31 Amazing Places to Eat in Chicago: A Locals Guide to the Best Spots

Updated: October 16, 2023

I love finding local recommendations when searching for things to do in a new city. 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 dinners to unique restaurants is on this list. If you ask yourself, “Where should I eat in Chicago?” this list is it.

Update: It’s been several years since I first wrote this post, and a lot has changed. There have been covid closures, changes of management, etc. This is a popular post on my blog, and I don’t want to steer you in the wrong direction. I’ve narrowed the list down to places I keep returning to and still find worthwhile.

Throughout my travels, I’ve also noticed that these lists can be overwhelming when you only have a few days in a new city. I wanted to update this post to make note of the top 10 places to eat in Chicago based on my local experience, as well as listing other places that are also great if you have more time to explore the city.

The top 10 noted below are places where I take out-of-town guests—the best of the best. So, if you’ve only got a short time in Chicago, start with the top 10 and work your way down.

Top Places to Eat in Chicago

1. TortelloWe spotted a “fresh pasta shop” when getting coffee from Caffe Streets. They usually have someone making fresh pasta in front of a big window, just like they do in Italy. Once we tried the food, we didn’t stop going back and telling everyone we knew about it.

One of the owners is from Venice. The dishes will transport you back to your favorite Italian town. They use the best ingredients, keep the recipes simple, and will leave you wanting more. Some days in the summer, they also have live music.

source: facebook.com/tortellopasta

2. Smoque BBQLocated 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 become increasingly popular, 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.

Smoque BBQ brisket | thisdarlingworld.comsource: yelp.com 

3. Spacca Napoli– If you love Italy’s Neopolitan pizza, you must try Spacca Napoli. It’s award-winning and AVPN Certified, so you know it’s the real deal.

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.

We’ve visited Italy numerous times, including Naples, where pizza was born. We tasted some of their best pizza places, and Spacca is up there. They know what they’re doing. I’m so happy I have a little bit of Italy in my hometown.

If you’re in the mood for dessert, definitely try their tiramisu.

spacca napoli pizza | thisdarlingworld.com

4. Bavette’s Bar & BoeufIf you’re celebrating something special, in the mood for fine dining, or 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. Their Filet Mignon – Petite Duchess Cut is my absolute favorite steak meal. So damn good. The steak frites, burgers, salads, and all the sides are also good. 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.

bavette's chicago | thisdarlingworld.comsource: facebook.com/BavettesBarBoeuf

5. 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.

We frequently return to the Crepe Shop. Our favorites are ham and cheese crepe and their wildberry cheesecake crepe. Don’t miss their lattes, either. They make my favorite cardamom rose latte in the entire city. Jorge loves their French lavender latte.

6. ScofflawI first visited 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 fairly priced, which is hard to find in a big city.

It’s nice to sit next to their fireplace in winter, 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.

They change parts of their menu with the seasons, so there’s always something new to try.

*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 French vibes. If you’re hungry while there, the burger and fries are delicious.

source: scofflawchicago.com

7. Aba Aba is also a Mediterranean restaurant, but unlike Ema (below), they have a rooftop patio to enjoy the warmer days.

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 be shared, but no one says you have to.

source: facebook.com/AbaRestaurants 

Here’s a view from their rooftop patio, along with my handsome husband.

8. Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone CrabMy 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.

My favorite dish to order is the salmon au poivre. You can’t go wrong with any of the seafood dishes. Their crab roll is delicious, and their crab bisque soup is our favorite soup ever in life.

They also have THE. BEST. PIES. Try the Havana Dream or the Banana or Coconut Cream pie. I also love their lemon drop martinis, and Jorge claims they have the best old-fashioned he’s ever tried.

We’ve treated 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.

source: facebook.com/joeschicago

9. The WarblerElevated comfort food. The Warbler was a yummy find! The flatbreads they have are so good. Their burger is also delicious, but my favorite has been their kale salad. 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.

source: facebook.com/thewarblerchicago

10. 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. 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.

Below are the remaining delicious restaurants if you have more time in Chicago.

Places to Eat in Chicago for Brunch: 

11. M. Henry CafeWe barely tried this place last February because I wanted to celebrate “National Pancake Month.” I was sad 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 tasty, and their pancakes were well-garnished and fluffy.

M.Henry Chicago pancakes | thisdarlingworld.com

12. 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.

source: instagram.com/agak1892

13. Sweet Maple Cafe– Sweet Maple has been a favorite for a long time. The restaurant is tiny with a southern flair. has long weekend waits, so get there early or an hour before they close.

My favorite (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.

source: yelp.com

For Chicago Dinner ($-$$): 

14. GatherThis 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.

source: facebook.com/gatherchicago

15. Longman & Eagle We recently visited Longman & Eagle (patio dining) in the middle of the pandemic and enjoyed it more than I expected. It’s as good as it looks in this photo. They offer a “farm to table, nose to tail aesthetic.” You’ll find classic burgers, foie gras, and vegan options on the menu.

It is considered a whiskey bar, so their crafted cocktails are whiskey-heavy. Jorge loves it and says they have one of the best old-fashioned in the city (second only to Joe’s). I ordered a classic burger and fries and 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. 

16. Chicago QIf you’re wandering around the Gold Coast area (maybe while checking out the best Chicago photo spots), you may want to stop at Chicago Q.

