West Loop

Michael Gebert


1. Grace
2. Vera
3. The Publican
4. Tête Charcuterie
5. The Aviary/The Office



Au Cheval— Au Cheval bills itself as a late night diner, though the atmosphere is more like you’re still at the bar than like where you go after to get some carbs after to soak it up. The fatty, indulgent food is eminently scarfable, especially after drinking, though like diner food, it’s kind of all the same, not that that discourages the lines that form every night.

Blackwood BBQ— You might suspect otherwise from the location and the Chipotle-like setup, but this is real smoked-wood barbecue serving lunch in the West Loop.

Green Street Smoked Meats— Hipster take on a Texas roadhouse from Brendan Sodikoff, with generally good barbecue (brisket is best; try the brisket frito pie), and a line out the door every night.

Little Goat— Stephanie Izard’s spin-off diner applies the same kind of wacked-out fusion with mouth-popping flavors to American comfort food (or, as others have suggested, stoner food, which is maybe the category that pancakes with Asian pork belly really belongs to). Execution can be spotty (though not for lack of the name chef’s presence; you’ll often see her on the line), but for a big operation that draws a lot of tourists, it’s pretty irresistibly lovable.

Nohea Cafe— Pleasant, relaxed cafe with good fresh sandwiches and salads.

Palace Grill— Classic Greek diner that’s been around since the 1940s; lunch is routine Greek stuff but breakfast choices like eggs or omelets make for near-masterpieces of the grillman’s art.

Publican Quality Meats— Sandwich shop and deli spinoff of The Publican makes full-flavored artisanal sandwiches (on their own crusty bread), one of the best dining deals in the city.

Wafel— Curious little breakfast-lunch spot serves sandwiches on waffles for bread—better than they sound.

Zeus Gyros— Mr. Greek Gyros is the late night scene in this area, but its smaller neighbor is better as an all-round fast food stand.


High Five Ramen— Two hour lines every night attest to Brendan Sodikoff’s ability to gauge the zeitgeist and then make it wait to get in, in this case to a tiny hip ramen bar specializing in a spicy-hot, funky version of the Japanese soup.

Momotaro— Massive Japanese restaurant complex from the Boka Group, with a sushi bar doing beautiful arrangements, a kitchen making hearty Japanese cooked dishes on the bincho grill, and a more casual downstairs izakaya serving anything on the menu upstairs.

Ramen Takeya— Spinoff of Wasabi specializes in very nice chicken broth-based ramen, in a fun Tokyo street-like atmosphere.

Saigon Sisters— Fast food style Vietnamese doing elevated standard dishes and Vietnamese-tinged sandwiches.


The Aviary/The Office— You know that comfy old bar where the bartender knows your name? That is not The Aviary, a bar from the future in a spaceport where, behind the cocktail equivalent of a rood screen, bartenders transubstantiate your drink into an imaginative high tech, or at least weird tech experience. If it sounds too precious, the drinks are superbly well-made and in general, it’s a show everybody in or visiting Chicago should see at least once. Meanwhile, comfort is the key to the downstairs, invitation-only The Office, done up in dark old leather and with a personal level of attention and drink-making just for your tastes that any bar anywhere else could envy; you’ll drop a wad and then some, but be treated like a king or, even better, a railroad baron. Each serves its version of rich drinking food to nosh along the way, though you’re not really meant to eat dinner here.


Avec— A decade ago porky comfort food dishes in a long, narrow bar turned out to be what everyone was waiting for, and Avec still packs them in every night under third chef Perry Hendrix, who puts more of a middle eastern spin on the simply made “Mediterranean” food.

Greek Islands— One of the busiest restaurants in the city, this well-oiled Greek food machine produces some industrial-seeming classics, but knows how to grill a piece of fish to perfection for a price that’s a steal downtown.

Maude’s Liquor Bar— Brendan Sodikoff’s sort-of-French restaurant combines rich, decadent food for soaking up the drinks in a ripe, swanky take on Belle Epoque decadence.

Salero— Inventive, simple Spanish dishes in a nice bar area but somewhat cold dining room, from chef Ashlee Aubin (Wood).

La Sardine— Classic French food from the same owners as Le Bouchon.

