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The Best Restaurants in Chicago

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In the Where to Eat: 25 Best series, we’re highlighting our favorite restaurants in cities across the United States. These lists will be updated as restaurants close and open, and as we find new gems to recommend. As always, we pay for all of our meals and don’t accept free items.

Logan Square

Ramen

Akahoshi Ramen might be the country’s highest-profile restaurant whose chef earned his bona fides on Reddit. The chef and owner, Mike Satinover, was studying in Japan when a bowl of miso ramen in Hokkaido drove him down a path of obsession. For the next decade, Mr. Satinover fastidiously published his ramen research and recipes on the internet forum Reddit, attracting a legion of fans, including established ramen chefs. He brought that viral momentum into this brick-and-mortar restaurant, where reservations are snapped up within minutes of release. Only four ramens are on the menu (the Sapporo-style miso and soupless tantanmen are superb), and Mr. Satinover’s craftsmanship is present in every bowl: Noodles, tare, broth and toppings are all meticulously prepared from scratch. KEVIN PANG

2340 North California Avenue, Chicago; akahoshiramen.com

Walking into the sprawling Al Bawadi Grill transports you to a sumptuous Bedouin tent — ceilings draped with colorful fabric, the waft of grilled meats ever-present. Applying fire to meat has long been a crowd-pleasing tradition, and here, generous portions of kefta and shish kebabs, chicken, lamb and seafood are cooked over glowing mesquite hardwood. Even hunks of chicken breast stay remarkably juicy, the product of a grillmaster with keen eyes and gut feel. These meats (sure, there are plenty of non-animal options) arrive at the table on banquet-size platters, with enough hummus, rice and grilled vegetables to make leftovers the next day, and possibly the day after. KEVIN PANG

7216 West 87th Street, Bridgeview; 708-599-1999

8501 West Dempster Street, Niles; 847-957-1999; albawadigrill.com

River North

Basque

Order steak at this Basque chophouse, and instead of choosing rib-eye or filet mignon, you pick which cow you’d like. Maybe it’s Holstein, dry-aged for 18 days and tasting of buttered popcorn. Or Galiciana, a breed raised for more than five years (unlike the 18 months for supermarket steaks), with ruby-red meat and a fat cap so nutty in flavor you’d swear it was Ibérico ham. Whichever of the rotating cattle on the menu you choose, the steaks grilled by Asador Bastian taste like no other beef in town. And they’re not even the best thing on the menu: Seafood dishes, like the creamy paella-esque arroz cremoso, whisk you from this stately townhouse restaurant in the Gallery district to the Bay of Biscay. KEVIN PANG

214 West Erie Street, Chicago; 312-800-8935; asadorbastian.com

West Loop and River North

Mediterranean

When Avec opened in 2003 among the meatpacking houses of the West Loop, it won a reputation for breaking restaurant conventions. The dining space and kitchen were one narrow room, like a shipping container, necessitating communal bench seating with strangers. The food came on shareable small plates bearing ingredients from the Mediterranean, like harissa and labneh. Two decades on (with a larger second location in River North), a night at Avec still feels like attending Chicago’s coolest after-hours dinner party. Bacon-wrapped and chorizo-stuffed medjool dates remain an obligatory starter, as is the melty, luscious potato and salted cod brandade with garlic crostini. It’d be hard, though, to top the focaccia baked with ricotta, taleggio and truffle oil, a dish so luxurious it feels like a quesadilla for owners of superyachts. KEVIN PANG

615 West Randolph Street, Chicago; 312-377-2002

141 West Erie Street, Chicago; 312-736-1778; avecrestaurant.com

There’s an inherently magical quality to Lee Wolen’s cooking at Boka: the way he transforms beets into something resembling smoked beef tartare, or the exquisite stuffed chicken with impossibly perfect striations of skin, sausage and breast meat. And yet, Boka has always been the kind of refined, modern restaurant that you never feel you need an anniversary or birthday to visit — call it unfussy, relaxed or jeans-casual. Mr. Wolen’s dishes are almost too impressive for a neighborhood spot like Boka, which recently turned 20 years old. His honey-glazed roasted duck — yielding the most lacquered, gossamer-crisp, perfect bite of duck skin in Chicago — is pure culinary prestidigitation. KEVIN PANG

