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A hand holding a metal pan with a fish filet about to go into a smoky charcoal oven.
Diners may catch a little smoke while dining at Porto.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

The 38 Essential Restaurants in Chicago, Summer 2021

New additions include a Spanish seafood paradise and a Pan Asian sandwich palace

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Diners may catch a little smoke while dining at Porto.
| Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Anyone lucky enough to spend summers in Chicago knows how the season transforms the city, and the summer of 2021 is particularly special given the adversity of the past year. With that, it’s time to present the latest iteration of the Eater 38.

This collection of Chicago’s best restaurants provides answers for the classic question: “Where would you dine if you had one night in the city?” The list recognizes some all-time greats and restaurants who have pushed culinary boundaries. For the summer update, Porto — which earned a Michelin star, no easy accomplishment during the pandemic — joins the list, along with Wherewithall and Hermosa. As for the past members: Yugen closed, and Kumiko and Parachute are waiting to reopen. Happy dining.

Chicago restaurants have fully reopened and the city has lifted restrictions on capacity, masking, and social distancing. For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on restaurants following safety guidelines. The latest CDC guidance for vaccinated diners during the COVID-19 outbreak is available here; dining out still carries risks for unvaccinated diners and workers. Find a local vaccination site here.

Have tips or suggestions for the Eater 38? Send them to the Chicago tipline. And head here for a guide to Chicago’s newer restaurants. For all the latest Chicago dining intel, subscribe to Eater Chicago’s newsletter.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Superdawg Drive-In

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6363 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60646
(773) 763-0660
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Superdawg founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman stand guard over this venerable Chicago drive-in; customers can spot those giant hot dog statues bearing the Bermans’ likenesses from miles away at the intersection of Devon, Nagle, and Milwaukee. Superdawg is a throwback dining experience where customers park their cars and talk to staff through crackling drive-in speakers and carhops bring out trays of food. Superdawg’s offering isn’t a traditional Chicago-style dog. Rather than a Vienna Beef frank, Superdawg uses a proprietary, thick, all-beef sausage that comes with mustard, pickled green tomato, and chopped Spanish onions. This is all cradled in a box of crinkle fries.

A blue cardboard rectangle food container with a hot dog inside. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

2. Lost Larson

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5318 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 944-0587
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When Lost Larson debuted in Andersonville, beloved neighborhood institution Swedish Bakery had just closed. There were bound to be comparisons between the defunct bakery and the ambitious upstart. Since then, chef and owner Bobby Schaffer has shattered all expectations, keeping true to his fine dining roots at Grace and others. Though the breads and pastries have Scandinavian influences, Lost Larson isn’t locked on a singular theme. Instead, the bakery and cafe doles out whole wheat ham-and-cheese croissants, the fabled cardamom bun, scones, and quiche. Be sure to order early because stock sells out online, but the Andersonville and the new Wicker Park locations both have inventory for walk-in customers.

Two almond croissants Jessica Dawson/Lost Larson

3. Smoque BBQ

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3800 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 545-7427
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With two smokers to prep meaty St. Louis-style and baby-back ribs, tender brisket, apple-and-oak-smoked pulled pork, and more, this destination on the Northwest Side neighborhood of Irving Park delivers barbecue in the style of Kansas City and Memphis. Last summer, owner Barry Sorkin converted his parking lot into a patio covered with a tent.

A brown wooden fence separates a low, dark-looking building from the sidewalk. Red awning hangs off the building.
This Irving Park barbecue spot serves some of the most sought-after meats in the city.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

4. Wherewithall

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3472 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 692-2192
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Wherewithall is the sequel to Parachute, the pioneering Korean-American restaurant from Beverly Kim and husband Johnny Clark. With their new restaurant, the James Beard Award winners aimed to give Avondale an affordable restaurant (four courses cost $85) with fine dining principles. This is a relaxed atmosphere where the menu rotates every week or so. There’s also the addition of new chef Tayler Ploshehanski (Elske, Blackbird) to run the kitchen. Parachute remains closed with the hope of an August return.

5. Honey Butter Fried Chicken

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3361 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 478-4000
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A perennial North Side favorite, Honey Butter Fried Chicken comes from a pair of talented chefs who threw underground dinner parties. These crisp and skinless pieces of meat come with the restaurant’s signature honey butter. But beyond the food, Christine Cikowksi and Josh Kulp are committed to improving restaurant working conditions and have championed a business model where employees receive health care benefits. That explains prices that are higher than the average counter service joint, but HBFC reports strong worker retention, which is a rarity in the industry.

A small tray contains two pieces of fried chicken, a bowl of mac and cheese, and a bowl of salad.
Lines at Honey Butter can be long but usually move quickly.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken [Official Photo]

6. Pat's Pizza and Ristorante

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2679 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 248-0168
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Chicago thin-crust pizza is having a moment, with the city rebelling over the notion that this is only a deep-dish town. (Settle down deep-dish fans, the thick slices are still awesome.) Pat’s Pizza in Lakeview has a storied history in popularizing tavern-style pies. This family-owned spot sports some of the crispiest, thinnest pizzas around. Pat’s uses its own sausage blend for their pizza, which also helps set this place apart. Available for carryout, delivery, patio, and indoor dining.