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.

chicago q pickles and chips | thisdarlingworld.comsource: facebook.com/chicagobbq

17. Del ToroDel 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 are reasonably priced and all good. Great place to just go for drinks, too. They recently expanded their space and now offer an outdoor patio.

del toro chicago | thisdarlingworld.comsource: facebook.com/deltoro

18. 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!

source: smallcheval.com

19. 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. 

source: pleasanthousehub.com

20. ĒmaThey have a Mediterranean menu offering some incredible spreads. Their Basmati and 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 housebread 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.

source: facebook.com/emarestaurantchicago

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).

source: facebook.com/emarestaurantchicago

21. 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! 

source: facebook.com/bonciusa

22. Lotus Cafe & Bánh Mì SandwichesDelicious 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 ($$$):

23. 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!

source: 3artsclubcafe.com

24. Formento’s I visited this Italian restaurant for my birthday because I had an A la Card. If you live in Chicago, I highly recommend these cards.

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).

source: formentos.com

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.

source: bhospitalityco.com/formentos

25. HaiSous Vietnamese KitchenWe 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:

26. Do-Rite Donuts & CoffeeWith 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

27. Chocolat UzmaWe 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.

source: facebook.com/chocolatuzma

28. Molly’s CupcakesAnother 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!

Molly's cupcakes chicago | thisdarlingworld.com

29. Sprinkles ChicagoWe 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?

30. Three Dots and a DashThree Dots is one of my favorite Chicago bars. I adore Tiki! Their drinks are pricey, but they don’t skimp out on the liquor. All the cocktails are creative and beautifully garnished. It’s certainly an experience there. I suggest you make a reservation beforehand because it gets jam-packed.

three dots and a dash | thisdarlingworld.comsource: facebook.com/threedotsandadash

31. 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.

Things to Do in Chicago + Top Photo Spots

Want to check out other things in Chicago besides food? I’ve got you covered! This great city has many exciting things to do, see, and eat. 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 only have a short trip but want to stay in the best location, check out 2 Days in Chicago.

If you’re planning the holidays and want 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.

I hope these recommendations help you enjoy some great eats while visiting Chicago.

PIN FOR LATER

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21 Comments

  • Reply Jenn February 17, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    Great suggestions! I also highly recommend Summer House Santa Monica in Lincoln Park. I frequently go here for brunch when visiting family in Chicago. The sunny atmosphere and California inspired ingredients feel like a little piece of sunny SoCal in the middle of Chicago.

    • Reply Lily March 5, 2022 at 1:06 am

      I’ll need to check it out! Thanks for the tip 🙂

  • Reply Kerry February 27, 2021 at 9:55 am

    I think Chicago might be the first place to visit after this pandemic. We will drive 12 hours so that we can bring back a couple cakes from Brown Sugar Bakery (across from Lem’s BBQ). I hope they are still open and operating and selling the best cakes I have ever tried when we are able to travel again.

  • Reply Linnea February 2, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    I loved these recommendations! You also have a couple other great posts on Chicago too that I loved! Margeaux Brasserie looks delicious and Molly’s Cupcakes looks too cute! I’ll definitely have to visit these during my visits to Chicago this summer! Thanks Lily!

    • Reply This Darling World February 2, 2019 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks so much Linnea, means a lot! Margeaux’s french toast are honestly out of this world hope you can try several of the spots I mention. Report back with your thoughts 😉

  • Reply agniecha78hotmailcom February 2, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Hope to make it to Chicago this year, so this will be handy!! Nothing like tips from a local!

  • Reply Megan McC February 2, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    National Pancake Month? I need more of that in my life….yummmm!
    Those cocktails look absolutely divine. I must hit up these places in Chicago. Thanks for the great list!

    • Reply This Darling World February 2, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Right?!? It’s currently that month again🙌🏼 And yeah there are some pretty great bars here. Thank you for the love!

  • Reply Sarah February 2, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Wow this looks so yum. Would happily eat my way through the entire list. Thanks for sharing

    • Reply This Darling World February 2, 2019 at 1:20 pm

      Thanks for reading Sarah! Hope you can visit and eat your way through soon 🙂

  • Reply Foodies, You Don't Want to Skip Naples, Italy - This Darling World August 4, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    […] that goes on it, is specific. I don’t know about you, but I find this fascinating. SIDE NOTE: My favorite pizza place in Chicago is certified, make a stop if you can’t visit Naples just […]

  • Reply Where the Locals Eat in Chicago - This Darling World June 30, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    […] my last post on my top places to eat in Chicago, I decided to ask other locals to share their favorites. I got tons of responses, but can you blame […]

  • Reply Grace Silla April 22, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    I can’t believe how many amazing restaurants there are in Chicago! That pie (is it banana?) looks amazing and those swing benches are so innovative! Also, I am dying to visit your fave pancake house in NYC.

    • Reply this darling world April 22, 2017 at 10:50 pm

      Thanks!! Can you believe I’ve only tried a fraction of them!😱 The pie is banana foster, seriously amazing! And yesss, you need to try Clinton Street, so so good.

  • Reply Miranda Knudtson April 22, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I was just talking to a friend about taking a day trip to Chicago, and we wanted to do/see more local-y stuff rather than the overdone Sears Tower, Bean, etc. These are great!

    • Reply this darling world April 22, 2017 at 10:51 pm

      Thank you!! Ahh yes this will be perfect for a day trip! So many great options 🙂

  • Reply Julianne April 22, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Three Dots and a Dash has been on my list of places to visit forever, but I hadn’t heard of Lost Lake. Thanks for the recs – so helpful! 🙂

    • Reply this darling world April 22, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      You’re welcome!! Three dots is so great, but lost lake isn’t far behind 🙂 You can reserve for three dots on open table as well!

  • Reply Tanmaya Godbole April 22, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    This is such a cool guide!! Will definitely use this next time I head to Chicago 🙂

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