There's no doubt Chicago's a food-focused town. People flock to the Windy City for deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, a bevy of steakhouses and, of course, scores of cocktail lounges with award-winning mixology programs.
What's improved tremendously is Chicago's fine-dining scene. More than ever, local restaurants are getting the global recognition they deserve for extraordinary culinary and beverage teams. It's a big draw that has enticed visitors to plan their entire trips around what they're going to eat and drink.
But today's definition for fine dining has dramatically changed. Most Chicago establishments have relaxed their dress codes and jackets are no longer required for gentlemen, making the experience less intimidating. Also: Dining rooms feel less austere and more convivial with warmer accents, groovier soundtracks and communal dining.
From memorable, one-of-a-kind tasting menus to chefs boasting James Beard awards and Michelin stars, here are some of the very best fine-dining restaurants in the city.
The Appeal: Located near the southern tip of the South Loop, Acadia is only a five-minute drive from the heart of the Financial District and downtown. Owner Ryan McCaskey was an accomplished chef long before he set sights on opening this highly successful boutique-style eatery in an industrial part of town. Acadia specializes in seasonal New England fare, with a strong emphasis on Maine, McCaskey's stomping grounds. That means, of course, you'll find a nice share of seafood on the menu. There's an exceptional wine selection, well-curated craft beer list, and outstanding mocktail and cocktail program. Indulge in dinner in the main dining room or chill out with more casual bites and drinks in the adjacent lounge. If you're ordering one of the tasting menus, cross your fingers that you'll be lucky enough to get McCaskey's signature Maine lobster rolls--in miniature form.
Cuisine: Contemporary American, a la carte, five- or 10-course tasting menus, Grand Tour tasting menu
Soundtrack: Classic rock, soul, jazz and more
Top Accolades: Michelin two stars (2016, 2017), James Beard semifinalist (2016), Jean Banchet award for "Best Sommelier," "Best Restaurant Service," "Best New Restaurant" (2012)
Average tab per diner: $160-$350 per person
Additional Info: 1639 S. Wabash Ave. (tickets for dinner purchased online only), 312-360-9500; open Wednesday through Sunday
The Appeal: How do you best describe a restaurant that transcends an average fine-dining experience? From genius to God-like, the team at Alinea has heard it all and pretty much has snapped up every prestigious award known to mankind because of their skills. Owned by chef Grant Achatz and entrepreneur Nick Kokonas, the Lincoln Park-based restaurant's dishes are designed to encourage diners to think deeper about what they're consuming. They're beyond creative, of course, and presented in such a distinct manner that many have attempted to duplicate. Kokonas is also behind the innovative Tock ticketing system, which manages and books restaurant reservations. Achatz and Kokonas also own James Beard awardee The Aviary as well as Next.
Cuisine: New American, multi-course tasting menus
Top Accolades: Food & Wine's "Best New Chefs" (2002), Gourmet magazine's "Best Restaurant in America" (2006), Michelin three stars (2011-2017), multiple James Beard awards (including "Outstanding Restaurant" of 2016), multiple Jean Banchet awards, Forbes' Five Star Award (2013), S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, AAA Five Diamond Award (2007-2013), Crain's 40 Under 40 (2003, 2006)
Average tab per diner: $300–$500
Additional Info: 1723 N. Halsted St. (tickets for dinner purchased online only), 312-360-9500; , 312-867-0110; open Wednesday through Sunday
Nearby Accommodations: Hotel Lincoln
The Appeal: Restaurateur/executive chef Paul Kahan made Blackbird a Chicago culinary fixture with his seasonal menu and austere, yet serene dining room. It's been open since 1999, yet it maintains its dominance against competition year after year. Its stark white setting plays beautifully in unison with the colorful, glamorous crowd settling in every night, but rest assured. Blackbird is no club, even though its craft cocktail program leaves us starstruck. Chef de Cuisine Ryan Pfeiffer oversees the lunch, dinner and tasting menus. Blackbird is the first restaurant for One Off Hospitality; others include avec, Big Star, Dove's Luncheonette, Nico Osteria, Publican, Publican Quality Meats and The Violet Hour.
Cuisine: New American, a la carte and multi-course tasting menus
Soundtrack: Lots of rare, exotic grooves
Top Accolades: Michelin one star (2011-17), multiple James Beard awards (including James Beard Foundation Award for "Outstanding Chef" in 2013 and "Outstanding Restaurateur" for partner Donnie Madia in 2015), Food & Wine "Best New Chefs" (1999, 2010)
Average tab per diner: $100-$150
Additional Info: 619 W. Randolph St., 312-715-0708; open daily
The Appeal: The first restaurant for the local dining kingpins behind Girl and the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, Momotaro and Swift & Sons, Boka has come a long way since opening in 2003. The slick Lincoln Park eatery's energy and accolades are off the charts under partner/executive chef Lee Wolen, whose inspiring seasonal American fare has been wowing diners since his days at Eleven Madison Park in New York. Through the use of the innovative Coravin Preservation System, diners have the opportunity to explore by-the-glass options of special vintages, winemakers and wine growing regions.
