On the western side of the Chicago River, with Grand Avenue to the north, Eisenhower Expressway to the south, and Ashland Avenue to the west, sits one of the best neighborhoods in Chicago for food: the West Loop. In the past, this somewhat gritty and industrial area was full of large factories and warehouses, but it has since been transformed into a shopping, dining, and nightlife mecca. You can find pretty much any type of food you’re hankering for along the fast-growing Randolph Street, or “Restaurant Row”, and at nearby Fulton Market. From sushi to bar grub to bakeries to traditional fare—it’s all here and it’s all good.
Best for Burgers: Au Cheval
The burgers here are so big that they’re served with a steak knife plunged through the buns. Eggs are the specialty and they’re served on, in or with many of the entrees. Ambient lighting, dark leather booths, wood paneling, and a generally chill atmosphere make Au Cheval ideal for a great night out on the town.
Best for Italian: Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio
If fresh handmade pasta is your thing — and, how can it not be? — then dine at Monteverde, a pasta factory like no other in the city. At the helm is chef and partner, Sarah Grueneberg, a former protégé turned executive chef at Michelin-rated Spiaggia. Take a peek at the wood barrels full of traditional balsamic vinegar and watch the team make pasta throughout the day, visible via hanging vintage mirror. If you want to try your hand at pasta making at home, you can peruse recipes on the website.
Best for Sushi: Omakase Yume
The signature multi-course dinner, made by expert chef Sangtae Park, includes about 15 courses in an intimate restaurant with only two seatings per evening. Reservations are, of course, required and you must be on time. Artfully created “up to the chef” Japanese cuisine is served at the blonde wooden bar. Omakase Yume doesn’t disappoint.
Best for Chinese: Duck Duck Goat
Stephanie Izard, a winner on Bravo’s Top Chef, is quite the leader in the restaurant space. She opened award-winning Girl & the Goat in 2010, followed by Little Goat Diner, and now Duck Duck Goat. Visit for dim sum, soup, fried rice, noodle dishes, and signature specialties — all of which are described as “reasonably authentic Chinese food.” And, yes, goat is offered on many of the plates, staying on brand.
Best for Families: Parlor Pizza Bar
Parlor Pizza Bar is affordable, fast, and easy and the wood-fired pizzas are delicious. Summer calls for a table on the rooftop or the huge patio and you don’t have to worry about shushing your kids — hullabaloo is par for the course. Other items, besides pizza, are available as well in case you have a picky eater in tow. Visit Dessert Dealer next door after the meal for dessert tacos, ice cream, and colorful cupcakes.
Best for Surprises: Oriole
Near Restaurant Row, in a more secluded and private location, sits Michelin-starred Oriole. The food here is expensive — $215 per person — and wine pairings, curated by an expert sommelier, will run you an additional $125, but you can expect the night to be impressive and exceptional. This is the place to go for a special celebration, one that will usurp all others.
Best for History Lovers: Sepia
Chicago memorabilia sets the tone at Sepia, a restaurant with a strong seasonal menu housed in an old print shop from the 19th century. Come in for Happy Hour and socialize with classic favorites in hand. Order a la carte or indulge in an artfully prepared five-course tasting menu. Definitely save room for dessert — pear upside down cake, lemon doughnuts, chocolate mousse, and dessert drinks are specialties.
Best for Brunch: Proxi
Weekend brunch at Proxi is like traveling around the globe. Kimchi fried rice, griddled cornbread, chickpea curry, congee, catfish, shrimp toast, Vietnamese iced coffee — pick your country and leave your passport at home. The space is light, bright, and welcoming. Fun fact: Sepia, next door, is a sister restaurant.
Best for American Fare: Blackbird
Award-winning Blackbird is a classic favorite among Chicagoans — it’s been a popular staple for over 20 years. Seasonal lunch and dinner tasting menus with wine pairings are the specialty here and you can expect high-quality ingredients and top-notch service. Cocktails are plentiful in this sleek and modern space and classes and workshops are available should you want to learn how the magic is created.
Best for Trendsetters: The Allis
Housed in SoHo House Chicago, The Allis is one of the most Instagram-friendly hot spots with a mixture of well-dressed diners and casual freelancers drinking espresso behind laptops. Picture this: high ceilings with natural light flooding through the windows, crystal chandeliers, colorful velvet couches, and original art. Dining is available all day and night and the afternoon tea is quite special.
Best for Artistry: Bellemore
The interior’s design at Bellemore is eclectic and colorful — your eye doesn’t know what to land on — and the menu is cut from the same cloth. Choose from dishes divided into three sections — first, second, and third. The oyster pie is in its own category. Desserts will have fun ingredients like preserved persimmon, farro verde ice cream, or yuzu. The tea list is quite extensive — green, oolong, black, herbal, and even vintage. This is the place to take a risk and order something that you've likely never had.
Best for Casual Diners: Elske Restaurant
Chef Posey was inspired by a Scandinavian aesthetic when he created Elske Restaurant, a minimalist restaurant with clean lines and simple décor. The tasting menu is a great value that doesn’t skimp on quality or presentation. Or, order a la carte—smoke fjord trout with beets, black bean agnolotti, pork and snail sausage—to satiate your tastes.
Best for Vegetarians: Bad Hunter
Chicago, and the Midwest, is a meat and potatoes destination. There are no shortages of steakhouses and meat joints. Every now and then, however, you may want to shake it up and have a meatless Monday or two. Enter: Bad Hunter, a vegetable-forward restaurant that features great dishes. Bad Hunter isn’t exclusively vegetarian—meat dishes do sprinkle the seasonal menu—but the winners here are veggie heavy. The restaurant is more upscale than other vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the city, which is a fun alternative.