Chicago’s dining scene is practically unbeatable. Home to an unbelievably wide range of culinary options, you can find almost literally every cuisine in the world in Chicago. Chicago is also home to a number of prestigious chefs and restauranteurs, including multiple Top Chef alums (including winners Stephanie Izard and Joe Flamm, both of whom currently operate restaurants in the city) and James Beard Award winners. Of course, it’s not all about the fancy dining! There are plenty of family-friendly and budget dining options that will please all palates, from the classic Chicago hot dog and deep-dish pizza to some good old street tacos.
From the traditional Eastern European options in Ukrainian Village to South American and Mexican fare in Pilsen, you can nosh your way through authentic ethnic fare all across the city. You’ll also find Mediterranean small plates, pizza ranging from trendy thin crust to classic deep-dish, exquisite sushi, and unbelievably innovative American fare. Other dining options include things you might not expect to find in a northern city like Chicago, including excellent southern barbecue, delicious Indian fare, and authentic ramen.
Wherever you’re thinking about dining in Chicago, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you’ve got a cuisine in mind, chances are there’s a high-end version and an affordable version. Check out site like Yelp and Open Table to see reviews and ratings, and to make reservations if necessary. Other local publications like RedEye Chicago track weekly deals and specials, and they’re a good resource when you’re trying to target happy hour specials or particular promotions. One final piece of advice—while neighborhoods do tend to specialize in certain types of cuisine, that doesn’t mean you should assume that you need to head to Chinatown for some ramen, for example, or Little Italy for the best pasta.
Here are some of the more popular cuisine styles, linked to some of the best restaurants of that genre.
Pizza: Chicago is best known for its deep-dish pizza, with famous outposts like Gino’s East and Lou Malnati’s dominating the game for generations. You can, however, also find some New York-style slices and crispy thin crust depending upon where you look.
Bakery: Because of its extensive ethnic diversity, Chicago is known as a place where you can get all kinds of baked goods. Whether you want to get in on the donut or cupcake craze or are just looking for a good Pączki, you’ll find it here.
Hot Dogs: The Chicago hot dog is one of the most famous iterations of this American classic. You don’t need to go to Wrigley to get one, however; you’ll find them on street-side vending carts, at popular bars, and at gastropubs.
Steak: Who doesn’t love a good steak? Some of Chicago’s most iconic restaurants specialize in this high-end dish, but that doesn’t mean you’ll need to pay a fortune to dine at Gibson’s for a good steak. Many restaurants throughout the city offer reasonable prices on this tasty meal.
Italian: Chicago is full of Italian cuisine, and not just in Little Italy. You’ll find innovative pasta dishes and traditional favorites in practically every neighborhood. You can also opt to dine at a family-owned hidden gem, or a major label place you know will be delicious.
BBQ: Some might be surprised to see barbecue on the list, but Chicago has a number of stand-out restaurants in this genre scattered throughout the city, with some notable ones being found in River North.
Subs/Italian Beef: What’s not to love about a good Italian Beef sandwich? Subs (or whatever you want to call them) can be found practically anywhere in the central part of the city, whether you want to look for chain restaurants or indie offerings. Portillo’s is a local favorite.
Seafood: With its proximity to the Great Lakes and its centrality to the national dining community, Chicago boasts a significant seafood scene. From happy hour oyster specials to surf n’ turf at the most luxurious venues, you can find practically any kind of seafood your heart desires in Chicago.
Deserts: Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pastries, ice cream…you name it, Chicago has it in abundance. With ice cream shops, bakeries, and even cupcake vending machines located all around the city, you’ll easily be able to satisfy that sweet tooth.
Chinese: While the most authentic offerings are going to be located in and around Chinatown, there are many excellent outposts throughout the city. If you’re more into the Americanized Chinese food, don’t worry – there’s a lot of that, too.
Mexican: Chicago really shines when it comes to Mexican food, with some of their most famous chefs like Rick Bayless specializing in the cuisine. You can find pricey indie tacos galore, or some classic street food for very little.
Indian: A staple of big cities, Indian cuisine is all over Chicago. The options are varied with a lot to be found in the West Loop and River North / Streeterville in particular.
Japanese: Chicago is kind of obsessed with sushi. You can find everything from the more ornate constructions (at a pretty high price) to some delicious takeout with all the soy sauce you want.
Cheap Eats: While Chicago may have a reputation as a city with a famed high-class dining scene, they’ve also got plenty of inexpensive options that span the gamut from pizza and pasta to sandwiches and salads. You can opt for a chain restaurant, or smaller hidden places in Gold Coast and River North.
Gastro Pubs: Gastro Pubs are becoming increasingly popular in Chicago. You’ll find some iteration of this genre in practically every neighborhood in the city (and its cousin, the taproom with food, is right along with it). They can be more expensive than casual meals, but the up-charge is worth it.
Fine Dining: Chicago has long been known as the epicenter of fine dining. With restaurants rivalling anything in New York for taste, quality, and exclusivity, they’ve got practically any genre of fine food your heart could desire from steak and seafood to the wildly innovative small plates at places like Alinea.
If you’re on the prowl for some excellent Chicago cuisine but are hoping to stick to a specific neighborhood, here’s a list of top dining neighborhoods in Chicago and what you might find there.
The Loop: This area is so expansive, it includes practically every genre of cuisine you can think of. Some stand-outs include Italian, wine bars, German-American food, seasonal American fare, and the celebrated restaurant at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Streeterville: A very popular area with visitors, this neighborhood features a generous variety of different cuisines such as seafood, steaks, delicious vegetarian fare, cozy taverns, wine bars, and new American.
Magnificent Mile: Featuring some of the trendiest (and sometimes priciest) food in the city, you’ll be able to choose from many different versions of American contemporary, as well as Italian, seafood, and some organic-only restaurants.
Andersonville: The unique vibe of this neighborhood shows up in its dining scene. You can find one of the city’s first brew pubs, southern cuisine, bakeries, and plenty of Italian options.
River North: Truly an eclectic dining scene, the fare here ranges from “special occasion” to “it’s Tuesday.” You can enjoy seafood, Spanish tapas, steak, Mexican, BBQ, and even a bourbon-centered restaurant.
Gold Coast: A popular dining destination for locals and tourists like, you’ll find an excellent tequila bar / Mexican restaurant, wine bars, French food galore, BBQ, Italian Mediterranean, and farm-to-table dining.
Lincoln Park: A quieter, more residential neighborhood, the dining scene here is pretty robust. You’ll find Greek food, popular brunch/breakfast spots, Spanish food, seasonal American fare, and others.
Chinatown: Cuisine here is predominantly Asian or Asian-inspired, but includes everything from noodles and dumplings to re-imagined ramen and de-constructed iconic dishes.
South Loop: Here you’ll find a lot of American Grill options, delicious pizza, Indian and Nepalese cuisine, some classic historic Chicago restaurants like the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, and much more.
Old Town: This neighborhood is full of indie restaurants and offers a wide variety of cuisines. Some standouts include BBQ, pizza, steak, pasta, sushi, and more.