When most people mention Downtown Chicago restaurants, they’re usually locked on one neighborhood in particular. River North is many things, with Hubbard Street overburdened with tourists during the summer, and long lines pouring out of deep-dish pizza joints. But a River North dining experience doesn’t have to be pedestrian. Check out this listing of the best the neighborhood has to offer. Tourist traps have their charms, but these spots will have your party applauding your dining judgment.Read More
Where to Eat in River North
Downtown Chicago’s most competitive neighborhood for restaurants has a few stellar choices
Torchio Pasta Bar
Torchio Pasta Bar remained closed for much of the pandemic, but it’s back and this noodle-focused restaurant delivers. This isn’t a red sauce Italian spot, but a restaurant with carefully made pasta, including a memorable pappardelle. Come hungry and check out this family-owned spot.
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Chef Carlos Gaytán is a household name in Chicago and Mexico. When his West Town restaurant, Mexique, earned a Michelin star, Gaytán became the first Mexican-born chef with a Michelin-starred restaurant. He’s become a mentor to many, and with Tzuco, diners will find a beautiful dining room that breaks the mold of the boring design that plagues many of Chicago’s restaurants. Gaytán’s food still blends French techniques with Mexican ingredients, but he’s gone bolder in recent years. There’s also a killer brunch featuring baked goods that deserve more spotlight in Chicago.
Obelix expertly navigates modern and traditional French cooking in a comfy space, hidden away from downtown’s skyscrapers. The beef Wellington is spectacular. The oysters and escargot are top-notch. But there’s a smile from the French American owners who grew up in Chicago, the children of the founders of Le Bouchon, a French mainstay in Bucktown. Fun dishes like a foie gras taco bring different flavors and perspectives to the table and make Obelix special. There’s also a portion of the menu dedicated to duck
Avli River North
This Greek mini chain continues to excel. Louie Alexakis wants to give diners more than gyros (but do try the gyros here; they’re delicious). Lamb chops and skewers are juicy and tender. The spreads are satisfying, and the wine list doesn’t disappoint.
Blending French and Indian food isn’t a new concept — it’s one championed by the late great Floyd Cardoz. Indienne takes some of those principles and modernizes it for the Chicago audience. Chef Sujan Sarkar — he started the Rooh chain for Indian restaurants — has created an affordable tasting menu where Indian food fans will recognize their favorites which are presented in a more Westernized manner. It’s unique and will be oft putting to those used to the AYCE buffets, but it’s great for an impromptu special night out.
Mr. Beef On Orleans
This is it: the Italian beef stand that the first season of The Bear took place at. Well, the TV show didn’t really take place here, they just filmed the exteriors because the real-life Mr. Beef is much smaller than the fictional Original Beef of Chicagoland. Chicagoans have varied opinions of Italian beef, but it’s best to pick an independent that actually cooks the beef onsite versus one that just heats meat from a bag.
avec River North
One Off Hospitality successfully transformed this River North spot into the second location of one of Chicago’s most popular restaurants. Avec helped define Chicago’s restaurant scene with popular items like the legendary bacon-wrapped stuffed Medjool dates. Those classics remain, served a much roomier quarters. But the staff has added new items, like pizza and small plates (chicken liver crostini is a winner).
Phil Stefani is a beloved Chicago restaurant owner, and Bar Cargo is what happens when his children take over. A fun spot in the middle of River North, Anthony and Gina Stefani has created a fun pizza bar with a unique pizza that differs from other attempts at square Roman-style pies. The Stefanis have done a good job at combining Chicago with Italy, and serving tasty pizza and cold drinks in a friendly atmosphere. There’s also a solid brunch.
Since 2012, star chef Carrie Nahabedian has treated loyal fans to a special type of French dining. Brindille has all the elements customers would expect from a French bistro, but the chef sprinkles a little of bit of an Armenian touch. The menu changes, but for fans of fine cheeses, the restaurant continues to lead the way. The wine list is also strong.
It’s a medley of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish ingredients and techniques that make up this restaurant’s Peruvian plates, which celebrate the diverse landscape of the South American country. As such, expect dishes like the Chaufa Aeropuerto, an ode to the Canton immigrants of the 1800s that includes garlicky pork fried rice with a fluffy shrimp omelet. For a bite that’ll prove most memorable, make it the pobre nikuiri nikei, a Japanese-inspired strip of rice that’s topped with tender skirt steak, ponzu gel, and a quail egg.
