Alinea isn’t just reckoned to be the best restaurant in Chicago – many critics think of it as the single greatest gastronomic temple in the whole of the United States. It’s anything but stuffy and old-fashioned, though. Overseen by kitchen wizard Grant Achatz, the food here is playful, flamboyant and surreal, from the famed edible balloons which float by like Willy Wonka creations, to the dishes that are deliberately dabbed and strewn across the table like edible Jackson Pollock paintings. Grant Achatz once counted the legendary chef Thomas Keller as a mentor, but now it’s Achatz himself who’s changing the culinary landscape.
Located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, DineAmic Group’s Siena Tavern is a polished and energetic restaurant with Italian and Mediterranean influences. The menu was curated by DineAmic Group’s Chef/Partner, Fabio Viviani, also commonly known for his Celebrity Chef accolade as Bravo’s “Top Chef Fan Favorite.” The décor reflects a hybrid of a rustic Italian market, a fine dining restaurant, and a modern, industrial tavern, bridging old world comfort and hospitality with a contemporary menu and design. When setting foot into this 10,000-square-foot eatery for lunch, dinner, happy hour, late night cocktails or weekend brunch, you can expect to taste the same fresh, from-scratch cooking across pasta, pizzas, mozzarellas, gelato and everything in between.
Tucked down an unassuming street, Oriole is another award-winning Chicago institution. It ticks all the contemporary boxes with its edgy, industrial-style exterior and a stylish dining room with exposed brick and sultry lighting. But the real attraction here is what comes out of the kitchens. The chefs make unashamed use of A-list ingredients including golden caviar, pungent Italian truffles and gleamingly fresh sea urchins, concocting dishes that put a modern twist on time-honoured, European-style classics. If you fancy indulging yourself during your trip to Chicago, few places are more worth the splurge than Oriole.
The people at Giant take a refreshingly irreverent approach to great food. The buzzy atmosphere will put a smile on your face, as will their cheeky website, which says: “We like people. We like feeding people food. We promise not to make people into food.” The place itself has a striking, arty aesthetic, while the food itself is hearty and unpretentious – think sticky, unctuous short ribs, garlic buttermilk potatoes and crunchy waffle fries that will have you eating more than is strictly sensible. No visit should ignore the pasta selection either, as Giant is known for its way with home-made tortellini.
Chicago is famed for its deep-dish extravaganzas, but this particular pizza joint goes one better. Here, in a snug and homely nook that’s been luring diners for decades, they serve up their unique “pizza pot pie”. Each one is made to order by lining a bowl with cheese, then filling it up with a rich meat or vegetarian sauce and whole mushrooms, before sealing it with bread dough. The pie is then turned upside down for serving, providing a rich, thick, cheesy feast that’s like a pizza on steroids. It’s little wonder that generations of diners have been coming since the 70s.
Andrew Zimmerman once wanted to be a musician, but while working in kitchens to make ends meet, he found his true passion. Since then, he’s made a name for himself as a culinary pioneer, putting ingredients to unusual and delicious use. At Proxi, you might find yourself tucking into Indonesian jerky one minute, and coal-roasted oysters the next. The surroundings are fittingly eclectic and retro, reflecting the hip menu, and you’ll sometimes feel like you’re being taken on a whistlestop tour of the world’s street food stalls. What more could an adventurous foodie want?
From the team behind the prominent Italian eateries Siena Tavern and Bar Siena, and the buzzing sports bar, Public House, comes Prime & Provisions, a steakhouse concept positioned on the border of River North and Loop area. The restaurant celebrates the simplicity of true steakhouse cuisine and prides itself on its’ mission: to source the absolute best domestic beef available in the United States. Prime & Provisions’ is the only steakhouse in Chicago to serve U.S.D.A. Prime Creekstone Farms 100% All Natural Black Angus Beef, humanely raised, with no hormones or antibiotics. While the menu reconnects with traditional steakhouse roots, the decor highlights the vintage opulence of 222 North LaSalle’s “Crown Building” and creates a social experience that connects the modern-day patron with the sophistication and glamour of the era in which the building was first constructed.
Rich, luxurious ingredients await at Bellemore, a relatively recent addition to the Chicago culinary scene. The place itself is a real looker, with burnished wooden fittings, brass chandeliers and traditional leather banquettes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Victorian gentlemen’s club. The food itself has been celebrated on social media for its visual flair – one standout is the “oyster pie”, which is an oyster custard garlanded with caviar. Elsewhere on the menu, you might find equally tempting dishes like sweetbreads glazed with molasses butter, and dry-aged duck with honey.
El Ideas is no ordinary fine dining restaurant. It’s a place with punk-like swagger, where diners can interact with the chefs as they cook, and where the dishes gleefully break all culinary boundaries. You might find cotton candy sharing the same plate as pear and pomegranate, and quail egg nestled with bread pudding and beef. This is food you need to see and taste for yourself, as it defies description, and there’s an added perk: El Ideas is a BYOB restaurant, so you can bring along your own wine and not even have to pay a corkage fee.
Hankering for a Mexican feast, but fancy something a bit different from the norm? Then get yourself over to Topolobampo, which no less a newspaper than the New York Times once described as “possibly the most elegant and serious Mexican restaurant in the country”. This is a joint that counts Barack Obama as an occasional diner, so you can safely go in with high expectations. Classic dishes are given a thrillingly modern spin, and you can tuck into the likes of suckling pig with chestnut manchamenteles, and the offal-laden tongue taco with smoky molcajete salsa.
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