Chicago’s 20 Greatest Restaurants

Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Chicago Greats.

While the Windy City has always prided itself on its restaurant scene, in recent years, the rest of the country has taken note as well. Since the 2000s, the city has routinely picked up MICHELIN stars, launched the careers of star chefs such as Rick Bayless and Stephanie Izard, and played host to the James Beard Awards for the past five years and counting. The year 2017, when both Condé Nast Traveler and Bon Appétit magazines singled Chicago out for being America’s best restaurant city, was a windfall. 

Coming off a time that’s wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry as a whole, there’s never been a better time to celebrate the iconic spots that have shaped the city’s restaurant scene into the juggernaut it is today. From classic steakhouses to modern Korean food, these are The Greats: 20 restaurants that have helped define Chicago’s world-class dining scene.

Boka (Lincoln Park)

Credit: Boka

Boka’s approachable, seasonally driven new American menu has garnered the restaurant a MICHELIN star, three stars from the Chicago Tribune, and James Beard Awards nominations, solidifying it as one of Chicago’s most exciting places to dine. Renowned chef Lee Wolen has a knack for taking seemingly simple preparations and adding depth, texture, and an unexpected flavor or two. For instance, Spanish octopus is served with smoked cauliflower, hazelnut, and crisp cucumber, while Wolen’s signature roasted chicken gets the gourmet treatment with sunchoke, maitake, and black garlic. These dishes are served in Boka’s beautifully designed dining rooms, each of which feels like its own little world with living green walls and oversized circular banquettes. 

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor and patio dining.

Takeout: Boka’s cocktails and a variety of more casual dishes, such as burgers, are available for takeout via third-party apps.

Parachute (Avondale)

Credit: Parachute

This small restaurant punches far above its weight, serving up Korean American mash-ups that earned it a MICHELIN star, a spot on Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant list, and a James Beard Award. Though it is currently closed for renovations, its sibling restaurant down the street, Wherewithall, is going strong with a four-course menu that changes weekly as well as cocktails and bar bites. When it returns later this year, stop into Parachute for chef Beverly Kim’s signature dish of baked potato bing bread with sour cream butter—a buttery loaf filled with bacon, potato, and cheese—vegan mapo tofu, and a ten-piece order of Korean fried chicken with spicy gochujang sauce. 

Dining at the restaurant: Parachute is not open for dining at this time.

Takeout: Parachute ships its renowned bing bread, Korean fried chicken, and bibimbap kit nationwide via Goldbelly.

Demera (Uptown) 

When Tigist Reda immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia in 2007, she brought an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for cooking, opening Demera shortly after her arrival. The chef’s meticulously prepared dishes—she even toasts and grinds all of her spices—quickly established this restaurant as the city’s top destination for Ethiopian food. Order one of the messob platters, which can feed groups ranging from two to eight and offers Chicagoans the opportunity to try eight different chef’s selections, such as kik alicha, a dish of split yellow peas stewed with onions, garlic, and tumeric, or ye-beg wot, where bone-in lamb is braised in a spicy berbere chile sauce. For those looking to temper the heat in some dishes, ask about the tej, a house-made honey wine that provides enough sweetness to balance the spice.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor and patio dining.

Takeout: Pick-up and delivery are available through the restaurant’s website.

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba (Lincoln Park)

Long before the small plates concept dominated almost every new restaurant, Café Ba-Ba-Reeba was serving tapas to the denizens of Lincoln Park. In fact, when the restaurant opened in 1985, it did so as the progenitor of Spanish cuisine in the city, introducing Chicagoans to paella and patatas bravas. Today, tourists and locals still flock to the restaurant to sample the six different styles of sangria on offer and snack on chorizo-wrapped dates and tortilla española. They also head over to fortify themselves on the weekend with a perennially packed tapas brunch, featuring items such as waffle-battered chicken on a stick with maple syrup and chorizo mac and cheese. Café Ba-Ba-Reeba is part of the venerated Lettuce Entertain You Group, which includes other Chicago favorites such as Shaw’s Crab House, RPM Italian, and Mon Ami Gabi.

