In a world-class culinary city where new restaurants open on a daily basis, buzz comes and goes in a fleeting instant. There are many hotspots that require waiting but these following tables are hands down the hardest to land. Diners will have to plan ahead to get into Chicago's most popular places, which include new additions like Giant and Monteverde. They fill the void left by the shocking shutter of Grace. Even if the lines can't be avoided though, the best things come to those who wait ... right? Listed in alphabetical order.Read More
Chicago's 20 Toughest Tables, 2018 Edition
Patience is a virtue
1. 3 Arts Club Cafe
Nobody ever wants to wait for a table but lounging around at 3 Arts Club Cafe is a fine diversion. The posh restaurant from Hogsalt Hospitality inside Restoration Hardware wows with its stunning courtyard design, photo-ready angles, and casual bites. The no-reservations policy means guests will have to take a seat in the comfy waiting area or grab a drink and walk around the home furnishings store while they bide their time.
Grant Achatz’s acclaimed three-Michelin-starred restaurant is among the best in the world. With that honor comes throngs of diners, from near and far, champing at the bit to experience the chef’s mind-bending brand of molecular gastronomy. To secure a table, guests need to pre-purchase upfront on Tock, the reservation system founded by Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas. Tickets include the cost of the meal and go on sale several months in advance. For the most up-to-date info on ticket releases, follow the restaurant on social media.
3. Au Cheval
There are few certainties in life but a line at Au Cheval is one of them. Fans wait hours for a taste of what many proclaim to be the best burger in America. Thin griddled patties are dressed with American cheese, Dijonnaise, and housemade pickles, and further elevated with optional toppings like fried egg and thick-cut bacon. Get there early, at off-peak afternoon hours, or really late to miss the crowds.
There’s no denying that One Off Hospitality Group’s concepts rank as some of hottest in town. At the forefront of the buzz is Mediterranean wine bar Avec. Its menu plays host to an assortment of unforgettable dishes, such as chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, slow-roasted pork shoulder, and “deluxe” focaccia. Lunch, brunch, or early dinner are the best bets since reservations — available on Reserve — are not accepted during prime evening hours.
5. Bavette's Bar & Boeuf
There’s no shortage of great steakhouses all over town. None, however, are doing business night in, night out like Brendan Sodikoff’s sultry beef house. Its 22 oz. dry-aged, bone-in rib eye is a paragon of quality steak, especially when paired with unctuous bone marrow. The kitchen also offers refined takes of classic entrée, such as spiced fried chicken and short rib stroganoff. Reservations are accepted online and diners will need to book well ahead of time.
6. Big Star
Dependable taquerias can be found in every part of town but none have an outdoor patio as nice as Big Star. When the weather’s warm, Chicagoans come out in droves for al pastor tacos, margaritas, and rounds of whiskey. Tables are first-come, first-served so get there in the early afternoon to avoid the line. Don’t let the wait deter, though — lounging around here is a bucket list item everyone should check off.
With sweeping views of Millennium Park and the ambiance of a Great Lakes beach house, it’s not surprising that the Chicago Athletic Association’s rooftop hangout is always jam-packed. Cindy’s is more than just beauty, though. The refreshing cocktails and large-format plates are equally pleasing and make the restaurant well-suited for groups. And when the weather is warm, boozy ice cream pops on the outdoor terrace is a quintessential summertime experience. Online booking is available on Reserve but to avoid the throngs of people, come during lunch hours.
8. Fat Rice
Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo’s globally-inspired restaurant brought Macanese cuisine into the limelight when it opened in 2012. The food — a mashup of Portuguese, Indian, African, and Asian influences — delves into flavors that had previously gone unexplored in Chicago. Don’t miss the signature arroz gordo, a comforting clay pot of jasmine rice topped with a variety of meats, seafood, and accoutrements. Head to Reserve for availability; weekends are, predictably, the busiest.
Jason Vincent’s return to the dining scene was everything Chicagoans had hoped for and more. The small Logan Square restaurant leaves a big impression with seasonal Midwestern fare that’s simple yet delicious. Fried uni shooters, flaky biscuits dressed with jalapeno butter, housemade pastas, and cajeta ice cream balls are favorites, as are the counter seats where guests get a firsthand view of the action. Unless dining early or late is desired, grabbing a table on Reserve will require some advance notice.
10. Girl & the Goat
Stephanie Izard’s powerhouse restaurant is still as hot as ever. Chicagoans and tourists alike pack the house to try her bold, shareable plates that include sautéed green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette, oven-roasted pig face, and confit goat belly. Book online or get there when the restaurant opens for the best chance to grab a walk-in table. Solo diners also have a good chance of squeezing in at the bar area.