Cuisine: New American, a la carte and seven-course tasting menus
Soundtrack: Slick lounge grooves
Top Accolades: Michelin one star (2011-2017), James Beard finalist (2016, 2017), Jean Banchet "Chef of the Year," "Restaurant of the Year" (2015), Chicago Tribune's "Pastry Chef of the Year" (2016)
Average tab per diner: $100-$150
Additional Info: 1729 N. Halsted St., 312-337-6070; open daily
Nearby Accommodations: Hotel Lincoln
The Appeal: Situated on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Everest specializes in the cuisine and wine of Alsace, located in northeastern France. It's the award-winning, ultimate date destination by renowned chef Jean Joho, who has been putting his spin on Alsatian cooking here since 1986. Menus are prix fixe, seasonal and take diners on a tour through Alsace with exceptional tastes of smoked meats, cold-pressed lobster and regional wines. Of course it's all done with a killer view as the backdrop. Parking is complimentary for guests. Guests who dine in the private dining rooms may see the fireworks displays at Guaranteed Rate Field during night games for the Chicago White Sox.
Cuisine: Alsatian, a la carte and multi-course tasting menus
Soundtrack: Classical, contemporary jazz
Top Accolades: Michelin one star (2011-17), multiple James Beard awards, Gayot's "Restaurateur of the Year" (2012), Five-Diamond AAA rating, Gourmet's "Best Restaurant for Business Dining"
Average tab per diner: $150-$250
Additional Info: 440 S. LaSalle St., 312-663-8920; open Tuesday through Saturday
Girl and the Goat
The Appeal: "The Goat is a tireless beast," exclaims owner/executive chef Stephanie Izard, which explains why she's named all three of her restaurants in honor of the frisky animal. In addition to the West Loop-based Girl and the Goat, she's tirelessly behind Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat in conjunction with Boka Restaurant Group. Depending on the mood of guests, they may choose to dine in GATG's lounge, communal seating area, main dining room or one of four kitchen seats, which is the best way to track the culinary team's action. While the menu showcases the very best of every food group, GATG would not be GATG without actual goat on the menu. There's typically a nice selection, ranging from goat empanadas to grilled goat legs (available by advance order only). Wine and cocktails are also a major focus.
Cuisine: New American, a la carte menu
Soundtrack: Always upbeat
Top Accolades: Bravo's "Top Chef" winner (2008), Food & Wine's "Best New Chefs" (2010), James Beard winner "Best Chef Great Lakes" (2013)
Average tab per diner: $60-$100
Additional Info: 809 W. Randolph St., 312-492-6262; open daily
The Appeal: Located in a growing stretch of restaurants in Avondale--near Logan Square--that includes the highly regarded Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Kuma's Corner, Parachute took the world by storm when it debuted in 2015. Beverly Kim, who owns the Asian-inspired eatery with husband Johnny Clark, was first seen on the national stage when she appeared on Bravo's "Top Chef" in season nine. Their fashionable little restaurant encourages a communal dining experience: from the seating in the main dining room to ordering share-able, family-style dishes such as the bacon-stuffed baked potato bing bread to tandoori-accented sweetbreads. The wine list is pretty extensive.
Cuisine: Contemporary Korean American, a la carte menu
Soundtrack: Esoteric hip-hop and house
Top Accolades: Bon Appetit's "Best New Restaurants" (2015), Michelin one stars (2016, 2017), James Beard finalist for "Best New Restaurant" (2015, 2017), Jean Banchet winner for "Best New Restaurant" (2015)
Average tab per diner: $100
Additional Info: 3500 N. Elston St., 773-654-1460; open Tuesday through Saturday
Nearby Accommodations: Longman & Eagle Inn, Roscoe Village Guesthouse
The Appeal: Chef Carrie Nahabedian delivers the goods with her creative and complex dishes that live up to her impressive resume that includes the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and the now-shuttered Charlie Trotter's. NAHA brilliantly cranks out dishes that proudly showcase Nahabedian's rich Armenian heritage as well as American influences with fresh ingredients from Green City Market. Her cousin, culinary veteran Michael Nahabedian, heads up operations. The well-curated wine list is one of the best in the city, and NAHA's sleek private dining room is one of River North's most coveted. The team's French-focused Brindille is two doors down.
Cuisine: New American and Mediterranean influences, a la carte and tasting menus
Soundtrack: Lots of downtempo lounge beats
Top Accolades: Michelin one star (2011-17), James Beard winner "Best Chef Great Lakes (2008), Chicago Culinary Museum's Chefs Hall of Fame (2009); AAA Five Diamond Award (2012)
Average tab per diner: $100-$200
Additional Info: 500 N. Clark St., 312-321-6242; open Monday through Saturday
The Appeal: Situated next door to Frontera Grill is Mexican food master Rick Bayless’ fine-dining establishment that snagged a Michelin star every year since 2011. As with Frontera Grill, reservations are hard to come by at Topolobampo, so diners should take advantage of the experience by ordering the chef’s tasting menu, which changes monthly. Choose from three categories: “Topolo Classics,” “Street Food Flavors” or “The Modern Oaxacan Kitchen.” Offerings include Mexican festival food, wild game and little known regional specialties with many ingredients originating from Bayless' sprawling backyard garden. Bayless also owns Frontera Fresco, Lena Brava, Torta Frontera and Xoco.
Cuisine: Mexican, chef's tasting menu
Top Accolades: Michelin one star (2011-17), numerous James Beard awards, Esquire's "Best New Restaurants in America" (1991), Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" (1990-2017), Chicago Culinary Museum's Chefs Hall of Fame (2008)
Average tab per diner: $100-$220
Additional Info: 445 N. Clark St., 312-661-1434; open Tuesday through Saturday