Chicagoans have long awaited the reopening of dining in. After braving a season of dining outdoors in winter, the city moves into full reopening this Friday — with restaurants back in full swing, this warrants a reason to celebrate.
This list has you covered for all sorts of occasions; whether it’s an anniversary, graduation, birthday, or just a good time with friends, there’s something for everyone. These are the 15 best restaurants in Chicago for special occasions.
Boka (Old Town)
The contemporary American restaurant helmed by chef Lee Wolen has landed a spot on the Michelin-star list consecutively for 10 years. Not one to rest on its accolades, Boka keeps you on your toes with a dinner tasting menu that changes daily, alongside a seasonal à la carte selection driven by locally farmed ingredients. Notable menu mentions include the whole-roasted, dry-aged duck, and slow-cooked beef short ribs. Round off the night with the hazelnut whipped praline tonka bean dessert, and for drinks, sip on the “lost in time” made with Glenmorangie 10-year scotch, Cap Corse Blanc, génépy, and lemon thyme.
Dining at the restaurant: Dining is reopen indoors, and patio seating is also offered in the back courtyard.
Takeout: You’ll find Boka on delivery platforms with a menu taken from Wolen’s GG’s Chicken Shop. Starkly different from its fine-dining counterpart, GG’s offers fried chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, kid’s meals, and sodas.
North Pond (Lincoln Park)
Nestled among nature in Lincoln Park sits North Pond, a quaint restaurant showcasing Michelin-starred contemporary American in a five-course tasting menu. Dishes come with exciting and unusual embellishments, such as asparagus with uni hollandaise and yuzu gel or pork belly lechon (suckling pig) finished with a vanilla pork jus, mint gel, roasted fennel, and caramelized cheese purée. Don’t skip dessert; the chocolate joconde sponge is topped with bergamot mousse, black currant caramel, sorbet, and cocoa nibs. After dinner, a relaxing stroll around the eponymous lake is highly suggested.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations are available for dinner service and Sunday brunch. Outdoor patio is first come, first serve. On a nice day, the restaurant opens up the French doors connecting the indoor and outdoor space.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout or delivery.
Q Sushi Bar & Omakase (Lincoln Square)
Chefs Noppon “Oni” Aeton and Stephen Park prepare traditional Japanese omakase in 15-courses of premium nigiri and sashimi that they unveil one after another before your eyes. Savor pieces of melt-in-your-mouth chutoro, uni temaki, unagi, and scallops served in the shell. The intimate yet casual dining atmosphere has all the makings of a quiet celebratory dinner, minus the flashiness, but all the lavishness.
Dining at the restaurant: Online reservations are only for the omakase experience. Both indoor and outdoor seating is offered.
Takeout: The à la carte menu is available for pickup and delivery directly on its website.
Elske (West Loop)
Sophisticated Scandinavian is streamlined through Elske’s menu and interior, exuding Nordic simplicity and coziness with an outdoor fireplace and drop lights that make you feel like you’re dining in Copenhagen — where chefs David and Anna Posey were engaged. (Elske translates to “love,” a nod to David Posey’s Danish roots.) On the menu, you’ll find fine dining versions of æbleskiver, a sweet spherical dough snack typically served as street fare, paired with white fish and pickles. Anna Posey’s seasonal desserts include caramelized milk with rhubarb and frozen spiced cream. It all makes for an experience Michelin lauds as “culinary magic” along with a coveted star.
Dining at the restaurant: Both indoor and outdoor dining is available, selected upon booking and subject to weather.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout or delivery.
Cabra (West Loop)
Serving up rooftop classiness from The Hoxton Hotel in bustling Fulton Market, Cabra is a Peruvian-inspired cevicheria by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, paying homage to her travels through Peru. No matter when you come, you’ll step into an energetic rooftop party courtesy of a live DJ who keeps the beats spinning and the atmosphere lively. Dinner is centered around raw fish in the form of ceviche and tiradito, but there are also heartier dishes such as steak saltado (stir fry of steak and vegetables, served with rice) and arroz con pollo (fried chicken thigh with rice and creamy lime mint sauce). Weekend brunch sees similar offerings with the addition of asparagus white cheddar omelette and quinoa french toast.
