No matter whether you’re planning a quick overnight business trip or a week-long extravaganza to Chicago, you absolutely have to make eating and drinking one of your priorities. This city’s food has GOT IT GOING ON.
I’m actually still a relative newbie to Chicago, but since I started coming up here couple months for work, I’ve made it a point to start exploring different restaurants and bars. I’ve solicited recommendations from both local and tourist friends (and the larger Facebook community), and then one-by-one have made a concerted effort to try them.
So here is my short list for where to eat in Chicago, some of my favorite places. I’ve tried to keep these all *fairly* central, though there are a few further-flung options on here for the intrepid explorer. This will be a living, breathing list, so I will continue to add new finds to the list as I discover them!
Here’s a map plotting out the different locations—yellow is breakfast, blue is lunch and dinner, and red is drinks and miscellaneous. You can also access this link to pull it up on your own computer or phone so it loads right into Google Maps. Map note: I’ve include the location I went to, but in some cases (particularly breakfast joints) there are a few locations around the city.
Some other tips for your Chicago adventures:
Breakfast, Brunch, & Coffee
As you might be able to tell from my stated life goal to eat all the pastries in all the world, I take pastries, brunch and coffee VERY seriously. So I always try and find all the local coffee and pastry spots after my morning run…and @sjems5 has very strong feelings about brunch so we’ve tried a few of those too!
Do-Rite has a few locations in the main downtown areas of Chicago, but I visited the Randolph St. one as it was near my hotel. It’s a tiny little place with a big ceramic donut out front, simple and nothing fancy. That’s because it’s all about baked goods.
I got the pistachio and Meyer lemon (YUM) and the Michigan apple fritter (I can’t resist an apple fritter). Completely recommend both. They have a few gluten-free options as well, if that’s a concern for you. They only have simple drip coffee, so I went just up the street to a coffeeshop for my latte fix.
Like Do-Rite, Firecakes is a donut shop with a few locations and legions of fans. In fact, you’ll hear people debating Firecakes vs. Do-Rite the way Portlandians debate Blue Star vs. Voodoo.
I got a whole bunch here since I was buying for a group, but again the apple fritter called my name. And then I proceeded to eat two more a quarter at a time while stuck in meetings later in the day 🙂
Last time I visited, Stan’s was the only donut shop I could find open downtown on the weekend (as downtown was pretty dead on weekends during COVID). So I went two mornings in a row and was overwhelmed by the awesome flavors of donuts on offer. They also have espresso drinks and good iced coffee.
Everything I had there was great, but my two absolute favorites were the lemon espresso donut (reminded me of a favorite cocktail!), the banana biscoff, and the blueberry fritter.
Basically the opposite of Stan’s, this tiny (literal, at one location) hole-in-the-wall only has a couple types of donuts on offer, nothing fancy. But they are SO GOOD. I stopped by their location at Franklin Street during COVID and only the outside window was open.
I got a regular old fashioned buttermilk donut, and lucked out because their limited-time offering was a pink lemonade old fashioned. I grabbed them and some drip coffee and walked down to the Riverwalk to enjoy, and WOW, the pink lemonade one was so delicious!
Ah, Beatrix. For almost 9 months Beatrix was my go-to spot on the way back from a morning run along the river, where I’d grab a huge latte and a morning bun on the way back to the hotel.
Beatrix’s pastry game is on point, but I’ve been obsessed with their morning buns since first trying them, a puff pastry-based roll like a less-sweet cinnamon roll, with cinnamon sugar rolled inside and flecked with orange zest. They recently rotated them off the menu and I’m completely bereft, but hoping they’ll bring them back soon.
Their actual breakfast (and lunch) menu are super solid too—I highly recommend the cauliflower grits!
This lovely little brunch spot is further up north, by Wrigley Field. As with all good brunch spots, you need to get there early or expect a wait. I couldn’t resist the beignets as a starter, and loved the spiced bellini I indulged in as well. And then who can say no to chicken and waffles?!