Dining at the restaurant: Café Ba-Ba-Reeba is open for limited indoor dining and outdoor dining on the heated year-round patio and courtyard.

Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available via the restaurant’s website.

Maple and Ash (Gold Coast)

In a city filled with steakhouses boasting decades of history, Maple and Ash represents the next generation of the genre. This sprawling restaurant puts opulence front and center, from its velvet dining chairs and soaring ceilings to the wine list, where the priciest bottle is $10,000. And while that’s out of reach for many, there are other luxuries available, such as a wagyu beef carpaccio topped with king crab, truffle, and supreme caviar, or the Eisenhower, a 40-ounce porterhouse that the kitchen cooks directly in coals left over from the wood-fired grills. For those who would rather just sit back and let the kitchen decide, there’s a $200 tasting menu, cheekily named the “I Don’t Give a F*@k” option. 

Dining at the restaurant: Maple and Ash is open for indoor and patio dining.

Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout and delivery through third party apps.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (Gold Coast)

Credit: Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse

To say Gibsons is popular would be an understatement—it’s one of the highest grossing independent restaurants in all of Chicago. The restaurant’s prime location just off the Magnificent Mile and commitment to quality has fueled its reputation as a Chicago classic since it opened in 1989. Once you’re in the door, the dining room’s pressed tin ceilings amplify laughter and conversations, lending a boisterous atmosphere. But Gibsons owes its staying power to its steaks: The restaurant is the first in the country to have its own USDA certification, Gibsons Prime Angus beef. Save room for desserts, which the menu humbly lists as carrot cake or chocolate mousse pie, but in reality are towering, multi-layer creations whose heights rival the city’s distinguished skyscrapers.

Dining at the restaurant: Gibsons is open for limited indoor dining and outdoor dining on the restaurant’s covered and heated patio.

Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through the restaurant’s website. The restaurant offers prepared items and cook-at-home steaks and chops that come with a container of its signature seasoning salt, plus videos to help guide diners through the cooking process.

Tanta (River North)

Tanta owner Gastón Acurio is one of Peru’s most famous chefs, using his international restaurants as unofficial ambassadors for the country’s cuisine. The menu in Chicago highlights a full range of Peruvian food, showcasing ingredients from both its mountains and oceans and combining them with the techniques and ingredients brought to the country via generations of immigrants from Japan, Spain, China, and Italy. The result is an inimitable dining experience, where Chicagoans flock to try dishes such as chaufa aeropuerto, a mixture of pork fried rice, shrimp omelet, vegetables, and a Japanese-influenced nikei sauce that’s best enjoyed on the restaurant’s year-round rooftop patio. Pair it with one of the innovative pisco drinks, such as the la rusa, a mix of pisco, elderflower liqueur, orange, and lemon poured over a Campari-infused ice cube.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining and outdoor dining on the heated rooftop terrace.

Takeout: A la carte takeout, including cocktails, is available through third-party apps.

Chicago Cut Steakhouse (River North)

Dining at this buzzy spot, located downtown alongside the Chicago River, surrounded by the city’s skyscrapers, makes anyone feel like they’re in the heart of the city’s action. A seat in one of the oversized red tufted booths that lines the wall offers lucky diners a view of both the tour boats cruising the river and the lively dining room. The menu is full of steakhouse classics, with a few originals thrown in, such as the lobsterscargot appetizer, where Maine lobster tail pieces are cooked in garlic butter, topped with melted havarti, and served with crostinis to help spoon up the mixture.

Dining at the restaurant: Chicago Cut Steakhouse is open for both indoor and riverside patio seating.

Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly. 

Shaw’s Crab House (River North)

Credit: Shaw’s Crab House

Though the nearest shoreline is Lake Michigan, Chicagoans have ocean access via Shaw’s, the city’s top seafood destination known for its extensive oyster selection and relationships with fishermen all over the world. Head to the wood-paneled dining room to feast on blackened mahi mahi from Costa Rica. Or for a more classic Shaw’s experience, go for the Alaskan king crab dinner, which comes with an enormous king crab that clocks in at over a pound, served with Caesar salad, two sides, and dessert. For a quick bite, snag a bar stool at the old-school oyster counter, where the day’s selections are posted on the board hanging overhead and the well-versed shucker can talk you through the characteristics of each variety, opening up the bivalves right before your eyes.

