Updated: August 9, 2021
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 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.
*This post has been updated to reflect Covid-19 closures or changes.
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 wouldn’t 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. In January, I stayed at the Waldorf (read about that experience HERE). Honestly, I didn’t expect much when Jorge and I went down for brunch, but I was hooked when we got our food.
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 (and he’s tried many). It is a bit pricey, but worth it for the incredible food. They also have a live band on Sundays, and the atmosphere is lovely.
2021 UPDATE: Margeaux closed for a while due to covid. It returned with a new chef and a new menu. The new name is Brasserie. I haven’t visited since the revamp, so I cannot comment on the menu, but I’m hoping my favorite french toasts are still around.
3. 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 excellent, 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.
4. 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 flair—lots of fancy french toast and pancake dishes, along with other traditional options. The presentation of the food is excellent and equally tasty.
5. 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 oversized and will keep you full for half the day! It’s a good place to go if you plan a light dinner. 2021 UPDATE: They now have a large outdoor patio.
6. Butterdough– You’ll find this modest little cafe on the city’s south side 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.
But what keeps me coming back are the croissant breakfast sandwiches. The Cafe con Leche latte is also a favorite. So so good. 2021 UPDATE: These brothers have found so much success with their bakery that they outgrew their current location and are searching for a bigger place. They are temporarily closed until they find it.
7. Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea– Fairgrounds has a few cafes in the USA but mainly focuses on Illinois. I love their coffee and tea offerings. You’ll also find breakfast sandwiches and plenty of room to work. My favorite location is the Chicago Fulton Market.
8. Belli’s– Belli’s is a smoothie and juice bar located in the Pilsen neighborhood. They also sell many 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. 2021 UPDATE: Belli’s will soon have locations in both Lincoln Park and River North neighborhoods.
photo source: facebook.com/bellispilsen
For Chicago Dinner ($-$$):
9. Tortello–Tortello blew our minds. We spotted a “fresh pasta shop” when getting coffee from Caffe Streets. They usually have someone making pasta in front of a big window, just like they do in Italy! Once we tried the food, we haven’t stopped going back and telling everyone we know about it.
The dishes will transport you back to your favorite Italian shops. They use the best ingredients, keep the recipes simple, and will leave you wanting more. Sometimes they also have live music to bring more of an Italian flair to your dining experience.
10. Smoque BBQ– Located in Irving Park, Smoque has impressive brisket. I’ve tried to find businesses 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.
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.
If you’re in the mood for dessert, definitely try their tiramisu! And, if you go on weekends, they give you these delicious little cannoli on your way out (for free).
12. Longman & Eagle– We recently visited Longman & Eagle (patio dining) in the middle of this pandemic and enjoyed it more than I expected. We felt safe and well distanced, and the food was delicious! It’s as good as it looks in this photo. They offer a “farm to table, nose to tail aesthetic.” You’ll find dishes such as classic burgers, foie gras, and vegan options on the menu.
It is considered a whiskey bar, so its crafted cocktails are whiskey-heavy. Jorge loves it and says that they have one of the best old-fashioned’s in the city. I ordered a classic burger and fries, and I couldn’t stop saying, “this burger is SO good,” during my meal. Jorge got a spicy chicken sandwich and loved it, but he mainly wanted to go to Longman for their old-fashioned.
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 enough for 2-3 people.
They serve you complimentary “bread and butter pickles” and homemade potato chips when dining in. 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– Del Toro does an excellent 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 I always opt for their fruity sangrias since I dislike tequila (more of a vodka girl, heyyy).
Some of my favorite dishes are the sopes, tacos, and tortas. All reasonably priced and all 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 wait. Yes, we’ve tried both. These are some of 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 Chicago’s best fish and chips (comparable to the U.K. versions). The portion sizes are generous, and the fish is juicy and perfectly seasoned. Don’t miss the cocktails!
They only serve this dish on Fridays. 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 fantastic! We first went during Restaurant Week in February, so we got to try many dishes. They’re a “shared plates” kinda place.
The hummus and house bread are also a favorite. Seriously so many great options. Oh, and the interiors are gorgeous. Such an inspiring space. They open all the windows during the summer, so it feels more “al fresco.” They also have a brand new patio they added in 2021.
