When it comes to fine dining, it is safe to say that the best of the Midwest can be found in the Windy City. Chicago's prestigious culinary landscape is a harmonious fusion of inventive gastronomy and unpretentious Midwestern charm, steeped in a rich history spanning over a century. The city's culinary prowess is further exemplified by its impressive collection of 23 Michelin stars in 2022, a notable feat that includes the groundbreaking Kasama, the first Filipino restaurant in the world to receive this esteemed award.
Boasting 77 distinctive neighborhoods and a vibrant tapestry of cultures, Chicago offers an impressive assortment of critically acclaimed dining experiences catering to diverse palates. From traditional steakhouses to classic yet award-winning Italian restaurants, the Second City has it all, including some molecular gastronomy as well! We've narrowed a list of must-sees to make your next visit to Chicago an approachable but delectable fine-dining experience.
Leña Brava (Mexican)
Leña Brava is located in Chicago's bustling West Loop area and was created by the world-renowned Chef Rick Bayless. The menu at Leña Brava is divided into two distinct sections, each catering to a different culinary preference but both inspired by the flavors of Baja California. The fire section is made up of mains cooked on an open flame. On the other hand, the ice section features smaller, more delicate ceviches and other raw fish dishes that are perfect for those who prefer lighter fare.
If you're a mezcal fan, then you're in luck because Leña Brava is home to one of the largest mezcal collections in the whole city. It also boasts an impressive wine list with bottles from Europe, California, and South America, which is ideal for wine lovers and the wine curious.
Manny Valdez, long-time business partner of Bayless, has been successfully entrusted with the management of Leña Brave since 2020. Bayless, a renowned expert in authentic Mexican cuisine, has gained numerous accolades for his exceptional culinary skills, mainly through his restaurant Topolobampo -- one of Chicago's first Mexican fine-dining establishments. Bayless opened Topolobampo in 1989, and his accomplishments there earned Topolobampo a Michelin star every year since 2011. He's well-known for winning Bravo's Master Chef in 2009 and has received multiple awards for his cookbook-series-turned-PBS-television-show, "Mexico: One Plate at a Time," which is still broadcast today.
Rose Mary (Croatian + Italian)
Rose Mary is the debut restaurant from celebrity Chef Joe Flamm, who draws his inspiration from the breathtaking beauty of the Adriatic Sea. With its rustic trattoria-style setting and deliciously inventive menu, Rose Mary is a must-visit in Chicago if you plan ahead!
Chef Joe Flamm chose to name the restaurant after his grandmothers Mary and Rose Mary, as well as the herb rosemary, which grows natively along the Italian and Croatian coastlines. Rose Mary is so popular it is highly recommended to make reservations at least 60 days in advance for this sought-after culinary experience. One of the most ordered dishes is gnocchi stuffed with beef cheek pašticada (a wine-soaking process), paški sir (a sheep's milk cheese), and basil. Chef Flamm shines with his pasta-making skills while paying homage to the flavors of the Croatian region. The creative yet sustainable wine list has organic options while the cocktail menu showcases Eastern European spirits.
Prior to debuting Rose Mary, Chef Joe Flamm's career highlights include working at Chicago's historic Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia as their Executive Chef. Despite being closed now, both restaurants provided upscale fine dining for 37 years thanks to James Beard Award-winning and decorated Executive Chef Tony Mantuano. Oh, and he also won Bravo's Top Chef season 15. But, who's counting?
Sepia (American Contemporary)
Experience a fusion of American, Southeast Asian, Korean, and Mediterranean cuisine at Chef Andrew Zimmerman's Sepia. The 19th-century print shop-turned-restaurant boasts exposed brick walls, custom tile floors, and floor-to-ceiling wine storage. It is not actually colored with the popular (sepia) photo filter we know from vintage photos, as its walls are actually painted in deep, neutral tones. The dining room is lit by the artist Tony Duquette's "sunburst" light fixtures.
