented deep-dish pizza and even if he didn't, the chain's reliable pan pies are pretty close to what the original deep-dish tasted like.
The celebrated chef of Bucktown's Takashi is recreating childhood memories of noisy noodle bowls and other Japanese comfort food in ST's open kitchen, which overlooks a 30-seat communal wooden table hovered over by a mezzanine. We think that Slurping Turtle is one of the best restaurants in Chicago.
This River North spot is an ode to Bohemian culture in all its manifestations, with rustic-meets-glam décor and eclectic fare that’s rooted in Central Europe. The menu, created and executed by Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos, features small plates like salt and vinegar chips and knackwurst in a blanket, large plates like spatzel and skirt steak, and unforgettable sweets like caramelized plum kolacky and an inventive take on coffee and donuts with hazelnut brittle.
It's hard out there for a small plates restaurant that straddles the line between bar and full-service dinner restaurant, yet Bottlefork in River North manages to stand above the pack. The food menu spans a variety of cuisines and dietary restrictions, featuring dishes like tuna crudo, crispy Brussels sprouts with chorizo, buttermilk fried chicken, and a critically-acclaimed ground bacon burger. The cocktail menu, complete with illustrations, is divided into categories based on flavor and style: fruity, smoky, dark, and "Gentlemen's Cut."
Nationally famous for its Italian beef sandwich, the menu features a wide array of Italian/American comfort food.
This fine dining establishment is known for its views, but go and stay for the cuisine. Every season, the creative minds behind Sixteen completely reinvent the menu (and the conceptual theme around which each menu is crafted) and, despite such frequent change, manage to pull off two-Michelin-star worthy eats and service time and again.