A Chicago tavern-style pizza with a few pieces missing. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

7. Mi Tocaya Antojería

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2800 W Logan Blvd
Chicago, IL 60647
(872) 315-3947
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Few chefs share the talent and drive that Diana Dávila exhibits while showcasing a dazzling display of small Mexican dishes in Logan Square. Dávila isn’t shy about risks; she isn’t pandering to the typical American diner. This isn’t a place to fill up on chips and salsa with a pitcher of margaritas; Dávila left her previous job after owners tried to force those expectations. That’s not to say there’s not a taste of the familiar with a stellar steak burrito and fried oyster tacos. But customers should dive into unique items like peanut butter rabanos and tlacoyo, the latter which represents Dávila’s obsession with pre-Hispanic Mexico.

8. Lula Cafe

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2537 N Kedzie Blvd
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-9554
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Chef and owner Jason Hammel continue to keep community at the forefront of their operations, as Lula Cafe has endeared itself to many in Logan Square as a welcoming space for New American cuisine. This is an all-day cafe with fresh-baked pastries and stellar breakfast burrito. At night, the wine list is deep to accompany dishes like roast chicken, beet bruschetta, and summer squash with Santa Rosa plums, tropea onions, and basil. Find a seat at the bar and enjoy oysterds and snacks like chicken liver mousse.

lula cafe Marc Much/Eater Chicago

9. Galit

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2429 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 360-8755
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It’s all about the hearth at Galit, where chef Zach Engel fires up his signature pitas that serve as ideal vehicles for a plethora of spreads at this upscale and relaxed Middle Eastern restaurant. The James Beard Rising Chef winner and general manager Andres Clavero have used the  Lincoln Park location to dole out Engel’s world-class hummus that’s topped with small chunks of juicy brisket; it’s a small and welcoming add with big results. The natural wine selections are a vibrant complement to the succinct menu.

10. Jibaritos y Mas

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3400 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 799-8601
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Chicago’s Puerto Rican community begot the jibarito: a sandwich made with shredded beef, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and served in between two slices of fried plantain. The sandwich is available in many places — including in Humboldt Park — but Jibaritos y Más isn’t a one-trick pony. The jibaritos are stellar, but the other items — like the shrimp soup with noodles — are flavorful and thoughtfully prepared. There’s also a Lincoln Park location.

A halved jibarito and pile of Puerto Rican rice on a white plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

11. Pequod's Pizza

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2207 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 327-1512
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Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a polarizing topic for locals that has bred resentment in recent years, as national media has always struggled to define Chicago. It’s not that deep dish pizza isn’t delicious; it’s just that the city does not want to be defined by the dish alone. Though Pequod’s version isn’t exactly the deep dish that tourists expect — it’s thinner than the stuffed pizza travel magazines feature — it’s still the premier take on the pie. It does feature a chewy and caramelized rim that may appear burnt, but that chew adds a special texture that sets it apart. There are locations in Lincoln Park and suburban Morton Grove. Be prepared to wait on weekends.

A thick slice of deep-dish pizza as its lifted away from the pie.
Locals adore Pequod’s pies.
Pequod’s Pizza [Official Photo]

12. Redhot Ranch

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2449 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 772-6020
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It’s hard for hot dog stands to differentiate themselves from the pack in Chicago as all of them, for the most part, use the same product: dependable Vienna Beef. But Red Hot Ranch has managed to separate themselves. First, the stand uses sausage with natural casings. This provides the dogs with a unique bite, snappier than the Oscar Mayer’s that Americans grew up eating. The stand also serves Depression Dogs, the Chicago variant wrapped with french fries. The griddle burgers are also of note. There are few meals that as satisfying late at night. Red Hot Ranch has locations in Lakeview and Bucktown. Additionally, 35th Street Red Hots, near Sox Park in Bridgeport, is from the same owners with an identical menu.

13. Hermosa Restaurant

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4356 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(872) 802-4920
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Hermosa’s Ethan Lim useds Asian flavors in sandwiches (like a Cambodian fried chicken sandwich and Italian beef banh mi) to give his tiny restaurant a distinct “Chicago feel.” It’s similar to how a neighborhood hot dog or beef stand made locals feel growing up. Lim takes that and uses his culinary talent to take the next evolutionary step (he had a stint at Alinea Group’s Next Restaurant and Aviary). But beyond fast-casual, for those who want a composed meal, Lim’s popular “Family Meals” essentially buys the room out with Lim acting as a one-man show loading the table up with delicious Pan Asian plates (noodles, Cambodian beef dishes) meant to be shared. 

14. Rica Arepa Venezuelan Restaurant

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4253 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 543-3000
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Hermosa encompasses some of Chicago’s most overlooked restaurants, and Rica Arepa tops the list. This Venezuelan restaurant produces the finest arepas in the city: light, sweet, and satisfying. The restaurant’s namesake dish contains gouda, beef, and chicken. It’s a winner, as is the Caribbean with plantains, which is one of the many vegan options available. While the restaurant’s comfy patio provides safe outdoor dining, the arepas travel well for takeout.

15. Alinea

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1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 867-0110
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Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s three-Michelin-starred, fine dining institution is one of the world’s best restaurants. It’s the city’s only three-star restaurant with a luxuriously designed dining room where Lincoln Park and Old Town meet on the Near North Side. Expect a sensory overload with Achatz taking advantage of heavily scented citrus, smoke, and other smells to provide diners with theatrical experience. The servers engage with customers, and the dishes are presented like works of art. As customers could spend close to $1,000 for two including wine pairings, Alinea is the restaurant that appears the most on Chicagoans’ bucket lists.

