Updated: May 21, 2020
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. If you’re asking yourself “where should I go eat in Chicago?” this list is it.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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 lovely. It is a bit pricey though, but worth it for the incredible food.
3. 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 visited for breakfast, which of course they place on pretty plates. J said his avocado toast was 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.
4. Gather– This is 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.
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.
5. 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.
6. 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 enjoys 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.
7. Nini’s Deli– Nini’s is a different kind of brunch, I’d say more of a lunch and less of a breakfast. Nini’s specializes in Latin American food with a focus on empanadas and sandwiches. I’ve tried both and they are incredible. I also hear the coffee is great!
The empanadas are the best in the city! Don’t believe me? Check out their 5-star yelp reviews and great ratings across the board. This place is loved and for good reason. The flavors of the food are so rich and fresh that you can’t get enough. Not to mention the facade is a bright pink and perfect for photos!
I’ve gone with different people and they all enjoyed it. My favorites so far are the chicken and beef empanadas with an order of their hibiscus lemonade.
8. Butterdough– You’ll find this modest little cafe on the south side of the city in the Mckinley Park area. It’s still pretty new, run by two brothers who put their heart and soul into the place and you can tell. Their croissants are some of the best croissants in the city. The Cafe con Leche latte is also a favorite. But what keeps me coming back are the croissant breakfast sandwiches. So so good.
9. Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea– Fairgrounds has a few cafes in the USA but mainly focused in Illinois. I love their coffee and tea offerings. This is also another spot that has great breakfast sandwiches and a lot of room to work if you’re looking for a space like that. My favorite location is the Chicago Fulton Market. It’s super cute inside as well.
10. Belli’s– Belli’s is a smoothie and juice bar located in the Pilsen neighborhood. They also sell a ton of vegan options ranging from breakfast toasts, soups, bowls, and even groceries. It’s a great spot if you’re trying to avoid eating as much sugar or bloating from all the dairy.
photo source: facebook.com/bellispilsen
For Chicago Dinner ($-$$):
11. 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 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.
14. 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) prefer 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.
15. 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 our favorite burgers in town.
The Small Cheval owners are the same as Bavette’s (mentioned below). Prices aren’t bad either and they serve cocktails at some of their locations. WIN!
16. 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.
17. 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).
18. Aba– What I’d call a sister restaurant to Ema. Aba is also a Mediterranean restaurant, but unlike Ema, they have a rooftop patio to enjoy the warmer days. Besides that, Aba does offer different dishes, seasonings, cocktails, and the prettiest decor.
It’s a very popular restaurant in Chicago, one I’d recommend you book a reservation ahead of time. They are packed even on weekdays. If you’re really craving Mediterranean food and can’t get in, Ema is more flexible.
Everything we tried at Aba was phenomenal down to the drinks! The dishes are designed to share but no one says you have to. I can’t wait to visit in the summertime.
19. Bonci– We were so excited when we learned Bonci’s was coming to Chicago 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 in Rome back in 2013 because Jorge had seen it on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows. Now we have 2 locations in our city!
20. The Warbler– Elevated comfort food, The Warbler was a delicious find! The flatbreads they have are out of this world. We were so happy with everything we ordered that nothing was left behind and we’re already planning our trip back to try more dishes.
Whether you order flatbread, salads, main dishes or cocktails, you will not regret your visit to The Warbler. Also note, it’s right next to Gather so if you’re in the Lincoln Square area, you have 2 great places to choose from.
21. Lotus Cafe & Bánh Mì Sandwiches– Deliciousss Bánh Mì sandwiches and Phở are available at this little cafe. They have a simple menu, they stick to the basics but do it well. There are also vegan options. They have a few locations, but you’ll find their original location near University Village (this is where we go).
photo source: facebook.com/LotusCafeBanhMiSandwiches
For Chicago Dinner ($$$):
22. 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 exceptional.
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. Their Lillet Rosé martini is perfection, been dreaming of getting another one of those soon.
23. 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 likes 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. It’s just a great dining experience. I do recommend making a reservation as well unless you’re cool with sitting at the bar.
24. 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 $40. 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. Our dinner was great! 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 worth the calories. 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 salads and both were so good.
26. HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen– We just visited for Jorge’s birthday and the food was fantastic! It’s run by a husband and wife team in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood. I didn’t know what to expect, but I loved it and can’t wait to go back after this pandemic is over.
