All About Chicago Restaurants

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Chicago is a big-time sports town with die hard fans for their Bears, Bulls, Cubs, and the World Champion Chicago White Sox. Even if you don’t like baseball, you’ll have the time of your life just like Ferris Bueller as you take in a Cubs game at Wrigley.

The Windy City does a nice job blending in the new while maintaining its old world charm. Incorporated as a town in 1833, Chicago has grown to be the nation’s third-largest city (with a population of more than 3 million), the birthplace of the first skyscraper and one of the few international US cities. Chicago today offers a truly cosmopolitan flare that adds to any visitor’s big-city adventure – a beautiful city in the Midwest heartland that radiates a spirit of energy.

With 77 neighborhoods (yes, we did say 77), you can go from one to the next in a split second before you realize you’re in a different area with completely new sights and sounds. Having unmistakable character, each of this city’s neighborhoods brings a whole new array of shops, restaurants, attractions, historical elements, and intrigue.

Shopping on Michigan Ave. is truly magnificent, so make sure you work that into the plan.

Chicago is also known for its deep dish pizza, so you must try some while in town. Yes, the toppings are buried under the sauce, but trust us…it is fantabulous and worth the 40 minute wait. We like Gino’s East and Giordanno's, but as you will see there are many other solid choices.

Whether you want to cozy up in a casual neighborhood bar or don your best black dress for some late night cocktails, Chicago has it all! Here are just some of our journeyPod Picks:

Alinea – With a kitchen filled with the country’s top culinary awards, risk-taking super-chef Grant Achatz has upped the ante in Chicago with these avant-garde culinary creations. A progressive American restaurant offering a multi-sensory prix fix degustation menu of 12 or 24 courses, the fare at Alinea causes a certain awe and “wow” by everyone who shares the experience in dining here. The 24 course menu is called the “tour” and is as much a marathon as it is a meal, generally taking nearly four or five hours to finish. Jackets are recommended, jeans not allowed. And remember – at Alinea, you come hungry, and leave… well, with your wallet a lot thinner. Alinea is located at 1723 N. Halsted St. (at Willow St.).

NoMi (Chi - Gold Coast/Streeterville) – Located on the 7th floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel, NoMi serves upscale contemporary French global cuisine with an Asian twist. Boasting stunning views of Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan, this contemporary restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, and an adjoining swanky lounge for after-dinner drinks. The restaurant is also known for its high-end, high-ticket tea offerings that include rare and limited leaves including vintage Pu-erh, reserve and display teas that range from $14 up to $700 a pop. Hint: Tables 30-37 offer the best Magnificent Mile views. NoMI can be found at 800 N. Michigan Ave. (at Chicago Ave.).

mk the restaurant (River North) – Rated by Zagat as the “place to go back to as often as possible" – this contemporary neighborhood favorite attracts an upscale crowd with its consistently delicious new American cuisine – with global influences that focus on the freshest ingredients available. Exposed brick and wood beams prove to be an elegant addition to this two-story space that features a bar, lounge and two dining rooms. For starters, try the lobster soup poured tableside over lobster meat; and for dinner, the seared rare ahi tuna. The desserts don’t disappoint either – the “Cake and Shake” – a mini vanilla milkshake served with buttermilk chocolate cake will have you smiling all night long! The restaurant is located at 868 N Franklin St. (at Chestnut St.).

Follia (West Loop) - A chic and icy-cool destination in the gritty Fulton Street warehouse district, Folia is a new Italian restaurant that always buzzing with the hip young crowd and corporate diners. Just about everything on the menu here scores, from the paper-thin prosciutto and mushroom pizza to the risotto Milanese and the taglioni with pesto and meat sauces. All the desserts are made in-house and are worth the calories. For all you chocolate addicts out there – try the chocolate lava cake (even though Follia’s most popular is the tiramisu-like cake with amaretto and mascarpone cheese). Just don’t be alarmed when you approach the front door of the place – you’ll see stylishly dressed mannequins peering back at you. (The restaurant displays art and fashions by local college students that you can purchase, or admire while you wait for a table.) Follia is located at 953 W. Fulton Market (at Morgan St.).

