When I’m searching for things to do in a new city, I love finding recommendations from locals. Who knows a city better than the people who live there, right? This is why I’m sharing my favorite places to eat in my hometown of Chicago. Everything from beautiful brunch spots to the best Chicago dinner to the most unique restaurants is on this list.
I continually update this list because there’s always a new place to try. This city is huge and there are so many great restaurants in Chicago that there’s no way this list won’t grow. I also have more posts on local favorites and I’ll list those below.
Places to Eat in Chicago for Brunch:
M.Henry Cafe– We barely tried this place last February because I wanted to celebrate “National Pancake Month”. I was sad that I wasn’t going to make it out to my favorite pancake place in NYC (Clinton St. Baking Company), so I was determined to find a good spot at home. M.Henry was a pleasant surprise. Everything we had was delicious, and their pancakes were well decorated, fluffy, and fantastic.
Margeaux Brasserie– This French-inspired gem is located inside the Waldorf Astoria in the gorgeous Gold Coast area. I stayed at the Waldorf in January (read about that experience HERE). Honestly, I didn’t expect much when Jorge and I went down for brunch, but when we got our food I was hooked.
The french toast was AMAZING and quickly became my second #1 next to the Banana Foster french toast from New Orlean’s Surrey’s Cafe (find that post HERE). Jorge had Eggs Benedict on a croissant and said it was his favorite of all time as well (and he’s tried many). On Sunday’s they also have a live band and the atmosphere is charming. It is a bit pricey though, but worth it for the incredible food.
The Allis– For all you interior lovers, this is probably one of the prettiest and most unique restaurants in Chicago. It’s filled with velvet couches, chandeliers, and layouts worth photographing. The best part is the food isn’t far behind.
We recently visited for breakfast, which of course they place on pretty plates. J said his avocado toast was definitely a winner. The breakfast potatoes were some of the tastiest I’ve had. Both the Allis and Margeaux serve dinner and have full bars, I’ll have to try them one evening and report back.
Gather– This is actually a restaurant we tried after gathering (lol see what I did there?) the top recommendations from other locals. Gather came up numerous times so we knew we had to give it a try. Dinner here is great and the drinks are well priced. But we recently visited for brunch and loved it even more! Jorge ordered a bloody mary and an eggs benedict, and I had delicious french toast. In the summer they have a beautiful outdoor patio.
Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club– One of the chefs from M.Henry (listed above) left M.Henry and started Bryn Mawr! The food is a similar American style but with its own flair. Lots of fancy french toast and pancake dishes to choose from along with other traditional options. The presentation of the food is great and equally tasty.
Sweet Maple Cafe– Sweet Maple has been a favorite for a long time. The restaurant is tiny with a southern flair. It does have long waits on weekends, so get there early or an hour before they close.
My favorite and (only) thing I ever order is the “Sweet Maple Special” which includes eggs, bacon, a side of their heavenly homefries, and toast. I’ve yet to find homefries that beat Sweet Maples. Jorge loves their omelets.
The portions are big and will keep you full for half the day! It’s a good place to go if you’re planning a light dinner.
For Chicago Dinner ($-$$):
Smoque BBQ– Hands down my favorite place in the city! Located in Irving Park, Smoque has the most amazing brisket ever. I’ve tried to find places that actually compete with Smoque’s brisket during my travels, but only Austin has been able to compete.
Smoque has gotten more and more popular over the years, but that’s not surprising. I’d say it’s up there with the “famous Chicago food” spots.
A sliced brisket platter at Smoque (what I always order) comes with fries and coleslaw. Their fries are always perfectly crispy and fresh, and the coleslaw is a unique and delicious recipe. Our bill (for 2) is usually around $30.
Read More: Best Cheap Eats in Austin
I know I’m from Chicago where the deep dish is famous, but no thank you. Give me authentic, Italian-style pizza any day. Everything from the crust to the imported cheese is perfect.
While traveling through Milan and Naples, we visited some of their best pizza places and their pizzas were very similar to Spacca. Spacca knows what they’re doing. I’m so happy I have a little bit of Italy right in my hometown.
The prices are also great, we always order two pizzas for under $30. If you’re in the mood for dessert, definitely try their tiramisu! And, if you go on weekends they give you these amazing little cannoli’s on your way out (for free).
Some of my favorite things here are the baby back ribs with fries and the carrot cake! The carrot cake is incredible. The slice is pricey ($12) but it’s huge and enough for 2-3 people.
When dining in they serve you complimentary “bread and butter pickles” and homemade potato chips. They’re both SO good, and this is considering I don’t even like pickles! I eat them all and usually ask for more.
Chicago Q also has great deals during Restaurant Week if you’re ever in the city end of January or early February.