1729 North Halsted Street, Chicago; 312-337-6070; bokachicago.com

River North

French

In the 1980s, many critics considered Le Francais — 30 miles north of Chicago in Wheeling, Ill. — the finest restaurant in the country. This was a time when high gastronomy in America was almost always associated with classical French cuisine, involving foie gras and pressed ducks served on bone china. Nowadays in Chicago, upscale non-bistro French cooking is rarely seen; Brindille is an exception. The cousins Carrie and Michael Nahabedian (she’s the chef, he’s the wine director) still believe in the power of a beluga caviar course with mother-of-pearl spoons, and that the potato reaches its ideal when puréed as Joël Robuchon would. Lemon madeleines are still baked to order here, and for $30 a waiter will rain down shavings of Périgord truffles on any course you desire. KEVIN PANG

534 North Clark Street, Chicago; 312-595-1616; brindille-chicago.com

West Loop

Tasting Menu

After closing their three-Michelin-starred Grace in 2017, the chef Curtis Duffy and his partner, Michael Muser, nearly immediately set about expanding upon that restaurant’s vision. Now nearly four years old, Ever is a highly refined but gracious experience. The tables are spaced such that you dine on a private island, only vaguely aware of your neighbors and occasionally visited by installments from Mr. Duffy’s menu. His cooking — he was the chef de cuisine under Grant Achatz at Alinea — is meticulous and often surprising. A compressed carrot terrine shares a plate with flavors of black olive and pistachio. Hamachi is frozen with liquid nitrogen and then shaved into curls that thaw to a pleasing texture and are discreetly accented with a piquant sauce of finger limes. Even the butter service — presented in a stacked ribbon reminiscent of a Frank Gehry building — puts on a show. BRIAN GALLAGHER

1340 West Fulton Avenue, Chicago; ever-restaurant.com

Andersonville

Belgian Beer Bar

No bar in Chicago treats beer with the intense reverence Hopleaf does. For the 125 bottled Belgian beers offered (and another 62 beers on tap), the bar stocks 87 glasses of varying sizes and shapes that best express how each beer should be served. A tall fluted glass, for example, shows off the colors of a fruit lambic. That level of devotion has made Hopleaf, 32 years in Andersonville, a national monument for beer geeks. Even those who can’t tell a dubbel from a saison have a reason to come. The Belgian-inspired food menu features the hearty likes of sausage plates, rabbit confit and steak frites. Naturally, you have a choice of which beer the mussels are cooked in: witbier or lambic. KEVIN PANG

5148 North Clark Street, Chicago; 773-334-9851; hopleafbar.com

Elmwood Park

Italian Beef

Italian beef is a Chicago sandwich born of poverty. A century ago, Neapolitan immigrants looking to feed a crowd roasted a flavorless hunk of meat (often bottom round) with heavy seasoning, shaved it thin and piled it sopping-wet into a roll. The sandwich is topped with a spicy bricolage of pickled vegetables called giardiniera. It wasn’t well known outside the city like deep-dish pizza or Chicago hot dogs, but that changed when the FX show “The Bear” romanticized the Italian beef into a culinary objet d’art. For Chicagoans, it remains an Everyman sandwich, a beautiful mess of bread and garlicked beef that resists highfalutin treatments. Johnnie’s Beef has operated in Elmwood Park since 1961; standing in line here, ordering a “beef-hot-dipped,” and eating over the hood of your car remains an indelible Chicago experience. KEVIN PANG

7500 West North Avenue, Elmwood Park; 708-452-6000; facebook.com/people/Johnnies-Beef

To eat at Kasama is to experience the seamless blending of the talents of the husband-and-wife team Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores. Ms. Kwon, a pastry chef who worked at Eleven Madison Park in New York and Flour Bakery & Cafe in Boston, puts out delicate, inventive treats, including a ham-and-cheese Danish like none you’ve tasted, replete with raclette and topped with dainty shavings of serrano ham. Mr. Flores’s Filipino food, which includes staples like lumpia and adobo, is unpretentious and soul-warming. Try his excellent take on a Chicago-style Italian combo sandwich, made with longaniza. For a more high-end experience, the restaurant offers a tasting menu in the evening. PRIYA KRISHNA

