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By Alex Martin | July 27 2019
With a consistent dedication to using local, seasonal ingredients, this refined list of the best restaurants in Chicago guarantees a unique, delectable and eclectic dining experience.
With impressive skyline views, artistic flair and relentlessly innovative chefs, the difficulty in Chicago is not in finding a world-class restaurant, but choosing between them. The city has 22 Michelin-starred restaurants, including three two-star restaurants and one with three stars.
From the world-class Alinea to the ultra-modern Smyth & The Loyalist, Chicago’s fine dining establishments are sure to find favor with discerning gourmands.
The highest-ranking North American restaurant and the six-time winner of Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants, Alinea’s reputation speaks for itself. The annual poll – decided by Elite Traveler’s jet-set readership – has consistently seen Grant Achatz’s three-Michelin-star restaurant in either first or second place. This remarkable popularity is down to Achatz’s hypermodern and emotional approach to dining, which is respected the world over.
The Alinea group now boasts a number of outlets (including Next, another restaurant on this list) but it is at this original outpost that Achatz brings all of his ingenious skills together. The team of creative staff and innovative collaborators produce a forward-thinking, deconstructed cuisine worthy of its three-star status. The Gallery menu, a 16-to-18 course experience is an ingenious journey through cutting-edge molecular gastronomy and classic fine dining.
Guests can also choose to dine out on The Salon Menu. Served in the three salons on the second floor, this 10-to-12 course menu is marketed as a more approachable experience butis no less innovative. Finally, the restaurant’s newest experience is The Kitchen Table, where guests are treated to the most immersive and intimate gastronomic experiences in the world.
Tel: +1 312 867 0110
John and Karen Urie Shields cut their culinary teeth on a tour of Chicago’s best restaurants, working in the kitchens of Alinea, Tru and Carlie Trotter’s. In 2008, they faced a crossroads: open their own Trotter restaurant in Las Vegas or head out to Smyth, a small county in Virginia. As you can probably guess, they chose the latter and spent five years honing their skills with locally grown ingredients. It eventually led to Smyth + The Loyalist, a dual concept serving farm-to-table fine dining on the first floor and a bar just below.
The restaurant itself is housed in an unassuming industrial building, but go up the stairs and you will find a décor that is comfortable and inviting. Although the restaurant has earned two Michelin stars and is unmistakably a fine dining establishment, it remains welcoming while the menu itself is approachable.
Menu items are described in an understated tone, such as the “milk chocolate”, which is actually a spectacular umami-bomb. There are three taster menus to choose from, ranging from the entry-level Classic to the luxurious Omaha. The latter is a scarcely-imaginable 19-course journey inspired by the couple’s time in Virginia.
Tel: +1 773 913 3774
Set within a sophisticated minimalist space designed by celebrated architect Thomas Schlesser, Blackbird is home to a reinterpretation of classic American cuisine.
Described as quietly revolutionary, Chef Ryan Pfeiffer and his team use local, farm-fresh ingredients and cutting-edge culinary techniques to create a menu that is both highly creative and utterly approachable.
Pfeiffer originally joined Blackbird as Chef de Cuisine under co-found Paul Kahan in 2014 but was handed the reins and given the top job in 2019. Kahan, a James Beard winner and architect of Blackbird’s rise, remains in an advisory position as Chef-Partner.
Pfeiffer is working on bringing his own concepts to the menu and includes dishes such as the ‘Sablefish misoyaki’ and ‘Sturgeon grilled on a banana leaf’. He will need to maintain the high standards set by his predecessor, which has seen the restaurant earn a Michelin star every year since 2011.
With two Michelin stars to its name, Oriole can rightly claim to be one of the finest dining establishments in the US. But you would be forgiven for not knowing that as you approach its unassuming location down an alley-like street in Chicago’s West Loop. Go inside, however, and you are introduced to a world of wonder by Executive Chef and Owner Noah Sandoval.
This intimate restaurant can serve only 28 diners per sitting, which not only ensures the highest standards in the kitchen but also with front-of-house service. The bare-brick walls pay homage to the building’s industrial heritage while the open kitchen ensures a surprisingly vibrant atmosphere for a restaurant of this size.
Only a single menu is on offer, a 10-course experience that takes guests on a tour of global cuisine. (Think Scottish langoustines followed by Japanese milk bread). The small kitchen team show a wide range of different techniques to produce arguably the most ambitious menu in the entire city.
A long-standing gem of Chicago’s dining scene, Spiaggia has been a favorite for many of the city’s most famous residents including Barack and Michelle Obama, no less. It is arguably the finest Italian restaurant in town with Executive Chef Joe Flamm leading a culinary vision that never veers away from Italy’s rich history.
Together with Chef-Partner Tony Mantuano, Flamm traveled extensively through Italy, learning its different customs and honing traditional cooking techniques before bringing them back to Chicago’s Mag Mile. Guests can cherry-pick from the a la carte menu but the best of Flamm’s work is to be found on the seasonal tasting menu. Here, you can dine on such dishes as ‘Crab ravioli served with corn, controne and trout roe’ following by ‘Risotto with zucchini, squash blossom, pesto and burrata’.
The wine menu also deserves a mention with wine director Rachael Lowe presiding over an extensive list from up and down Italy’s wine regions. One of the restaurants four sommeliers are always on hand to make sure your wine perfectly complements the meal. There is also a delectable wine pairing for each tasting menu, chosen by Rachael herself.
