Eating Out Strategy
Where should we eat? With thousands of Chicago eateries competing for your attention, it may seem like a daunting question. But fret not—our expert writers and editors have done most of the legwork. The selections here represent the best this city has to offer—from hot dogs to haute cuisine. Search "Best Bets" for top recommendations by price, cuisine, and experience. Or find a review quickly in the listings, organized alphabetically within each neighborhood. Delve in, and enjoy!
Though it's unusual to see children in the dining rooms of Chicago's elite restaurants, dining with youngsters in the city does not have to mean culinary exile. Many of the restaurants in Chicago are excellent choices for families, and we've noted these in our reviews.
Plan ahead if you're determined to snag a sought-after reservation. Some renowned restaurants are booked weeks or months in advance. If you're a large group, always call ahead, as even restaurants that don't take reservations often will make exceptions for groups of six or larger.
But you can get lucky at the last minute if you're flexible—and friendly. Most restaurants keep a few tables open for walk-ins and VIPs. Show up for dinner early (5:30 pm) or late (after 9 pm) and politely inquire about any last-minute vacancies or cancellations.
If you're calling a few days ahead of time, ask whether you can be put on a waiting list. Occasionally, an eatery may ask you to call the day before your scheduled meal to reconfirm: don't forget, or you could lose out.
What to Wear
In general, Chicagoans are neat but casual dressers; only at the top-notch dining rooms do you see a more formal style. But the way you look can influence how you're treated—and where you're seated. Generally speaking, jeans will suffice at casual restaurants, although shorts, sweatpants, and sports jerseys are rarely appropriate. . Moving up from there, a few pricier restaurants require jackets. In reviews, we mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Tipping and Taxes
In most restaurants, tip the waiter 18% to 20%. (To figure the amount quickly, just take 10% of the bill and double it.) Bills for parties of six or more sometimes include the tip already. The city's tax on restaurant food is 10.75%.
Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public spaces in Chicago, including restaurants and bars.
Although some of the city's top restaurants still include historic French vintages, most sommeliers are now focusing on small-production, lesser-known new-world wineries. Some are even keeping their wine lists purposefully small, so that they can change them frequently to match the season and the menu. Half bottles are becoming more prevalent, and good wines by the glass are everywhere. Don't hesitate to ask for recommendations. Even restaurants without a sommelier on staff will appoint knowledgeable servers to lend a hand with wine selections.
If you're watching your budget, be sure to ask the price of daily specials recited by the waiter or captain. The charge for specials at some restaurants is noticeably out of line with the other prices on the menu. Beware of the $10 bottle of water; ask for tap water instead. And always review your bill.
If you eat early or late, you may be able to take advantage of a prix-fixe deal not offered at peak hours. Most upscale restaurants offer great lunch deals, with special menus at cut-rate prices designed to give customers a true taste of the place.
Many restaurants (particularly smaller ones downtown) accept only cash. If you plan to use a credit card, it's a good idea to double-check its acceptability when making reservations or before sitting down to eat.