Chicago’s culinary scene might be best known for deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, but this city is a foodie’s paradise. Downtown alone is home to over 275 restaurants, with all the food you could ever dream of.
Each Chicago restaurant offers a unique take on the flavors and cultures that define this incredible city. Don’t believe me? Just ask Food and Wine Magazine, which named Chicago as one of the top ten food cities in America in 2023.
“The Midwest mindset means that restaurants, bars, and cafés are warm and welcoming — more often than not, giving off the feeling that you’ve just walked into a spot a friend owns,” writes Erika Owen at Food and Wine. “Communities of immigrants pepper the city’s 77 neighborhoods, offering unforgettable no-frills meals spanning the globe.”
Owen is right. Chicago is second to none in our swath of restaurant experiences. And don’t worry, this list isn’t just about fine dining.
We’re here to give you a sense of all that downtown offers, not just the most expensive options. After all, as a Chicagoan, I’m never opposed to some Chicago-style hot dogs. Just don’t try to give me ketchup for it.
Show Table of Contents
- TL;DR: Best Restaurants in Downtown Chicago
- Our Picks: Best Restaurants in Downtown Chicago
- 1. Cindy’s Rooftop
- 2. The Purple Pig
- 3. Luke’s Italian Beef
- 4. 312 Chicago
- 5. Pizzeria Uno
- 6. Mariposa
- 7. Cleo’s Southern Cuisine
- 8. Wildberry Pancakes and Café
- 9. The Berghoff
- 10. Exchequer Restaurant and Pub
- 11. Au Cheval
- 12. Oriole
- Are there affordable yet great restaurants in downtown Chicago?
- Which downtown Chicago restaurants provide the best views of the city?
- What are the best restaurants in downtown Chicago for a romantic dinner?
- What are the must-try dishes in downtown Chicago?
TL;DR: Best Restaurants in Downtown Chicago
|Restaurant Name||Cuisine Type||Price Range||Address||Website|
|Cindy’s Rooftop||American||$$$||12 S Michigan Ave||cindysrooftop.com|
|Oriole||New American||$$$$||661 W Walnut St||oriolechicago.com|
|Cleo’s Southern Cuisine||Southern||$||4248 S Cottage Grove Ave||eatcleos.com|
|The Purple Pig||Mediterranean||$$||500 N Michigan Ave||thepurplepigchicago.com|
|Au Cheval||American||$$||800 W Randolph St||auchevaldiner.com|
Our Picks: Best Restaurants in Downtown Chicago
1. Cindy’s Rooftop
Address: 12 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603
Housed on the 13th floor of the historic Chicago Athletic Association building, Cindy’s Rooftop offers a unique perspective of the city few other restaurants can boast. With a glass atrium above, diners can embrace the illustrious views of Lake Michigan, Millennium Park, and the bustling downtown all year long.
You’ll have a sky-high view of the best tourist attractions in Chicago, which makes this a fun spot for visitors and locals alike. Not to mention it’s housed in a stunning 1890s Gothic building which only adds to its charm.
Run by Chopped Grand Champion Executive Chef Kaleena Bliss, this rooftop dining experience is informed by the seasons. Although the menus change on occasion, you can always expect decadence. From indulgent prawns Nayarit or Kurobuta pork collar, you’ll always find something to savor.
There isn’t a dress code at Cindy’s Rooftop, though smart-casual clothing is recommended. You will also have to make a reservation for indoor dining unless you want to try your luck with a walk-in.
2. The Purple Pig
Address: 444 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
For a taste of the Mediterranean right on the Magnificent Mile, you need not look further than The Purple Pig. This highly celebrated restaurant by James Beard, Rising Star Chef of 2014 Jimmy Bannos Jr. offers up all kinds of tasty nosh with delectable wine to go with it.
The Miracle Mile area is one of the best places to stay in Chicago, so most tourists will find The Purple Pig easily if they’re wandering around the neighborhood. That also means it’s a great place to end your night after exploring Chi-town.
Perfect for a group outing, Purple Pig’s menu is enormous. Although not billed as a tapas restaurant, the small plates here are sure to please. For the adventurous eaters, you have fried pig-tails or pork blood sausage, while those with milder taste buds will be just as happy with some succulent pork belly. f
Purple Pig is where you take your pals when you want to impress them. This wine and small plates spot has been a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient since 2011 and was even named one of the best wine restaurants in the country by Wine Enthusiast. So you know this isn’t just my Chicagoan bias talking.
3. Luke’s Italian Beef
Address: 215 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60606
Whether you’ve been binge-watching The Bear or just love Italian beef sandwiches, you can’t miss a Chicago specialty. Although The Bear is loosely based on Mr. Beef in the River North neighborhood, I highly recommend heading to Luke’s Italian Beef downtown for your fix.
