If Chicago had a restaurant district, the West Loop would probably be it. This neighborhood has a disorienting number of great places to get food, and it’s hard to not just list every restaurant in the area and tell you to try each one. But we’re here to help you sort through it all. From casual cafes to fine dining, here are the best spots for every occasion.
This new Italian restaurant in the West Loop does wonderful handmade pastas, like a fantastic bucatini cacio e pepe, pici with ragu, and paccheri mancini prepared tableside. But one of our favorite things about this place is that it’s perfect for people who just want to have a conversation. It’s large without feeling cavernous, tastefully decorated in soothing neutral colors, and the service is attentive without being obtrusive. And while Gioia is in one of Chicago’s busiest neighborhoods, it’s still easy (as of now) to book a reservation. Plus, there’s a large bar area that’s great for hanging out after dinner, and a cute sidewalk patio with comfortable tables and chairs that don’t look like they were hastily purchased from a discount garden store.
The West Loop has more restaurants run by former Top Chef contestants than any other neighborhood in Chicago. Our last count was eight, and they’re all operating within two blocks from each other. And, despite our trust issues with reality shows, they’re all really good. Rose Mary, a Croatian spot, is another one of those restaurants. They have things like a refreshing and flavorful salad with tomato, farro, and asparagus, a delicious crni rizot that tasted like it was made with stock from the tears of a hundred lobsters (that’s a compliment), and incredible pastas. Most dishes range from $10-$25, and it works for a casual date or a fun night out with friends.
This Mexican restaurant in the West Loop is from a former chef of Mi Tocaya (one of our favorite spots in the city), and serves wonderful dishes like cochinita pibil, tlayudas, tuétano, and pato en mole, along with perfectly chewy tortillas. The big space has large tables perfect for groups, the bar area is ideal for grabbing cocktails with friends (the Paloma is excellent). Another great thing to know about this place? They have a spacious outdoor patio.
Good Ambler is a bakery and cafe that’s open seven days a week, and we’ve yet to find something here that’s not absolutely delicious. They have everything from macarons to alfajores, petit gateau, pastries, and handmade chocolates. Stop in for a cup of coffee, and potentially pick up way more pastries than one person needs. Or, grab a seat on one of their couches and get some work done in a place that isn’t your apartment.
We’d travel across town for this burger. Hell, we’d travel across the country for this burger. In other words, the rumors are true - Au Cheval has an excellent burger. But, this casual spot has a lot of other fantastic things on the menu, too. Dishes like the chilaquiles, chicken wings, and foie gras with eggs should also be on the table. They don’t take reservations, and waits can be a pain, but sometimes you just need to commit.
Trivoli Tavern is in Gin Alley, and from the same team as Au Cheval and Green Street Smoked Meats. This means they have a twinkly lit cobblestoned patio. Or you could sit inside, where it’s dark and full of overstuffed leather furniture. The menu has a lot of dishes you’ll find at their other restaurants. They serve upscale bar food like fish and chips, handmade pastas, steaks, and a very good burger. This place works well for a date or dinner with a small group when you can’t get a reservation at Bavette’s or Gilt Bar.
Monteverde has some of the best Italian food in the city. Every pasta dish here is fantastic, in particular the cacio e pepe, which is a menu staple. But the non-pasta is great, too (try the stuffed cabbage appetizer or the pork shank), and what makes this place even better is that you can buy their fresh pasta, sauces, and pantry items to take home. Come here on a date, come here with a group, or come here by yourself. You’ll be happy.
How into expensive and fancy dinners are you? If the answer is very, then you’ll really like Oriole. The $285 tasting menu at this West Loop spot changes regularly, but you can expect everything on it to be both simply presented and delicious. Another thing you can expect at Oriole is service that’s highly attentive without ever feeling overbearing. Come here for a special occasion that makes it worth eating Cup Noodles for a week (or three).
Smyth offers a fantastic tasting menu experience in a casual atmosphere. It’s $225 for about 10 courses, and while it’s expensive it doesn’t feel formal. In fact, the dining room feels like someone’s very nice family home, with wildflower-filled vases on top of bare wooden tables, and an open kitchen with drawings on the fridge. You’ll find dishes like beef tongue served alongside brioche doughnuts, and a cured-egg yolk meringue dessert that’s in the running for one of the best ways to finish a meal, ever.