Del Toro– I’m picky when it comes to Mexican food since I ate the real deal every week growing up. Plus, I’ve also had many amazing dishes when visiting the non-touristy parts of Mexico.
Del Toro does a good job with their food, and as a bonus, they have the most delicious sangria! Seriously, the sangria cocktails they create are too good. Most (including J) love their margaritas, but since I don’t like tequila (more of a vodka girl, heyyy) I always opt for their fruity sangrias.
Some of my favorite dishes are the sopes, tacos, and tortas. All reasonably priced, and all really good. Great place to just go for drinks, too. They recently expanded their space and now offer an outdoor patio.
Small Cheval– This is the smaller, faster version of the famous Au Cheval! You’ll get the same delicious burgers without the long waits. Yes, we’ve tried both. These are definitely our favorite burgers in town.
The Small Cheval owners are actually the same owners as Bavette’s (mentioned below). Prices aren’t bad either and they serve cocktails at some of their locations. WIN!
Pleasant House Pub– Pleasant House has some of the best fish and chips in Chicago (comparable to the U.K. versions). The portion sizes are generous, and the fish is juicy and perfectly seasoned.
They only serve this dish on Friday’s. They’re mainly known for their meat pies (shown below). J has liked every pie he’s tried. The restaurant is located in Pilsen, so you’ll get a chance to explore another part of Chicago.
Ēma– They have a Mediterranean menu offering some incredible spreads. Their Basmati & Lentil salad is amazing! We first went during Restaurant Week in February so we got to try a lot of dishes. They’re a “shared plates” kinda place. The hummus and house bread is also a favorite. Seriously so many great options. Oh, and the interiors are gorgeous! Such an inspiring space. During the summer they open all the windows so it feels more “al fresco”.
I met with a friend there a few months ago and she raved about it the whole walk back to the train. We especially love that we can eat multiple things off the menu and not leave feeling stuffed and bloated. Good ol’ Mediterranean diet. So if you’re looking for delicious Mediterranean food that won’t disappoint check out Ema (pronounced Eema, not Emma).
Farmhouse Chicago– I love the facade at the FarmHouse! We stopped here for dinner during Restaurant Week (clearly our favorite week) and really enjoyed our dishes, farm to table kinda deal therefore the menu is usually seasonal. They also have a full bar and serve their own cider flight for $10! I’ve read that the brunch is also great.
Bonci– We were so excited when we learned Bonci’s was coming to Chicago all the way from Rome! They serve Roman-style Pizza al Taglio. All fresh ingredients, many options, cut into whatever size you’d like, and all the bomb dot com. We visited their original location back in 2013 because Jorge had seen it on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows. Now we have 2 locations in our own city!
For Chicago Dinner ($$$):
Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf– If you’re celebrating something special, in the mood for fine dining, or just don’t care how much your bill is, I highly recommend Bavette’s. The atmosphere is special and the food is phenomenal.
Try Resy to get a reservation ahead of time. If you don’t see any good times try calling because they usually have more options over the phone. You can also walk in and try to get a seat at the bar.
We’ve celebrated a few wedding anniversaries here and always have a great experience. The steak frites, filet mignon, burger, salads, and all the sides are so good. I especially love their Lillet Rosé martini, been dreaming of getting another one of those soon.
Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab– My beloved Joe’s. I first visited this place on a work lunch and have been obsessed ever since. The prices are a little hefty, but we’ve never had a bad meal or bad service.
They always make my filet mignon just right, Jorge loves all of their seafood, and they have THE. BEST. PIES. Try the Havana Dream or the Banana or Coconut Cream pie. I also love their lemon drop martini’s here.
We’ve treated both of our parents to Joe’s on different occasions, and they all loved it! My mom said the service made her feel like a VIP. I do recommend making a reservation as well unless you’re cool with sitting at the bar.
3 Arts Club Cafe– Another posh, unique restaurant located inside Restoration Hardware in the Gold Coast area. These interiors are up there with The Allis, every corner is photogenic.
Instagram has helped make 3 Arts one of those iconic Chicago restaurants. The food is delicious as well. We’ve tried the burger, lobster roll and turkey club, all amazing.
It’s also a good spot to hang out on a rainy day since you can walk the many levels of Restoration Hardware. They also have a rooftop open to the public!
The pack comes with 52 different cards to well-rated Chicago restaurants all over the city for only $30. Each card gives you $10 off $25 or more. It’s a great way to learn about new places and try them with a little bit of a discount.
Anyway, back to Formento’s and all their delectable Italian food. We loved our dinner. We tried 3 different dishes and they were all so good, my favorite was the Bucatini (shown below).