Tête Charcuterie— Though this place in an old meatpacking building does do wonderful French pates, the charcuterie in the name undersells how accomplished it is as a down-to-earth French-style restaurant (with a few Filipino touches), making beautiful salads and pastas as well and serving sandwiches on crusty baguettes at lunch.

Vera— In a neighborhood of trendy hotspots, this is the rare grownup restaurant, serving farm to table, Spanish-influenced food of impressive simplicity and restraint alongside a good wine and sherry program.


Blackbird— Trendsetting restaurant, with its chic white look, deliberately crowded dining room and farm to table food before anyone knew what that was, is in a new phase under chef Perry Hendrix as it heads toward its 20th anniversary.

Girl & the Goat— Stephanie Izard’s food rings variations on the same basic trick: something fatty and lush meets salty, sweet and acidic pop all at once, and when it really works, your palate lights up like a pinball machine. Girl & the Goat is a darkly sexy showcase for her food, but problematic in that it’s hard to get into—and it’s a shared plates place with food that’s hard to share without wrecking. No matter what they tell you, I’d say plan on no more than two people sharing a plate satisfyingly.

Grace— Arguably the finest fine dining experience in Chicago at the moment—certainly the best service and as serene a dining environment as exists anywhere, while Curtis Duffy’s food is exquisitely crafted and beautiful to look at, though one of its virtues (the relative lack of showbiz gimmickry) may make it harder for it to break through to national fame.

Next— Next, the famous restaurant that changes concepts every few months and sells tickets rather than racks up a bill, has been the most talked-about show in Chicago dining for a few years now. Often the most expensive restaurant in Chicago, objectively it’d be hard to say Next is always better than other choices serving whichever cuisine it’s doing at that moment, and the small room and service aren’t as luxurious as its high-end rivals, but as an art piece exploring that cuisine it’s a one of a kind dining experience, for certain.

The Publican— Conceived as a kind of American beer hall dedicated to beer and pork, The Publican has blossomed into a finer and more adept restaurant, as good at roasting carrots as pork bellies, while retaining the noisy, laidback atmosphere.

Sepia— Handsome, well-run restaurant does a steady business in business dinners, but chef Andrew Zimmerman’s meticulously crafted food shows imagination and commitment to the seasons; sommelier Arthur Hon is widely recognized as one of the best in town.


Bombacigno’s J&C Inn— Hidden gem just outside the Loop, a family-run Italian deli in an old tavern serving meatball subs, pasta dishes and other old school classics.

Coalfire Pizza— Terrific New Haven style pizzas, including white pies, from a genuine coal-fired oven.

Formento’s/Nonna’s Sandwiches and Sundries— Tribute to classic American-Italian dining takes the glop out of it with meticulously-crafted versions of old favorites like Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Vesuvio; Nonna’s is its mostly take-out sandwich place on the side.

J.P. Graziano Grocery Co.— Old school Italian importer, one of the oldest businesses still on Randolph, now known for its authentic Italian subs (on crusty bread from another old-timer, D’Amato’s) and other specialties.

La Luce— Rare old school Italian in a vintage building near the Randolph strip.

Nellcôte— Housemade pastas and pizzas from the grain milled in-house, in a chic atmosphere that aims for the decadence of Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones (but still has midwestern good manners). Anyway, the Neapolitan pizzas are first-rate, with interesting toppings using meats from sibling Old Town Social, and the pastas are nice too.

Piccolo Sogno— Artfully crafted Italian, though the real draw in temperate months is one of the best patio gardens in the city.

Pizza East— The best of the public restaurants in the chic Soho House private club does a very solid job with Neapolitan pizzas.


Bar Takito— Upscale taco restaurant/bar serving imaginative takes on tacos which introduce new flavors without going overboard with the fusion, a spinoff of Ukrainian Village’s Takito Kitchen.

Cemitas Puebla— Downtown version of longtime Humboldt Park Mexican restaurant serving specialties of puebla—the hearty cemitas sandwich and shawarma-spit-roasted Tacos al Arabes.

La Sirena Clandestina— John Manion was planning a higher-end restaurant when he did a Brazilian pop-up in the casual place then in this space—and decided to launch an easygoing spot focused on simple, spicy South American food.

List compiled by Michael Gebert, 10/12/15.


Choose by


Choose by