Chris and Nina Nugent have been turning heads in Lincoln Square over the last six years with their 16-seat fine dining spot. The Michelin-starred experience showcases Chris’s contemporary French techniques on locally-sourced products. The end result is exceptional tasting menus that change seasonally. Another attraction is the generous BYOB policy — guests can bring from their home collection or pick something up from Goosefoot Food & Wine shop next door. Reservations can be made on OpenTable but they fill up quickly so make plans early if looking for a specific date.
12. High Five Ramen
Tucked away below Green Street Smoked Meats is this highly popular ramen lair. The draw? Bowls of noodles luxuriating in fiery tonkotsu miso broth. There are only 16 counter seats in the tiny space and spice fanatics, who are addicted to the endorphin rush, start lining up before the restaurant opens. Reservations are not accepted so get there at least half an hour early or drop in after the dinner rush.
13. Kuma's Corner
Chicago’s most beloved burger bar hasn’t missed a beat over the past decade. The original location in Avondale still draws in large crowds every day for its first-rate selection of beers and burgers. The space is small and no reservations are accepted, which means long lines are common. Guests will learn to embrace heavy metal and the odd-ball movies playing while they wait to get their hands on mammoth creations like the Led Zeppelin (applewood smoked bacon, pulled pork, cheddar, pickles).
It’s been a whirlwind of success for Sarah Grueneberg since her lauded Italian restaurant landed in the West Loop. The former Spiaggia vet and James Beard Award winner’s contemporary approach to regional flavors is highlighted by an outstanding collection of homemade pastas. Carb-y delights such as egg yolk ravioli, cacao whey pepe, and Neopolitan ragù have never tasted better than they do here. And it’s no secret either because the dining room is always packed. Come for brunch on the weekends or expect to have to make reservations on Reserve weeks in advance. Walk-ins are always welcome as well.
2016’s most impressive newcomer has been the talk of the town since opening. Noah and Cara Sandoval teamed with former Boka pastry chef Genie Kwon to turn a secluded West Loop loft into a fine dining sensation. The restaurant quickly earned two Michelin stars, delighting critics and diners with elegant and refined dishes served in a relaxed atmosphere. Book weeks in advance on OpenTable for a spot.
16. Parson's Chicken & Fish
Fried chicken and fish, Negroni slushies, and a rockin’ patio are all reasons why it's a never-ending party at Land and Sea Dept.’s sizzling joint. It’s one of the top places in town to hang out during the summer months, with waits often totaling hours. Get there early in the afternoon to land a coveted table out back; seating is confined to the restaurant's small dining room during wintertime and therefore more limited.
Chicago’s most iconic food, the deep dish, is an obvious hot attraction but few do it as well as this famed pizzeria. What sets it apart from its competitors is the caramelized crust, achieved by lining a thin layer of cheese around the pan in order to give each pie a nice and satisfying chew. Tables are first-come, first-served and nights are always busy so head to the nearby bars to kill time.
18. The Purple Pig
Although the Mag Mile tends to be a tourist trap full of chain restaurants, this Mediterranean-focused spot from James Beard Award winner Jimmy Bannos Jr. is anything but ordinary. Guests will find cheeses, cured meats, and wines in abundance, as well as shared plates like fried pig’s ear, milk-braised pork shoulder, and turkey leg confit. Get there before the dinner rush or prepare to wait as reservations aren't taken.
19. RPM Steak
Chicagoans always love a good steak so when Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises collaborated with Bill and Giuliana Rancic on a chophouse project, it was bound to be a runaway hit. This modern take on a classic experience exudes both style and substance. Guests can channel their inner Rockefeller and start with grand seafood platters before moving onto the main event: steak. From 90-day dry-aged rib eyes to Japanese A5 wagyu, it’s a carnivore’s paradise. Finish with the 14K chocolate cake studded with gold flakes for a decadent treat. Plan ahead on OpenTable for a weekend seating or stop in for lunch when there’s more availability.
An experience unlike any other is also one of the most notoriously difficult reservations to get in Chicago. Michael Carlson’s approach to fine dining defies the norm and every guest who’s dined here seemingly has a tale to tell. The only way to book is by calling — an exercise that sounds simple in theory but difficult to execute because the phone line often goes unanswered. The restaurant has been to known to unexpectedly close without notice as well, frustrating hopeful patrons. Those who manage to make it inside the tiny, no-frills space are treated to a five-star meal and a booming hip-hop playlist. Diners should bring their own booze along with something for the staff.