1001 North Winchester Avenue, Chicago; 773-697-3790; kasamachicago.com

Westmont

Tavern-style Pizza

Chicagoans eat deep-dish pizza only on special occasions. The more frequent choice is tavern-style, a thin-crust pie typically topped with sausage and a dash of oregano, then cut into squares. Tavern-style pizzerias tend to be family-run, with recipes that stay unchanged over many decades. At Kim’s Uncle Pizza, three young pizza entrepreneurs opted to tackle tavern pies, applying modern and unconventional techniques like fermenting the dough for a whole week. The result? The Platonic ideal of Chicago tavern-style pizza: crackly crust throughout (even the center squares), deeply flavorful tomato sauce, juicy nubs of spiced Italian sausage. What makes this pie even more desirable is how hard it is to score one, as this shoe-box-size operation usually sells out on weekends by 5:30 p.m. KEVIN PANG

207 North Cass Avenue, Westmont; 630-963-1900; unclepizzawestmont.com

Logan Square

Eclectic

Twenty-five years on, Lula Cafe remains as confounding to categorize as ever. The menu reads like roll call at the United Nations: soups from Indonesia, chickpea tagines, French omelets and a bucatini dish by way of Greece, pairing brown butter with feta and cinnamon. In cross-pollinating ingredients from different parts of the world, often together on one plate, the chef Jason Hammel is arguably a key influence for Chicago cooks today. Lula Cafe can claim to other firsts: It called Logan Square home a full decade before it became a desirable dining neighborhood, and was among the earliest Chicago restaurants to adopt a farm-to-table approach, showcasing ingredients from local purveyors as a selling point. The best way to describe Lula Cafe? It serves Lula Cafe food. KEVIN PANG

2537 North Kedzie Boulevard, Chicago; 773-489-9554; lulacafe.com

West Town

Eclectic, Global

Reservation sites require that restaurants label themselves with a particular cuisine. The chef of Maxwells Trading, Erling Wu-Bower, begrudgingly agreed to “contemporary American,” but he’d like to make clear that he despises the term. His mother is Chinese, his father Creole. The parents of the executive chef, Chris Jung, are Korean. Both chefs grew up in large melting-pot cities, equally comfortable picking up food with chopsticks as with Ethiopian injera. Maxwells Trading is unconstrained by pithy labels — “city food by city kids,” Mr. Wu-Bower said — which makes a dish like French onion dip with Chinese scallion pancakes both unexpected and obvious. Peruvian and Thai flavors converge in a striped bass ceviche with lemongrass and fermented chile paste. The restaurant feels very 2024, a reflection of the borders-erasing cultural gumbo that Chicago has become. KEVIN PANG

1516 West Carroll Avenue, Chicago; 312-896-4410; maxwellstrading.com

Logan Square

Mexican

The organizing principle here is to treat Mexican cooking as a medium for storytelling. The chef Diana Dávila’s printed menu lists dishes and prices, of course, but it’s also where she often adds a few lines of narrative context. You’d learn that mole de novia, a Oaxacan white sauce made with pine nuts, is served to brides on their wedding days. You might be surprised to find a steak burrito on the menu, until you learn that it’s a homage to the thousands of burritos Ms. Dávila made at her parents’ restaurant (and it’s a fabulous steak burrito). Suffusing food with her stories somehow makes Ms. Dávila’s polished and gorgeous cooking taste even better. KEVIN PANG

2800 West Logan Boulevard, Chicago; 872-315-3947; mitocaya.com

Of the Chicago restaurants pushing Italian cooking beyond the domain of antipasto salads and eggplant Parmesans, Monteverde might be the most popular in town. For one, pasta is treated here as a spectator sport: Perched on a platform behind the bar are two nonnas who lovingly knead and shape dough, visible to diners via overhead mirrors, like live-action Pasta Grannies. From there pasta is handed off to the chef, Sarah Grueneberg, who interprets dishes in ways that are equal parts avant-garde and classic. Ms. Grueneberg can execute a chile oil-slick seafood arrabbiata charred in a scorching wok, or do something as simple as coaxing peak summer sweetness from a basic pomodoro sauce. KEVIN PANG

