For anyone wondering which sit-down restaurants are currently hot in Chicago right this second, you have arrived at the right figurative Internet place. What does “hot” mean, you ask? Well it’s safe to say that we put on relatively cute outfits to dine at each restaurant below (possibly even eye makeup and our “good deodorant”). A night out at one of these places - whether it’s for a casual catch-up with a friend or an impressive date night - feels overwhelmingly of the current moment.
And, as always, we wouldn’t be recommending any of these restaurants simply for having a memorable scene. We’ve been to each and every spot and loved the food they serve - so you can plan your dinner confidently.
A parade of new Italian restaurants have marched into Chicago recently. But we’re putting Segnatore at the top of this list, because the excellent food at this casual Humboldt Park spot actually stands out in the sea of pasta and chicken parm newcomers. Every dish has some kind of creative twist that makes it interesting. Like meatballs filled with melted scamorza, offering the benefits of a Juicy Lucy without the risk of third-degree burns. Their “lasagna” is deconstructed - a pile of handmade garlic mafaldine, whipped ricotta, and a mushroom bolognese that would win in a steel cage death match against any meat version. The restaurant has the vibe of a European cafe (which makes sense, it’s in the former Cafe Marie Jeanne space), and is busy with couples on dates, small groups catching up, and people laughing at the bar drinking wine and having oysters - all of whom are probably pretending they’re on vacation.
Elina’s is another antidote to all the big, shiny new Italian restaurants that have opened in Chicago. This BYOB Italian restaurant in West Town is small and dimly lit, with vintage touches like ornate mirrors and moody candelabras dripping wax decorating the space. And the excitement will start as soon as you sit down, because your meal begins with complimentary garlic bread, cheesy focaccia, and salami. While the delicious free stuff is fun, the menu also has tasty dishes like clams casino, rigatoni a la vodka, and chicken parmesan. The service is attentive, and the busy restaurant works just as well for date night as it does for catching up with friends. Elina’s is already very popular and only has about 28 seats, so plan on making reservations a few weeks in advance.
Provaré is a fun, brightly lit Creole and Italian spot in West Town. The busy space has an R&B playlist that will make you realize how much you enjoy 90s Usher, and you’ll get complimentary shots of one of their house cocktails as soon as you sit down. The menu is short (just a few appetizers and mains), but really good. Standout dishes include cheesy spinach and artichoke dip filled with shrimp and crawfish, shrimp Hennessy scampi, and bone-in lamb chops with corn maque choux. Oh, and they have a couple of vegan options, too - like Impossible Meat bolognese and brussels sprouts topped with vegan parmesan.
This guide exists specifically for places like Alla Vita - and let us count the ways. This new West Loop Italian spot is already incredibly busy and popular. It’s in the former Bellemore space (which is huge) and it’s decorated with hanging plants and a large overhead installation that looks a little like wavy gills. It’s from the same chef as Boka, which means the food is great. And while the menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees) it is delicious. The cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings are now our reigning definition of “decadent.” The pizza has a chewy wood-fired crust, and the chicken parmesan stays crispy even while sitting in a rich tomato sauce. The bar is full of people dining solo, and the restaurant is buzzing with staff and everyone from couples to large groups. Right now reservations are few and far between, so plan on booking a month or so in advance, or snagging a seat at the bar right when they open.
The Listening Room is a new bar and listening cafe in the Loop. What’s a listening cafe, you ask? Taken from their website, it’s “a clubby dining experience with a state-of-the-art audio experience.” And “clubby Loop restaurant” is not something we expected to be putting on this guide. But it turns out it’s not very clubby - it’s more of an upscale cafe that works for a casual date night. Plus, the food is delicious. The menu has dishes like tender chicken thighs with crispy skin, mac and cheese that gets melted raclette poured over it tableside, and some very interesting roasted carrots served with a fluffy coconut mousse and topped with peanuts. The “listening” part really just means that the sound quality is really good, and the music genre changes, so check their Instagram to see what they’re playing before you visit.
Look, we’re not telling you to just run out and spend $200 on a 12-15 course tasting menu. But if you’re in the market to do so, we highly recommend doing it at Esme. This new fine-dining spot in Lincoln Park has everything you look for in a fancy-ass meal. The three-hour meal never drags, courses flow together seamlessly, and (most importantly) the food is incredible. Plus, the magician that did the restaurant’s lighting made sure everyone looks airbrushed and like they belong in an art gallery. The food is fun without being too whimsical, with dishes like charred ribs topped with banana caramel and wrapped around a ceramic “bone” you eat like a Flintstone. There’s also savory sweet potato ice cream topped with caviar, and a canapé that tastes like a Cheeto from the future. So if you’re looking for a very upscale place to celebrate a special occasion, you can confidently book a table here.
This loud Italian restaurant in the West Loop is large without feeling cavernous, tastefully decorated in soothing neutral colors, and has service that’s on top of everything without being obtrusive. More importantly, the food is good. The focus is on handmade pastas, which include things like bucatini cacio e pepe, pici with ragu, and paccheri mancini prepared tableside. And while Gioia is in one of Chicago’s busiest neighborhoods, it’s still easy to book a reservation. Plus, there’s a large bar area that’s great for hanging out after dinner, and a cute sidewalk patio with comfortable tables and chairs that don’t look like they were hastily purchased from a discount garden store.