Landmark (Lincoln Park) – Fine dining meets hip and bustling bar/lounge scene at this multi-level space located in the Lincoln Park/Clybourn Corridor. A perfect night spot that draws more than just a crowd of Steppenwolf theater-goers (located just across the street), Landmark boasts multiple kitchens offering its diners innumerable menu options like grilled strip steak and pork chops, or pizza and lobster club sandwiches. Try the signature cocktails at Landmark or old favorites like a Cosmo made with Orange Grey Goose or a Bellini. The place is located at 1633 N. Halsted St.

Sushi Wabi – Voted “Best Sushi in Chicago” by Chicago Tribune readers, Sushi Wabi is the city’s original hipster sushi hot spot – its industrial (wood-block and steel tables), its loud, its filled with well-heeled, well-dressed locals who dig the clubby vibe and the DJ-spun music (nightly from 7pm to 11pm) while chowing down on a mean plate of maki. If you need any suggestions, order the: dragon roll, spicy shrimp and tuna rolls, spider roll and the gyu negima--scallions rolled in slices of marinated beef, all of which are the restaurant’s specialties. Sushi Wabi is located at 842 W. Randolph St. (at Halsted St.).

TRU (Chi - Gold Coast/Streeterville) – Talk about fine dining! Set in an open, airy loft space that could almost double as an art gallery, TRU marries style, sophistications and substance – offering progressive French cuisine (that’s more like playful works of art) and impeccable service. Served on a spectacular array of non-traditional surfaces produced by local and international artists, the décor is offset by the stark white walls adorned by contemporary art pieces (among which you’ll see an original Warhol). Food is as delicious here, as it is gorgeous; and specialties include: foie gras with pineapple relish and venison loin with creamed corn. The desserts are dreamy (the restaurant even accepts dessert-only reservations), and include selections like quince ice cream float with sour cherries, house-made lollipops and chocolate pot de-crème. Jackets here are required, as are reservations! The restaurant is located at 676 North Saint Clair St. (at Huron St.).

David Burke’s Primehouse (River North) – Located in the River North’s James Chicago Hotel, David Burke’s Primehouse is a mecca for all meat aficionados. Known for dry-aging steaks on the premises in its own salt cave (a temperature and humidity-controlled room fitted with salt tiles), the restaurant is refined, but not stuffy – attracting a see-and-be-seen crowd. And don’t just come for the steaks! Burke’s notable dishes, like the spicy “angry lobster” and “Kobe beef sashimi” are delectable. Just make sure you save room for the “cheesecake lollipops”! The James Hotel is located at 616 N. Rush St. (at Ontario St.).

Japonais (River West) – One of the city’s trendiest dining destinations. Japonais offers a sensuous scene and Euro-Asian fare that’s got foodies and fashionistas in Chi-town buzzing. The dishes and the décor at this 300-seat, industrial-chic space (with 2 dining rooms, a sushi bar and downstairs lounge and patio) is first-class. Japonais boasts four sensuous environments: a red (tables and sushi bar) and green (lounge-y with a wall of flames) room; a subterranean lounge; and a riverfront terrace – an invitingly dreamy setting of draped daybeds and candlelight. The menu takes creative license with traditional Japanese fare and creates a hot and cold mix of not-to-be-missed specialties, like the Kobe carpaccio, lobster spring rolls, the six seafood tartars and the maki rolls. Though service has been an issue, the food, décor and pretty cocktails you’ll drink here make up for it – try the "Floating Orchids" or choose from the extensive sake menu. At 600 W. Chicago Ave. (at Larrabee St.).

Gibson's Bar and Steakhouse (Chi - Gold Coast/Streeterville) – Named after the Gibson martini (garnished with an onion), this bar and restaurant commemorates all things big and bigger. Known for its “big martinis, big steaks and big desserts” – Gibsons has long been known to have patrons hooked after just one visit. Try the strawberry shortcake or the “turtle” chocolate-nut-caramel concoction. Reservations are strongly recommended, or be prepared to wait. Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse is located at 1028 North Rush (at Oak St.).

