Best fine dining in Chicago: Top upscale restaurants in the city
When it comes to fine dining in Chicago, these upscale restaurants create the best culinary feasts and luxurious dining experiences.
When it comes to fine dining in Chicago, don't expect a stuffy or pretentious experience. Many of Chicago's top chefs prefer whimsical and experimental dishes over traditional fine-dining fare. An edible terrarium? Sure, why not? But even though these aren't your typical menu items, destinations such as Alinea and Elizabeth don't lack in sophistication: Many of these spots require fellas to wear a jacket. Whether you're planning to mark a special occasion with a delicious meal or just have a lot of cash to burn, you can't go wrong at one of these great upscale restaurants in Chicago.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of the best Chicago restaurants
Acadia Chef-owner Ryan McCaskey’s South Loop fine dining respite is a study in rich whites, a rare exercise in the restaurant as a space of tranquility and elegance. Flashes of inspiration light up the menu—shrimp paired with cuttlefish noodles and cauliflower, a charcuterie plate starring gently smoky “duck ham”—but the overall focus is on food that is rich and satisfying rather than revolutionary. If a dish fails (and overly complex desserts might), the ambitious drinks and interesting wine list provide plenty of solace. 1639 S Wabash Ave (312-360-9500, acadiachicago.com). Dinner (closed Mon, Tue). Average main course: $26.
Alinea Gourmet magazine anointed Alinea the No. 1 restaurant in the country. What’s all the fuss? Chef/mastermind Grant Achatz serves food the likes of which you’ve never seen. Sit back and enjoy the show, a well-orchestrated ride that plays with textures, temperatures and notions of “normal” cuisine, while somehow remaining grounded in season, flavor and flawless execution. Past menu stunners have included squab with peppercorn custard, sorrel and strawberries; and cocoa-coated watermelon with cubed Kobe beef. But you never know what dish will steal the show when you’re in the audience. 1723 N Halsted St (312-867-0110, alinea-restaurant.com). Dinner (Wed–Sun). Average degustation: $230.
Blackbird This iconic West Loop kitchen, overseen by executive chef Paul Kahan, is still one of Chicago’s best. The beautiful, seasonal plates chef de cuisine David Posey puts out are full of surprising elements—chilled spring pea and tofu soup with paddlefish roe; wood-grilled sturgeon and chicken wings with kale, turnips, and walnut puree—which makes for exciting and, sometimes, challenging eating. Pastry chef Dana Cree aims to “work with really familiar stuff in an unfamiliar way.” The newest dessert on the menu is the bubblegum ice cream with marshmallow parfait, bubblegum mochi, strawberries, and banana. 619 W Randolph St (312-715-0708, blackbirdrestaurant.com). Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $37.
Elizabeth Forager and self-trained chef Iliana Regan serves just three tasting menus at her ambitious first restaurant: “Owl” (rustic), “Deer” (woodland-influenced) and “Diamond” (gastronomic). These constraints, and those self-imposed by assuming the role of both chef and purveyor, are admirable, and at times Elizabeth is captivating (see the aquavit-cured salmon), at others comforting (a buttermilk biscuit with bacon fat and apple mostarda). For some, the theatrics of presentation may come off as twee and the price is admittedly limiting for most to make up their own mind, but there’s no debating this newcomer is uniquely ambitious. 4835 N Western Ave (773-681-0651, elizabeth-restaurant.com). Dinner. Average degustation: $150.
Goosefoot Chicago has a few small, far- from- downtown places where chefs have carved out personal enclaves for high-level fine dining. But perhaps none were born with the maturity and finesse of this 34-seat, off-the-beaten-Lincoln-Square-path BYOB from husband-and-wife Chris and Nina Nugent. Chris, a veteran of Les Nomades, brings precision to every dish on the nine-course, $115 tasting menu, highlights of which include a luxurious chestnut-mushroom soup and a Cinderella pumpkin semifreddo coated in nougatine powder. The food is technically flawless, while Nina’s front-of-the-house charm brings the personality. 2656 W Lawrence Ave (773-942-7547, goosefoot.net). Dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Nine-course tasting menu: $115.
