Chicago is a first-class foodie destination where award-winning chefs routinely slice, dice and aerate their way to savory superstardom That said, there are some restaurants that shine a bit brighter than the others. It’s not that they are super-fancy, or exceedingly cutting-edge. These tables—the ones that locals clamor to visit time and time again—have that certain something, a winning culinary triumverate of killer ambiance, stellar service and outstanding flavors. Though very different establishments, they share common threads. Whether it is the ever-changing, themed menu at Next, the out-of-the box flavor pairings at Blackbird, the artsy elevation of everyday foodstuffs at Girl and the Goat or the quirky carnivore shrine that is and Longman & Eagle, these kitchens owe their longevity to the fact that they have built a massive fan base by transforming a simple meal into a memorable experience. A bonus: they all have a convivial, see-and-be-seen atmosphere, too.
Theatricality reigns at Grant Aschatz’s haute-moderne, ticket-only restaurant on Chicago’s West side. Every four months, a themed, multi-course menu dedicated to a time and place is introduced (say, Paris 1906, or A Tour of Thailand) and an online fracas ensues as foodies try to nab seats. (If your ideal date is sold out, try Craig’s List.)
Girl and Goat
Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s Cool-Chick-meets-girl-next-door verve shines through everything she dishes up—from escargot ravioli to country-fried loup de mer Her perma-packed restaurant oozes hipster. The menu is delightfully accessible, a cross section of recognizable fare kicked up with global references and wow factor flavors. And the crowd? Let’s just say it matches everything else.
For more than 15 years, Blackbird has been a Midwestern culinary shrine. It’s no small feat to keep a decades-old restaurant fresh. The key? Low key glamour and high wattage flavors. The alluringly mellow interior is the perfect foil for James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan’s bold redefinition of American classics—such as grilled striploin with boiled peanuts.
Longman and Eagle
You may feel out of place at this Michelin-starred gastropub if you’re not donning a plaid shirt and a Grizzly Adams-style beard. But, once you peruse the carnivore’s dream of a menu, your angst will be replaced with a fierce desire to down a wild boar sloppy joe with a draught of single barrel bourbon. Beware: no reservations.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse
It’s the cheerful piano player banging out Sinatra in the crowded bar.The orgy of marvelously marbled prime ribs, charred chops and colossal lobster tails. And then, there’s the mountains of creamed spinach, the massive martinis and the Who’s Who of Chicago, fanned out at banquettes across the dining room. Gibson’s is Chicago’s ultimate steakhouse. Period.