Narcisse (River North) – A former champagne n’ caviar bar, Narcisse has gotten serious about fine dining. A swanky hot spot with really attractive eats, drinks, décor and clientele, it boasts a remarkable champagne collection and four-star meals. Start with the sturgeon roe, and then move on to the filet mignon or grilled ostrich. Narcisse offers more than 100 different bubbly choices and a slew of signature cocktails, like the Champagne Marquis, a mix of Perrier-Jouet champagne, Godiva chocolate liqueur and Cuerenta Y Tres (pls don’t call it Liquor 43 like the tourists). Psst…. no sneakers, no hats, no athletic gear, no jeans. The restaurant is located at 710 North Clark St. (at Superior St.).

Piece (Bucktown) – Where else can you create your own East Coast, thin-crust style pizza in a trendy and casual bar atmosphere? With two sunken lounge areas, a long bar, and a number of booths and tables, Piece also features games – shown on projection screens and TV’s, live Jazz on Wednesdays, karaoke night Thursdays, and live bands on Saturdays. The place also has an excellent selection of beers on tap that include: Hoegaarden, Onion Pale Ale, Goose Island and Guinness. If you’re more Dockers, than DKNY – make your way here. Piece is located at 1927 W North Ave. (at Winchester Ave.).

LuxBar (Chi - Gold Coast/Streeterville) – A neighborhood saloon, LuxBar captures an elegance and simplicity with its stone, glass brass and wood to a late-30’s business crowd. Artisanal in style, the menu offers traditional comfort food and some new contemporary favorites mixed in; try Kobe burger with foie gras. The bar serves specialty cocktails and classics all made from natural, fresh ingredients. (The staff here has also been trained in the customer care philosophy that has made Gibson’s Steakhouse famous for legendary service.). If you can, grab a seat near the marble fireplace in the back of the room - it adds intimacy to a meal, while the floor-to-ceiling front windows offer great people-watching. LuxBar is located at 18 East Bellevue (at State St.).

Zapatista (CHI - South Loop) – The Mexican fare at this latest rustic-like restaurant in the South Loop is made with passion, heart & soul. The menu variety ranges from burritos, tacos & enchiladas to specialties like Camarones Sinaloa & Carne a la Parrilla, and guacamole made table-side. With its slow-turning fans, amped-up mariachi tunes and black & white photos, Zapatista is a lively cantina with indoor/outdoor seating that serves some of the finest quality tequilas available (with your choice of 50 here); not to mention, their specialty drink list is amazing. Try the Azul y Oro – a blue margarita made with Gran Gala orange liquor and La Revolucion with grenadine and chile piquin. Located at 1307 South Wabash (13th St.).

Le Colonial (Chi - Gold Coast/Streeterville) – If you’re looking to be transported to another time and place, Le Colonial vividly captures the beauty, romance and spirit of 1920’s French-Colonial Southeast Asia. Recline beneath a palm tree on a cushy rattan chair, while surrounded with luxurious décor at this Chi-town destination. With a well-to-do crowd and, a dining area on one floor and a lounge upstairs, this restaurant is the perfect setting for a social gathering or a romantic evening for two. Boasting authentic Vietnamese cuisine on the menu, all the dishes are exquisite. Try the sea scallops, filet mignon and the Vietnamese tapioca for dessert. Le Colonial is located at 937 North Rush St. (Cross Street: Walton Pl.).

Blackbird (Chi – Downtown) – Serving French and American cuisine to a consistently packed house (daily), Blackbird is very trendy and minimalist – with bare white walls and a single banquette that spans the length of the room. The menu here (thanks to chef extraordinaire Paul Kahan) is dedicated to adventurous, market-fresh fare. Nearly every dish is a masterpiece! Try the creamy foie gras, the venison salad or the signature bouillabaisse. Just make sure you save enough room afterwards for what may be Chicago’s best bread pudding! Blackbird is located at 619 W Randolph St. (at Desplaines and Jefferson Sts.).

