A city of neighborhoods, Chicago is unsurprisingly full of hidden-gem eateries. Even in the most intolerably touristy areas, you can find a few spots packed mostly with locals if you know which tree-lined street to duck down or who to ask. We’ve done some of that legwork for you, highlighting nine Chicagoan-approved restaurants that span old-school red sauce joints, fine-dining temples, heartland-tinged gastropubs and even a few favorite haunts of local chefs. So, travelers, put away the map, and bring your Midwestern-sized appetite. Here’s where to dine like a local in Chicago.
High-end, retro pub fare at The Duck Inn, Bridgeport
A favorite among local and visiting chefs alike, chef Kevin Hickey’s gastro-tavern with retro decor in the warehouse district of southside Bridgeport raises the bar on this oft-overlooked dining neighborhood. Playful dishes range from potted foie gras with ginger-plum gelee and masterful rotisserie duck to one of the best gourmet takes on the legendary Chicago-style hot dog — a beef and duck-fat dog with onions, relish, and celery salt on a housemade brioche bun. Wash it down with clever cocktails like the Daily Intake with brandy, house “Newtoncello,” apple butter, brown butter, and lemon in a midcentury globe-lit lounge and you’re halfway to Mad Men. Make a reservation at The Duck Inn.
Multi-course theater at goosefoot, Lincoln Square
This diminutive, 24-seat BYOB spot in the tree-lined Lincoln Square ‘hood isn’t listed among the fine-dining spots you hear about all the time (Alinea or Grace ring a bell?). But it should be. Chef Chris Nugent’s market-driven, modern American tasting menu seamlessly blends disciplined French training and contemporary artistry for a memorable, dozen-odd courses. It may start with lemongrass-tinged scallops with lobster and sun blossoms, building to asparagus tortellini with smoked rabbit or Angus beef with fragrant nasturtium. Dessert is always followed by a packaged treat from the kitchen’s chocolate lab. Such intricate dishes make for a slow-paced meal, so give yourself a couple hours to soak in this intimate bit of dinner theater. Make a reservation at goosefoot.
Unique sea-inspired fare at Sink | Swim, Logan Square
You might overlook this nautically tinged Logan Square restaurant in search of newer, buzzier spots — all of which seem to flock to this super-trendy hood. But the 18-month-old Sink | Swim from the team behind Scofflaw (a gem of a gin bar in its own right, just down the street) offers some of the most unique takes on seafood you’ll find in the city — not in the oddity of sea creatures they source, but rather in how they punctuate everyday dishes with oceanic nods. Take the refreshing crushed cucumber salad with crème fraîche, dill, and the subtle funk of dried seaweed or the BBQ fish collar with tangy kimchi. Roomy booths, a long wood bar, and easy-drinking cocktails make it an ideal weeknight retreat in this area. Make a reservation at Sink | Swim.
Whimsical tasting menus at Ruxbin, West Town
Five years after Edward Kim’s Ruxbin splashed on the scene, this BYOB New American spot with its funky, repurposed interior remains a fave among Noble Square residents. Kim’s subtle creativity in blending his French training and Asian heritage is on display better than ever since the a la carte menu was replaced by a five-course, prix-fixe one late last year. Unlikely yet whimsical matchups range from yuzu ponzu-bathed cobia with horseradish pomme puree, heirloom cucumber, and foie gras to chicken-fried celery root with white bean “ranch”, smoked tomatoes, and wild watercress. Make a reservation at Ruxbin.