Dining at the restaurant: Cabra has every seating option you could possibly imagine: bar countertop, ceviche bar, high tops, sofas, and standard seating both inside and on the open-air rooftop patio.
Takeout: The restaurant does not offer delivery or takeout, but room service is available for those staying at the hotel.
This Japanese hibachi restaurant needs no introduction. Slices of teriyaki steak, chicken, and spicy shrimps are fired up in front of you on the hibachi grill in a performance that will have your whole group oohing-ahhing as the chefs juggle and spin the spatula while grilling meats to perfection. This memorable experience is the specialty as a hot spot for birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, and more.
Dining at the restaurant: Take a seat at one of many hibachi grills for the full experience. Outdoor and bar seating is also available.
Takeout: Both delivery and pickup options are available directly on the website.
Ēma (River North)
Stepping inside this airy River North restaurant will have you feeling like you’re dining somewhere off the coast of the Aegean Sea. The sunlight shines into a spacious dining room with plants lining the ceiling and rattan weaved pendant lights illuminating the tables. Dive into an endless spread of hummus, mezzes, and kebabs at Ēma, where there’s also an extensive gluten-free menu as well as several vegetarian-centric dishes that ensure your entire party has plenty of options. Ēma brings the Mediterranean to you in the heart of Chicago.
Dining at the restaurant: Dining inside is transportive, and outdoor dining is equally pleasant for a more casual setting.
Takeout: Delivery and pickup are both offered via a third party. Ēma also offers catering for large events.
Broken English Taco Pub (The Loop)
A local favorite with three locations across the city, Broken English is the taco of the town. You’ll find people sipping on frozen margs, celebrating birthdays with 12-pack taco trays, and munching on chips dipped in chipotle queso — before taking Instagram shots against the vibrant multicolored walls decorated with cheeky neon slogans such as “tequila + me = lucky you” and “taco dirty to me.” Broken English has everything you need for your next casual fiesta.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining is offered at all three locations.
Takeout: The restaurant offers delivery and takeout, as well as a taco truck, or as Broken English calls it, “a fiesta on wheels” that you can rent for private events.
il Porcellino (River North)
il Porcellino is a neighborhood joint in the heart of River North specializing in homestyle Italian cuisine. This local spot is popular among couples for special occasions as the romantic setting mimics dining under a starry night with the ceiling dotted with glistening lights. When it comes to food, the garlic bread is like no other — a whole loaf of freshly baked ciabatta is generously brushed with garlic, parmesan cheese, and hot garlic butter poured upon serving. The baked burrata lasagna piled with prime-beef bolognese, burrata, fontina, and asiago cream, all on top of marinara sauce, is a favorite. Private parties can enjoy a prix fixe family-style or plated dinner with a selection of their best hits.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant offers three types of seating: standard, high top, and outdoors. On warm days, the doors fully open out onto the street with seats sprawling onto the sidewalk.
Takeout: The restaurant offers both takeout and delivery linked on the website.
Shanghai Terrace (River North)
Taking you on a culinary journey across China, Shanghai Terrace is a high-end Chinese restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel. Dine on the terrace under burgundy umbrellas perched amid lush greenery with city views of the Willis Tower. Celebratory items include a whole peking duck with plum sauce, traditionally from Beijing, and the Hangzhou-style dong po pork belly braised in soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and rock sugar. There’s also a variety of dim sum from the Cantonese region to get a whole spread going. Quintessential to Chinese dining, dishes are meant for sharing family-style around a lazy susan for large gatherings.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is known for its terrace with Eastern skyline views of Chicago. The exquisite indoor dining room seats 75 diners and has a separate private dining room for up to 30 guests.
Takeout: Shanghai Terrace offers takeout on OpenTable.
