The Most Unforgettable Dining Experiences
Charlie Trotter's (816 W. Armitage Ave.; tel. 773/248-6228)
Charlie Trotter is the city's original celebrity chef, and his intimate restaurant, inside a town house, is a must for foodie visitors. The formula may be rigid (tasting menus only), but the food is anything but: fresh-as-can-be ingredients in dazzling combinations. The service lives up to Trotter's legendary perfectionism; the chef himself has been known to come out of the kitchen and ask diners why they didn't finish a certain dish.
Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; tel. 312/867-0110)
Chef Grant Achatz has been at the forefront of the molecular gastronomy movement, and foodies make pilgrimages from around the world to eat at his serene Chicago restaurant. Each course of the ever-changing prix-fixe menu showcases Achatz's creativity, whether it's duck served on a scented "pillow" of juniper or a complete reinvention of wine and cheese (frozen grape juice rolled in grated bleu cheese and served with red wine gelée). An added bonus: Service that's friendly, not snobby.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush St.; tel. 312/266-8999)
Chicago has no shortage of great steakhouses, but Gibsons has a great scene, too -- a mix of moneyed Gold Coast singles, expense-account-fueled business travelers, and the occasional celebrity. This is the kind of place to live large (literally). The portions are enormous, so you're encouraged to share, which only adds to the party atmosphere.
foodlife (Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave.; tel. 312/335-3663)
Leaps and bounds beyond the standard mall food court, foodlife offers a wide range of nonchain food stations at affordable prices, making it a top pick for an affordable, family-friendly meal downtown. Get everything from Asian noodles and vegetarian fare to more standard options such as pizza and burgers.
The Italian Village (71 W. Monroe St.; tel. 312/332-7005)
The old-school fettuccine alfredo won't win any culinary awards, but eating at this Chicago landmark is like taking a trip back in time, from the so-tacky-they're-cool twinkling stars on the ceiling to the vintage waiters (some of whom look like they've been working here since the place opened in 1927).
The standard-bearer for Chicago's reinvention as a culinary leader is Alinea, where chef Grant Achatz astounds and delights professional critics and amateur foodies with his ability to transform familiar food into unexpected shapes, textures, and presentations. Dishes at Asian-inspired Moto are equally inventive -- sometimes even the menu itself is edible. With its refined approach and tranquil setting, L2O epitomizes the 21st-century approach to fine dining: Though every dish looks like a miniature work of art, the overall experience is welcoming, not snooty.
Forty stories above Chicago, Everest, in the heart of Loop, astounds with a spectacular view -- and food to match. The panoramas are equally awe-inspiring at the Signature Room at the 95th, which is perched on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center, the city's second-tallest building. Closer to earth, diners on the patio at Greektown's Athena get a panoramic view of the city skyline.
Best Spot for a Romantic Dinner
Secluded North Pond is an Arts and Crafts-style retreat with a postcard-perfect setting in Lincoln Park. Not only does it boast a dramatic vista of the Gold Coast skyline, but the restaurant's out-of-the-way locale also requires diners to begin and end their meals with an idyllic stroll through the park.
For charm at a much more affordable price, try Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar, a cozy River North spot with warm, personal service and an eclectic Parisian bistro decor that will make you feel like you've jetted off to the romantic City of Love.
Best Cheap Eats
It's hard to find a dining bargain downtown, but foodlife, inside the Water Tower Place shopping center, offers affordable lunch and dinner options in the heart of North Michigan Avenue's shopping district. Yes, it's a food court, but there are no chain fast-food stalls here: Instead you'll find a variety of made-to-order choices, from stir fry and burgers to fresh salads and pastas. In Lincoln Park and Wicker Park, cash-strapped 20-somethings and families head to Penny's Noodle Shop for delicious, low-priced Asian noodle dishes and soups.
Best for Kids
Going out for deep-dish pizza is pretty much a requirement for any family visiting Chicago. Gino's East and the original Pizzeria Uno have been around for decades, and they're still serving up authentic versions of the city's gooey, gut-busting specialty. For something different from the usual fast food, try Wishbone in the West Loop, a family-owned spot specializing in Southern food with a casual vibe and plenty of mix-and-match menu options for fussy eaters.
Best American Cuisine
It's no longer the see-and-be-seen spot it was when it first opened, but mk is actually better now that the crowds have moved on, serving up accessible twists on classic American dishes in a space that is both comfortable and sophisticated. Crofton on Wells is a true labor of love for Chef Suzy Crofton -- and her devoted local fans keep coming back for more.
Best French Cuisine
An updated take on the bistro experience, Bistronomic offers classic French dishes in a fresh, modern setting, just a few blocks from the Magnificent Mile. Convivial Mon Ami Gabi re-creates the look and feel of a Parisian cafe, steps from Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakefront.
Best Italian Cuisine
Even without the glamorous view of the Magnificent Mile, ultra-elegant Spiaggia would draw diners with its gourmet versions of classic Italian cuisine. For a more casual atmosphere, it's hard to beat Mia Francesca in Lincoln Park, or its sister restaurant, Francesca's on Chestnut, just off the Magnificent Mile. Both are bustling, Americanized twists on classic trattoria dining, where the fresh, seasonal pastas are the main draw.
Legendary Chicago restaurateur Arnie Morton no longer prowls the dining room, but Morton's remains the king of the city's old-guard steakhouses, serving up gargantuan wet-aged steaks and baked potatoes. Gene & Georgetti is another blast from the past, a long-time hangout for the city's movers and shakers that's barely changed since it opened in 1941 -- and that's exactly why the regulars like it.
Best Pretheater Dinner
A longtime local favorite in the Loop, the Italian Village -- three restaurants run by one family under one roof -- knows how to get its clientele seated and fed in time for a show. For Chicago Symphony Orchestra audiences, Rhapsody is conveniently located in the Symphony Center building. If you're seeing a play in Lincoln Park, stop first for tasty tapas and pitchers of sangria at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba!
Travel page content provided by Zagat © 2013, Google.
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