Celebrate your special occasions at these 15 top Chicago restaurants

A dim sum trio at Shanghai Terrace. | Credit: The Peninsula Chicago

The Windy City has endless options when it comes to transforming a regular Saturday night into an unforgettable evening. Though many celebrations in this Midwestern sports town are centered around home team victories, championships aren’t the only reasons to party.

Ring in a birthday at a cevicheria on a bustling West Loop rooftop. Toast a relationship milestone at a MICHELIN-starred, Korean American gem in Avondale. Or hit up a classy but secluded French bistro in Ravenswood, just because. These are the 15 best restaurants in Chicago for celebrating special occasions right now. 

Arami (West Town)

This longstanding West Town restaurant is a standard-setter for sushi in Chicago. Its ever-changing assortment of rolls, featuring seasonal ingredients, and omakase menu—the chef’s selection of nigiri ranging from Japanese red sea bream to fatty bluefin tuna belly—scream special occasion. Add oysters, caviar, or uni to really turn it into an unforgettable meal. Best for dates or small groups, Arami’s intimate dining room is filled with lush greenery under sprawling skylights, so you can savor your sushi under the stars.

Boka (Old Town) 

Boka's roasted dry-aged duck

Boka’s roasted dry-aged duck | Credit: Boka

The contemporary American restaurant, helmed by chef Lee Wolen, has earned 10 consecutive MICHELIN stars. Not one to rest on its accolades, Boka keeps you on your toes with a dinner tasting menu that changes daily, alongside a seasonal a 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 scotch, aperitif wine, génépy (an alpine liqueur), and lemon thyme. 

Bistro Campagne (Ravenswood)

The timeless elegance of Bistro Campagne is perfect for everyday celebrations. Since 2002, the Lincoln Park restaurant has served ​​French bistro fare—think escargot in maître d’hôtel butter and saumon à la provençale—in its cozy dining room and clandestine patio. The latter, filled with trees and mosaic tile accents, offers a secluded escape from bustling Lincoln Avenue. Gather a few friends to split a bottle of Beaujolais.

BLVD Steakhouse (West Loop) 

Perfect for bachelorette parties or popping the question, BLVD shimmers with Old Hollywood glam. The West Loop steakhouse features one of the city’s most extensive chandelier collections, with four hovering over the oversized rounded booths, a massive one spanning two stories above the bar, and some decking the Champagne room. There’s even more to celebrate with chef Joe Flamm, winner of Top Chef season 15 and owner of Rose Mary restaurant in the West Loop, recently coming on board as culinary director. Some of his new dishes have already joined the menu, such as halibut with fava cream, English peas, mint, and pickled ramps. 

Cabra – Chicago (West Loop) 

The rooftop at Cabra. | Credit: Cabra – Chicago

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 (a stir fry of steak and vegetables, served with rice) and pollo a la brasa (whole chicken with grilled potato salad and aji verde sauce).

Q Sushi Bar and 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 elegance. Note that online reservations are only for the omakase experience. 

Elske (West Loop)

Dining room with wooden tables and outdoor patio

Elske’s dining room. | Credit: Anthony Tahlier Photography

Sophisticated Scandinavian is streamlined through Elske’s menu and interior, exuding Nordic simplicity and coziness. The outdoor fireplace and drop lights 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 a la carte menu, you’ll find rhubarb-glazed smoked eel with snap peas, while the duck liver tart with salted ramp and toasted buckwheat is the star of the set menu. 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. 

Basant Modern Indian (North Center)

Traditional Indian flavors meet local ingredients at Basant, a modern Indian restaurant in North Center. The elegant interior and dim lighting make it ideal for a date night. Named after the Punjabi 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 spice-rubbed Amritsari fish and chips, served with mint chutney.

Shanghai Terrace (River North) 

Dusk at Shanghai Terrace | Credit: The Peninsula Hotels

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. To make it a whole spread, add dim sum to your order. Quintessential to Chinese dining, plates are meant for sharing family-style around a rotating tray for large gatherings. 

Broken English Taco Pub (The Loop)

A local favorite with three locations across the city, Broken English is known for its mural-filled interiors—and plenty of mezcal. You’ll find people sipping on frozen margs, celebrating birthdays with 12-pack taco trays, and munching on chips dipped in chipotle queso. They’re also here for snapping social media photos against the multicolored walls, decorated with cheeky neon slogans such as “tequila + me = lucky you” and “taco dirty to me.” Broken English also offers a rentable taco truck for private fiestas.

Ēma (River North)

Ēma’s sun-filled interiors. | Credit: Anjali Pinto

Stepping inside this airy River North restaurant feels like you’re dining 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. 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.

Carnivale (West Loop)

Every day is a celebration at this festive, two-story pan Latin cuisine restaurant. It has seen birthdays, weddings, bachelorette parties, quinceañeras—you name it. That’s because of the live entertainment, 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.

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 because the romantic setting mimics dining under a starry night with glistening lights dotting the ceilings. 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 il Porcellino’s greatest hits. 

Parachute (Avondale)

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. Parachute reopened earlier this year after undergoing renovations to both the space and the menu. If you haven’t been back since the grand reopening, expect a more focused approach to Korean cooking—haemul pajeon (seafood pancakes) and yukgaejang (spicy beef brisket soup)—served with the same attention to hospitality.

S.K.Y. (Pilsen)

Inspired by chef/owner Stephen Gillanders’s travels throughout Asia and his time working at some of the best restaurant kitchens in the United States, S.K.Y. offers a little bit of Japanese elegance, a little American fine dining technique, and a lot of unique flavors. A few long-standing favorites at the Pilsen restaurant include the Maine lobster dumplings with “jade” butter (a green sauce that blends butter with chile paste) plus hamachi sashimi with black sesame ponzu and puffed rice. Pair it with a glass or bottle off the wine list, or a cocktail such as the emerald city (gin, matcha, lime zest, and egg white).

Sarah Freeman is a food and drink writer by day and the host of one of Chicago’s most popular pop-up markets by night.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.