Chicago, it’s my kind of town. Really. Since moving here more than 15 years ago, it’s become my home, my favorite city in the world, One of the best places to eat. Formerly known as a meat and potatoes town, this Midwestern city has come a very long way and I'm here to share all my picks for the best places to eat in Chicago.
Chicago has more than 24 Michelin-starred restaurants and this year is home of the first James Beard Awards (dubbed the “Oscars” of the American culinary scene) ever to be held outside of New York City.
Where to Eat in Chicago
The “Second City’s” acclaimed, world-class dining scene is second to none. From BYOB, friendly neighborhood joints to swanky, see-and-be-scene hotspots, there’s something for everyone. Here are some of my faves.
I bring many of my out-of-town guests to Xoco. Run by award-winning and Top Chef Master, Rick Bayless, this modern, counter-service joint serves up amazing tortas (Mexican sandwiches), soups, great guacamole, and thick and decadent Mexican Hot Chocolate (you must get this, you will thank me). Everything is made from scratch with fresh and local ingredients from nearby farms.
My favorite is the Woodland mushroom with wood-roasted River Valley Ranch mushrooms, chipotle-garlic mojo, Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese, black beans, wild arugula, 3-chile salsa. It's so rich and gooey, I can't stop ordering it!
#2 Spacca Napoli
Chicago may be “known” for deep-dish pizza, but statistically more Chicagoans eat thin crust on a regular basis. I say skip the deep dish (I know, blasphemy!) and head to Spacca Napoli, tucked away on a quiet neighborhood corner in Ravenswood (and home to Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel). Known for traditional Neapolitan, wood-oven pizza, the crust and toppings like fresh buffalo mozzarella, arugula, and prosciutto will not disappoint.
#3 Devon Avenue
For great Indian/Pakistani food and a real, off-the-beaten path destination, head to the far Northside of West Rogers Park to this multicultural thoroughfare chock-a-block with south Asian businesses.
It can be overwhelming, so here are some of my favorites:
Udupi Palace (all veg)
Do pop into Patel Brothers grocery store for a huge, fun selection of bulk Indian snacks.
#4 Girl and the Goat
Top Chef award-winner Stephanie Izard has created one of Chicago’s best restaurants in the Randolph Street Restaurant Corridor. Book ahead, way ahead, because years later, it’s still hard to get a table at a prime time. You can still walk in and try to snag a seat at the bar area.
The rustic, yet urban décor is warm and comfy and her innovative, global-inspired food is always a winner. Yes, you should order the “pig face.” Trust me. Check out the website Girl and the Goat
Also in the hot Randolph Street district, always-packed Avec is a great place to have a glass of wine, some cheese, and mouth-watering charcuterie.
Not only is the Mediterranean, sharable food always delicious, the vibe is warm and cozy (read: it’s small with communal seating, so you will get to know your neighbors!) with cedar planks all around almost giving you the feeling of sitting in a sauna.
#6 GT Fish & Oyster
You'll notice there are no steakhouses on my list. And that's not because there aren't at least a dozen top-notch places in the city for a filet mignon, it's just that I'm not much of a meat eater and Chicago has answered that call with some amazing spots for some succulent seafood.
GT Fish & Oyster is a newer eatery that pairs inventive shared plates with creative cocktails in a trendy, modern-nautical space. The hardest thing here is narrowing down what you want to order.
You can't go wrong with the shrimp bruschetta with avocado, toasted pistachio, grapefruit, cilantro; one of my favorites, the ceviche; the seriously to-die-for oyster po' boy slider; grilled octopus; fish tacos; lobster mac n cheese…I can go on and on. It's just good. Go there.
#7 Big Star
Casual, fun, and lively all describe the über-popular Big Star. Smack dab in the heart of Wicker Park, one of the coolest neighborhoods in Chicago, this hipster honky tonk bar serves up tasty and cheap tacos with a plethora of beer, bourbon, and whisky. It’s one of my favorite places to go on a summer day and sit on the patio in the sun with a cold beer and warm friends.
Greektown – Restaurants in Chicago
Another pocket neighborhood full of ethnic flavor and charm, Greektown sits on a small stretch of Halsted Avenue just west of downtown.
Check out the National Hellenic Museum in its new building with its focus on the Greek-American immigrant experience. Bookended by Greek columns and packed with Greek restaurants side-by-side, you really can’t go wrong at any of them. Greek Islands and Santorini are always tasty and the décor makes you feel like you are sailing around the Aegean Sea.
In summer, I love to sit outside on the sprawling patio at Athena or head up to the rooftop deck of Pegasus, enjoy some Greek wine and spanakopita, and take in the stunning views of the skyline at arm’s length.
#8 Gene’s Sausage Shop
Gene’s Sausage Shop feels like a hidden gem tucked away in the quaint, former German neighborhood of Lincoln Square, although locals are catching on. Head through the charming European grocery store to the elevator and head up to the roof for a casual, wood-clad deck where you can get some great European beers on draft and sink into some good sausages and bratwursts.
#9 Eataly Chicago
Is it a grocery store? Is it a restaurant/bar/brewery? Yes! To all! Chicago recently saw the opening of the mother ship store of all things Italian, Eataly.
With stores now spanning from Italy to Japan to New York, it was fitting for a foodie town like Chicago to get an Eataly. This mecca of Italian goodness spread over two floors and 63,000 square feet (making it the largest Eataly in the U.S.), not only sells a wonderful array of products like imported pasta, truffle oil, and fresh seafood and meats, it boasts 23 restaurants throughout the store.
Here you can enjoy oven-fired pizza, creamy gelato, on-site brewed beer, all things Nutella, Lavazza espresso, fresh oysters, and more. It’s as popular with locals as it is with tourists and I’ve still so much to try!
For more of my favorite eats in Chicago, check out my Ultimate Guide to Chicago’s Best Restaurants. And let me know if you are in town, I’m always up for meeting new people and sharing good food!
Best Restaurants in Chicago Author Bio:
Lisa Lubin is an established travel/food writer, three-time Emmy®-award winning TV producer, video consultant, and travel industry expert.
After more than a decade in broadcast television she took a sabbatical, which turned into three years traveling around the world. She documents her (mis)adventures on her blog, LLworldtour.com.
Her writing and photography has been published by American Way Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, West Jet's UP Magazine, Sheridan Road Magazine, Smithsonian, the Malibu Times, Encyclopedia Britannica, Orbitz, Mapquest, Jetsetter.com, and Huffington Post. She recently published The Ultimate Travel Tips: Essential Advice for Your Adventures available on Amazon.