Romance is different for everyone. For some of us, it’s a quiet meal at home. For others, it’s a pizza on the couch with the person they love best. White Castle fulfilled an unexpected craving when it introduced its special white tablecloth Valentine’s dinners. But many are still traditionalists: romance is an experience outside the ordinary, either extraordinarily luxurious food, or an extravagant setting that provides an opportunity for two people to be alone in public. Or, preferably, both of these things. Here are 20 Chicago restaurants that fit the bill.Read More
The Most Romantic Restaurants in Chicago
These spots show your partner you’re trying
Please, name a place that is more private and romantic than the front seat of a car. This is the very definition of American romance, immortalized in countless pop songs. At Superdawg, that’s the dining room, just you and your sweetie eating hot dogs, sipping one shake through two straws, watched over by Superdawg’s founders and high-school sweethearts Maurie and Flaurie Berman, reimagined as hot dogs eternally in love. Is that not paradise by the dashboard light? There’s a second location in Wheeling.
Little Madrid Tapas-Café
For those who equate romance with dim lighting, Little Madrid may be the most romantic restaurant in Chicago: a tiny storefront dining room illuminated only by tabletop candles. But the tapas, pintxos, and paella are all exquisite; the wine is abundant; and the service is friendly and makes you feel cared for, all the things necessary for romance to flourish.
Brass Heart sometimes slips under the radar when it comes to Chicago’s great restaurants. This small 20-seat tasting-menu restaurant in Uptown features food from Schwa alum Norman Fenton. The restaurant features an eight-course menu in a social environment that’s comfortable and never stuffy.
This spot on Lincoln Avenue has one of the most exquisite patios in the city, shaded by abundant trees during the day and lit up by twinkling fairy lights after dark. The intimate indoor dining room is lovely, too, and the menu offers a selection of reasonably-priced French bistro classics, from French onion soup to tarte au citron, with vol-au-vent and steak frites in between.
The intimate Avondale spot founded by Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark of Parachute with a kitchen led by chef Tayler Ploshehanski updates its four-course prix fixe menu and wine pairings weekly based on which ingredients are available. The dishes that show up on the table are invariably beautifully composed and delicious.
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A trip to North Pond requires a stroll into Lincoln Park, green in the summer, snowy in the winter, always with a view of the Lincoln Park lagoon. Inside, windows let in light and views of the park, and fireplaces keep diners warm. The menus, both dinner and brunch, change with the seasons, but tables are always reserved and attire is always business casual, which certifies this as a special occasion restaurant.
A popular date night destination since 1965, Geja’s Cafe hosts couples in curtained nooks around the candlelit dining room. Listen to live flamenco music while sharing a fondue dinner, dipping vegetables and bread in cheese, sizzling steak and shrimp, and then finishing with marshmallows and strawberries smothered in chocolate. Add on wine pairings or share a bottle of bubbly.
The flagship of one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurant groups serves a rotating seasonal menu, devised by James Beard-nominated chef Lee Wolen, in a luxurious dining room, lined with greenery and whimsical portraits, or on a lovely tree-shaded patio. Order a la carte from the menu of seasonal fare from local farms or splurge on a seven-course tasting menu that changes daily.
Decked out with floral designs and jeweled hues, Adalina offers a gorgeous space to enjoy Italian fare such as charred octopus with horseradish goat cheese or handmade mafaldine with artichokes. For a really special meal, try the brand new seven-course tasting menu from Michelin-starred executive chef Soo Ahn. Keep the night going by heading to the Rose Lounge speakeasy for an after-dinner cocktail. They recently launched a tasting menu.
Beatnik West Town
Romance doesn’t just mean love and courtship — it can also be a fantasy, or a yearning for far-away places. Beatnik in West Town, an homage to the hippie trail of the 1950s and ’60s, is opulently furnished with antiques and green plants. The Mediterranean-inspired menu similarly evokes a time and place that’s warmer, more colorful, and romantic than the present.
Located in the luxurious Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai Terrace has an outdoor patio with views of the Chicago skyline. The 1930s Shanghai-inspired indoor dining room isn’t too shabby, either. The menu, meanwhile, is filled with food from all over China, but with a focus on Shanghainese, Cantonese, and Sichuan classics.
With its marble-topped bar and sunny patio, Piccolo Sogno evokes an Italy of long, lazy afternoons on the piazza, perhaps followed by a ride through the city on a Vespa. The food continues the mood, with antipasti, salads, pizzas, and pasta, though there are also heavier meat and fish entrees for the colder months.
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Bavette's Bar & Boeuf
Bavette’s dim lighting, marble-topped tables, cozy red-leather booths, and gilt-edged mirrors are an entire mood. That mood calls for rich, fatty bone marrow and steak and one of the extravagant seafood towers, all washed down by a bottle or two from the extensive wine list. Finish the decadent evening with an old fashioned and a giant slice of carrot cake.
Offering views of the Loop skyscrapers, Aba’s all season rooftop patio is one of the loveliest places in the city. The views inside are lovely too, with the dining room illuminated by a skylight and lamps hanging from olive trees. The Mediterranean-California small plates encourage closeness among diners: everything is meant to be shared.
Bazaar Meat by José Andrés
José Andrés waited a long time before opening restaurants in Chicago. Bazaar Meat is worth the wait near the river on the second floor of Bank of America’s Chicago headquarters. This dim room is full of sultry reds, from the carpeting to the furniture. An open kitchen shows the flames used to cook a variety of meats. This is a collaboration with Gibsons, and the attention to detail is apparent.
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Sepia takes its heritage as a former print shop seriously: the space is filled with antiques and old prints. But chef Andrew Zimmerman’s prix fixe four-course menu is thoroughly modern, offering new interpretations of the classics.
Chez Joel Bistro Francais
Yes, the stereotype of a romantic restaurant is a French bistro, but stereotypes exist for a reason, right? This French bistro is located in Little Italy; run by a Moroccan-born chef, the eponymous Joël Kazouini; and it specializes in the cuisine of southern France, though if you must have the coq au vin, that’s there, too.
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This newish South Side spot brings upscale dining to Bronzeville in an accessible way. The a la carte menu has both small bites and large plates allowing diners to enjoy their meals on their own terms. There’s also live music or a DJ on most days which ups the vibe.
Many of the restaurants on this list were designed to take diners somewhere they’ve never been. Virtue is about where chef Erick Williams has already been: the American South. Williams’s menu pays homage to his mother, his grandmother, and his aunts, and the whole tradition of Black cuisine. Which isn’t romance, exactly, but it’s love.
This family-owned Mexican restaurant renovated and applied a small name change by dropping the demonstrative adjective to become simply Solazo. Bringing some of the attitude from their younger West Loop restaurant, La Josie, this Southwest Side Mexican spot serves beautiful shrimp, moles, and more. There’s also a deep agave selection and some sensational cocktails.