Aba, cocktail bar and restaurant | Courtesy of Aba
Chicago’s West Loop is undoubtedly the heart of the city’s restaurant scene – its endlessly eclectic range of world-class restaurants has turned the neighborhood into an international culinary destination. While Fulton Market was the original frontier for boundary-pushing chefs, the scene has grown organically from that lodestone, and now high dining and hidden gems can be found throughout the entire area. We’ve collected a short list of our ten favorites below.
Au Cheval, Chicago
Bar, Diner, Restaurant, American, $$$
Forget, for a moment, all the hype, and remember that Au Cheval first became famous for offering that most simple of American dishes: the cheeseburger. Yes, it’s an astonishingly indulgent burger, but a burger nonetheless, and one that is undoubtedly worth your time. The double smash-patties, the thick-cut bacon, the obligatory egg – it all works together to make one of the most deliciously over-the-top experiences you’ll have in the city. You’ll likely have to wait an hour or two before being seated, but that, too, is part of the experience. The dim-lit diner setting is essential to the old-school fare, and there’s something about the cramped quarters that makes the whole thing feel that much more indulgent. Don’t skimp on dessert, either – the cream puff is fantastic, and almost worth boxing half your burger if it means saving some room for sweets.
If you’re looking for a high-end date spot, you can’t do much better than Momotaro. The massive seven-page menu has everything you could ever want from a Japanese restaurant: hot plates, cold plates, meat dishes, rice dishes, hibachi-grilled appetizers and, of course, an extensive sushi selection. The sheer breadth of Momotaro’s menu is matched by the building itself – the main floor dresses the classic West Loop warehouse aesthetic in mid-century Japanese flair, while the basement bar, the Izakaya, looks straight out of the alleyways of Tokyo.
Roister on Fulton Market is centered on the hearth, both as cooking method and as symbol of family. The menu features comfort food classics elevated to Alinea-Group heights, and the kitchen is situated right in the heart of it all, foregrounding all the shouts and smells that come from cooking. The tug between casual atmosphere and high-end connotations is Roister’s most interesting dynamic, one that is manifested in its best dish: a whole chamomile-brined chicken that comes to you in the form of blackened breasts, deep-fried thighs and legs chopped up into creamy chicken salad. Check it out, and if you can, get kitchen-side seats, so you get dinner and a show.
La Sirena Clandestina restaurant | Courtesy of La Sirena Clandestina
La Sirena Clandestina means “hidden mermaid,” a name chosen for chef John Manion’s childhood experiences on the beaches in Brazil. The restaurant lives up to its namesake, taking the beach-shack fare of Manion’s youth and dressing it up a bit, resulting in some of the best Brazilian food in the city. Highlights include the moqueca stew, Spanish octopus and the whole fried fish – really, anything from the pescatarian offerings. There’s also the fantastic cocktail service, featuring tropical mainstays like caipirinhas and pisco sours alongside more obscure South American offerings.
This is the mother of all West Loop brunch spots. You’ve seen it, whether you know it or not – the long wooden tables and rococo chandeliers have almost certainly graced your Instagram’s explore page at one point or another. As the Chicago branch of the international creative club, Soho House Chicago has a whole bevy of food and drink spots housed within, but the Allis, located in the hotel’s lobby, is surely the most popular, with its marble countertops, plush couches, and, of course, well-curated brunch choices and great drink menu. Make a stop here. You owe it to yourself, and to your Instagram.
This old-school deli on Randolph Street has been in operation for four generations, and that tradition shows in the food that J.P. Graziano’s offers. The sandwiches are deli classics executed with the sort of expertise that can only come from family knowledge, from staples like the Italian or the turkey to more unique creations like the Mr. G Special or the Tufano Antipasto. Finish up with their array of Italian classics like the biscotti or cannoli, and you’ll be set for whatever the rest of the day has in store.
Elske is one the bright new stars in Chicago’s bustling restaurant scene, and with good reason. Its founders, husband-and-wife duo David and Anna Posey, are both Chicago restaurant veterans, having cut their teeth at local legends Blackbird and The Publican, respectively, before getting married and setting off to start their own culinary adventure. “Elske” means love in Danish, and everything the Poseys do reflects the love they have for each other and for the act of cooking. The decor is minimal, the windows are huge, and the food is clean and earthy, often arriving in palettes of verdant green or muted yellow. And while that food has earned Elske a Michelin star, the accolades have not changed Elske’s original mission of sharing food with those you love. Tasting menus are relatively cheap, and à la carte options rarely stray above the $25 range. If you can reserve a spot, Elske is a must.
Right across from Soho House is Green Street Meats, a huge barbecue joint in a hollowed-out warehouse and dressed with all the industrial accoutrements one expects from West Loop joints. There’s string lighting, picnic table seating, a sink full of beer, and a central bar that spins choice vinyl all night. The food is, obviously, catered toward the more carnivorous – it ranges from smoked salmon and pastrami to more conventional barbecue fare like hot links and brisket sandwiches, all cooked in-house in a massive iron smoker. Grab a meat plate, some elote-style corn and a sink beer, and have yourself a messy good time.
Aba, cocktail bar and restaurant | Courtesy of Aba
Aba is the sister restaurant of River North’s Ema, and while both feature a wonderful array of Mediterranean dishes, it’s Aba that has really nailed ambiance. The decor is lush and dark and absolutely conducive to spending hours here completely by accident. The cuisine is oriented around sharing multiple mezze-style plates, so it’s an obvious date spot, but it’s also surprisingly well-suited to nights out on the town with friends, with dual bars and a cool rooftop patio spread.
It can be overwhelming, sometimes. There’s just so many restaurants, so many cuisines, so many local legends and must-try dishes. Sometimes all you want is good old pizza and alcohol. And that’s okay – Parlor Pizza on Green Street is your escape from the world of tasting menus and dress codes and back into the warm embrace of American simplicity. The pizza isn’t the city’s famous deep-dish style pie, but to be honest if you’re ordering deep-dish at a bar you’re doing it wrong. Thin crust is perfect bar food, and Parlor’s eclectic collection, including pies like the chorizo and potato or the “Sasquash,” makes for a unique pizza experience. Bring your friends and get a spread, because you’re likely to spend quite some time here.