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 eating multiple things off the menu and not left feeling stuffed and bloated—the 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 trendy restaurant in Chicago, one I’d recommend you book a reservation for ahead of time. They are packed even on weekdays. Ema is more flexible if you crave Mediterranean food and can’t get in.
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.
Here’s a view from their rooftop patio along with my handsome husband.
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 Anthony Bourdain’s show. Now we have two 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 visiting The Warbler. Also, it’s right next to Gather, so if you’re in the Lincoln Square area, you have two 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 unique, 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. I think the filet mignon is the star, though; it cuts like butter and is perfectly cooked. Pair your meal with a Lillet Rose martini, and you’re set!
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 service.
They always make my filet mignon 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 recommend making a reservation 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, and they are all amazing.
It’s also an excellent 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 bit of discount.
Anyway, back to Formento’s and all their tasty Italian food. Our dinner was great! We tried three 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.
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. J loved the wings in fish sauce and crab stir fry the most.
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 I’ll report back as soon as possible. 2021 UPDATE: The owners switched Ca Phe Da to Dang Good Wings. Now it’s a good spot if you’re looking for wings, waffles, cocktails, or Vietnamese coffee.
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, 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 if 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, 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. I’m also a fan of their rosé flavor. I like that they make their waffle cones while you wait in line, and they also have gluten-free or dairy-free options. Wildberry Lavender and rosé are pictured below.
30. Chocolat Uzma– We barely discovered this delicious chocolate shop last year (2020) when we searched for chocolate to soothe our quarantine stress.
Uzma is a 100% women-owned local shop that sells handcrafted chocolates inspired by their South Asian culture. We loved their hot chocolate offerings with homemade marshmallows. And in the spring/summertime, they offer unique ice creams.
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!
32. The Crepe Shop– I haven’t tried all the crepes in Chicago, but I guarantee these are the best ones. 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. They have great-looking lattes too! We keep going back for more.
They recently moved to a bigger location in the same area, so seating is better now with plenty of tables, a cool couch, and these fun swing chairs.
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 if it’s not in your city, definitely check them out while in Chicago.
They have a cupcake ATM in the Chicago location if 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– I 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 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, and 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 hangout year-round. They have a beautiful outdoor patio that will give you all the France vibes. If you’re hungry while there, the burger and fries are delicious.
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 (it just opened in 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 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 must 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 jam-packed.
37. Lost Lake– Another excellent tiki bar with slightly cheaper options. 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. Everything is half off if you go during happy hour (Mon-Fri 4-7 pm). This is unheard of! Last time J and I went for happy hour and had four cocktails for under $30. *Update* They also change their menu for new seasons, so you’ll find new goodies whenever you visit.
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 new Time Out Market Chicago brand. 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 same owners of Lost Lake craft the drinks, and they’re perfect from taste to garnish. Just look at this beauty below! 2021 UPDATE: Secret Sound is temporarily closed, but they assured me that it was coming back, so I’m leaving it on for now.
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 many exciting things to do, see, and eat in this great city. You can easily spend a week exploring its attractions.
But first, coffee. Suppose you want to start your morning off properly; check out the best cafes in Chicago.
If you’re looking for the best skyline views, unique photo opportunities, and possible tours, You can find that post here: Chicago Photo Locations.
If you’re planning for the holidays and would like a winter/Christmas guide for Chicago, read this: Things to do in Chicago in December.
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.
Curious about where to stay to make the most of your trip? Check out these 11 best Airbnbs in Chicago.
COOL TOURS TO CONSIDER
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 Viator or GetYourGuide when traveling to a new place and like the options, plus the fact that you can easily cancel if plans change.
- Chicago Walking Tour: Historic Treasures of Chicago
- Chicago in a Day: Food, History, and Architecture Combo Tour
- Bikes, Bites, and Brews: Chicago’s Signature Dishes Bike Tour
- Chicago Architecture Walking Tour: Dazzling Interiors™ of the Loop
- Underground Donut Tour: Chicago’s First Donut Tour
- Chicago Favorites Ultimate Food & Walking Tour
- Gangsters and Ghosts Tour in Chicago
I hope these recommendations help you enjoy some great eats while visiting Chicago.
PIN FOR LATER
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