Alinea 2.0
Alinea remodeled in 2016.
Matthew Gilson/Alinea Group

16. Johnnie's Beef

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7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL 60707
(708) 452-6000
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The best example of Chicago’s iconic Italian beef sandwiches exists outside of the city at the two suburban locations of Johnnie’s Beef. The space is a relic; the original fast-food spot opened in 1961 in Elmwood Park and a second has since opened in Arlington Heights. The menu is simple: beefs (the monosyllabic term locals call Italian beef sandwiches), charcoal-grilled Italian sausages, and hot dogs. Pepper-and-egg sandwiches are also available daily; they’re mostly aimed at Catholic customers during Lent Fridays needing a “meat-free” option. Johnnie’s also serves stellar lemon Italian ice. The thin-cut beef is moist and perfectly seasoned with hints of oregano. The hot peppers deliver plenty of heat but don’t overwhelm the meat. Don’t sleep on the beef-sausage sandwich combines tender slices of Italian beef with a robust sausage. While the city has plenty of beef options, Johnnie’s is worth the drive to the ‘burbs.

17. Kasama

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1001 N Winchester Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 697-3790
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2020 was a challenging time to open a restaurant, but the pandemic couldn’t stop the husband-and-wife team of Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. Kasama was one of the year’s true bright spots. Wake up to coffee and amazing pastries, including an eclair-shaped croissant topped with Serrano ham or salmon. The lunch and dinner menus belong to Filipino dishes — they’ve had success with spins on rice plates with pork like tocino (roasted char siu-like pork) and longoniza (charred sausage). The restaurant plans on eventually unfurling more composed Filipino dishes, so stay tuned for an update.

Kasama features chicken wings, tocino, loganiza, and lumpia Shanghai. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

18. Porto

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1600 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 600-6336
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One of the most exciting restaurants to open in Chicago in years, this West Town spot brings the tastes, feels, and smells of the Spanish and Portuguese coasts to the Midwest. The design is both cozy and modern, but be sure to snag a table at the bar to watch the chefs prepare delicious conservas and other seafood specialties. Chef Marcos Campos makes magic with tinned and fresh seafood, educating Chicagoans to the wonders of Galicia. It’s a different experience each visit, and can be as simple or as fancy as the customer wants.

Porto is magic in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

19. Soulé

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1931 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 526-3825
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Soule amps up soul food classics with nourishing shrimp and grits, jerk chicken wings, and blackened catfish. The attention to small details in the food have made the restaurant both a favorite in the neighborhood and to many celebrities, particularly musicians and athletes, including former Chicago Bull Bobby Portis, NBA legend Scottie Pippen, and more.

20. Tzuco

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720 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 374-8995
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Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to run a Michelin-starred restaurant (Mexique), has returned to Chicago. He brings the same affection for his heritage to River North with Tzuco, the next evolution in his fusion of Mexican food with classic Western kitchen methods.. The space is beautifully designed with glass boxes filled with trinkets from his hometown in Mexico, as well as shrubs and plants found back home. It’s a welcome reprieve from the cookie-cutter layouts that make many dining rooms forgettable around town. But Gaytan’s adventurous spin on upscale Mexican food with a dash of French technique, continues to be the headliner. The restaurant has a heated and covered patio. The spicy roasted octopus, cochinita pebil made with pork shank, and a Mexican-style steak tartare are highlights.

21. Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Bar Sotano

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445 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 661-1434
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Rick Bayless’ restaurants remain landmarks in River North for inventive Mexican cuisine at this four restaurants (fast-casual Xoco, which has been spun into the Tortazo chain, also sits at the corner of Clark and Illinois). Bayless is the Oklahoma-born chef who obsessed over Mexican cuisine, appearing on TV and creating his own grocery food empire. Topolo presents Mexican food in a fine dining atmosphere in a way that wasn’t seen often stateside before Bayless opened in 1989. Frontera opened two years prior and provided a more casual dining experience. Bar Sotano is the baby of the group, a basement tavern that serves as kind of an experimental space with pop-ups and creative cocktails. Bayless’ name often prompts emotional responses when it comes to discussion about cultural appropriation, but there’s no question that he’s raised appreciation for Mexican food in America.

Bar Sotano is among four restaurants from Rick Bayless in River North.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

22. Ever Restaurant

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1340 W Fulton St
Chicago, IL 60607

Chef Curtis Duffy was a superstar when Grace earned awards along Randolph Street, and he’s brought that energy a few blocks west to Fulton Market where Ever opened in 2020. Duffy is offering only one tasting menu (vegetarians will be accommodated). But the heavy metal-listening chef remains committed to showing off precise techniques with playful execution. Case in point: artfully cut ribbons of freeze-dried hamachi. Fine dining tends to be polarizing, especially during a pandemic. But for folks who want a meal with a dash of theatrics, Ever fulfills that niche better than any Chicago restaurant. Reservations are available via Tock. But a note, this is one of the most expensive meals in Chicago.