Basant (North Center)
A newer addition to the Chicago restaurant scene, Basant is a modern Indian restaurant in the North Center. The elegant interior and dim lighting make it perfect for a date night dinner. Named after the festival of Basant — a traditional kite-flying occasion that marks the first day of spring — the restaurant offers a fresh take on dishes from the Indian subcontinent using local ingredients. Signature dishes include the salmon basant in coconut milk and spicy tomato sauce; lamb gustaba, a Kasmiri dish of meatballs in yogurt sauce; and fall-off-the-bone lamb shank nihari braised in spices. You’ll find influences from Northern India in the mushroom kulcha flatbread with truffle garlic butter, and the kahari simmered in onion and tomato sauce.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor seating is available.
Takeout: Basant offers both takeout and delivery.
Carnivale (West Loop)
Every day is a celebration at Carnivale at this two-story restaurant that knows how to host a party. It has seen birthdays, weddings, bachelorette parties, quinceañeras — you name it. That’s because of the live entertainment and music (temporarily unavailable), kaleidoscopic walls, and eclectic paintings. But a celebration is not complete without great food and drinks, of which there are plenty at Carnivale; good group options include the coconut shrimp with pineapple chutney and the paella de mariscos with a heaping portion of seafood plus the option for lobster. The restaurant is also known for its whimsical pink cotton candy that can also be served atop a martini. You can — and should — ’gram it.
Dining at the restaurant: While you will most likely be seated in the main dining room or on the outdoor patio, Carnivale has six different event spaces for you to plan your next party.
Takeout: Carnivale offers pickup but not delivery. You can also choose one of three to-go meal kits that serve four, and drink kits to DIY cocktails at home.
Maple & Ash (Gold Coast)
This upscale steakhouse in Gold Coast is the definition of luxury with seafood and steaks by chef Danny Grant, an award-winning chef with Michelin pedigree. Start off your night with the truly special fire-roasted seafood tower, piled high with king crab, scallops, blue prawns, oysters, clams, and lobster, finished with garlic butter and chile oil, which you can soak up with a serving of housemade pasta. Splurge on the osetra caviar at $220 per ounce, or let loose with the “I don’t give a f*@k,” Maple & Ash’s version of the chef’s selection of your entire meal for $200 per person. You might recognize the restaurant for its Instagram-famous menus that can be printed with your name for a special occasion, in its signature “Happy F*@king Birthday” font.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant has dining room and patio seating, each with slightly different menus, as well as $65-per-person brunch with sharing plates for the table.
Takeout: Both takeout and delivery are available.
Parlor Pizza (Wicker Park)
No celebratory list is complete without pizza on the menu. Although Chicago is overflowing with deep-dish pizza, Parlor is giving the hometown style a run for its money. The wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzeria isn’t messing around with pizza combinations in fun names such as the “I feel like bacon love” with leek béchamel, bacon bits, white cheddar, shaved potato, and scallions on a light fluffy crust, or the “honey boo boo” with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, fresh mozzarella, taleggio DOP cheese, parmesan, rosemary, and, of course, honey. Go wild on dessert with the “TACOlato” — sweet waffle shells filled with gelato, sprinkles, whipped cream, and a galore of other sweet toppings. The moral of this menu is that there is something for everyone at a pizza party.
Dining at the restaurant: Parlor has three locations across Chicago, and they all have indoor and outdoor patio seating, fitting for throwing a pizza party during any weather the Windy City throws.
Takeout: The restaurant offers both takeout and delivery.
Korean-American cuisine takes center stage at this Michelin-starred Avondale restaurant run by husband-and-wife duo Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark. The experience is parallel to dining at a friend’s home, as the space is filled by a communal table that stretches across to the bar. However, that may change as the restaurant is currently undergoing renovations and the team is focusing on the reopening of sibling restaurant Wherewithall. When Parachute is back late summer 2021, snag dishes such as the iconic baked potato bing bread and dolsot bibimbap.
Dining at the restaurant: Parachute is currently closed for renovations until September.
Takeout: The restaurant is currently not operating for dine-in or takeout, but offers nationwide shipping for some of its classic dishes.