Sepia has held a Michelin star since 2011 and consecutively earned a AAA Four-Star rating in 2015 and 2016. In addition, the restaurant won the Jean Banchet Award title of Restaurant of the Year in 2012.
This Windy City fine dining establishment transforms ordinary dishes into a truly extraordinary experience. For example, when Michelin visited, they celebrated the restaurant's chicken, calling it "downright exciting." However, as their menu rotates quite often they no longer offer this dish.
On top of the awards Sepia earned Chef Zimmerman, he also cooked at the James Beard House in New York City in 2010. Chef Zimmerman has also been nominated five times for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes and was also honored as a 2011 Rising Star by StarChefs. Furthermore, for the 2011-2013 Jean Banchet Awards, he was nominated as Chef of the Year.
Kumiko (Japanese, Omakase)
Kumiko is a high-end Japanese experience created by mixologist Julia Momosé and Chef Noah Sandoval in Chicago's West Loop. The omakase-style dining room and bar highlight Momosé's ode to her Japanese heritage. The basement space, Kikko, has ten seats at a counter and offers a more intimate experience.
At Kumiko, Momosé's menu combines unique elements in classic cocktails like a daiquiri with hojicha (Japanese green tea), junmai ginjo (sake), and French Caribbean rum. On the more complex side, the New Wave cocktail is made to resemble the flavors of Japanese curry by mixing Japanese whisky, rice Shōchū, and Mugicha (Japanese barley tea).
Kumiko also offers flights of sake and guests can even take some of the bottles home. The food to pair with Momosé's creations rotates often, but on the current website menu, they're offering snacks, salty, and sweet options, all moderately priced. Kikko, the basement dining room of the bar, earned a Michelin star in 2019 under Chef Mariya Russell but is currently on hiatus.
In the four years that it has been open, Kumiko has been celebrated and awarded for its original yet meticulous menus and service. Most notably, it was included in Time Magazine's "World's 100 Greatest Places" list. Momosé is also an accomplished author and the winner of the 2022 Chicago Exceptional Cocktails Award. After her time at The Aviary in 2013, she moved on to GreenRiver and Oriole, earning Michelin stars during her time there.
GT Prime (American, Steakhouse)
Chicago has long been known for its historic steakhouses; one of the best is BOKA's GT Prime. Led by Chef Giuseppe Tentori, GT Prime's menu, in contrast to other steakhouses, focuses on smaller-portioned plates and only deals with locally sourced meat. The dining space is decorated with a modern fairy tale theme all the way to the menu format. There's even a semi-private room that seats 16 called The Owl Room is accessible through a brass staircase.
GT Prime is a restaurant that prides itself on its impeccable selection of meats, expertly sliced and paired with various fancy salts to enhance their natural flavors. GT Prime's creative appetizers and vegetable dishes are not to be overlooked when gazing over the menu. Standouts to start include the tempura squash blossom stuffed with ricotta and yellow pepper aioli or the jumbo Aasparagus with truffle hollandaise sauce to accompany any fine cut of meat. Dishes like those are why GT Prime isn't your regular Chicago steakhouse.
Chef Tentori is also the owner of the chef partner of Boka Catering Group. He is credited with redefining the American seafood restaurant scene when he opened GT Fish & Oyster in March 2011, earning regional and national recognition. Tentori also introduced GT Hot Sauces to retail in the restaurant, online, and at local retailers.
Momotaro (Japanese, Sushi, Izakaya)
Momotaro is a celebrated three-floor Japanese fine dining restaurant by Chef Gene Kato in Chicago's Fulton Market District. It is known for its sushi robata dishes upstairs, a Tokyo-inspired Izakaya downstairs, and a more private dining area. Chicago's BOKA Restaurant Group has been on the Michelin guide. Some dishes, such as nigiri or maki, including the una-kyu or the ebi uni maguro, are so exclusive that they are limited to only ten per evening.