23. Mako

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731 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 988-0687
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Mako was an expansion for chef B.K. Park who has served loyal customers for years at his Lincoln Park restaurant, Juno. Focusing on omakase, Park cuts loose inside his West Loop sushi den, providing a superb sushi experience that few Chicago restaurants have ever offered. Park’s execution inside a comfortable and modern dining room and the service are what set this sushi spots from others in Chicago.

24. Smyth + The Loyalist

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177 N Ada St #101
Chicago, IL 60607
(773) 913-3773
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Before the pandemic, the Smyth was poised to improve up on its two-Michelin-star status, a the husband-wife head chef and pastry chef team of John and Karen Shields successfully brought the farm to the big city. The tasting menu restaurant combined creativity, skill, and deliciousness. In the basement, the Loyalist is a bar for regulars with one of Chicago’s best burgers. This is the one of the hottest tables in Chicago.

25. ROOH

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736 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 267-2323
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Chicagoans have few choices for upscale Indian food downtown. Rooh’s 2019 arrival is noteworthy not only because it fills that void, but it also gives the West Loop sorely needed variety. Patrons will be more than impressed with familiar classics such as butter chicken, but jackfruit kofta, scallops dusted with gunpowder pepper, and achari monkfish give diners a sliver of modern Indian cooking. The restaurant has a heated and tented patio.

Rooh takes a more composed and modern look at Indian food.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

26. Monteverde

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1020 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 888-3041
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The first restaurant from former Top Chef and Spiaggia chef Sarah Grueneberg has quickly cemented itself as one of Chicago’s top Italian destinations. The pastas are the stars at the West Loop hotspot, and customers can see cooks hard at work behind the counter rolling out dough and creating the delectable noodles they will soon consume. The restaurant’s takeout menu from the pandemic remains, but the dining room remains lively with items like whole-bird chicken parm. There’s also a notable gluten-free menu.

27. Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen

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1141 S Jefferson St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 939-2855
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The torchbearer for a dying breed of Jewish delis and diners in Chicago, Manny’s has endured for more than a half-century in the South Loop thanks to massive and delicious pastrami sandwiches, an array of hot homestyle dishes on steam tables, and family-friendly cultivated over generations. The cafeteria-style setting is plastered with decades-old newspaper clippings and letters from Chicago luminaries. The space also now houses a new wing for bagels, sweets, coffee, and food to go. Manny’s was where Chicago politicians were often seen brokering power deals in the deli’s heyday.

28. HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen

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1800 S Carpenter St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 702-1303
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HaiSous is a remarkable comeback story for Thai and Danielle Dang in Pilsen. The Dangs survived financial fraud at their previous restaurant, Embeya. Now, without worrying about working with a criminal, they’re free to focus on food and hospitality. Thai Dang, a native of Vietnam, uses a number of techniques from back home including claypot cooking creating a menu that’s as ambitious as it is unpretentious with dishes like grilled wild boar with lemongrass. Danielle Dang’s expertise with cocktails should be better recognized as she pairs drink to compliment her husband’s two tasting menus. Customers can also order a la carte.

A small metal pan holds a colorful monkfish dish topped with green dill, pickled shallots, and fresno.
Turmeric-laced monkfish with dill, pickled shallots and fresno served with rice noodles topped with scallion confit and roasted peanuts at HaiSous.
Mistey Nguyen

29. S.K.Y.

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1239 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 846-1077
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Star chef Stephen Gillanders, after searching for years to open a new restaurant, discovered room in Pilsen to open S.K.Y. It’s fine dining with good value (a six-course meal is $49) and without pretension with a chef’s counter where diners can enjoy a tasting menu without being crushed by debt. Menu items include black truffle salmon, lobster dumplings, and more.

30. Carnitas Uruapan Restaurant

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1725 W 18th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 226-2654
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Chicago’s Mexican community and food enthusiasts worldwide flock to this longtime family-owned, counter-service institution in Pilsen that celebrates all parts of the pig with its legendary south-of-the-border care. Order carnitas by the pound at the front counter and settle into a table — if one is available — to craft your own individual tacos with a mix of salsas, tortillas, and beans; or have tacos, soup, and cactus salad made. Prepare for lines and waits during peak weekend hours.

A platter of meat, a bowl of salsa, a paper container of chicharron, and a red Jarritos soda sit on a green tablecloth.
A carnitas platter with the fixings at Carnitas Uruapan.
Carnitas Uruapan [Official Photo]

31. Dolo Restaurant and Bar

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2222 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 877-5117
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Chinatown Cantonese favorite Dolo specializes in made-to-order dim sum, so diners won’t find carts. The food is fresh and inventive with dishes like a beef shank appetizer and lamb chops that can be ordered in a few different styles for fried to spicy and served like lollipops. Seafood also stars with Cajun-style boils and a can’t-miss lobster. The restaurant is perfect for families, dates, and weekend hangs with friends. Paying with cash instead of credit will merit a 10-percent discount. Reservations are recommended, as the waiting area near the bar can get crowded. Dim sum dishes hover around $4, while pricier entrees  like the lobster are under $20.

Monday blues are cured here at Dolo : Kim Lajic . . . . #mondayblues #monday #dolorestaurant #dolochicago...