This counter service joint is far from fine dining, though you’ll be eating well. Whether you order a hot dog, a beef, or a chicken parm, you’ll be tasting Chicago. Our city is known for its down-to-Earth, no-nonsense charm, and spots like Luke’s just feel like home.
In June 2023, after 30 years in business, Luke’s was inducted into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame. When asked about the honor, Bob Schwartz, the senior vice president of Vienna Beef, told Block Club Chicago, “When you talk about Downtown Chicago, there’s sometimes a lot of turnover…Here is a mom-and-pop restaurant that has survived not only all those years — but they’ve created an image and an identity all their own…”
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4. 312 Chicago
Address: 136 N La Salle St, Chicago, IL 60602
When you want a fine dining atmosphere, especially before a show, you go to 312 Chicago. This charming restaurant serves up Italian food with all the classic dishes you know and love. Operated by Chef Marcello Florio, this restaurant offers an equally incredible array of cocktails and wine pairings.
What makes this such a great restaurant for Italian classics? Chef Florio does. He was born and raised in Italy and trained at a culinary institute there as well. So combine his lived experience with the mouth-watering simplicity of Italian cuisine, and you get one of my favorite restaurants.
It certainly does not hurt that 312 is the on-site restaurant for The Allegro Royal Sonesta Hotel, either. Their shared chic atmospheres are a perfect match. And the fact that 312 serves one of the best tiramisus I’ve ever tasted makes me want to sing their praises all the more.
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5. Pizzeria Uno
Address: 29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611
Once again, this spot is not quite downtown, but a River North location is close enough. T, butrthplace of deep-dish pizza as we know it, Pizzeria Uno is undoubtedly one of the most famous restaurants in Chicago. One of the founders of Pizzeria Uno, Ike Sewell, originally wanted to serve Mexican cuisine.
Whether you prefer their deep dish to others is up to you. However, nothing beats trying the original. I know many Chicagoans have negative feelings about deep-dish, but I’m not one of them.
I’m a deep-dish ride-or-die. Heck, this Chicago institution even has gluten-free and vegan pizza options. That way, more folks can give the place and its famed pies a try.
The large dining room may feel familiar if you’ve been to any of the other dozens of Uno’s locations around the country. However, this original one may also feel a little bit more special.
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Address: 737 N Michigan Ave Level Four, Chicago, IL 60611
You’ve heard of breakfast at Tiffany’s, but have you heard of lunch at Neiman Marcus? One of the more unique restaurants in Chicago, you’ll find this fine dining restaurant inside the Neiman Marcus retailer off the Magnificent Mile. Aptly named butterfly in Spanish, the airy dining room elevates your day out on the town.
Referring to itself as “laid-back luxe,” Mariposa’s menu offers light lunch fare as well as a wide selection of libations. Why not toast a day of shopping the Magnificent Mile with a bottle of Veuve and a fresh chicken piccata?
Michigan Avenue is speckled with all kinds of Chicago restaurants. So many, in fact, that you could perhaps miss Mariposa altogether. But these seasonal, health-conscious menus are the ideal blend of sensible and stylish.
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7. Cleo’s Southern Cuisine
Address: 190 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60606
When Chef Kristen Ashley first opened Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, the Michelin Guide dubbed the eatery a “new restaurant to watch.” Since then, this spot has become a Chicago staple for all things soul food eats.
Head to Cleo’s when you need a fried chicken fix in downtown Chicago. This meat-heavy menu is fully loaded with soul foods.
Get a heaping helping of some mac and cheese or candied sweet potatoes, but don’t leave without a 24-carat gold muffin. That’s right, Chef Ashley’s corn muffins are so spectacular they’re coated in gold sauce.
You can’t take Chef Ashley’s word for her food though, since she supposedly never eats what she makes. She told TimeOut in August 2021 that’s not because her food doesn’t look tasty.
“I just eat like a 7-year-old: chicken tenders, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and bread. And I like to joke that I’m allergic to salads.”
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8. Wildberry Pancakes and Café
Address: 130 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
Anytime I visit someplace, especially for vacation, I am always on the hunt for a delicious brunch. You don’t have to look far in Downtown Chicago for a brunch place, though I do recommend you try Wildberry Pancakes and Café before anywhere else.
Only open for breakfast and lunch, Wildberry Café uses seasonal ingredients to make your brunchy delights sensational. Their cinnamon roll pancakes are some of the most luscious pancakes you’ll ever have. I recommend splitting these with a friend or saving room for something else from their menu, too like the loaded baked potato omelet.
Wildberry’s central location makes it the perfect place to start an exciting day of adventure downtown. You’re poised for a long day of gazing at art at our world-class Art Institute of Chicago or a long day of shopping along the Magnificent Mile. Either way, you’ll start the day deliciously.
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9. The Berghoff
Address: 17 W Adams St, Chicago, IL 60603
When it comes to Chicago classics, The Berghoff stands out. What began as a beer stand at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition, World’s Fair, in Chicago quickly became a mainstay Chicago institution. This German beer hall has called downtown home since it first opened in 1898.