Another amazing brunch place is Batter & Berries, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It’s a simple diner-like experience, nothing super fancy, but you can tell by the line that started in the rain before they opened early on a Saturday that we were in for a treat.
They’re especially known for their French toast, so we got a sampler platter to make sure we could try as much as possible.
This one is further afield (all three locations), but we ended up at the one in Wrigleyville on accident one afternoon and this place is so cute! The colors all made me so happy that I just had to share. If you happen to be in the area, make sure to stop by.
Lunch & Dinner
You can get the best of almost any kind of cuisine in Chicago, so decide what takes your fancy on any given day. But regardless of what you’re craving, these restaurants won’t steer you wrong. Many of these will be on a lot of people’s lists of “where to eat in Chicago”, but there are some more local gems here too!
Located in the hip West Loop area (next to a few others on this list), this is one of several “Goat” restaurants by chef Stephanie Izard.
I do want to try all of them at some point, but they’re hard to get into! @sjems5 and I scored reservations here one Saturday night and gorged ourselves on delicious interesting Chinese dishes like charred duck hearts, duck fried rice, beef slap noodles, and a delicious pineapple cake.
We absolutely stuffed ourselves, and totally recommend getting a reservation here!
If you’re looking for a classic steakhouse with some luxury touches, look no further. We went here for a work dinner and had a totally delicious dinner. I’m a steak girl, so started with a couple awesome old fashioned cocktails (the best I’ve had in Chicago) and then a filet and great red wine. Can’t go wrong.
When I was asking for recommendations of where to eat in Chicago before my last trip, The Purple Pig was recommended by the most people—by a landslide.
So one Sunday after spending four hours working in my hotel room, I took a break for a late lunch here and was able to snag one spot at a long table full of people. And guys, I totally concur, this is a must-visit!
It was hard to even pick what to order, and the waiter gave me a little look once I got three dishes for myself…like “are you SURE?!” Oh yeah, buddy, I’m sure.
I had the salt-roasted beets with pistachio butter, this AMAZING whipped feta dip, and salmon (which was fine, but was the least mind-blowing of the lot). They also had several really interesting gin & tonics on the menu, and I had to try the Aegean one…mmm!!!
An Italian small-plates restaurant with a robust wine list, absolutely delicious food, and a pretty darn solid old fashioned, @sjems5 and I enjoyed a fun evening here after work one night.
Be prepared—it’s loud on account of how popular it is, but the food is awesome, the service great, and you’ll enjoy relaxing with some wine as you digest your meal.
Speaking of Italian, I ended up at Bar Siena in the trendy West Loop area mid-afternoon, starving, and unable to get into Au Cheval.
I enjoyed a delicious burrata with apricot mostarda (I’m physically incapable of not ordering burrata if it’s on a menu…), then downed a short rib lasanga and a really nice Cabernet blend. A cute place and great food.
This didn’t really show up on any of my lists, but @sjems5 said she’d been wanting to try it out and we were able to snag an early res one summer evening. And man, it was AMAZING! We were seated inside, so didn’t get to enjoy the river views, but the food and drinks more than made up for it.
It’s a mostly-small plate concept (though they do have a few larger offerings) with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flair. The dishes are super interesting, like their feta-stuffed medjool dates and delicious hummus and cauliflower. And their cocktail list was great as well. Highly recommend!
To swing to the other side of the spectrum, Daisies is a cute little spot in Logan Square, an up-and-coming area known for great cocktail bars, quirky coffee shops, and craft beer taverns. Daisies focuses on seasonal pastas and vegetable-forward dishes.
That cocktail there is rum-based and includes parsnip juice. Yes, parsnip juice. I also enjoyed some delicious ravioli with brussels sprouts, grapes, and truffle, as well as tempura-fried mushrooms and cheese curds. Odd and enjoyable.
