When you think of Chicago food, the first thought that comes to mind might be unbuckle-the-pants Midwestern meals like Italian beef sandwiches and deep dish pizzas that are either dripping with cheese, grease, or a delicious combination of both.
No doubt, Chicago has lots of casual, calorie-bomb favorites for quick meals. Little Goat's cheesey shrimp and Hot Doug's hot dogs hold a special place in our hearts (and on our Best Casual Restaurants list). But with nearly 3 million residents from every corner of the globe, Chicago’s food scene is bound to have lots of colors in its culinary rainbow. And when it comes to fine dining, Chicago is one of the hottest culinary spots in the country. This February, an impressive seven Chicago restaurants landed on our list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America.
New restaurants like Curtis Duffy's Grace and Ryan McCaskey's Acadia have put Chicago on the map as an exciting place for traditional American flavors mixing with contemporary and international touches. Hot spots like Paul Kahan's The Publican, with its beer-centric menu and communal dining table, and Philip Ross' El Ideas, where the chefs dress in street clothes and guests are encouraged to take peaks into the kitchen area, are helping to shed inventive food of its sometimes stodgy image. And Grant Achatz's Next and Alinea have helped make Chicago a premier place for culinary innovation.
To put our list together, we considered every aspect of the culinary experience these restaurants offer their customers, from their ambiance and creativity, to their ability to simply deliver the goods on a delicious meal. Without further ado, here are our choices for the best restaurants the Windy City has to offer.
Chef Michael Carlson puts his spin on contemporary fine dining at Wicker Park’s Schwa, which has been open since 2005 and features a rotating, nine-course prix fixe menu. The space is simple, seating only 26 and features no support staff — just chefs who deliver your food directly. The menu, however, focuses on seasonal ingredients from around the globe and packs enough personality to fill the space with life. Sweet and savory in unexpected ways, the menu features items like tiger fish touched with marshmallow and cardamom, botargo flavored with chocolate, and biscuits and gravy with mustard.
Opened by James Beard Award-winning chef Curtis Duffy in 2012, the Near West Side’s Grace has gone on to receive nearly every accolade imaginable from the culinary community including: Two Michelin Stars in the Chicago 2014 Guide, AAA's Five Diamond Rating, Forbes Travel Guide's 5-Star Rating, and Chicago Magazine’s Best New Restaurant. So how’s the food? Flavorful, to say the least. Options include surprising combinations like scallops with licorice flavors, and Miyazaki beef with peanuts and Vietnamese herbs.