1020 West Madison Street, Chicago; 312-888-3041; monteverdechicago.com

West Loop

Tasting Menu

The chef Noah Sandoval is conducting an exercise in balance. After arriving for your meal in a gated cargo elevator, you will be ushered to an elegant bar for a one-on-one cocktail consultation. The dining room, where the Smiths are a regular on the sound system, is as much artist’s loft as food temple. The menu finds a similarly cosmopolitan level. You may get a buttery sablefish dolloped — that’s bigger than a dab, right? — with osetra caviar. Or a toasted brioche topped with a generous piping of foie gras and ornamented with anise hyssop. But they will be followed shortly by a serving of capellini that you might even call homey, if it weren’t showered in truffle shavings. BRIAN GALLAGHER

661 West Walnut Street, Chicago; 312-877-5899; oriolechicago.com

Near North Side

Chinese

Though Chinese restaurants in Chicago span a wide landscape of regional cooking — Sichuan, Guangdong, Taiwan — nearly all are casual enough that you can walk in without a reservation. The one exception is Shanghai Terrace in the Peninsula hotel, overlooking opulent Michigan Avenue (with prices to match). A high-end chain based in Hong Kong, the Peninsula imported to Chicago a style of Chinese luxury dining rarely seen outside Asia. The chef Elmo Han’s shumai emerge from the bamboo steamer as ornate as jewel boxes, each dumpling topped with a different color of tobiko. Fried rice studded with Wagyu beef and taro elevates a humble dish to the realm of five-star exquisiteness. That Shanghai Terrace’s menu features a dedicated section for abalone signals the lavishness diners should expect. KEVIN PANG

108 East Superior Street, Chicago; 312-573-6744; peninsula.com

Norwood Park and Wheeling

Hot Dogs

In a city where the components of its hot dog are unyielding and sacrosanct, Superdawg — a happy little drive-in halfway between downtown and O’Hare — serves one of the city’s finest Chicago dogs, even if it’s technically not a Chicago dog. Traditional interpretations call for a beef wiener nestled in a poppy-seed bun with mustard, diced onions, neon green relish, sport peppers, red tomato slices, celery salt and a dill-pickle spear. Though Superdawg subs out the red tomatoes for a pickled green tomato wedge, Chicago dog purists tend to overlook this discrepancy. Is there another hot-dog stand frozen in 1950s charm, where two 12-foot wiener statues — sausage-pomorphized versions of the original owners Maurie and Flaurie Berman — perpetually stand guard? KEVIN PANG

6363 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago; 773-763-0660

333 South Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling; 847-459-1900; superdawg.com

Avondale

Keralan

This former food-hall stand serving fare from Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast of India, has found a larger home for its loud flavors, courtesy of the owners Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil. Everything here, down to the stainless-steel plates the food is served on, feels home style. Expect fish fries, yogurt rice and coconutty curries whose remnants you’ll eagerly sop up with appam, lacy domes made of rice and coconut. Even the more playful dishes, like Tater Tots dusted with chaat masala, feel like clever snacks devised in a pinch by an enterprising home cook. PRIYA KRISHNA

2601 West Fletcher Street, Chicago; 773-754-0199; thattu.com

Kevin Hickey’s great-grandmother once owned a place called the Duck Inn in the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, where he grew up. After a few decades cooking for the Four Seasons hotel chain, Mr. Hickey came home to Bridgeport to resurrect his family restaurant. The Duck Inn reopened in 2014 in a pre-Prohibition corner tavern surrounded by bungalows, and it’s safe to say there’s no restaurant of this ambition for many blocks in any direction. Mr. Hickey’s time in the luxury-hotel business is evident in his dishes, none more so than a rotisserie duck with a salad dressed in its jus, served dramatically atop a chopping block. And his fine-dining pedigree shows up in other surprising ways: Mr. Hickey’s Chicago dog features a housemade sausage made with duck fat, and an Italian beef with luscious shavings of prime rib. KEVIN PANG

