That’s no misprint — Alinea, the elite Chicago fine dining institution, is included on Restaurant Business Online’s annual listing of the highest-grossing independent restaurants in America.
This is the first time the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Lincoln Park has appeared on the list and it’s among 19 Chicago-area establishments cracking the top 100. Also of intrigue is the top Chicago restaurants. Maple & Ash, the stylish Gold Coast steakhouse ranks No. 4 in the country with $30.3 million in sales, according to the publication’s 2022 ranking. Maple & Ash’s founders have spent parts of 2022 in court suing each other. Another thing worth noting is Tavern on Rush, Phil Stefani’s Gold Coast restaurant that closed after a landlord dispute is No. 61 in the country with $15.4 million in sales, according to the list.
The list’s No. 1 restaurant, Komodo in Miami, generated $41 million in sales with an average check of $115. Many of the restaurants, including Gibsons Italia — the second Chicago restaurant on the list with $22.3 million in sales — are high-volume establishments designed to pack in tourists or draw customers eating on their company’s dime; the dining rooms are large and bustling, though they don’t usually earn Michelin stars or James Beard Awards. Most of the data used for the rankings come from a survey with the information filled out by the restaurants. Alinea, which requires reservations and uses a tasting-menu format, doesn’t match the profile of a perennial member of this list, which tracks the highest-grossing independent restaurants. They placed No. 6 on the list with $27.1 million in sales.
Alinea co-founder Nick Kokonas has questioned the list in the past. In 2020, he and Restaurant Business editor-in-chief Jonathan Maze argued over the feature’s accuracy. Kokonas wrote it wasn’t journalism because the data came from restaurants only interested in making themselves look good. Maze countered, challenging Kokonas to make the list more accurate by providing them with Alinea’s data.
Despite Alinea’s inclusion, Kokonas on Tuesday tells Eater Chicago, via an email, that his team didn’t send data to Restaurant Business.
“They reached out sometime back and had ‘guesses’ on cover counts and such and I replied that they should do the research and were way off,” Kokonas writes.
Though Kokonas consents Restaurant Business’ estimate of a $650 average check for Alinea is “reasonably close,” he still says the feature needs more data, adding that he could think of “about 15 restaurants” off the top of his head that weren’t listed, but had higher check averages compared to Alinea. One reason is that Chicago isn’t the top market for wine sales, according to Kokonas. New York, the San Francisco Bay Area (including Napa Valley and Sonoma), and LA sell more wine, and therefore its restaurants would have higher average checks, he says. Melisse, in Santa Monica, California, ranked with the second-highest check average on the list at $425.
Check out the Chicago-area restaurants on the list, and their national rankings and sales numbers, listed below:
- Maple & Ash (No. 4, $30.3 million)
- Alinea (No. 6, $27.1 million)
- Gibsons Italia (No. 16, $22.3 million)
- Joe’s Seafood Chicago (No. 17, $22.3 million)
- Gibsons (Oak Brook) (No. 24, $20.8 million)
- Gibsons (Gold Coast) (No. 26, $20.5 million)
- RPM Steak (No. 27, $20.2 million)
- Shaw’s Crab House (No. 42, $17.4 million)
- Chicago Cut Steakhouse (No. 44, $17.2 million)
- Swift & Sons (No. 45, $17.2 million)
- Gibsons (Rosemont) (No. 54, $16.1 million)
- Tavern on Rush (No. 61, $15.4 million)
- Harry Caray’s (River North) (No. 63, $15.2 million)
- Bob Chinn’s Crab House, Wheeling (No. 65, $14.9 million)
- Prime & Provisions, (No. 72, $13.9 million)
- Bar Siena (No. 74, $13.6 million)
- Girl & the Goat (No. 81, $12.5 million)
- Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House (No. 91, $11.7 million)
- Siena Tavern (No. 94, $11.5 million)