By Amy Tara Koch
August 20, 2014
Kevin Miyazaki

Chicago is a first-class culinary destination, where award-winning chefs cultivate their careers to achieve stardom. Their signature tables are sought after by locals who return time and time again for that triumverate of killer ambiance, stellar service, and outstanding flavors. Though very different establishments, these standout spots share qualities that make them worthy of waiting lists and glimmering gold stars. Whether it is an ever-changing menu (based on season or on theme), or unorthodox flavor pairings (Blackbird’s kombucha-glazed pork with feta and peanuts), these kitchens owe their longevity to their devotely comitted fanbases. By transforming a simple meal into a memorable experience, these restaurants have cultivated a convivial see-and-be-seen atmosphere. With exclusive waitlists and celebrity clientele, Chicago’s most talked about kitchens prove that a slot on the Food Network isn’t the only path to epicurean greatness.


A theatrical atmosphere 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 and an online fracas ensues as foodies try to nab seats. Currently, Next is dishing out dishes from their menu Chinese: Modern.

Girl & the Goat

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s amiable, cool verve shines through everything she dishes up. Her perma-packed restaurant is modern and stylish; exposed ventilation and reclaimed wood contrast the psychadelic painting of— you guessed it— a girl and a goat. The delightfully accessible menu features recognizable fare kicked up with global references and bold flavors.


For more than 15 years, Blackbird has been a Midwestern culinary shrine. It is no small feat to keep a decades-old restaurant fresh. The secret? 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.

Longman and Eagle

You may feel out of place at this Michelin-starred gastropub sans a plaid shirt and a Grizzly Adams-style beard. But once you peruse the menu (a tantalizing selection for carnivores) your angst will be replaced with a fierce desire to down a wild boar sloppy joe washed down with single barrel bourbon.

Gibsons Steakhouse

Maybe it’s the cheerful piano player banging out Sinatra in the crowded bar, or the marvelously marbled prime ribs, charred chops and colossal lobster tails appearing from the kitchen. Perhaps it’s the massive martinis. While the allure varies, you’ll find the who’s-who of Chicago drawn in by Gibsons’ offerings at banquets and the undulating wooden bar across the dining room.