In the mood for pierogis? Tempted to splurge on crab fries with hollandaise? Head for The Loop and follow your nose – or better yet, our handy guide to the neighbourhood’s best restaurants.
Pierogi Heaven, Chicago
Restaurant, Polish, European
The menu at this lunch and early-dinner spot in the Loop unsurprisingly focuses on pierogis, offering more than 10 flavors, including sauerkraut and mushroom, potato and cheese, and a fruit mix. They can be bought in portions of six, nine, or 12 and come topped with fried onion, bacon, and sour cream. Pierogi Heaven also serves borscht, cabbage stuffed with meat, and sausage should you want a larger lunch.
Perched on the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing, Terzo Piano offers a Sunday-only brunch menu. In the sleek, light-filled space, chef Carolina Diaz works with local and sustainable ingredients, crafting crab fries doused with hollandaise, steak and eggs painted with salsa verde, and a towering black angus double patty burger, piled with a fried egg, avocado, white cheddar, lettuce, tomato and pickles. You’ll want to wash everything down with a cocktail: the citrusy Renzo Piano will do the trick, swirled with basil-infused vodka, Meyer lemon limoncello, lemon-mint syrup and soda.
If you’re craving Cuban cuisine in the Windy City, Cafecito has you covered. It’s a cross between a coffee house and Cuban restaurant, complete with all the vibes of a cozy café. They offer pressed sandwiches, entrées, salads and more, all inspired by Latin America. And if you need another reason to visit, they exclusively use fresh, all-natural ingredients.
If you can find the Oasis Cafe, you will be rewarded with some of the best Mediterranean food in Chicago. A hidden gem, (it’s located inside Wabash Jewelers Mall), this cafe offers generous portions for a great price considering its downtown location. Be warned however, it has limited seating. Daily specials from Monday to Saturday include spinach pie, Moroccan couscous, kushari (an Egyptian dish made with, amongst other things, brown lentils) and chicken pastilla – filo dough stuffed with chicken, carrots, green peppers and onions.
Taza means ‘fresh’ and this lunch spot in the Loop serves some of the freshest and most classic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes in a fast but friendly environment. Favourites include a bed of hummus topped with chicken shawarma, a vegetarian combination of dolmeh, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh and salad, and the ‘kifta kabob’—charbroiled, ground, tender beef and lamb, minced onions and parsley. As is to be expected, the cafe gets busy with city workers at lunch time.
Magnolia Bakery is mostly an East Coast delight, with the majority of their shops in New York, but they also have bakeries in Los Angeles, Mexico City and, yes, one in downtown Chicago. Cupcakes are Magnolia’s niche. You can opt for one of their classic flavors, like chocolate or red velvet, but their specialty cupcakes are just as good: try the lemon cupcake, which features a lemon cream filling and lemon meringue buttercream frosting; or the banana, which is filled with caramel. Beyond cupcakes, Magnolia also makes delicious pies and mini cheesecakes.
Chicago’s favorite chicken chain dates all the way back to 1950, when Harold Pierce opened the first restaurant on 39th Street. There are now dozens of locations across the city, all independently owned and with their own individual quirks, but they’re all serving up the same menu of signature recipe fried chicken. And no matter how late it is when you order it, you can rely on your meal being cooked fresh for you.
For a restaurant with even deeper roots, look no further than The Berghoff – one of the most entrenched institutions in the Windy City. It first opened in 1898 and has remained in almost continuous operation since, closing for just one year in the mid-2000s for renovations and transitional tidying up. The restaurant features a mix of classic German fare and lighter, more contemporary offerings, while The Berghoff Bar and The Berghoff Cafe feature extensive draft selections and quick lunch options. It wouldn’t be complete without the luxurious old-world ambience, which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into Prohibition-era Chicago.
Boutique Hotel Restaurant, Brazilian, Guatemalan, $$$
Boleo offers Peruvian-street-food-inspired small bites | Courtesy of Boleo
This rooftop restaurant, located on the 15th floor of the Kimpton Gray in the heart of the Loop, is the most foodie-oriented of all the hotel-attached spots on this list. Chef de cuisine Franklin Perdue’s menu features South American staples such as fried yucca and ceviche de mahi alongside a tailor-made cocktail service of similarly sub-equator creations like fernet and cola or seasonal piscos. It’s all housed under a retractable glass rooftop so that you can enjoy the taste of the tropics rain or shine.
Located in the historic, chic Chicago Athletic Association, the Cherry Circle Room offers gourmet food and drinks. The restaurant also won a James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant Design, so you know you’re in for a stylish treat the moment you walk in. Paul McGee, the beverage director at Land and Sea Dept., the design group heading up Cherry Circle Room, approached the cocktail menu with a healthy balance of tradition and innovation. Their Bloody Mary is called a Red Snapper (a name rumored to have been the drink’s first official title). However, instead of featuring vodka as most Bloodies do, this one uses gin and sherry. There’s also tomato, spices, and smoke bomb sea salt for an added burst of flavor. Pair the Red Snapper with the Smoked Sturgeon Benedict for a delicious, and elegant, brunch.
This riverside restaurant lies in the heart of the Chicago Loop and is a perfect place for a midday or after-work meal. Its delectable fare has received numerous accolades. For example, the Food Network named it one of the best places for steak in America in 2014, and it was an Open Table 2016 Diner’s Choice winner. On a warm and sunny day, eat outside by the water and watch the boats sail by.
Prime and Provisions earned a spot on Chicago Magazine’s list of Chicago’s ‘Best Steakhouses’ as well as on Michigan Avenue Magazine’s list of the ‘Best Places to Dine in Chicago.’ Behind all of this recognition is executive chef Joseph Rizza, who creates flavorful dishes in this chic locale. Prime and Provisions is also known for offering customers an extensive cigar menu, which can be enjoyed in a special smoking area.
Naansense sells Indian-inspired street food in a Chipotle-style restaurant that allows customers to build their own bowls. Select a base, protein, veggies and sauce and you’re good to go. While Naansense may have a fast-food feel, the food is handmade on-site every day. Naansense has two Chicago locations, one on Wells St and one on Clinton St. They also have a special street food menu that is available only at certain times. This menu includes naan pizza, poutine and a snack called samosa chaat, a potato samosa covered with chickpea noodles, tomatoes, rice puffs, onions, yogurt and other fresh, tasty ingredients. For a taste of these street treats, visit the Wells location between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays or between 11am and 8pm on Saturdays.