So, sure, some might think of the South Loop as a stopover on the way to some of Chicago’s best museums, but those people are simply uninformed. Between dives, live music, fine dining, and taproom tastings, this ‘hood could very well be considered an attraction in and of itself. So here are the 13 best places to eat and drink just South of Downtown.
Best diner: Eleven City Diner
1112 S Wabash Ave
With some of Chicago’s best breakfast sandwiches and Bloody Marys, plus its close proximity to Soldier Field, this old-school deli is a prime pre-Bears game spot. The pastrami is super tender and the milkshakes are so thick and creamy you’ll need to tackle ‘em with a spoon.
Best Spanish: Mercat a la Planxa
638 S Michigan Ave
Expect Spanish-influenced charcuterie, paellas, and small plates like charred octopus tossed with green olives and confit potato. Chef Evan Behmer recently unveiled a noteworthy prix-fixe brunch menu that includes a whole roasted suckling pig called “Un Dia a Traves de Catalunya,” aka “A Day in Catalonia,” so you know it’s the real deal!
Best daytime hangout spot: Spoke & Bird
205 E 18th St
No matter if you’re here to sip matcha lattes while pretending to work on your MacBook or to day drink local beers -- like South Loop Brewing’s Good Ryes Wear Black -- you’ll forget you’re Downtown out on the huge patio. The cafe’s regular hours are 7am to 6pm, but it's known to stay open late if people are still hanging.
Best tapas: Kurah
1355 S Michigan Ave
Break brick-oven flatbread together at this airy, upscale, Lebanese-inspired spot from the owners of South Loop Market, then share small plates of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese and pecans, rosemary-infused baba ghanoush, and the duck shawarma platter with saffron basmati rice and grilled vegetables.
Best brunch: Waffles
1400 S Michigan Ave
From green tea waffles with lemon-ginger chantilly cream and ground pistachios, to red velvet waffles with cream cheese icing and cherry compote, to braised short rib-topped cheddar waffles, boring old Belgians can be damned.
Best beer: Vice District Brewing
1454 S Michigan Ave
The taproom has 14 rotating small-batch drafts, plenty of communal tables next to floor-to-ceiling windows, and a bunch of board games (Battleship! Heads Up!), plus you can bring your own food/dog.
Best workweek lunch spot: Chicken Planet
177 W Van Buren St
Grilled whole chicken served just right -- fast, cheap, and tender. Choose from white or dark meat, or just get the whole dang bird.
Best Cuban sandwiches: Cafecito
26 E Congress Pkwy
So although the Cubano sandwich, with its citrus-garlic marinade, is most definitely one of the best in the city, you’d be remiss to not also try the more substantial chivito sandwich piled high with steak, ham, bacon, and a fried egg.
Best Asian: Asian Outpost
1315 S Wabash Ave
The pork belly sliders with apple slaw alone are worth the trip, but if you insist on options there are plenty: ramen, sushi, and Mom’s Ginger Garlic Fried Chicken. We’re not clear whose mom these chicken wings belong to, but she should be celebrated. Pair it all with a house-made mango fruit soda or a cucumber-mint sake slushie, and then head out to the massive patio.
Best music venue with a rooftop bar: Reggies
2105 S State St
There are two distinct rooms for live shows at this multi-stage music venue/record store/restaurant -- Reggies' Music Joint and Reggies' Rock Club -- but the biggest attractions are the rooftop bar’s basketball hoop and pool table. So that, plus the 30 specialty bottles, 24 drafts, and 17 flat-screens showing games and performances, means you don’t actually have to be into live music to hang here.
Best for a special occasion: Acadia
1639 S Wabash Ave
One of Chicago’s best value Michelin-starred restaurants, this lil’ hideaway delivers standout fancy fare like Wagyu beef tri-tip with oxtail prune consommé and Tasmanian ocean trout. But if you don’t feel like footing that bill, head to the bar for the double-pattied burger topped with double-cream Gouda and house-made applewood bacon.
Best live music: Buddy Guy’s Legends
700 S Wabash Ave
There are blues sets and jam sessions (be warned: some have $20 covers) most nights of the week, and free, all-ages acoustic shows for lunch and dinner. Come on a good night and you might even see American blues guitarist and singer George “Buddy” Guy overseeing the whole operation from a seat at the bar. While its known for the music, po-boys, gumbo, and jambalaya are available until midnight.
