Chicago is surely one of the countries best gastronomic cities. Dining is one of the best things to do downtown. It has great variety with eateries representing over 100 different countries. The dining options are endless. It also has many local specialties. All of the recommendations and information contained on this page are based on our personal experiences.
Like most cities it has it’s own specialties that it is famous for. The most famous of which is the Chicago style pizza. It is available at endless pizza places around downtown. We have found the quality to be fairly uniform so it is not worth a long wait just to get into a particular place. The wait time on weekends can reach an hour at most place so go early or expect to wait. The Chicago hotdog is an unusual take on an American classic. It is basically a salad on a bun, with a pickle spear, a strange neon green relish and tomatoes. The Gyro, pronounced (hero) was supposedly invented here, several local Greek families claim to have done it. They are widely available at small storefront stands and most place get their gyros from the same supplier so their is little difference from place to place. Italian Beef is a local version of a french dip. Ask for it wet if you want it dipped in the broth, it makes it very messy and it can come with gardinar, a spicy mix of chopped vegetables in oil which adds a lot of flavor. Al’s and Mr. Beef are good local places. Steaks, while most cities have steakhouses Chicago’s are fairly unique with their huge high, quality steaks and gigantic sides. Most steakhouses are quite good, although expensive. Our personal favorites are Gibson’s for the see and be scene, Gene and Georgettie’s for an old time classic and the Chicago Chop House.
While prices may be better than New York they are still very high. Do not let the over 10% tax rate surprise you when you get your bill. Downtown restaurants are very busy, especially on weekend nights. It is very important to make reservation if you can. Do not assume because it is off season that you can walk into most downtown places and get a table. Dress codes are fairly relaxed and only the top end places require a jacket. Chicago is a great opportunity to step out of the box and try a new cuisine.
Restaurants by Attribute:
People watching: There are a lot of great people watching places downtown. Some of the best see and be seen places to see the rich and famous are Gibson’s, Tavern on Rush, Gene and Georgettie’s, Paris Club, and Spiaggia. A good place to watch the activity at Millennium Park during the summer is sitting outside at the Park Grill. Le Colonial, Carmine’s and Tavern on Rush offer good outdoor people watching along Rush Street.
Family Friendly: Downtown tends not to be very family friendly when it comes to eating out. It can be expensive for a family and most place tend to be fancier than most would like to take their children. There are some good options but the lack of choice tend to make them very busy. Pizza places are always a good choice. Cheesecake Factory and Grand Luxe Cafe are fun places for a family to go, but the waits can be very long. Bucca de Beppo is a large noisy, Italian restaurant where kids are welcomed and it has surprisingly good fare. Greektown works okay for families. There are some of the familiar chains which we do not care for but will work for families. The McDonalds at Dearborn and Ontario is one of their best outlets. Ed Debevic’s is an old time malt shop which caters to kids. The grub is not great but most kids love it. R. J. Grunts is a good place to go near the zoo.
Romantic: There is an almost endless supply of romantic restaurants in the downtown area. Tru, Spiaggia, Everest and Charlie Trotter’s offer romantic elegance but at a steep price. Slightly less expensive romantic places are Prosecco and Riva on Navy Pier. Moderately priced romance is available upstairs at Le Colonial. A reasonably priced place is the booths at Sayat Nova.
Group Get Together’s: There are a lot of good places for groups such as bachelorette parties, work parties and families to go. Reservations are essential for groups. Tapas places like Emilio’s are always fun for a group. Quartino is a local favorite. Bucca di Beppo is good for a less formal get together.
Cheap Eats: For those looking for decent, inexpensive sustenance there are choices near some of the tourist sights and attractions. The food court at Macy’s on State has good options, especially Fronterra, which is a great way to try Rick Bayless’ offerings for less than $10. The food court at Water Tower Place has lots of tasty options. 3rd Coast is a funky local hangout that is inexpensive. R.J. Grunts is a local’s favorite choice near the zoo.