Twisted Lizard (Lincoln Park/DePaul) – A lively Mexican restaurant that caters to young professionals who love to feast on fresh fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas, burritos and "sincronizadas" (layered flour tortillas filled with re-fried black beans and choice of meat or vegetables). The décor is festive (surprise, surprise) and the cheerful Mexican music lends a fiesta-like ambiance to the ever-flowing margaritas (there are eight different types of margaritas served by the pitcher and more than 20 brands of tequila for building even more margaritas). Just make sure you go early or be prepared to wait (the citrusy margaritas and fresh chips and salsa make it worthwhile) at this basement-level restaurant. Twisted Lizard is located at 1964 North Sheffield Ave. (at Armitage Ave.).

Yoshi’s Café – Formerly one of Chi-town’s most exclusive dining spots, Yoshi’s has now adopted a more casual (and less expensive) vibe. The eclectic fusion menu is amazing and features dishes that could be described having Japanese, Italian, French and American influences. Try the duck liver mousse pâté and house-cured salmon sushi, or the artichoke and radicchio risotto. Don't miss the Skyy Ginger cosmo either – its made with gingered lime juice, Skyy vodka and Cointreau, and garnished with fresh ginger. Yoshi’s Café is located at 3257 N. Halsted St. (at. Melrose St.).

Tavern on Rush (River North) – If you’re looking for something that’s part restaurant, part lounge, Tavern on Rush offers both. With big steaks and a clubby atmosphere, this place draws a 30-something crowd to its country-club décor, leather accents and open kitchen. Though you might expect a dress code, there isn’t one (which means you’ll see blue jeans and the most expensive work suits). The classic American menu doesn’t disappoint with its great selection of steak and seafood options. And, if you’re in the mood for a cocktail – go for the martini, theirs are big enough to swim in! Taven on Rush is located at 1031 N. Rush St. (bet. E. Cedar St. and E. Bellevue Pl.).

Avec – If you’re looking for a wine bar with great food, and you don’t mind rubbing elbows with your neighbors at long communal tables, Avec is the place. The menu here focuses on small and large sharing plates of rustic, Mediterranean “peasant foods” – with many dishes cooked in a wood-burning oven and served in cast-iron pots. Try the house-marinated olives, chorizo-stuffed dates, the thin focaccia with truffle oil or the roasted chicken thigh panzanella salad. Avec also boasts a cheese cave with a collection of artisan cheeses from France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Avec is located at 615 W. Randolph St. (at Jefferson St.).

X/O Chicago – This loungy place is named after the cognac designation (XO stands for “extra old” – the premium designation). The eclectic menu inflects global influences and mainly focuses on small sharable plates that change frequently, based on the season. The menu is divided into three “courses” – beginning with light dishes like the shrimp salad; progressing into second course like foie gras; and then the third course with choices like rib-eye steak with X/O sauce. For all you dessert lovers: try the Chocolate Orgasm (think puffy chocolate beignets and flourless chocolate cake). Located at 3441 N Halsted St. (at Newport Ave.).

Fireplace Inn (Old Town) – An Old Town institution specializing in “Flinstone-sized” fall-off-the-bone BBQ baby back ribs, Fireplace Inn has been around since 1969. Boasting a casual ski-lodge-like vibe inside, and an all-season patio (with retractable roof) featuring 16 satellite-fed televisions outside, the Fireplace Inn satisfies many with its updated old-school environment. The menu also offers steak specialties, seafood and salads. If you’re not in the mood for ribs, go for the BBQ chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. Located at 1448 N. Wells St. (at Schiller).

JourneyPod.com is the only place you need to visit for information on the trendiest bars and restaurants, the most luxurious hotels, and the most exclusive parties and shops for discriminating travelers. Visit journeyPod.com for the lowdown on where to go in Atlanta, New York, Miami, LA and other major cities around the world, and listing to our monthly travel podcast for the best in upscale travel and entertainment. If you like the finer things in life, journey to journeyPod.com!

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