Posted by Dolo Restaurant on Monday, January 15, 2018

32. La Chaparrita Taqueria

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2500 S Whipple St #4138
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 254-0975
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Chicago doesn’t get enough love for its tacos, but this charming little grocery store in Little Village produces some of the finest in the city. From carne asada to crispy tripe, these tacos fit delicately in customer’s hands, and are best enjoyed with tiny bites to savor the mix of textures and flavors. This restaurant, on a quiet residential street, is a true Chicago original. Carryout only.

33. Birrieria Zaragoza

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4852 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60632
(773) 523-3700
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Feeling the quesabirria mania? Head to the Southwest Side near Midway International Airport for goat that isn’t labeled as the latest food trend. There’s a simple menu packed with deep flavors here. The handmade tortillas and accoutrements form the foundation of a signature Chicago meal at this family-run restaurant. It’s takeout-only.Get there early, as the restaurant often closes by early evening.

A server ladles juices over a plate of goat meat.
A large birrieria plate at Birrieria Zaragoza.
Birrieria Zaragoza [Official Photo]

34. Virtue Restaurant

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1462 E 53rd St
Chicago, IL 60615
(773) 947-8831
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Chicago restaurant veteran Erick Williams has finally launched the restaurant he’s been dreaming of opening. In his new space, Williams aims to smash all expectations for Southern cuisine at Virtue. Chef Williams is intent to smash all expectations for Southern cuisine at Virtue, hoping to give diners a new perspective on Black cuisine. If customers want lighter fare, there are dishes like the cauliflower with cashew dukkah and root cellar vegetables. For richer appetites, the beef short ribs with creamed spinach and crushed potatoes work. The Hyde Park restaurant was one of Eater’s America’s Best New Restaurants in 2019.

A colorful cauliflower dish sits inside a grey bowl on a light wood table.
Virtue’s cauliflower with cashew dukkah, root cellar vegetables, and rice
Nick Fochtman/Eater

35. Lem's Bar-B-Q

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311 E 75th St
Chicago, IL 60619
(773) 994-2428
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Chicago’s legendary aquarium-style smokers are on display at Lem’s, underneath a giant lighted sign off 75th Street. This small shack specializes in sauced baby-back ribs and giant hot links. This is also the place to introduce newbies to rib tips. Chicago is credited with creating the practice of serving tips and slathering them with sauce. Biting into the chunky cartilage smothered with a tomato-based sauce is a Chicago institution.

Lem’s ribs Nick Murway/Eater Chicago

36. Vito & Nick's Pizzeria

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8433 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60652
(773) 735-2050
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For many South Siders, Vito & Nick’s is the epitome of Chicago’s cuisine with its crispy thin-crust pizza (known as tavern-style or “party cut”). Frosty mugs of beer make the square-cut slices taste better in a dining room that looks like a classic ‘70s-style basement. The restaurant has been around for 100 years, and tit doesn’t skimp on the toppings. Keep toppings to a limit; no one wants to wreck the ratio and get a soggy crust.

37. Calumet Fisheries

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3259 E 95th St
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 933-9855
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Calumet Fisheries, a small seafood shack, is a relic of the past when shacks like this were found all over the banks of the Chicago River. This tiny restaurant specializes in smoked fish and gives customers a glimpse at a long-forgotten piece of Chicago history on the city’s South Side, just seven minutes from the Indiana border and east of the Chicago Skyway. Enjoy precious smoked salmon, trout, and shrimp — the small smokehouse is right outside the restaurant. Each morsel is delicate and sweet. The fish is best enjoyed while sitting parked nearby in your car.

A small white building with a red roof that reads “Calumet Fisheries” in red letters.
Calumet Fisheries was named a James Beard Foundation American Classic in 2010.
Eric Allix Rogers/Flickr

38. Harold's Chicken Shack

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12700 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60628
(773) 785-4153

Not all Harold’s Chicken Shacks are created equal, as a few writers have covered. This isn’t news for any Chicagoan, but it bears repeating as Harold’s has become a nationally-known brand thanks to celebrity fans like Chance the Rapper. This particular Harold’s, on the corner of 127th and Halsted, isn’t known for customer service, but for its crisp chicken (fried in beef fat) and its own take on mild sauce, the must-have condiment that’s become a cult favorite. Knowing all this, Harold’s fans are passionate and really enjoy arguing about which location is best.

1. Superdawg Drive-In

6363 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60646
A blue cardboard rectangle food container with a hot dog inside. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Superdawg founders Maurie and Flaurie Berman stand guard over this venerable Chicago drive-in; customers can spot those giant hot dog statues bearing the Bermans’ likenesses from miles away at the intersection of Devon, Nagle, and Milwaukee. Superdawg is a throwback dining experience where customers park their cars and talk to staff through crackling drive-in speakers and carhops bring out trays of food. Superdawg’s offering isn’t a traditional Chicago-style dog. Rather than a Vienna Beef frank, Superdawg uses a proprietary, thick, all-beef sausage that comes with mustard, pickled green tomato, and chopped Spanish onions. This is all cradled in a box of crinkle fries.

6363 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60646

2. Lost Larson

5318 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640
Two almond croissants Jessica Dawson/Lost Larson

When Lost Larson debuted in Andersonville, beloved neighborhood institution Swedish Bakery had just closed. There were bound to be comparisons between the defunct bakery and the ambitious upstart. Since then, chef and owner Bobby Schaffer has shattered all expectations, keeping true to his fine dining roots at Grace and others. Though the breads and pastries have Scandinavian influences, Lost Larson isn’t locked on a singular theme. Instead, the bakery and cafe doles out whole wheat ham-and-cheese croissants, the fabled cardamom bun, scones, and quiche. Be sure to order early because stock sells out online, but the Andersonville and the new Wicker Park locations both have inventory for walk-in customers.