To be perfectly candid, we didn’t have very high expectations of Jaleo in River North. Chicago is the fifth location of this casual Spanish restaurant that opened in D.C. back in 1993, and at first the brightly lit, busy space gave us definite chain restaurant vibes. But that disappeared as we settled in and experienced the attentive service and great food. The menu includes tapas, paellas, sangrias, and a long list of Spanish wines. And the crowd - while a mixed bag of tourists - is clearly having some fun. It’s contagious, so even if come here in a bad mood, you’ll be joining them soon. It’s a great spot for dinner and drinks before going out downtown, or if you just want to get together with friends and not worry about how loud you’re being.
You’ll find this upscale steakhouse at 88 Marketplace, a very large shopping complex just west of Chinatown. Inspired by Korean BBQ, each table at Holu has a grill where the server (or you, if you like throwing caution to the wind and/or are a control freak) cooks your steak. And the main reason this place is on our Hit List is the incredible quality of the meat. Most of it is aged in-house (you can say hi to the impressive selection displayed in the window while you have a drink at the bar), with everything from ribeye and zabuton, to wagyu tongue and A5 Japanese Kobe. It’s ordered by the ounce, and our suggestion is to get the $75 meat paradise. That allows you to try a portion of everything, along with some banchan-style sides and dessert. Come here with a friend who loves meat, or for a group dinner where everyone at the table digs the idea of having a personal chef for the night.
We’re not going to lie to you: Adalina is a sh*tshow. This busy upscale Italian spot walks the line between fancy and overly formal - you’ll find white tablecloths and servers in jackets. But because of the friendly service, and the fact that it’s busy and loud, you won’t feel like you’re eating in a library. Plus, the food is good. The menu has dishes like gnocco fritto with prosciutto, whipped ricotta, and honey (a fantastic starter) housemade pastas like ravioli with corn, truffle, and balsamic drizzle, and entrees like a tender bone-in veal parmigiana. So if you’re looking for a celebratory meal but still want the chance to make a joke with the drunk people at the table next to you, come here.
Rose Mary is a new Croatian spot in the West Loop and reservations are hard to get. But this place is fantastic, so even if you can’t book a table, you should try and get a seat at the first-come-first-served bar. The menu has dishes like a tomato, farro, and asparagus salad, delicious crni rizot topped with grilled squid, and incredible pastas. And service here is great - even if you’re sitting at the bar you’ll get a lot of attention. Plus, they just opened their sidewalk patio. So if you’re looking for a big night out where everything just flows, you’ll probably get it here.
There are a few reasons we think Chikatana in the West Loop is exciting. For one, it’s still new enough that you can actually reserve a table before 11pm. Two, this Mexican restaurant is from a former chef of Mi Tocaya (one of our favorite spots in the city), and makes shareable dishes like cochinita pibil, tlayudas, tuétano, and pato en mole, along with wonderfully chewy tortillas. The big space has large tables perfect for groups, the bar area is ideal for grabbing cocktails with friends (the Paloma is excellent), and they’ll soon be serving a late-night menu till 1am. Midnight tlayudas are never a bad idea.
The Duplex in Logan Square serves food from different chefs and restaurants every six months, and (to us) feels more like a bar with great food than a restaurant. That’s partially because of the great music, long cocktail list, and literal bar which takes up half the (pretty large) restaurant. But also because of how you order the food: you order everything from a QR code at the table, and just close out your tab whenever you’re done eating (and drinking). Right now The Duplex is serving Mexican food from Lime and Radish (the birria taco is great) and excellent fried chicken sandwiches from The Kluckerz. Plus, there’s also a large sidewalk patio.
Unlike a lot of spots on this guide, En Passant isn’t large or crowded or “sceney”. The restaurant is small and dimly lit, with vintage touches (like chandeliers and candles) decorating the space - except it does have a surprisingly good sound system playing music at the optimum level of “able to hear your dinner companions but unable to hear the people around you.” But the great music and lighting make this place a vibe. And the menu is full of delicious things, like escolar topped with black garlic honey, an airy chicken liver mousse, and an incredible burger that only has three ingredients: beef, rose marie sauce, and balsamic onions. Come here for a date night, or just a chill dinner with some friends. And right now they’re BYOB, so plan accordingly.
Mama Delia’s is a Spanish spot that opened in Wicker Park last year. And if you’re familiar with Beatnik, you’ll know what to expect. It’s from the same team, and has a similar atmosphere - meaning loud music and ornate furniture (even on their patio). It’s full of people who are enjoying the long cocktail menu - not by doing a bunch of jello shots, but acting like they just got some great news and/or have the weight of a global pandemic off their shoulders. Come here to catch up with friends over cocktails and share dishes like conservas, tartare, or a cheese plate.
This upscale Greek restaurant in Logan Square is busy, spacious, has wonderful food, and you can usually get same-day reservations. You’ll find appetizers like the must-order kataifi cheese pie (shredded filo layered with cheese, baked, then topped with honey and pistachios), entrees like prawn saganaki in a rich tomato sauce, and the best spanakopita we’ve ever had. They also have a big patio, which is exactly where we want to spend a summer night eating some baklava froyo.