If you’ve ever wanted to eat brunch like a pro, now's your chance. We surveyed Chicago’s upper echelon of chefs to find out their go-to spots for brunch -- one of the few meals they still go out for when they’re not, you know, making phenomenal food of their own all day. From a Logan Square mainstay to an under-the-radar Filipino spot in West Town, here’s where local chefs eat when they’re off the clock.
When she’s not busy winning James Beard Awards and overseeing two of River North’s finest restaurants, Carrie Nahabedian can be found brunching on the arugula salad and warm baked Saint Andre triple-cream cheese, drizzled with maple syrup at Ralph Lauren’s classic establishment. “I love it there because it's my second home, it's so safe and full of comfort, like a luxurious nest,” she says. “It reminds me of Brindille, that level of richness, style, and service. The servers are so cool and accommodating, they never say ‘no.’”
When the creative mastermind behind Ruxbin and Mott St tells you that Cellar Door Provisions’ airy croissants are on par with the best he’s had in Paris, you know they have to be something special. Aside from loading up on the perfectly flaky pastries, Chef Kim also enjoys the shop's ever-changing, veggie-focused, seasonal menu: “It always leaves you feeling good about yourself and light on your feet.” Ending a brunch without a food coma? Might make for a nice change of pace.
The Top Chef winner and her husband, Gary, fell in love with the cafe’s namesake -- large, thin, crispy-edged Dutch pancakes -- and make a point of stopping in for brunch often. Stephanie usually orders a savory iteration, like the bacon and cheese or the veggie pannenkoeken, while Gary balances the couple’s order out with something sweet like apple ginger or chocolate banana, so that they can split and have a bit of each. We fully support their solution to the age-old “savory or sweet?” question when sorting out a brunch order.
Chef Thomas Lents of Sixteen
While he admits that he’s not often able to make it out for brunch since he’s usually working weekend brunch at Sixteen, when Chef Lents has a free Sunday, he makes his way to Heisler Hospitality’s Trenchermen. “They have a great bluegrass band once a month, and their pastry flight is always fantastic. I’ve known Pat Sheerin for years and I always have a great Sunday morning there.”
Given the proximity of Billy Sunday and Yusho to Lula Cafe, it’s no surprise that Logan Square local Matthias Merges frequents Lula for brunch, or that he considers it the best given Lula’s penchant for fresh farm-to-table fare. “Chef Jason Hammel has been on the square for more than 15 years, flying under the radar with the best brunch in the city,” Merges says. “Innovative and consistent, it’s always my number one spot.”
Chef Rick Bayless of Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and Xoco
His picks: Frontera Grill (address and info), Wicker Park Farmers' Market (address and info)
River North/Wicker Park
This renowned chef admits that since his restaurant Frontera is open for brunch on Saturdays, he can usually be found there, brunching on hot cakes made with Three Sisters Farm cornmeal and Gunthorp Farms sweet-and-spicy bacon. Sundays, however, are a different story: he enjoys visiting the Wicker Park Farmers' Market to shop for ingredients so he can make brunch at home.
If he’s not going to Perennial Virant, Chef Paul Virant says that’s Page’s in suburban Hinsdale is the top destination for a brunch craving. “It’s a little town eatery with a great counter and awesome people,” he says. “My wife loves the Mexican scramble, and I get down on the patty melt with a side of charred jalapeños.”
Chef Lee Wolen of Boka
This Michelin-starred chef loves having brunch at Bohemian House, and with its eclectic mix of Czech- and Eastern European-inspired eats, it’s hard to blame him. “It’s delicious, chef-driven, and cooked with care,” he says. His menu picks include the Hungarian langos, a hearty fried potato bread coated in garlic butter, sour cream, and aged Gouda, and the open-faced pork schnitzel sandwich served atop a thick slice of rye with horseradish cream, sauerkraut, Emmentaler cheese, and a runny fried egg.
Forget fancy brunching, when Chef Chris Pandel isn’t making magic happen in the kitchen at one of his highly sought-after restaurants, he heads to this no-frills American-Filipino joint on Grand Ave for its famous Filipino breakfast with longanisa sausage. “My kids love it as much as I do,” says Pandel.
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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 at @KailleysKitchen.
1. RL Restaurant115 E Chicago Ave, Chicago
2. Cellar Door Provisions3025 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
3. Pannenkoeken Café4757 N Western Ave, Chicago
4. Lula Café2537 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago
5. Frontera Grill445 N Clark St, Chicago
6. Wicker Park Farmers MarketWicker Park, Chicago
7. Page's Restaurant26 E Hinsdale Ave, Hinsdale
8. Bohemian House11 W Illinois St, Chicago
9. Uncle Mike's Place1700 W Grand Ave, Chicago
Classically Ralph Lauren in every way, this romantically traditional restaurant has a definite old-fashioned feel, but endearingly so. It creates a sense of nostalgia from the paintings on the walls, to the standout fireplace and charming atmosphere. You’ll feel like you’re in a super well-designed living room (with everything RL label), where no one wears jeans, and everyone is happily drinking martinis. The service and drinks are above par, with a special call out (again) to the famous martinis. Come for lunch or drinks and lots of people watching.
The limited hours at this spot (only 8am-3pm Wednesday to Sunday) shouldn't stop you from visiting. Dine on fresh pastries, quiche, and coffee for breakfast -- and then stay for lunch to try an open face sandwich or delectable salad.
Pancakes are a breakfast and brunch menu staple across Chicago, but the thin, crispy-edged pancakes of Dutch origin at Pannenkoeken are far harder to come by. This tiny cafe has been the city’s go-to pancake spot for nearly a decade, serving both sweet and savory varieties, including apple ginger, bacon, cheese, and sautéed vegetables.
This Logan Square restaurant has been embracing the farm-to-table philosophy long before the term was so ubiquitous. Open since 1999, Lula Café is a weekend brunch destination with lines running out the door for unreal breakfast sandwiches and veggie-centric mains. The menu is always changing given ingredients' availability, but you'll find it hard to be disappointed by whatever's in store. The garden patio area is the perfect spot for sipping morning cocktails and people watching on Sundays.
Frontera Grill is Rick Bayless' first-established restaurant, and it serves up high-end casual Mexican fare inspired by Rick's years of delicious anthropological research South of the border. The margaritas are delectable, and there's even one you can order (the splurge margarita) that will probably leave your pockets empty but your stomach full. The authentic Mexican flavors are best enjoyed on the sidewalk patio where you can people watch.
Open every day between June and October, this farmer's market supplies residents was fresh meats, cheeses, flowers, baked goods, and produce.
This small, friendly, no-frills eatery serves American diner classics like biscuits and gravy, huevos rancheros, and fresh donuts.
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.
Score massively portioned American-Filipino breakfast and lunch eats all day long at this cozy spot on Grand Ave. Omelets, BLTs, and 1/2lb patty melts won’t disappoint, but it’s the Filipino breakfast platters that secure this place’s status as a veritable neighborhood gem. Don’t miss the tocino (Philipino bacon) alongside your eggs, garlic fried rice, and a bowl of fresh lugao (Filipino chicken rice soup).