Founded by German immigrant Herman Berghoff and still family-owned and operated, The Berghoff is your German cuisine destination. You can’t get a beer for a nickel anymore with a free sandwich, though not much else has changed here.
Sure, Chicago has no shortage of international cuisine, but the Midwest’s heavy Germanic roots get a nod with Berhoff nosh. When you simply need some Spatzleknödel or pierogies, head down to this historic Chicago restaurant. They even have some other dining options like tofu and salmon poke if someone in your party isn’t feeling vaterländisch.
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10. Exchequer Restaurant and Pub
Address: 226 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60604
What was once known as The 226 Club is now Exchequer. This Wabash pub was allegedly one of the many Chicago hangouts of the notorious Al Capone. During Prohibition, the club has a secret speakeasy with an escape door for folks to flee if the fuzz came knockin’.
Since its speakeasy days, this location has changed hands and names multiple times. Its interior indicates the storied history of this place, though its name these days equates to some tasty pizza, good drinks, and fun with friends.
There’s nothing fancy about this pub fare. It’s familiar, tasty, and satisfies whatever craving you may have. Why I’ve included it in this list, aside from its fascinating history, is its cocktail game.
As a born and raised Wisconsinite, I’m overly picky about my Old Fashioneds. To this day, Exchequer is the only place in the city where I’ve had an Old Fashioned that rivals any from Wisconsin. Do you want to drink like it’s 1920? Look no further!
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11. Au Cheval
Address: 800 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607
Author’s Note: Au Cheval is technically in Fulton Market, but I highly recommend heading West from The Loop to check it out. It is worth it at only about 10 minutes by car from the center of downtown.
You want a reservation at Cindy’s Rooftop, but you can’t make one at Au Cheval in Fulton Market. Translating to “put an egg on it,” this upscale diner adds a fun flare to date night or an evening with friends. Its moody interior makes this spot feel like an Irish pub while the fare reminds you that you’re right in charming Chicago.
Creative cocktails adorn a menu full of comfort foods, many with a slight twist. Want some crispy fries, how about an egg on top? How about some chilaquiles or foie gras? Not to worry, diner fans, you can get regular cheeseburgers here too.
Meanwhile, other folks help themselves to some sumptuous roasted marrow bones. You need to see for yourself why people waited hours for their burgers when Au Cheval first opened. Bon Appétit even said their burgers were the best in the country.
Here’s the thing about a diner bar like Au Cheval: you can’t leave without dessert. How could you possibly say no to a root beer float with Berghoff’s draft root beer and Zarlengo’s malted vanilla gelato? You can’t.
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Address: 661 W Walnut St, Chicago, IL 60661
Author’s note: I’m ignoring my cardinal rule about breaking neighborhood boundaries since this is in the West Loop. But Oriole is amazing and only about 10 minutes by car from the center of downtown.
Oriole is a contemporary-American award-winning restaurant owned by renowned chef Noah Sandoval. It opened in 2016 in the West Loop and, since then, has garnered two Michelin stars as well as the Jean Banchet Award for Restaurant of the Year.
Chef Sandoval was even named one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs in 2017 and has been nominated for the James Beard Awards. Are you impressed yet? I am!
Oriole’s exclusive, price-fixed tasting menu changes from day to day. While you can’t see what’s on offer ahead of time, you can rest assured that Chef Sandoval offers tasting menus filled with options for all palates. Previous inclusions have been Scottish langoustine, ora king salmon, and cucumber sorbet.
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Are there affordable yet great restaurants in downtown Chicago?
Absolutely! There are lots of tasty, affordable spots around downtown. Exchequer is great for pub food, The Berghoff has incredible German cuisine, Wildberry is a great brunch place, and Luke’s Italian Beef is classic Chicago.
Which downtown Chicago restaurants provide the best views of the city?
Cindy’s Rooftop, without a doubt, has the best views of the restaurants on this list. From their 13th-floor glass atrium, you can see so much of the city. Plus, the rooftop eatery is open all year round since it’s covered. So you can see a snowy Chicago or a sunny springtime.
What are the best restaurants in downtown Chicago for a romantic dinner?
The Purple Pig and Oriole (though this one is technically in the West Loop) are both stunning places for a romantic dinner. They’re both a bit spendier than other options in the city, but their reputations for award-winning cuisine are well-earned.
What are the must-try dishes in downtown Chicago?
The tasting menu at Oriole in the West Loop change frequently though this Michelin-star restaurant is known for its creative dishes. That said, The Purple Pig is acclaimed for its pork dishes. You must try the braised pork shoulder here; it is to die for.
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Amanda is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Her work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, HuffPo, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, “Chicago Like a Local.” Amanda’s favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park she’s visited.