Billy Dec has built a large reputation in Chicago, as the fedora-wearing nightclub owner opened River North bars like Rockit. Dec has since moved to Nashville, but Sunda might be his legacy. The Asian restaurant has leaned more into Filipino cuisine (Dec is Fil-Am), and it’s the only place to eat adobo pork belly in an upscale venue. Look out for a stellar gluten-free menu, sushi, and the Kameyan feast, a Filipino family-style meal for two to four.
Gene & Georgetti
This family-owned institution is Chicago’s oldest steakhouse. Founded in 1941, the restaurant offers exceptional steaks and chops, as well as pasta, seafood, and classic Italian entrees like veal, eggplant, and chicken parm.
Kitchen + Kocktails Chicago
Kitchen + Kocktails is built around special occasions. Like the original in Dallas, the restaurant is Instagram-friendly, with plenty of drinks and spaces where customers can snap photos. The menu is a medley of southern food with lamb chops, shrimp and grits, and more. Owner Kevin Kelley has famously instituted a dress code. This a spot to be seen.
Crowned with the “Outstanding Restaurant” title at the 2017 James Beard awards, this fine-dining fixture from Rick Bayless is best known for the upscale Mexican tasting menus that have been offered since 1991. It’s the hub of Bayless’s empire in the neighborhood, which includes the wildly popular Frontera Grill, subterranean drinking spot Bar Sotano, and casual counter-spot XOCO.
Kyuramen x TBaar - Downtown Chicago 九汤拉面
The design of this corner space is spectacular, with booths on top of booths, making the best use of the small room. Kyuramen has all the design details down pat for an authentic Japanese ramen experience. The food is solid with rich broths, crispy tempura, and comforting omurice.
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Bar Goa, an Indian Gastropub
The owners of Rooh Chicago have gone more casual with this pub with tropical drinks inspired by Goa, the coastal city in India. This is a great place for light dinners with sandwiches, fries, and other pub fare. Bar Goa has an attitude, and it’s to leave your cares behind.
Rohini Dey is a bit of a superwoman: model, chef, and in recent years an activist, trying to unite the women in the city’s restaurant world. Vermillion, once one of the hottest restaurants in the world — with a New York location where author Salman Rushdie was an investor — has reimagined itself. A recent menu switch ditched the Latin-Indian fusion for Indo-Chinese food. The results have been wonderful with spicy Indianized versions for Chinese food, from beef noodles to fried cauliflower.
Vegan chain Planta Queen arrived in Chicago for an upscale experience with plenty of Japanese, Thai, and Chinese options. The spotlight is on vegan sushi — there’s no fish, but plenty of veggies that are manipulated to look like the rolls customers would find in a traditional sushi spot that uses seafood. Not everything looks perfect, but the food — including the dumplings — benefits from being without meat because they’re lighter. That doesn’t mean it won’t fill you up — the food is plenty satisfying if you order enough. But that’s the same dilemma many face at traditional sushi spots.
Celebrities and locals love this gorgeous steakhouse that exudes understated glamour. Opened in 2014, RPM Steak staff have served President Obama, Taraji P. Henson, and Lady Gaga, among other famous faces to make an appearance at this see-and-be-seen spot. It’s also known for excellent Japanese and Kobe beef and over-the-top desserts like a 14K chocolate cake.
Bavette's Bar & Boeuf
While Au Cheval gets most of the national spotlight, Hogsalt’s River North flagship has built quite a following since opening in 2012. Bavette’s recipe is taking the menu from a traditional chop house and blending it with the atmosphere of a French bistro. It’s an intimate affair — this is where to take a carnivore you want to impress (there is a vegetarian menu, but it’s comprised of salads and sides, not thrilling). The bone marrow is worth a try.
Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse
This Chicago classic is a sports fan’s dream with nostalgia packing the walls in the forms of photos, jerseys, and trinkets from all the games. Named for the baseball announcer who called games for both of the city’s teams, Harry’s is an old-fashioned Chicago steakhouse with great pork chops and calamari. The bar also has a great old Chicago feel, so come in and grab a classic drink and escape the elements.