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Nicole Bruce is a contributing writer for Thrillist Chicago and is game for pairing a beer flight with Heads Up! (board game or smartphone version) at Vice District Brewing anytime. Follow her on Twitter at @nicoleabruce.
1. Eleven City Diner1112 S Wabash Ave, Chicago
2. Mercat a la Planxa638 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
3. The Spoke & Bird205 E 18th St, Chicago
4. Kasey's Tavern701 S Dearborn St, Chicago
5. Kurah1355 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
6. Waffles1400 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
7. Vice District Brewing1454 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
8. Chicken Planet177 W Van Buren St, Chicago
9. Cafecito7 N Wells St, Chicago
10. Asian Outpost1315 S Wabash Ave, Chicago
11. Reggies2105 South State, Chicago
12. Acadia1639 S Wabash, Chicago
13. Buddy Guy's Legends700 S Wabash Ave, Chicago
A matrimony of the Jewish delicatessen and the old-school diner, Eleven City Diner's a greasy spoon sans the grease, with awesome double-decker sandwiches and generally huge portions of pretty much everything.
The South Loop’s Mercat a la Planxa brings the Mediterranean to Michigan Ave from its post at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel. The menu is replete with Catalan-inspired tapas and cocktails from famed Spanish Chef Jose Garces. Start with a variety of cured meats (read: Jamón ibérico) and a pitcher of sangria before moving on to tapas like boquerones and pulpo con patatas. Finish with classic large-format items like paella and cochinillo asado (the latter of which must be ordered 72-hours in advance -- it is a whole suckling pig, after all).
Spoke & Bird is the perfect day time hang out, whether you’re here to sip matcha lattes while pretending to work on your MacBook or to day drink local beers. Plus, there's a huge back patio.
This South Loop neighborhood joint takes a rather low-key approach to its storied history, simply stating on its website that: “A bar of one sort or another has occupied the current location for over 100 years." The sort of bar you can expect now is one with a huge range of taps pouring delicious craft brews.
Kurah is a great Mediterranean joint with tapas options, a brick oven for ultimate freshness, and specialty cocktails.
Equipped with irons specially imported from France, Waffles is doling out both sweet and savory riffs on the breakfast fave, from red velvet with cream cheese icing and cherry compote, to cheddar jobs topped with braised short ribs, to green tea joints with lemon-ginger chantilly cream and ground pistachios, which hopefully weren't on it for more than five seconds.
With 14 brews on draft in their taproom (including porters and IPAs), and windows that allow you to take a look inside the brewing area, this South Loop microbrewery is a place you need to visit.
Chicken Planet in the Loop is a bit of a dive, but that's what gives this delectable counter-service chicken house its charm. Lunch crowds get pretty massive, and for good reason: you can get a quarter chicken (with sides and a drink) for less than 10 dollars. You can even watch the cooks preparing massive chickens in the kitchen. If you're in a rush, your meal is served up in a styrofoam container, so it is as portable as it is delicious.
If you’re craving a taste of Cuba, look no further than Cafecito. This coffee and sandwich shop brings a bit of authentic Latin flair to The Loop, providing fresh, affordable eats like their award-winning Cubano and the fan favorite Chivito, a protein pick-me-up of steak, ham, bacon, fried egg, mozzarella, citrus mayo, and other fixings, served hot in a pressed hero. Whether you’re grabbing grub on your lunch break or swinging through for your daily café con leche, this casual spot has your commuting cravings covered.
There are plenty of options at this Asian spot: ramen, sushi, Mom’s Ginger Garlic Fried Chicken, and pork belly sliders with apple slaw to name a few. Pair it all with a house-made mango fruit soda or a cucumber-mint sake slushie and you'll be good to go.
This multi-stage music venue/record store/restaurant has a great rooftop bar compete with a basketball hoop and pool table. Plus the 30 specialty bottles, 24 drafts, and 17 flat-screens with the game on TV.
Tucked away in a nondescript South Loop building, this Michelin-starred restaurant showcases chef Ryan McCaskey's contemporary take on classic American fare. Inspired by Maine, Acadia is unique for pulling off a sophisticated multi-course tasting menu (available in five or ten courses) and an à la carte bar menu that sports an aggressively indulgent burger. Whether you're there for the complete prix-fixe experience or for a cocktail and oysters at the bar, Acadia is definitely a special occasion spot.
This venue has some of the best live music in town. While its known for the tunes, it's got po-boys, gumbo, and jambalaya are available until midnight and they definitely hit the spot.