Since it was my birthday they gave me a free slice of their chocolate cake and it was totally worth the calories (and bloat lol). They also have a small sandwich shop called Nonna’s connected to their restaurant where you can get quick bites to go. Jorge has tried the meatball sandwich at Nonna’s, and I’ve had one of their kale salad and both were so good.
For Chicago Dessert:
Swirlz Cupcakes– LOVE Swirlz! I especially love that they have gluten-free/vegan options. I feel like cupcake shops usually have one or the other, but never both at the same time. They offer quite a few options for their gf/df customers (not just the boring chocolate or vanilla kind). I like their unique flavors, and they have a “surprise” flavor every day and you can call ahead to find out what it is.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream– They actually have Jeni’s in a few cities, but if it’s not in yours, and you happen to be in Chicago on a hot (or cold or mild or whatever) day then definitely stop here.
The wildberry lavender flavor is my favorite. Also a huge fan of their rosé flavor. I like that they make their waffle cones in front of you while you wait in line, and they also have gluten free or dairy free options. Wildberry lavender and Rosé are pictured below.
Stan’s Donuts– Delicious doughnuts with locations all over the city! One of my faves is coconut cream (pictured on the right).
Molly’s Cupcakes– Another great cupcake place and such a unique little shop. I recommend you visit the one in River East because it’s adorable and the cupcakes are just as good.
My favorite ones so far are crème brûlée and carrot cake. Every time we buy Molly’s cupcakes for a birthday or just for a hangout with friends, they all become huge fans of them!
The Crepe Shop– I haven’t tried all the crepes in Chicago, but I guarantee these are the best ones. Just look at their reviews, I’m not the only one who thinks so. I tried their Wild Berry Cheesecake crepe and it sounds like it’d be too sweet, but it was perfect. J tried a savory ham and cheese crepe and liked it as well.
They have great looking lattes too! The shop is small, but the crowds move quickly. This was another place we tried because of A la Card, totally not sponsored by them I just really like their product.
For Chicago Cocktails:
Scofflaw– First visited this bar a few weeks ago for Jorge’s birthday and we loved it! It’s a gin-focused bar with the coziest ambiance, you really won’t want to leave.
Considering it’s currently the middle of winter, it was nice to sit back next to a fireplace enjoying a *gin* hot toddy. They also have a delicious selection of tropical-ish cocktails and whiskey options. I love tropical drinks, Jorge loves whiskey, so we were both happy with the choices at hand.
They change parts of their menu with the seasons so there’s always something new to try. This was also the first time I tried a hot toddy and it was fantastic! I know I need to go back before winter ends. *Update* I’ve gone back multiple times since. Haha! It’s a great hang out year-round. They have a small outdoor area in the summertime and at midnight they give you free (freshly baked) chocolate chip cookies.
Three Dots and a Dash– Three Dots is one of my favorite Chicago bars. I love tiki! Their drinks are pricey ($14+) but they don’t skimp out on the liquor. All the cocktails are creative and beautifully garnished. It’s definitely an experience in there. I suggest you make a reservation beforehand because it does get very busy.
Lost Lake– Another great tiki bar with slightly cheaper options ($12+). Once you step inside it’s like a tropical oasis, a perfect stop during Chicago’s brutal winters, but really it’s great during any season.
The Violet Hour– This bar has an interesting concept. The entrance is unmarked and covered by a mural that changes often. Their “house rules” includes no cell phone use (yeah sure), but the place is too dark to get any good shots anyway. However, the drinks are well crafted and the vibe inside is great! Drinks are $13+.
Remedy– The drinks are good and the prices are better, my fave is the Owlington but they recently took it off the menu and I cried. So now my new favorite is the Bronson. If you go during happy hour everything is half off! This is unheard of! Last time J and I went for happy hour and had a total of 4 cocktails for under $30. *Update* They also change their menu for new seasons so you’ll find new goodies whenever you visit.
If you have a car there’s plenty of parking available right on the street (but don’t drink and drive). And there’s usually a good flow of people coming in and out so you’re highly likely to get a table right away (we always do).
Below is my fave the Owlington (hoping they bring it back) plus a fireplace during the fall season. Pretty perfect.
Things to Do in Chicago + Top Photo Spots
There are so many amazing things to do, see, and eat in the city of Chicago. You can easily spend a week exploring its attractions.
In my next post, I list all my favorite stops for the best skyline views, unique photo opportunities, and possible tours you can do. You can find that post here: Chicago Photo Locations.
And again, if you’d like to read what restaurants other locals are raving about (including some vegan and vegetarian options), you can find that post here: Where Locals Eat in Chicago.
Below are some of the top tours to enjoy in the city. You can click through to learn more or search for others. I use GetYourGuide when traveling to a new place and love the options!
Hope these recommendations help you enjoy some great eats while visiting Chicago.
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