My Definitive Chicago Restaurant Post…

Guys!! I finally found something I do better than Gwyneth!!!

If you subscribe to the Goop, and I do, you know her last newsletter was on Chicago restaurants. While I agreed with a bunch of her picks it was kind of…meh…well, expected at least. And I feel like I would know. Of the 14 restaurants she recommended I have been to 8. And it’s not that I don’t agree that a lot of those places are great, but its not my list per se.

This Is:

Top 3…Period: These are the ones we will mourn when we leave.

  • Big Star: Bucktown/Wicker Park Probably the dining experience I will miss the most. Which is silly because part of the reason I love it so much is because it REMINDS me of Austin-where we are moving- but nonetheless. This place is just cool and I feel cool when I am there. Which also means that there is usually a wait. You can’t make a reservation, it is basically a bar that serves food and if you are squirrly like me it is never too hard to find a spot or two at the bar. The margaritas rule, or they did last I could remember, their guacamole is superior. My favorite tacos are the Poblano-which are now off the menu but still available if you request them, and the pork belly. But everything here is good. I will miss it greatly.
  • DMK: Wrigleyville Although I have been in a Twitter battle (where they refuse to engage with me) about them taking my favorite burger, the old Italian #5 off the menu!!! with this burger spot in Wrigleyville, it is still one of my ultimate favorites Chicago. Pete is making me tell you that it’s not that I think this is one of the Top 3 restaurants in Chicago-I don’t- but it is one of my favorite go-tos. In the end it is just a burger bar- but the burgers are unreal. I have contemplated at length what makes them so good, and I think it starts and ends with the bun. But no matter. In the battle of Chicago burger spots (Kuma’s, Urban Burger, Burger Bar) DMK reigns supreme for me. The restaurant group also recently opened Fish Bar next door, which I have not tried yet because 7 months into my pregnancy fish makes me want to vom- but I have heard it is good and has a fun atmosphere.
  • GT Fish & Oyster: River North Ok so I know I said I can’t handle fish right now. But this is different. This spot was recently opened by Chef Giuseppe Tentori of Boka and Pete and I went 3 times in the first 4 days of opening. Mostly because Pete has serious manlove for Chef and his food, but also because it is delicious. It has a great atmosphere, casual but not scrubby- it would be a great spot for a first date. Impressive but not stuffy at all. And if you want to experience joy in your life the key lime pie dessert situation rules. Other favorite dishes include: Clam Chowdah, Fish Tacos, and Lobster Mac n’ Cheese.

Top 3 Fancy Pants: The cool thing about Chicago dining to me is that the best restaurants aren’t strictly the fanciest. These are, to me, the best of the fancy for a special night out.

  • Alinea: Lincoln Park Celebrity/Rockstar Chef Grant Achatz original Chicago restaurant. Super fancy, like crazy wait for a reservation, 12 or 24 course tasting meal of molecular gastronomy madness. If you are into food and want to say you tried one of the best restaurants in the world, it is worth the hype. Achatz has since opened Next and Aviary which I don’t think we are going to get the chance to visit before we leave, but I have heard they are amazing as well.
  • Boka: Lincoln Park Pete and I stumbled upon Boka when we first moved here and were busy trying all of the “must see” Chicago restaurants. Two years later Boka is more like a second home, a really fancy one that serves delicious food. But as nice and upscale as this restaurant is- it lacks the annoying pretentiousness that so many of its peers seem to feel they must employ. Although they are now (quite deservedly) Michelin star rated, they seem to lack a Michelin Star ego. When I brought my mom here on her last visit they accommodated her crazy Atkinsish diet needs- basically meat and vegetables without a hint of seasoning, and created a delicious off-menu meal to suit her needs without so much as an eye roll. I may have rolled mine, but not them! Bonus- the cocktails whipped up by recently voted top mixologist in Chicago Benjamin Schiller are uh-mazing. Even when preggars he has created some super tasty “mocktails” for me. Double Bonus- Look for Pete’s plaque on the bar. 
  • Table 52: Gold Coast Started by Oprah’s former Chef Art Smith this adorable, cozy spot in the posh Gold Coast serves legit southern favorites with an upscale twist. I love the space, a tiny old carriage house, and that atmosphere here. The food is ridiculous. The mac n’cheese- there are no words. And even though Art Smith is a famousy Chicago Chef- he still can be found in the restaurant most nights visiting tables in the dining room. Which I think is neat.