5318 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640

3. Smoque BBQ

3800 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60641
A brown wooden fence separates a low, dark-looking building from the sidewalk. Red awning hangs off the building.
This Irving Park barbecue spot serves some of the most sought-after meats in the city.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

With two smokers to prep meaty St. Louis-style and baby-back ribs, tender brisket, apple-and-oak-smoked pulled pork, and more, this destination on the Northwest Side neighborhood of Irving Park delivers barbecue in the style of Kansas City and Memphis. Last summer, owner Barry Sorkin converted his parking lot into a patio covered with a tent.

3800 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641

4. Wherewithall

3472 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Wherewithall is the sequel to Parachute, the pioneering Korean-American restaurant from Beverly Kim and husband Johnny Clark. With their new restaurant, the James Beard Award winners aimed to give Avondale an affordable restaurant (four courses cost $85) with fine dining principles. This is a relaxed atmosphere where the menu rotates every week or so. There’s also the addition of new chef Tayler Ploshehanski (Elske, Blackbird) to run the kitchen. Parachute remains closed with the hope of an August return.

3472 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618

5. Honey Butter Fried Chicken

3361 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
A small tray contains two pieces of fried chicken, a bowl of mac and cheese, and a bowl of salad.
Lines at Honey Butter can be long but usually move quickly.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken [Official Photo]

A perennial North Side favorite, Honey Butter Fried Chicken comes from a pair of talented chefs who threw underground dinner parties. These crisp and skinless pieces of meat come with the restaurant’s signature honey butter. But beyond the food, Christine Cikowksi and Josh Kulp are committed to improving restaurant working conditions and have championed a business model where employees receive health care benefits. That explains prices that are higher than the average counter service joint, but HBFC reports strong worker retention, which is a rarity in the industry.

3361 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618

6. Pat's Pizza and Ristorante

2679 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
A Chicago tavern-style pizza with a few pieces missing. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Chicago thin-crust pizza is having a moment, with the city rebelling over the notion that this is only a deep-dish town. (Settle down deep-dish fans, the thick slices are still awesome.) Pat’s Pizza in Lakeview has a storied history in popularizing tavern-style pies. This family-owned spot sports some of the crispiest, thinnest pizzas around. Pat’s uses its own sausage blend for their pizza, which also helps set this place apart. Available for carryout, delivery, patio, and indoor dining.

2679 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

7. Mi Tocaya Antojería

2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647

Few chefs share the talent and drive that Diana Dávila exhibits while showcasing a dazzling display of small Mexican dishes in Logan Square. Dávila isn’t shy about risks; she isn’t pandering to the typical American diner. This isn’t a place to fill up on chips and salsa with a pitcher of margaritas; Dávila left her previous job after owners tried to force those expectations. That’s not to say there’s not a taste of the familiar with a stellar steak burrito and fried oyster tacos. But customers should dive into unique items like peanut butter rabanos and tlacoyo, the latter which represents Dávila’s obsession with pre-Hispanic Mexico.

2800 W Logan Blvd
Chicago, IL 60647

8. Lula Cafe

2537 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647
lula cafe Marc Much/Eater Chicago

Chef and owner Jason Hammel continue to keep community at the forefront of their operations, as Lula Cafe has endeared itself to many in Logan Square as a welcoming space for New American cuisine. This is an all-day cafe with fresh-baked pastries and stellar breakfast burrito. At night, the wine list is deep to accompany dishes like roast chicken, beet bruschetta, and summer squash with Santa Rosa plums, tropea onions, and basil. Find a seat at the bar and enjoy oysterds and snacks like chicken liver mousse.

2537 N Kedzie Blvd
Chicago, IL 60647

9. Galit

2429 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

It’s all about the hearth at Galit, where chef Zach Engel fires up his signature pitas that serve as ideal vehicles for a plethora of spreads at this upscale and relaxed Middle Eastern restaurant. The James Beard Rising Chef winner and general manager Andres Clavero have used the  Lincoln Park location to dole out Engel’s world-class hummus that’s topped with small chunks of juicy brisket; it’s a small and welcoming add with big results. The natural wine selections are a vibrant complement to the succinct menu.

2429 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

10. Jibaritos y Mas

3400 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
A halved jibarito and pile of Puerto Rican rice on a white plate. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicago’s Puerto Rican community begot the jibarito: a sandwich made with shredded beef, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and served in between two slices of fried plantain. The sandwich is available in many places — including in Humboldt Park — but Jibaritos y Más isn’t a one-trick pony. The jibaritos are stellar, but the other items — like the shrimp soup with noodles — are flavorful and thoughtfully prepared. There’s also a Lincoln Park location.