The menu is extensive, featuring various cold and hot dishes at moderate pricing. Guests can order edamame or miso soup plates, but there are also specialties like spaghetti made with spicy beef curry and grated (oroshi) scallions. The sushi and robata dishes feature unique sea life and have items such as spear squid ikura (red caviar) with smoked salmon for $8. To quench your thirst, the 22-page menu features cocktails, wines, a well-curated list of sakes, and a beer selection. Chef Gene Kato's Japanese heritage in the renovated warehouse features high ceilings and an open kitchen. His inventive twist on traditional flavors remains true to his roots.
Izakaya has a more casual vibe and a much shorter menu downstairs. Rice bowls, a bagel (yes, a bagel), and uni pasta are just some dishes to accompany the cocktail selection. One thing to note is their two-option Japanese whiskey section features a $50 pour of Nikka, Japan's oldest distillery.
Monteverde is an Italian restaurant renowned in Chicago by famed Chef Sarah Gruenberg. Her menu pays homage to her passion for pasta and vegetables. Chef Sarah loves veggies so much that the menu emphasizes vegetable-based dishes before pasta, and all entrees are fairly priced, from a $19 salad to a $95 Florentine steak.
While Monteverde has yet to receive a Michelin star, it is recommended on the official Michelin website, which specifically names the "cabbage leaves stuffed with herbed breadcrumbs, mushrooms, and porcini Bolognese" as must-tries; however, they don't appear to be on the menu anymore. The menu also reflects the comfort food theme from the Texas native, such as the double-dipped forgotten cookie combined with Italian classics like tiramisu and sorbets. Monteverde exclusively sources their fresh produce from the local Green City Market, where Gruenberg usually starts conceptualizing her dishes -- veggies and sides first.
According to The Infatuation's review, reservations for this restaurant have been backed up a mere 57 months, due, possibly, to the handmade pasta in dishes such as cacio e pepe or gnocchetti con pesto. The popularity may also be due to Chef Gruenberg's personality shining while she visits tables during a meal, as she is wont to do.
Chef Gruenberg is Bravo's Top Chef season 9 runner-up, a James Beard award winner, and she achieved fame in Chicago for her exceptional work at Spiaggia, where she earned multiple Michelin stars. Prior to achieving Chicago fame, she worked in Italy's record three Michelin star restaurant, Dal Pescatore.
Schwa (New American, Molecular Gastronomy)
Schwa, opened by Chef Michael Carlson in 2005, is a small 26-seat experimental restaurant with an unassuming entrance. However, guests might not believe there is no waitstaff or a host to seat them once inside as it is the chefs themselves who serve their inventive dishes. Another notable rule, or lack thereof, Schwa is BYOB (bring your own bottle). In the nearly 25 years it has been open, Schwa has earned one Michelin star and attracted famous politicians and celebrities like Michelle Obama.
Experimental is one way to describe this restaurant. Chicago Reader's Michael Geber described one of their dishes as "a play on pork and beans: fried bits of chicharron on a ball of headcheese." Since the menu changes so often and is so inventive, we couldn't guess what they're serving today, but their website is updated promptly.
Chef Michael Carlson is a true Chicago native. Before traveling to Italy, he trained under Chef Paul Bartolotta at the historic Spiaggia. Once he got his footing there, he lived in Imola, Italy, and worked with Chef Valentino Marcattilii of San Domenico. Shortly after returning home, he opened Schwa. He has received plenty of other praise, such as a nine-page feature in a 2009 publication of GQ magazine, calling Schwa "The Most Revolutionary Restaurant In America." The following year in 2010, he was nominated for "Best Chef" by the James Beard Foundation.
Ever (Modern Cuisine)
Ever in Chicago's Fulton Market was founded by Chef Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser. The duo is known for creating another Michelin legend: Grace which closed in 2017 shortly before Ever opened for service. The restaurant offers a tasting menu for $325 per person, showcasing Chef Duffy's dedication to achieving culinary perfection. The restaurant is revered for providing "inventive presentations at every turn" (per the Michelin guide) and for the two Michelin stars it holds. It also served as the inspiration for the high-end restaurant featured in "The Bear."