Dining at the restaurant: Shaw’s is open for indoor dining and outdoor seating on the restaurant’s tented and heated patio.

Takeout: Takeout is available through the restaurant’s website.

Gene & Georgetti (River North)

Chicago’s oldest steakhouse, established in 1941, has hosted celebrities ranging from Frank Sinatra to Will Ferrell and cultivated a devoted following among locals. Though the past two years have forced the restaurant to contend with a grease fire and a global pandemic, Gene and Georgetti has soldiered on, pivoting gracefully to meet both moments. The menu remains close to what it was when the restaurant opened, dishing out beautifully marbled steaks, double-cut lamb chops, and red-sauce favorites such as eggplant parmigiana. In its softly lit, red-carpeted room, it’s easy to lose track of time, order another bottle of wine, and linger.

Dining at the restaurant: Gene and Georgetti is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through the restaurant’s website.

Kumiko (West Loop)

Credit: Kumiko

The team behind West Loop’s fine-dining sensation Oriole runs this modern cocktail bar that creative director Julia Momosé describes as “a cocktail party with the world’s best hors d’oeuvres.” The restaurant’s Japanese-inflected drinks and small plates were an instant hit, earning it a spot on the Chicago Tribune’s 2019 list of best restaurants, and a mention as one of Time’s Greatest Places in 2019. Order creative cocktails, such as an unexpected combination of namazaké (unpasteurized sake), aquavit, fortified wine, elderflower syrup, and orange bitters. And keep an eye on the restaurant’s social media for food specials, which recently included duck soba with winter squash and kombu dashi.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Cocktails, wine, spirits and barware are available for curbside pickup.

Girl & the Goat (West Loop)

Credit: Girl & the Goat

Stephanie Izard shot to fame when she won the fourth season of Bravo’s Top Chef, which she then parlayed into a series of successful Chicago restaurants with the team behind the aforementioned Boka. They upped the ante for casual but ambitious dining in Chicago, beginning with Girl & the Goat. As the name implies, this is a meat-heavy menu, but one that brings in a chorus of textures, flavors, and inspirations. For instance, the namesake goat appears in empanada form with smoked blueberry, preserved peppers from Basque Country, and idiazabal, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese; or as confit goat belly with pecans and apple-fennel slaw. Goat even makes its way onto the drink menu, where diners can pair their meaty meal with a goat fashioned, where goat-fat infused bourbon is mixed with Demerara sugar and fennel bitters.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is currently open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Girl & the Goat does not offer takeout, but takeout is available online from its sibling restaurant, Little Goat.

Sepia (West Loop) 

Chicago stalwart Sepia serves an ever-changing seasonal American menu that has scored the restaurant a MICHELIN star on top of the constellation of stars from various reviewers since it opened in 2007. The $85 tasting menu from lauded chef Andrew Zimmerman consists of four courses, ranging from dishes such as ricotta agnolotti crispy tapenade, parmesan, cultured butter, aged balsamic, and pickled peppers. For the full package, select the wine pairing option to try sommelier Alex Ring’s selections and complement country fried truffled chicken schmaltz dumplings with a crisp Loire Valley chenin blanc.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout.

North Pond (Lincoln Park)

North Pond may be one of the most overlooked restaurants in Chicago. Tucked inside Lincoln Park, the Arts and Crafts-style structure—formerly a warming shelter for ice skaters—was converted into a restaurant in 1998. Wood inlays and a cozy stone chimney make it a city center escape. It’s a popular destination for special occasions, and for good reason. Enjoy a seasonal tasting menu, rich with local produce, showcasing dishes such as lamb tartare and duck breast in mole negro, while gazing at its namesake pond and striking views of the Chicago skyline.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: North Pond does not offer takeout.