3400 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

11. Pequod's Pizza

2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
A thick slice of deep-dish pizza as its lifted away from the pie.
Locals adore Pequod’s pies.
Pequod’s Pizza [Official Photo]

Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is a polarizing topic for locals that has bred resentment in recent years, as national media has always struggled to define Chicago. It’s not that deep dish pizza isn’t delicious; it’s just that the city does not want to be defined by the dish alone. Though Pequod’s version isn’t exactly the deep dish that tourists expect — it’s thinner than the stuffed pizza travel magazines feature — it’s still the premier take on the pie. It does feature a chewy and caramelized rim that may appear burnt, but that chew adds a special texture that sets it apart. There are locations in Lincoln Park and suburban Morton Grove. Be prepared to wait on weekends.

2207 N Clybourn Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

12. Redhot Ranch

2449 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

It’s hard for hot dog stands to differentiate themselves from the pack in Chicago as all of them, for the most part, use the same product: dependable Vienna Beef. But Red Hot Ranch has managed to separate themselves. First, the stand uses sausage with natural casings. This provides the dogs with a unique bite, snappier than the Oscar Mayer’s that Americans grew up eating. The stand also serves Depression Dogs, the Chicago variant wrapped with french fries. The griddle burgers are also of note. There are few meals that as satisfying late at night. Red Hot Ranch has locations in Lakeview and Bucktown. Additionally, 35th Street Red Hots, near Sox Park in Bridgeport, is from the same owners with an identical menu.

2449 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

13. Hermosa Restaurant

4356 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60639

Hermosa’s Ethan Lim useds Asian flavors in sandwiches (like a Cambodian fried chicken sandwich and Italian beef banh mi) to give his tiny restaurant a distinct “Chicago feel.” It’s similar to how a neighborhood hot dog or beef stand made locals feel growing up. Lim takes that and uses his culinary talent to take the next evolutionary step (he had a stint at Alinea Group’s Next Restaurant and Aviary). But beyond fast-casual, for those who want a composed meal, Lim’s popular “Family Meals” essentially buys the room out with Lim acting as a one-man show loading the table up with delicious Pan Asian plates (noodles, Cambodian beef dishes) meant to be shared. 

4356 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60639

14. Rica Arepa Venezuelan Restaurant

4253 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60639

Hermosa encompasses some of Chicago’s most overlooked restaurants, and Rica Arepa tops the list. This Venezuelan restaurant produces the finest arepas in the city: light, sweet, and satisfying. The restaurant’s namesake dish contains gouda, beef, and chicken. It’s a winner, as is the Caribbean with plantains, which is one of the many vegan options available. While the restaurant’s comfy patio provides safe outdoor dining, the arepas travel well for takeout.

4253 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60639

15. Alinea

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614
Alinea 2.0
Alinea remodeled in 2016.
Matthew Gilson/Alinea Group

Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’s three-Michelin-starred, fine dining institution is one of the world’s best restaurants. It’s the city’s only three-star restaurant with a luxuriously designed dining room where Lincoln Park and Old Town meet on the Near North Side. Expect a sensory overload with Achatz taking advantage of heavily scented citrus, smoke, and other smells to provide diners with theatrical experience. The servers engage with customers, and the dishes are presented like works of art. As customers could spend close to $1,000 for two including wine pairings, Alinea is the restaurant that appears the most on Chicagoans’ bucket lists.

1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614

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16. Johnnie's Beef

7500 W North Ave, Elmwood Park, IL 60707

The best example of Chicago’s iconic Italian beef sandwiches exists outside of the city at the two suburban locations of Johnnie’s Beef. The space is a relic; the original fast-food spot opened in 1961 in Elmwood Park and a second has since opened in Arlington Heights. The menu is simple: beefs (the monosyllabic term locals call Italian beef sandwiches), charcoal-grilled Italian sausages, and hot dogs. Pepper-and-egg sandwiches are also available daily; they’re mostly aimed at Catholic customers during Lent Fridays needing a “meat-free” option. Johnnie’s also serves stellar lemon Italian ice. The thin-cut beef is moist and perfectly seasoned with hints of oregano. The hot peppers deliver plenty of heat but don’t overwhelm the meat. Don’t sleep on the beef-sausage sandwich combines tender slices of Italian beef with a robust sausage. While the city has plenty of beef options, Johnnie’s is worth the drive to the ‘burbs.

7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL 60707

17. Kasama

1001 N Winchester Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Kasama features chicken wings, tocino, loganiza, and lumpia Shanghai. Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

2020 was a challenging time to open a restaurant, but the pandemic couldn’t stop the husband-and-wife team of Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. Kasama was one of the year’s true bright spots. Wake up to coffee and amazing pastries, including an eclair-shaped croissant topped with Serrano ham or salmon. The lunch and dinner menus belong to Filipino dishes — they’ve had success with spins on rice plates with pork like tocino (roasted char siu-like pork) and longoniza (charred sausage). The restaurant plans on eventually unfurling more composed Filipino dishes, so stay tuned for an update.

1001 N Winchester Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

18. Porto

1600 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Porto is magic in Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

One of the most exciting restaurants to open in Chicago in years, this West Town spot brings the tastes, feels, and smells of the Spanish and Portuguese coasts to the Midwest. The design is both cozy and modern, but be sure to snag a table at the bar to watch the chefs prepare delicious conservas and other seafood specialties. Chef Marcos Campos makes magic with tinned and fresh seafood, educating Chicagoans to the wonders of Galicia. It’s a different experience each visit, and can be as simple or as fancy as the customer wants.