Grace Curtis Duffy is no stranger to fine dining, and this lush eatery (which Duffy owns with sommelier Michael Muser) traffics in a lot of upscale tropes: textured fabrics, a hushed room and long, multicourse tasting menus. Yet Grace makes a few subtle tweaks to the fine-dining formula. However fussy the food may be, it is plated to appear as if it came from nature. And though much of it leans sweet,it’s ultimately balanced and clean. Still, perhaps the biggest achievement is that even with three dessert courses (by pastry chef-to-watch Bobby Schaffer), you don’t feel stuffed when you walk out of here. You simply feel satisfied. 652 W Randolph St (312-234-9494, grace-restaurant.com). Dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average tasting menu: $185.
L2O Since the departure of Laurent Gras, the French chef around whom this homage to seafood was built, L2O has focused on becoming more approachable and warm. Still, chef Matthew Kirkley (Restaurant Joel Robuchon, Ria) strives to make L2O the premier dining destination in town for seafood lovers by bringing the freshest catch to Chicago and elevating obscure finds such as abalone and geoduck with artful presentations and seasonal accompaniments. Luxury is at every turn, with caviar and truffles aplenty, wine pairings from a stellar cellar and polished service. 2300 N Lincoln Park West (773-868-0002, l2orestaurant.com). Dinner (closed Tue, Wed). Average degustation: $170.
Naha Chef Carrie Nahabedian delivers an upscale experience minus the pomp, courtesy of a snazzy room and a seasonal menu that reads like a who’s who in regional, sustainable foods. The menu changes weekly, so expect anything from seasonal veggies—French wild asparagus, spring peas and sugar-snap peas—accompanying a wild Yukon River Alaskan salmon to Spanish-inspired bread pudding with saffron ice cream, candied orange peel, crème fraîche and bacon. (Didn’t you know? Bacon for dessert is the new black.) 500 N Clark St (312-321-6242, naha-chicago.com). Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $40.
Next To dine at Grant Achatz’s follow-up to Alinea is a rare—and rarefied—opportunity to submit oneself to a very specific vision of what great dining might look like. That vision changes every three months, from French food to Italian food to modern plates that don’t even look like food. Usually the experience is more lighthearted and lively than Alinea. But it is in no way less delicious. 953 W Fulton Market St (312-226-0858, nextrestaurant.com). Dinner (Wed–Sun). Average tasting menu: $205.
Schwa Fewer than 30 diners can fit in this tiny restaurant, and all of them must have made reservations weeks in advance. But as a 2006 Food & Wine best new chef, chef-owner Michael Carlson has a right to call the shots. Let him. You’ll be treated to intriguing creations like pine-flavored peekytoe crabs with marinated royal king mushrooms or sumptuous venison with a white chocolate foam. The menu changes often, but whatever Carlson has up his sleeve, you’re certain to have a meal like nowhere else in town. 1466 N Ashland Ave (773-252-1466, schwarestaurant.com). Dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average tasting menu: $110.
Spiaggia Want to skip rent this month and have the best Italian fine-dining experience in town? Splurge here. Under exec chef Tony Mantuano, chef Sarah Grueneberg marries Italian foodstuffs with top-notch ingredients and an understanding of cuisine from the north end of “the boot.” The wood-burning oven makes beautiful work of domestic duck and prime rib eye, while partners like rosemary honey, bitter greens and aged balsamic finish plates with Italian flair. Pastas from pappardelle to gnocchi (served with ricotta and black truffle sauce) are made fresh every day. Toss in a two-dozen-choice cheese cave and perfect service, and you’ve got a night that’s worth dodging the landlord. 980 N Michigan Ave (312-280-2750, spiaggiarestaurant.com). Dinner. Average main course: $45.
Topolobampo Topolobampo ("Topolo" for short) is the most sophisticated and upscale of Rick Bayless's restaurants, and the one most frequented by President Obama and his family. (What, you thought they were eating tacos next door at Frontera?) As with all of Bayless's restaurants, the products used here are local and seasonal. So whether you're eating from the marisquera (sustainable seafood bar) or choosing one of the platillos fuertes (usually a protein—hen, lamb, lobster—dressed in a complex, chili-based sauce), you know you're eating the best the season has to offer. An ever-changing menu means it's hard to predict exactly what will be on offer day to day—but because Bayless is involved, it never really feels like a gamble. 445 N Clark St (312-661-1434, rickbayless.com). Lunch (Tue–Fri), dinner (Tue–Sat) (closed Sun, Mon). Average main course: $37.