Even if you really like your in-laws, picking a place for dinner with them can be stressful. There’s a lot to consider: the restaurant should be nice but not ultra-expensive, plus quiet enough that they won’t need to shout when asking you, for example, whether you’ve finished up your wedding thank-you notes. Of course, the food and service also have to be good. Don’t get overwhelmed. Pick one of these 14 spots.
No matter what your mother-in-law overheard you say right before you swore you hung up the phone, dinner at Galit can smooth things over. That’s because the food at this Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park is fantastic. It’s all good - from the creamy hummus (the one topped with brisket is a standout), to crispy fried fish, to a rich and spicy shakshuka. Basically, everything on the menu is a must-order. And even though the space is large and crowded, it’s never so loud that you can’t hear what’s being said at the table. So, at least here you know she’s listening.
We wouldn’t normally recommend going to a tasting menu spot with the in-laws, but Wherewithall is an exception. First off, it’s a $65 four-course tasting menu, so it’s relatively affordable, and the meal will be short enough that no one will have time to ask about having kids. And the food is delicious - it’s from the same team as Parachute (one of our favorite Chicago spots) and you’ll find everything from cornmeal beignets to duck breast with cauliflower and currants on the daily-changing menu. Plus, the space is small and cute, and the lampshades look like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter.
If you’ve ever seen any Barefoot Contessa cookbooks at your in-laws’ house, or a pair of linen pants, consider taking them to Lost Larson in Andersonville. This place originally opened as just a bakery and cafe, focusing on bread (made with house-milled grains). But now they also serve dinner, with a short menu full of dishes that remind us of what Ina and Geoffrey would make after a trip to the farmer’s market - including broccoli salad, and excellent Swedish meatballs in a cauliflower-based gravy that’s somehow actually delicious. Have wine out on their fenced-in patio, and try to make a plausible excuse about why you can’t meet them in Saugatuck for the 4th this year.
You’re pretty sure that this phase will disappear in time for Thanksgiving, but right now one of your in-laws is vegan, gluten-free, and/or trying out a raw food diet. Luckily this doesn’t need to be a problem because you can take them to Althea. It’s an upscale plant-based restaurant with dishes like a surprisingly satisfying “cacio e pepe” made with kelp noodles, spicy udon with tempeh, and a vegan cheese plate that’s somehow not terrible. Better yet, this place is located on the 7th floor of Saks Fifth Avenue on Michigan Avenue, which is perfect because your MIL really loves shopping the Clinique bonus sale.
Somerset is one of the best restaurants in Chicago, and everything on its well-rounded menu is excellent. This means your in-laws can order anything from beet tartare to a nice piece of fish to some steak or a cheeseburger. And although this place is surrounded by insanely busy spots like Gibsons, the atmosphere stays reasonably calm. At least until someone asks what you’re planning on doing with all that money they gave you with “no strings attached.”
If your in-laws like lots of different types of food, try S.K.Y. in Pilsen. The menu here doesn’t fall completely into any one category (you’ll find a range of things like lobster dumplings, cornbread madeleines, and foie gras bibimbap), but all of it is great. The space is dimly lit, but not to the point that everyone will struggle to see what they’re eating, and indie music plays at a reasonable volume. It’s a fun spot for a night out, no matter who you’re with.
When parents from either coast are visiting, take them someplace that exemplifies the Midwest without just stuffing them full of deep dish pizza (they can take care of that at the airport). The menu at Daisies is based on produce sourced from local farms, so vegetables play a big role in the food here, including in the excellent housemade pastas that make up the majority of the menu. And if you still want to make sure your visitors get the required dose of dairy while they’re here, just order the cheese curds as an appetizer.
HaiSous is a Vietnamese restaurant in Pilsen with extremely friendly service and tasty, well-prepared food. Most of the dishes are shareable, and the space is set up comfortably for small groups. You’ll find things like papaya salad, crispy chicken wings, and mussels in a fantastic coconut broth. Or get the affordable chef’s tasting menu - for $44 per person, you get six courses that the whole table can share.
If your in-laws live in Chicago and like Italian food, chances are they’ve already been to Monteverde - probably more than once. But if they’re visiting from out of town (or are afraid of change), it’s always a good choice. This reliable West Loop spot serves some of the best pasta in the city - in particular the cacio e pepe, which is a menu staple. But the non-pasta is great, too (try the stuffed cabbage appetizer or the pork shank), and the atmosphere is lively but still quiet. In other words, Monteverde is a great place to sit and talk about whether you guys are going to keep wasting your money renting, or finally buy something.
Sometimes it’s nice to go restaurants that aren’t in areas full of crowds or double decker buses. Like Mango Pickle in Edgewater, a neighborhood that (unless there’s a super secret Chicago tour we don’t know about) has neither of these things. The Indian food here changes seasonally, and the atmosphere, complete with colorful twinkly lights and friendly service, is really comfortable. Afterwards, you can even walk to Lickety Split, a fantastic local ice cream shop, for dessert. It will be like making up your very own brand new Chicago tour.
If you want to make sure your in-laws know there’s more to you than the Facebook photos from your college trip to Ibiza, go to Marisol in the Museum of Contemporary Art. You walk past an art installation and help desk on the way in, so it’s pretty hard to forget you’re in a museum (which you don’t want them to, anyway), but otherwise, this place feels like a normal fancyish restaurant. It serves excellent food - like sunflower hummus with flaxseed crackers, and smoked lamb malfade - and it’s very quiet. After all, everyone’s talking at a museum-appropriate volume.
If your in-laws are on the more serious side, go to La Storia. It’s a nice-but-not-too-fancy Gold Coast Italian spot with delicious housemade pastas and entrees, like chicken Milanese. The service is professional and not intrusive, and it’s never too loud in here. So as long as you remember not to make any inappropriate jokes about the family cat’s recent pregnancy scare, you’ll have an enjoyable dinner.
Ema is perfect if you’re terrible at making small talk. That’s because everything on the Mediterranean menu is meant for sharing. So a lot of the dinner conversation can center around passing things around the table, and whether or not people need more bread. Because the food comes out as it’s ready, this is bound to continue throughout the entire meal. And incidentally, everything you’re passing around will taste really good.
Dinner at a classic Chicago steakhouse is a great choice for anyone in from out-of-town, and it’s likely that at least one in-law enjoys steak. But there are about one million steakhouses across Chicago, and many are mediocre. This West Loop spot is not. You’ll find great steaks and service here, and while it’s in a modern-feeling revamped warehouse space, there are still plenty of classic touches, like drink and dessert carts rolling around. Take full advantage of both.