Jaleo (River North)

Chef and humanitarian José Andrés is taking Chicago by storm with a slew of new restaurants. His first, Jaleo, is a vibrant celebration of Spanish flavors and techniques. Its whimsical approach to tapas offers croquetas de pollo served on a ceramic chicken and paella by the pan in a light-soaked dining room lush with tiled accents. Don’t forget to head downstairs after your meal for a cocktail at Pigtail, a speakeasy-style bar specializing in all things Ibérico.

Dining at the restaurant: Jaleo is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: This restaurant offers takeout and delivery via its website and third-party apps.

Soulé (West Town)

Once you step into Soulé, you’re part of the family. The soul food kitchen pays tribute to Creole-inspired home cooking and has been welcoming customers—including celebs such as former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen—to its West Town restaurant since 2017. Chef and owner Bridgette Flagg, a Chicago native, was taught to cook by her grandmother Beatrice “Bea” Tolliver. The intimate restaurant, which seats fewer than three dozen patrons, offers comforting classics such as blackened catfish and honey-drizzled fried chicken in its modern dining room. Soulé is BYOB, but does offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, including a Soulé punch and sweet tea.

Dining at the restaurant: Soulé is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Takeout is available through the restaurant’s website.

Juno (Lincoln Park)

Chef and owner BK Park’s Lincoln Park restaurant is a fan favorite for creative sushi displays and has served some of the city’s freshest sashimi since 2013. The sleek dining room, featuring a long sushi counter illuminated by modernist fixtures, offers an expansive a la carte menu with both hot and cold offerings. On the hot side, start with seared scallops in spicy seafood sauce and tori meatballs with pepper soy glaze before moving onto beautiful plates of smoked spicy king crab nigiri. The team also has an omakase-focused restaurant in the West Loop, Mako, which earned its first MICHELIN star in 2020.

Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Juno offers takeout via its website.

Mott St (Wicker Park)

Anyone who dined in Chicago during the 2010s is likely familiar with Ruxbin, a ​​progressive American restaurant that integrated French, Asian, and Latin American flavors. When the acclaimed Ruxbin closed in 2017, the team turned its attention to Mott St, a fun and funky restaurant serving the post-shift favorites of partners Edward Kim, Jennifer Kim, Vicki Kim, and Nate Chung. Think wings dusted with everything spice, mentaiko kimchi udon, and the lauded Mott burger, served in a space reminiscent of an outdoor food market.

Dining at the restaurant: Mott St is open for indoor and patio dining.

Takeout: Takeout is available via the restaurant’s website.

Elske (West Loop)

Chefs David and Anna Posey’s first solo venture takes the form of an airy West Loop restaurant complete with a cozy courtyard. The couple’s creative take on casual fine dining earned the space a MICHELIN star. The restaurant offers both set and a la carte menus; the latter takes diners on a tour of Scandinavia via the restaurant’s now famous duck liver tart with buckwheat and pickled ramps, smoked fluke tartare on rugbrød (Danish rye bread), and chanterelle ice cream with toasted meringue. After dinner, enjoy a glass of glögg—red wine with mulling spices, almonds, and brandy—in front of the outdoor fireplace.

Dining at the restaurant: Elske is open for indoor dining. It also has a seasonal courtyard with a fireplace.

Takeout: The restaurant does not offer takeout.

Rose Mary (West Loop)

There are many perks that come with winning a season of Top Chef, and one of them is opening the restaurant of your dreams. Chef Joe Flamm did just that in 2021 when he opened Rose Mary in the West Loop. The restaurant pays homage to his Italian heritage and his wife’s native country of Croatia, resulting in dishes such as gnocchi with pašticada, a braised beef dish from the northwestern Balkan Peninsula. It’s this heartfelt blend of two comforting cuisines that earned Rose Mary its reputation as one of Chicago’s hottest new restaurants.

Dining at the restaurant: This restaurant is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Rose Mary does not offer takeout. 

Tried them all? Check out other options here.