One of only three Chicago restaurants to hold two Michelin stars, Acadia is the brainchild of revolutionary Chef Ryan McCaskey. He fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant when Acadia opened its doors in 2011; he now owns one of the best restaurants in North America. So good was McCaskey’s first menu, Acadia earned its first Michelin star just 10 months after opening and achieved two-star status in 2015.
The food draws inspiration from McCaskey’s childhood in Maine, drawing on the serenity and abundance that comes with its lush summers. Seafood usually dominates the ever-changing 10-course tasting menu and may include delectable dishes such as ‘White anchovy, ramp pesto, ricotta salata, olive brioche feuilletine and allium butter’. The signature dish – Yukon gold potato “risotto” studded with tender leeks, sweet English peas, savory morels and truffle butteris – is worth traveling to the restaurant alone.
Tel: +1 312 360 9500
Housed in a former 1890s print shop and echoing bygone eras with relics from Chicago’s storied past, the Michelin-starred Sepia serves as an ideal backdrop for Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s inventive American cuisine.
The seasonally inspired menu aims to showcase the quality of local ingredients. Zimmerman changes the menu frequently in order to use only the best and freshest produce from local farmers and producers. Alongside the classic American fare are subtle influences from Southeast Asian, Korean and Mediterranean cuisines.
The ingredients are brought to life in dishes that are indicative of innovation and precision; skills that Chef Zimmerman honed during his years of classic French training. Recent delights include ‘Rohan duck breast served with foie gras, blueberries and sauce poivrade. Private Dining by Sepia offers guests the chance to experience this Michelin-starred experience on their own terms. A private room featuring deep, neutral tones, stunning Tony Duquette light fixtures and a walnut and pewtar bar is the perfect setting for a sophisticated cocktail party or a memorable family event.
Located in the heart of Lincoln Park, Boka Restaurant has become a part of Chicago’s fine dining furniture over the past 15 years. Chef Lee Wolen has been delivering seasonal American cuisine in a contemporary space designed by the renowned Simeone Deary. It was the first site of the Boka Restaurant Group and now stands as its flagship. It is synonymous with excellent standards underlined by its nine consecutive years as a Michelin-starred restaurant (2011-2019).
Diners can sit in any one of three rooms, each containing shimmering mirrored light fixtures and beautiful art. The solarium – a semi-outdoor area – has a living wall of moss and ferns and is quite possibly one of the most Instagrammable restaurant spots in the city.
The appetizers are separated into cold and hot with guests encouraged to choose one from each. A fine example of the cold appetizers is the ‘Diver scallops served with almond milk, kohlrabi, meyer lemon and kombu’. A typical diner could follow it up with the ‘Ricotta dumplings with grilled broccoli, goat gouda and black truffle’.
Entrées reads like an all-star list of classic American dishes with a recent example including the ‘Grilled American red snapper with celtuce, razor clams and green garlic’. An eight-course tasting menu is also available.
Tel: +1 312 337 6070
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Established by husband-and-wife David and Anna Posey, Elske successfully delivers a modern and trendsetting interpretation of Michelin-level dining to Chicago’s restaurant scene. Meaning ‘love’ in Danish, the restaurant’s name is both a tribute to David’s mother and to the city of Copenhagen, where the couple got engaged. The Scandinavian influence goes further than just the name: the restaurant is crisp, minimal and illuminated with soft lighting.
David, Anna and their team of chefs serve food directly to diners on communal tables from their open kitchen. A creative and ambitious menu places great emphasis on seasonal and ethically-sourced ingredients.
An evening here will see guests experience a wealth of complex techniques and fine ingredients. Sample dishes from the tasting menu include beautiful dishes such as ‘Duck liver tart with salted ramp and buckwheat’. An a la carte menu is also available. Guests can finish the evening in the outdoor area next to an open-air campfire with a post-dinner cocktail under lap furs.
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The only Chicago member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group, and located in an unforgettable setting on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, the aptly-named Everest is as unique as it is respected.
Chef / Proprietor J. Joho serves world-renowned French cuisine amidst the glittering Chicago skyline, using the finest seasonal fare, local specialties and organic ingredients to astounding results.
Guests can enjoy Joho’s offerings in luxurious private dining rooms with attentive service and the option of personalized menus and décor. Acclaimed Swiss artist Ivo Soldini’s bronze sculptures adorn each table while paintings by Adam Seigel line the walls, completing this cultured experience.
Next is one of several Chicago restaurants belonging to the famed Alinea group and, as the name suggests, is constantly developing a new and exciting concept. Its mission from the outset has been to explore the world of cuisine whether that be ancient Rome or classic French cooking. Every four months, Next throws out its prix fixe menu and introduces something completely new.
Situated next to the historic meat pack district, the restaurant is in the center of Chicago’s most vibrant and trendy neighborhood. As with Alinea, there is a ticketing system in place so guests must pay for their meal up-front just as you would a theater. Regardless of whether the theme is Paris 1906, Thai, Italian or a menu from a guest chef, tickets are always snapped up quickly.
Despite an ever-changing experience with new chefs and new techniques, Next somehow manages to maintain world-class standards in cooking and has won an unprecedented 19 four-star reviews from the notoriously tough Chicago Tribune.