J loved the wings in fish sauce and crab stir fry the most. My favorite of the night was the Bò Nướng Tỏi (grilled ribeye with a side of house fried rice). We didn’t try the cocktails, but I will next time because they looked amazing.
They also have a more affordable Vietnamese cafe next door, Ca Phe Da Vietnamese Cafe, where you can find Bánh Mì sandwiches, Phở, pastries, coffee, or even cocktails! We haven’t been able to check out the cafe, but as soon as we can, I’ll report back.
photo source: @cosmic_ghost
For Chicago Dessert:
27. Do-Rite Donuts & Coffee– With several locations around the city, you’ll be sure to run into one of their delicious doughnut shops. So far my favorite doughnut has been the Pistachio-Meyer Lemon followed by the coconut cream. Jorge loved the Chocolate Old Fashioned. There are so many flavors left to try though, we can only eat so much at a time. They also sell these amazing looking chicken sandwiches that we want to get one day.
photo source: facebook.com/doritedonuts
28. Lost Larson Bakery– If you find yourself further north in the city make sure to stop by Lost Larson. Their pastries are phenomenal and their breakfast toasts are also great! They also have a location inside the Time Out Market Chicago in case you’re wandering through there.
photo source: facebook.com/lostlarson
29. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams– They 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.
30. Stan’s Donuts– Delicious doughnuts with locations all over the city! One of my faves is coconut cream (pictured on the right).
31. 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!
32. 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 loved it as well. I was “mmm’ing” every single bite. We keep going back for more. They have great looking lattes too!
They recently moved to a bigger location in the same area so seating is a lot better now with plenty of tables, a cool couch, and these fun swing chairs. This was another place we tried because of A la Card, totally not sponsored by them I just really like their product.
33. Sprinkles Chicago– We recently tried Sprinkles and wondered what the hell took us so long to try Sprinkles! I know they have locations all over the U.S., but again if it’s not in your city definitely check them out while in Chicago.
They have a cupcake ATM in the Chicago location in case you’re there outside of their regular hours. They stock it multiple times throughout the day to keep them fresh. If you’re traveling with your dog, they also sell pupcakes!
photo source: facebook.com/sprinkles
Craving Chicago Cocktails?
34. Scofflaw– First visited this bar a year ago for Jorge’s birthday and it quickly became a favorite. It’s a gin-focused bar with the coziest ambiance, you really won’t want to leave. Cocktails are $10+.
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. 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. If you’re hungry while there, the burger and fries are delish.
35. Francois Frankie– I was so excited to see that Chicago was getting its very own carousel bar! I visited the one in New Orleans and enjoyed it, so I couldn’t wait to see what Francois set up (just opened summer 2019). The bar didn’t disappoint with the cocktails, though the prices are up there ($15+). But I think it’s worth the experience.
The carousel does a full circle in about an hour. It’s funny because before you know it you’re facing a different direction than where you started. I remember I was taking photos of the bar and when I went to sit back down Jorge pointed elsewhere saying, “did you realize that we’re no longer sitting over there?” LOL! You’ve gotta try this place!
36. Three Dots and a Dash– Three Dots is one of my favorite Chicago bars. I adore 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 there. I suggest you make a reservation beforehand because it does get very busy.
37. 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 it’s great during any season.
38. The Violet Hour– This bar has an interesting concept. The entrance is unmarked and covered by a mural that changes often. Their “house rules” include 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+.
39. 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.
40. Secret Sound– This “secret” tiki bar is located inside the brand new Time Out Market Chicago. It’s on the second floor, you’ll see a sign. If the window isn’t open, you’ll need to ring the bell so they can serve you. The drinks are crafted by the same owners of Lost Lake and they’re perfect from taste to garnish. Just look at this beauty below!
Things to Do in Chicago + Top Photo Spots
Want to check out other things in Chicago besides food? I’ve got you covered! There are so many exciting things to do, see, and eat in this great city. 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 a few of the top tours to enjoy in the city. You can find more in the Chicago photo post linked above. You can click through to learn more about each tour or search for others. I use GetYourGuide when traveling to a new place and like the options plus the fact that you can easily cancel if plans change.
Hope these recommendations help you enjoy some great eats while visiting Chicago.
PIN FOR LATER
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