2701 South Eleanor Street, Chicago; 312-724-8811; theduckinnchicago.com

West Loop

Brasserie

As the talk of the town centers on Smyth, which received its third Michelin star last year. its sibling restaurant the Loyalist continues to operate in its shadow, quite literally. Karen Urie and John Shields’s subterranean brasserie shows that dinner omelets, anchovy toasts and trout Grenobloise have a place in Chicago, especially if presented with the elegant touches you’d find one flight upstairs at Smyth. The Loyalist has acquired a reputation as the gateway restaurant to the Shields’s culinary sensibility, and it doesn’t hurt that it serves what might be the city’s most acclaimed cheeseburger: griddled patties, onion aioli, charred onions, double cheese and a Martin’s sesame seed bun toasted golden. KEVIN PANG

177 North Ada Street, Chicago; 773-913-3773; smythandtheloyalist.com

O’Hare International Airport

Mexican Sandwiches

One could experience the Mexican cooking of Rick Bayless, one of Chicago’s most famous chefs, a number of ways: with ceviche and margaritas at his festive flagship Frontera Grill, the quiet artistry of Topolobampo, or via a flight of rare mezcal at Bar Sótano. But his most expectations-defying restaurant is Tortas Frontera, inside the culinary hinterland that is O’Hare International Airport. Why suffer through a stale turkey sandwich made last Wednesday when there’s freshly griddled choriqueso, an audibly crunchy sandwich of oozy Jack cheese, chorizo and avocado? Or a bowl of tortilla soup, the very recipe served on nearly every table at Frontera Grill? Close your eyes and forget that you’re awaiting boarding group 7. KEVIN PANG

Inside Terminals 1, 3, 5 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 10000 West O’Hare Avenue, Chicago; rickbayless.com

Homewood

South Side Chicago Barbecue

South Side Chicago barbecue is a singular style of smoking meats, brought north during the Great Migration by Black pitmasters from the Mississippi Delta. Pork hot links and rib tips, the often-discarded knobby end of the spare rib, get cooked inside a plexiglass aquarium smoker. Unlike, say, brisket that smokes untouched for hours, Chicago barbecue requires constant monitoring; pitmasters spray down the fire with a hose to control temperature and steam. This explains why the number of Chicago pitmasters has dwindled to a handful. Aja Kennebrew, thankfully, is keeping the tradition alive. Taking over recently from her retired father, Garry Kennebrew, she has kept her family’s succulent rib tips as appealingly crusty and mahogany as ever, while adding smoked turkey to her menu. KEVIN PANG

17947 South Halsted Street, Homewood; 708-960-4612; unclejohnsbbq.com

Hyde Park

Southern

Hyde Park, bordering Lake Michigan on the city’s South Side, has for years tried and failed to establish a destination restaurant worth venturing from downtown, a place that doesn’t just cater to students from the University of Chicago. Virtue changed everything. Opened by the James Beard award-winner Erick Williams and fronted by the chef Damaar Brown, Virtue’s sophisticated approach to Southern foodways draws huge crowds, who come for the deeply dark and deeply flavorful gumbo, or the exquisitely blackened catfish with barbecued carrots. Given that the South Side is a historically important destination of the Great Migration, Virtue’s success in championing the cooking of the African American diaspora cannot be overstated or overcelebrated. KEVIN PANG

1462 East 53rd Street, Chicago; 773-947-8831; virtuerestaurant.com

The name of a restaurant says a lot, and Warlord conjures a place that is loud and intense, lit two shades above total darkness. You expect a menacing wood hearth radiating fire from the open kitchen. This Logan Square hot spot checks those boxes. It’s near-impossible to get in (they don’t take reservations), and in its first year has established itself as one of Chicago’s most thrilling and audacious restaurants. Some menu items read like transcripts from a fever dream, yet turn out unexpectedly brilliant — Bavarian cream doughnuts draped with sea urchin, a mocktail of gochujang and coconut milk with black sesame rimmed around the glass. But the restaurant’s mastery of the hearth is what consistently wows; the dry-aged rib-eye with house-fermented Worcestershire sauce is magnificent. Warlord, all culinary fire and brimstone, totally rules. KEVIN PANG

3198 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago; warlordchicago.com

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