Top 3 Neighborhood: Neighborhood being Lincoln Park, these are our “go-to’s”, good ol’ reliable, great at what they do favorite spots in the neighborhood.

  • Gemini Bistro: Lincoln Park If there were awards for “most visited” I think it would go to Gemini Bistro. It is just such a pleasant dining experience Pete and I go here abooutttt once a week. Partially because the menu is so good and so accessible. It has something for everyone, sorted “small” “medium” and “large” they have everything from delicious light soups and salads, to rowdy steaks and burgers. The menu also adapts to the season with new dishes and specials constantly being offered so it is hard to get bored. The atmosphere lends itself just as well to a family meal with los bebes if you go at 5:00, or a hot date at 8:00. It is just the perfect neighborhood spot- but is worth the trip if you are staying elsewhere in the city. It is also worth mentioning that the owners of Gemini will soon (as in June 7) be opening another restaurant in Lincoln Park called Rustic House- which I am told will have a similar vibe but be a bit more like a steak house. I am super bummed we will be missing that but I am sure it will be amaze.
  • Twin Anchors: Old Town While this classic Chicago spot is technically in Old Town, I think we can just get over that and let it stay on this list bc Old Town and LP are basically the same. OK!? This place is pure Chicago nostalgia. Pete’s Dad used to hang out here. The rat pack used to hang out here. It’s just cool old and funky- and delicious. They are not messing around with their ribs, but everything I have had on this classic barbq/pub menu has been yums.
  • Riccardo Tratoria: Lincoln Park Ok, so I am jumping on the Goop bandwagon with this one. But this little cozy Italian spot is amazing. The pastas are so good its like they should be called something else because they are so much better than regular pastas- and I am nothing nothing if not a pasta afficianado. Riccardo is a bit fancier than our normal neighborhood night out, but aren’t you worth it?

*Honorable Mention* Perrenial Virant: Lincoln Park We liked Perrenial in its former incarnation, but after being completely redone and rehelmed under Michelin Chef Paul Virant, I am sure this place is going to be ridiculous. One of Pete’s friends is the manager so we are lucky enough to get to try it tonight before it officially opens next week- so I will report back on the new scene asap!

Top 3 “CHICAGO” Dining Experiences: These places to me reflect what “Chicago” food is all about.

  • Bristol: Bucktown When I say what “Chicago” food is all about I mean seasonal ingredients, farm to table, unpretentious, casual, hipster-friendly spots with great specialty drinks. And that is Bristol. I also mean no reservations, which is the biggest pain in the ass thing about most Chicago restaurants. But at the good ones it is worth it. And Bristol is consistently delish. Their dishes change often, but their monkey bread with dill dipping sauce is a regular on their menu and in my heart and belly. Also it is in a great area for going out after.
  • Avec: West Loop Another no reservations, casual, seasonal place. If Bristol is my favorite “Chicago” spot, Avec is Pete’s. The Chorizo stuffed dates are reason enough to go, but I also really dig the decor. It makes me feel sleek and Sveedish. The seating options are peculiar- either bar or communal tables (I choose bar) and there is always a wait. But it is worth it.
  • Longman & Eagle: BFE?? I dont know Logan Square?? This spot is in a RANDAR localle. And when it received a Michelin Star last year right after it opened lots of people were like whaaa?? So I tied on my bib and headed out to investigate. And was more than pleased. The decor is right up my alley, lots of funky black laquer and penny tile, but the food is for sure the star. The dishes are rowdy, but our group shared everything we got and thought every single thing was whoaaa mah gah delicious. And now it is a hotel too? Peculiar, what will those hipsters think of next.

*Honorable Mention* Girl and the Goat: This would have made my list but it is on EVERYONE’s list and I didn’t want to be redundant. Opened last year by Top Chef Winner Stephanie Izard this place has been the food hot spot to try, and we did for Pete’s Birthday this year and were not disappointed. Definitely worth the hype, and in a cool charming up-and-coming part of town.

And that is my list. I had a lot of fun thinking about what would really be my favorites of the favorites. We have been lucky enough to try a huge number of highly recomended Chicago restaurants, but for my money these are the best. And if you were to see my body you would know I actually indulge when I eat- unlike the Goopster so you can trust me. I hope. I am definitely going to miss dining in this city.

