You forgot this was the weekend your parents were driving into the city. Or maybe that rebate for the Blu-ray player you bought eight years ago finally came through, and you just can’t wait to spend it. Either way, you’re going out for dinner tonight, and you haven’t made any plans. You want a nice restaurant with good food and tables that are easy to reserve on short notice - but it should also be busy enough that it doesn’t feel creepily deserted. Here are 13 spots that fit the bill.
It’s never hard to get a last-minute table at Marisol - maybe because this place is hiding out in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The food here is excellent, and totally worth dealing with the hordes of tourists crossing Michigan Avenue to get to Water Tower Place. You’ll find dishes like sunflower seed hummus, housemade pastas, and a fried quail with date honey that tastes like fancy chicken and waffles. Just try to leave before the shoppers’ mass exodus out of the nearby parking garages.
You thought Tuesday would be an easy day to get a reservation at Monteverde. It’s not. But it’s easy to get in at La Storia on pretty much any day, and this place is an excellent substitute when Monteverde isn’t available. It’s a nice-but-not-stuffy Italian restaurant in the Gold Coast with great food (we particularly like the house-made pastas). There’s also a large patio surrounded by twinkly lights - so after you eat here once, it might actually end up being your first choice next time.
We suggest you schedule a trip to Sol De Mexico immediately, whether or not you need something last-minute. This restaurant has fantastic Mexican food and a menu that changes seasonally. You’ll find dishes like quail in an Oaxacan mole, tacos with housemade tortillas, and an adobo marinated duck breast. It’s located on an out-of-the way commercial stretch of Cicero in Cragin, so don’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard of it - the important thing is that you have now.
The Gage is kind of like Harry Potter in his invisibility cloak - nobody seems to notice it. Which is strange, because it’s right across the street from Millennium Park. To be clear, it’s never empty, but it’s also a surprisingly good spot for a last-minute dinner in the Loop. The menu has elevated bar food, like bison tartare, poutine, and even Harry Potter-adjacent options like fish and chips.
You’re going to dinner with an out-of-town friend, and the guest list keeps expanding (turns out her cousin, ex-coworker, and former dog walker all live in Chicago now). Go to Quartino. It’s reliably good, and the large space has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of dining rooms, so you won’t have trouble getting a table. Plus, the tapas-style Italian menu makes it very easy for you to keep adding dishes to your order. Just make sure to get everyone’s name so you can find them on Venmo afterward.
Think of this place as a Bavette’s bunny hill. It’s right next door, it has the same speakeasy feel, and it’s owned by the same people - so you’ll even find a lot of the same dishes on the menu (like the tenderloin tartare). The best part is that it’s much easier to get into, and there’s a good chance you can can get a table even if you just walk in. So come here a few times to warm up before that Bavette’s reservation you have coming up in four months.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Lincoln Park is a great place if your last-minute dinner is with a group, and/or there are kids involved. This tapas restaurant is lively and family-friendly, and tables turn over quickly. Order paella for the table, and make sure the bacon-wrapped dates are also on their way. Just don’t stay here too long - there’s probably another family checking OpenTable for a reservation as we speak.
This upscale Italian restaurant in the Gold Coast is never as busy as it should be, considering how great the food is. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to get a table in the main dining room, but if not, you’ll definitely be able to reserve seats at the bar (which is essentially a chef’s counter with a view of the open kitchen - so we prefer to sit there, anyway). The Italian food has a general seafood focus, and the menu is perfect for sharing. Plus, it’s a lot more relaxed than some of the other spots in the neighborhood.
Naoki is a small place in Lincoln Park that serves some of the best sushi in Chicago. It’s so good, in fact, that you might not believe us when we tell you it’s easy to get a same-day reservation here. But because it’s expensive and hidden in the Belden Stratford apartment building, this place usually has tables available. Focus on the excellent nigiri and sashimi, and get a few of the Japanese small plates (like a savory dashi custard) to share.
Yes, this is a very popular spot. But because of the communal table that fits approximately 1,500 people, it’s usually possible to just walk in and get a seat. The menu has a lot of variety (with equal space devoted to vegetables, seafood, and meat), so all 1,500 people should be able to find something to eat.
You both got off work early on a Friday. Take advantage of this with a date night at Bistro Campagne. It’s an old-school spot in Lincoln Square that’s seriously French - they do an amazing beef bourguignon - and the menu rarely changes, making it reliable in the best kind of way. Plus, there’s a beautiful patio, which is where you should sit if the weather is good.
Monnie Burke’s is the Mary Poppins’ bag of Pilsen restaurants - i.e., it’s deceptively big inside. The dining room is huge, the bar is huge, and the back patio is so long it might technically extend into Bridgeport. The food here is solid and runs the gamut from burrata and a burger to a pork shank that’s very good, and overall, the well-rounded menu and versatile space make this a great place for an impromptu group dinner in the neighborhood.
Unless you have tickets to Hamilton, there aren’t many reasons to stay in the Loop after you’re done with work, which means it’s generally deserted on weeknights and weekends. Because of this, you can count on getting a table at Fisk & Co. last-minute. Their specialty is mussels, which come in a variety of different broths (like white wine or green curry), and the rest of the menu is seafood-focused as well, with raw bar selections and entrees like a prosciutto-wrapped bass. In fact, this place is worth visiting even if you’re not already downtown.