Curtis Duffy transforms proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts into extraordinary creations in an 8-10 course tasting menu that changes regularly, so check their website for the latest offerings. The dining room is designed with noise cancellation to ensure guests enjoy their meal. The lighting spotlights the food quite literally against the black-finish smudge-proof tables; the dishes take center stage.
Ever's mission involves educating patrons about unique ingredients and combinations, showcased in the most straightforward additions, exemplified in the butter they serve. Eater Chicago claimed Ever's quenelle of seven-herb butter, topped with fleur de sel and a ribbon of white butter cultivated with black cypress salt, seemed "frozen mid-flutter."
In FX's "The Bear," Season 2 Episode 7's set was inspired by Ever's precision and creativity. Duffy's hands are shown plating dishes from Ever. "The Bear" version of Ever is a three-star restaurant led by Chef Terry (played by Olivia Colman), considered the world's best Chef on the hit show.
Oriole (Contemporary New America)
Chef Noah Sandoval has made a name for himself in the Chicago hospitality industry with his exceptional skills and talents. Thanks to his dedication, he is the proud owner of 3 Michelin stars. He opened Oriole in 2016 and earned two Michelin stars yearly.
At Oriole, diners are welcomed with a special beverage upon arrival, thoughtfully curated by their sommelier, to complement the flavors of the menu-less meal. From sparkling wine to spirit-free options, the choices are carefully selected each night. Despite the lack of a menu, guests should plan a standard 16 courses featuring cuisines from across the world.
When Michelin visited, they were amazed by Oriole's New Zealand langoustine with tapioca and melon. Dessert courses are prepared by Chef Genie Kwon (from Kasama and BOKA). Her creations include five dessert courses out of the 16. According to a Gayot review, one of the most memorable was "a creative cheese course combining raclette, gianduja, and black currant sorbet all queued across pretzel lavash."
The Smyth (New American)
Smyth bears a simple name, for it is a simple place, located in Chicago's West Loop and owned by Chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields. Smyth was inspired by their experience cooking in Smyth County, Virginia. Within just two years of opening, Smyth was awarded two Michelin stars, a testament to the expertise and passion of its owners.
Chefs John and Karen Shields have curated a menu showcasing the best seasonal produce. The dishes at Smyth, per Michelin, are approachable and minimalistic. They work with a little, and it goes a long way. They applauded a licorice cream with Wild Maine mussels and the chilled avocado with Bangkok guava paste and hoja santa. The menu changes often, but the website offers two options: the Smyth experience, called "balanced and warmth -- a special treat for the senses," and requires 2.5 hours of your time. Then there is also the Chef's Table option for $345, a more intimate experience with the chefs themselves that should take about 3.5 hours.
The power couple energy of Chef John and Karen Shields started when they both had the opportunity to work at Alinea, another Michelin star-rated restaurant, under renowned Chicago legends Chef Charlie Trotter and Chef Grant Achatz. And, to keep up their produce farm-fresh the couple source most of their produce from The Farm, which is located 20 miles from their restaurant.
Kasama accomplished many things, but most notably, it is the first Filipino restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star. This East Village Chicago gem proudly takes the concept of communal dining as its center stage and theme throughout. The name "Kasama," which translates to "together," serves as a fitting representation of the restaurant's warm and welcoming ambiance by Chefs Tim Flores and Genie Kwong (from Oriole).
Kasama is a restaurant that offers a unique and exciting take on Filipino cuisine. One standout dish is the sinigang salmon, which comes with a tamarind beurre blanc. Their dinner service is a 13-course meal from a $255/person tasting menu. During the day, the restaurant has a friendly and familiar cafe service, which offers delicacies such as a traditional Filipino breakfast which includes a fried egg and garlic rice. They don't take reservations during the day, and folks are encouraged to order at the counter.
On the drinks side, Kasama offers alcoholic and non-alcoholic options during their daytime service. Their dinner service includes a tasting menu pairing for $165/person. Dining Chicago reviewed and recommended the Caves Naveran Brut 2017 and Alvaro Castro Tinto 2017.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.