What about you, dear readers, what are your favorite Chicago spots? What do you think of my list?

22 thoughts on “My Definitive Chicago Restaurant Post…

  1. DMK is the most delicious place I’ve ever been. The BBQ burger is heavenly. And I think I agree with all of your other selections too, except Perennial, feeling ehh about that one. Table 52, twin achors yum. OK I’m hungry now and its 7:25am.

  2. Yum, yum, yummmers. Twin Anchors, yes. Perennial, yes {and excited.} Big Star, yessssss. Boka, yes. Gemini, yep! I printed this out for those I have not had the chance to visit!

  3. I agree with most of those places. I haven’t been to table 52, or Avec, and I have ressys at GT at the end of the month.

    Missing from the list IMO:
    – Le Colonial which I think is the best food in the city. French Vietnamese = win/win.
    – Quartino: Perhaps the most fun place to go with a group of 6 to 8 and the best value anywhere.
    – Bon Soiree/Schwa: These are Fancy Pants places, but BYOB … which is awesome.
    – Chilipan: It’s BYOB authentic Mexican out west on Armitage near the blue line. This is a hidden gem. Small number of table, but top-3 places in the city for me.

  4. Hey Bailey! Us Austin folk are super excited for your return! I wanted to let you know that as soon as you started talking about your DMK burger joint I was like THEY HAVE TO TRY HOP DODDYS! It’s a new burger bar on South Congress and the smell of the bread when you walk in (made in-house) makes my mouth water immediately! The atmosphere is really great and they have options such as bison burger to a tuna burger with your average cheeseburger inbetween. http://www.hopdoddy.com/

  5. Mike- Great list! Le Colonial is out because it is a chain and wasn’t started in Chicago…But I agree that it is delicious and I love the space.
    I haven’t tried the other three but they sound amazing!
    Sparkles- I agree that Perennial before was “meh” but I think with the new revamp and menu its going to be unreal. I will let you know after tonight!

  6. Love your list and Boka is my favorite, favorite restaurant in the city. Good luck with your move!

  7. This post is making me miss Chicago like crazy – love that place! My local neighborhood favorite was Webster Wine Bar (in Lincoln Park). It was an easy walk from our apartment, great wine and the people knew us. If you go, make sure to get the bread pudding!

  8. We went to Perrenial Virant on Monday night and the food was beyond AMAZING! Paul is so so talented. I highly recommend it. Fun locale too for all the old school Bar Louie lovers.

  9. gotta love twin anchors. Do you know what movie was filmed there?;)
    A fav casual spot of mine is Milk and Honey Cafe in Bucktown/Wicker Park for lunch or Breakfast.
    I also die for Homemade Pizza Company!

  10. I am bookmarking this post because I go to Chicago often these days and never know where to eat. I’ve been to Table 52 twice, first time was amazing, second just fair. I had a great meal at the Publican, have you been? And I love the resto at the Elysian, best butterscotch pudding EVER. I hope you’ll do some Austin posts soon, my bachelorette party is there next month 🙂

  11. Awesome list Bailey, I am so glad The Bristol made the list, my lady and I had the best meal start to finish there last fall, simply amazing.
    I made reservations 2 months ago for my birthday in July at Girl and the Goat, pretty excited!

  12. Great Picks. Big Star was across the street from my old apartment…I miss being able to just bop in – I have dreams about their pork belly taco. yum. Excited for Rustic House to open…Lincoln Park is in need of some new restaurants..Brother’s Beef aint cuttin it.

  13. OK. Am much relieved to read that I am not the only one who mourns the loss of #5 at DMK. Irreplaceable. Inexcusable. But enjoy your list (been curious about Boka…), a friend sent me Gwyneth’s last week and I was a bit underwhelmed.

  14. I loved Frontera. I know some people think it’s over rated, but #1- Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters, and #2- after a month long wait for our reservations, my farewell-I’m-moving-to-Ohio dinner more than met my expectations. It was DELISH! Everywhere you mentioned sounds great! I’ll have to try some with my Bestie the next time I get to go home! c:

  15. This is fantastic! I’m headed to Chicago for the first time next week, and I can’t wait to try out a few of these suggestions! Thanks a ton!

  16. Oh, so this is over a year after you posted this, but I’m finally getting back to Chicago this fall. I was THRILLED that I was able to search for this post and put your dining details to use. Thank you, thank you for all of the fab suggestions!

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