I headed to out to Oak Park to try out Citrine on a lovely summer’s evening. They tout Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, but for some reason I also saw a bit of some Asian flavors in there as well.
There’s a great little patio if the weather is nice, and the cocktails spot-on. Plus, Oak Park is delightful.
It was hard to know whether to put this in restaurants or where to drink, and I accidentally came here twice in the same day—for afternoon drinks, then a late dinner with friends. And I was honestly surprised how delicious the food was…I’d expected them to phone it in and rely on the appeal of the view.
Rooftops are super popular in Chicago, and Cindy’s is always one of the first that people mention. Located in the beautiful historic Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Cindy’s has amazing views across Millennium Park toward the lakefront, and a great vibe.
The cocktails are interesting (though less to my taste), and everything I ate there was great…fava bean toast, burrata, and a couple of desserts.
Time Out Market Chicago
I’ve written an entire post about Time Out, so I won’t belabor the point because we DID IT RIGHT. I’d been to the original Time Out in Lisbon and loved it, so when I heard there was a new one in Chicago it became a must. It’s a food hall concept that brings together a bunch of the top chefs and eateries in the city in one place.
We stuffed ourselves with chimichurri poutine, an amazing duck prosciutto, pistachio butter, and jelly sandwich, duck fat frites, and more. We also made sure to wander upstairs to the little secret speakeasy for a cocktail.
If you’re hungry and have friends who are good with sharing, this is a perfect way to while away a couple hours!
Where to drink in Chicago
Many of the places I already listed are great for grabbing a drink too, including Quartino’s, Prime & Provisions, Bar Siena, Cindy’s Rooftop, and more. Here are a few great places specifically for grabbing a drink, and then there’s a long list at the bottom of places (heavily Logan Square) that I still need to try.
Ohhhh a nice summer’s day on the Riverwalk is a glorious thing! There are a couple City Winery locations (including one that’s an awesome concert venue), but for sitting out and drinking wine you can’t beat this. Yes, it’s a total crush in the summer, but that’s because of how awesome it is.
Starbucks Roastery Chicago
I’ve written a whole post on whether it’s worth your time to visit the new Starbucks Roastery, the largest Starbucks in the world. But one reason it might be is its cocktail bar.
Located on the fourth floor, Arriviamo has a number of super interesting coffee-based (and similar) cocktails and other drinks in a cool setting. WHEN IT’S NOT A CROWDED TIME.
Pro tip: Not alcoholic, but don’t miss the absolutely stunning whiskey barrel-aged cold brew (available at the bar)!
I went to Scofflaw on my own, and honestly the vibe was a bit odd (on a Sunday night, to be fair). It’s a gin-focused bar (which was what caught my interest).
The particular drink I picked wasn’t as much to my liking, and I think I would have enjoyed it more with someone else. But a really interesting place I’d like to explore more.
Located in the Little Italy neighborhood, this little gem is only open during the summer, but if is worth the trek in hot weather! Such a delicious, refreshing treat.
Yeah…that’s a lot of calories consumed 🙂 I’d love to hear from you once you try some of these, or with your own favorite Chicago recos—hit me up in the comments!!
Updates: Sadly Maude’s Liquor Bar closed during COVID so I’ve removed it from the list above.
If you’re curious about other places I’m dying to try, here’s what else is on my list:
- Giant – Logan Square (food and drinks)
- Lost Lake – Logan square, #1 cocktail bar
- Billy Sunday – Logan square
- Longman and Eagle – Logan square
- The Walk-in – Logan square
- Virgin Hotel – drinks
- Three Dots and a Dash – tiki bar speakeasy??
- The Aviary – famous cocktail joint (must make reservations, includes dinner)
- Girl and the Goat
- Au Cheval
- Tavern on Rush
- The Signature Room at the 95th
- Avec Wine Bar
- Goddess and the Baker – breakfast
- Gibson’s – high-end
- Aurelio’s – Chicago thin crust pizza
- Imperial Lamian – dumplings
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