1600 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

19. Soulé

1931 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

Soule amps up soul food classics with nourishing shrimp and grits, jerk chicken wings, and blackened catfish. The attention to small details in the food have made the restaurant both a favorite in the neighborhood and to many celebrities, particularly musicians and athletes, including former Chicago Bull Bobby Portis, NBA legend Scottie Pippen, and more.

1931 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622

20. Tzuco

720 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654

Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to run a Michelin-starred restaurant (Mexique), has returned to Chicago. He brings the same affection for his heritage to River North with Tzuco, the next evolution in his fusion of Mexican food with classic Western kitchen methods.. The space is beautifully designed with glass boxes filled with trinkets from his hometown in Mexico, as well as shrubs and plants found back home. It’s a welcome reprieve from the cookie-cutter layouts that make many dining rooms forgettable around town. But Gaytan’s adventurous spin on upscale Mexican food with a dash of French technique, continues to be the headliner. The restaurant has a heated and covered patio. The spicy roasted octopus, cochinita pebil made with pork shank, and a Mexican-style steak tartare are highlights.

720 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654

21. Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Bar Sotano

445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654
Bar Sotano is among four restaurants from Rick Bayless in River North.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Rick Bayless’ restaurants remain landmarks in River North for inventive Mexican cuisine at this four restaurants (fast-casual Xoco, which has been spun into the Tortazo chain, also sits at the corner of Clark and Illinois). Bayless is the Oklahoma-born chef who obsessed over Mexican cuisine, appearing on TV and creating his own grocery food empire. Topolo presents Mexican food in a fine dining atmosphere in a way that wasn’t seen often stateside before Bayless opened in 1989. Frontera opened two years prior and provided a more casual dining experience. Bar Sotano is the baby of the group, a basement tavern that serves as kind of an experimental space with pop-ups and creative cocktails. Bayless’ name often prompts emotional responses when it comes to discussion about cultural appropriation, but there’s no question that he’s raised appreciation for Mexican food in America.

445 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654

22. Ever Restaurant

1340 W Fulton St, Chicago, IL 60607

Chef Curtis Duffy was a superstar when Grace earned awards along Randolph Street, and he’s brought that energy a few blocks west to Fulton Market where Ever opened in 2020. Duffy is offering only one tasting menu (vegetarians will be accommodated). But the heavy metal-listening chef remains committed to showing off precise techniques with playful execution. Case in point: artfully cut ribbons of freeze-dried hamachi. Fine dining tends to be polarizing, especially during a pandemic. But for folks who want a meal with a dash of theatrics, Ever fulfills that niche better than any Chicago restaurant. Reservations are available via Tock. But a note, this is one of the most expensive meals in Chicago.

1340 W Fulton St
Chicago, IL 60607

23. Mako

731 W Lake St, Chicago, IL 60661

Mako was an expansion for chef B.K. Park who has served loyal customers for years at his Lincoln Park restaurant, Juno. Focusing on omakase, Park cuts loose inside his West Loop sushi den, providing a superb sushi experience that few Chicago restaurants have ever offered. Park’s execution inside a comfortable and modern dining room and the service are what set this sushi spots from others in Chicago.

731 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60661

24. Smyth + The Loyalist

177 N Ada St #101, Chicago, IL 60607

Before the pandemic, the Smyth was poised to improve up on its two-Michelin-star status, a the husband-wife head chef and pastry chef team of John and Karen Shields successfully brought the farm to the big city. The tasting menu restaurant combined creativity, skill, and deliciousness. In the basement, the Loyalist is a bar for regulars with one of Chicago’s best burgers. This is the one of the hottest tables in Chicago.

177 N Ada St #101
Chicago, IL 60607

25. ROOH

736 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
Rooh takes a more composed and modern look at Indian food.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicagoans have few choices for upscale Indian food downtown. Rooh’s 2019 arrival is noteworthy not only because it fills that void, but it also gives the West Loop sorely needed variety. Patrons will be more than impressed with familiar classics such as butter chicken, but jackfruit kofta, scallops dusted with gunpowder pepper, and achari monkfish give diners a sliver of modern Indian cooking. The restaurant has a heated and tented patio.

736 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661

26. Monteverde

1020 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60607

The first restaurant from former Top Chef and Spiaggia chef Sarah Grueneberg has quickly cemented itself as one of Chicago’s top Italian destinations. The pastas are the stars at the West Loop hotspot, and customers can see cooks hard at work behind the counter rolling out dough and creating the delectable noodles they will soon consume. The restaurant’s takeout menu from the pandemic remains, but the dining room remains lively with items like whole-bird chicken parm. There’s also a notable gluten-free menu.

1020 W Madison St
Chicago, IL 60607

27. Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen

1141 S Jefferson St, Chicago, IL 60607

The torchbearer for a dying breed of Jewish delis and diners in Chicago, Manny’s has endured for more than a half-century in the South Loop thanks to massive and delicious pastrami sandwiches, an array of hot homestyle dishes on steam tables, and family-friendly cultivated over generations. The cafeteria-style setting is plastered with decades-old newspaper clippings and letters from Chicago luminaries. The space also now houses a new wing for bagels, sweets, coffee, and food to go. Manny’s was where Chicago politicians were often seen brokering power deals in the deli’s heyday.

1141 S Jefferson St
Chicago, IL 60607

28. HaiSous Vietnamese Kitchen

1800 S Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60608