The Loyalist is the casual French restaurant and bar in the basement of Smyth. And while the food here is good (with dishes like foie gras-filled eclairs and gnocchi a la Parisienne) the main reason is to come here is for the outstanding burger. The patty is made from a mixture of chuck, short rib, and bacon, giving it a light, smoky flavor and incredible richness. The cheese is gooey and the caramelized onions are plentiful. In other words, this is a good f*cking burger.
This Argentinian spot is fun and a little loud, with a live-fire grill putting out some delicious food in the open kitchen. Everything that grill touches is worth ordering. We like the steak, but don’t overlook the grilled oysters or sweetbreads, and breaking up the meat-fest by ordering plenty of sides is a good idea. El Che works for a group since everything is easy to share, but it’s great for date night, too. No matter why you’re here, it’s an easy place to have a good time. And in case you want to try grilling some stuff yourself, they sell meat and various other things in an online market.
Even though it seems like it opened a long time ago (way back in the summer of 2010) Girl & the Goat is still an excellent restaurant. You’ll find an eclectic menu of small plates done exceptionally well all of the time. Dishes like goat empanadas topped with blueberries, piri piri duck tongues, pig face with a sunny side egg and tamarind, all of the breads - this place is still consistently delicious. So when your friend visiting from out of state wants to come here, go ahead and make a reservation.
When all else fails, Avec. You can never go wrong here, and we encourage you to eat at Avec every now and then to remind yourself how reliably outstanding it is. New menu items keep the romance alive and interesting, but it’s the staples like chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates and the taleggio flatbread that we’ll always come back for.
Sugar Goat is a dessert shop from the Girl & the Goat team, and they specialize in baked goods with fun flavor combinations. So you can get things like pickled raisin oatmeal cookies, a gjetost apple pie, or Cheez-It cake filled with cheddar caramel and topped with strawberry Nesquik buttercream and peanut butter and chocolate-covered Cheez-Its. And yes, all of those things actually taste very good.
People will lose their sh*t whenever the Girl & the Goat group opens a restaurant, and Cabra, a spot on the roof of the Hoxton Hotel, is from that same team. The space is bright and plant-filled and has a view of the West Loop skyline, which is a thing that suddenly exists, thanks to all the construction in the area. The menu is mainly Peruvian-inspired small plates, and the best things here are the ceviches (the bass with leche de tigre and the duck are both standouts), the tender and spicy skewered beef heart, and the crispy pork shank, which might be the opposite of a “small plate” but is a must order. Cabra is a great spot for a fun date night or a group dinner outside.
The Rooftop At Nobu Hotel
After a lot of delays (the project started in 2015), Nobu Chicago finally opened in 2020. And while the actual restaurant’s just-fine food and lackluster space aren’t worth your time or money, the rooftop, however, is lovely. It’s 11 stories up, has a beautiful view of downtown, and a long list of sake and cocktails. They also have a short food menu with sushi, snacks like edamame, and a few entrees like the miso cod.
The Publican is like a fancy European beer hall that serves a whole lot of meat, but also shows its softer side with a quality selection of oysters and a whole section of the menu devoted to vegetables. Sit at the giant U-shaped table with friends, and make sure to order a bit of everything. Another thing you should know? This place has one of the best brunches in the city.
The West Loop has a lot of restaurants within restaurants (High Five and The Loyalist are just are two spots happily squatting inside of other places), and you can add Omakase Takeya to the list. It’s the omakase-only sushi bar in the basement of Ramen Takeya, a very busy ramen shop. The small, quiet space is a nice respite from the bustling upstairs, and the constantly-changing menu of nigiri and Japanese small plates is fantastic. Just don’t plan on eating here without a reservation - there are only seven seats, with four seatings a night. Your meal will be $75 for 15 courses, and the experience is worth it.
Omakase Yume is another omakase-only sushi spot in the West Loop. And it’s also a calm oasis among the crowds of people and pervasive noise of clip-clopping heels that dominate the West Loop. This is where you come for a low-key but still fancy special occasion dinner. The space is simple, the atmosphere is quiet, and the sushi menu is full of expertly prepared usual suspects (i.e. pieces of sake, hirame, and otoro). Like Omakase Takeya, it’s $150 for around 16 courses, but here it’s almost all small pieces of nigiri. This means that unless this is your second dinner, you’ll probably still be hungry at the end. If that’s the case, just order more a la carte.
Even by West Loop standards, this place is a scene. The good news is that Aba is a scene that comes with fantastic food. It’s always crowded, but the space is beautiful, and there’s a huge rooftop patio that’s perfect for hanging out over drinks (even during the winter). And as with its sister restaurant, Ema in River North, a lot of things on the Mediterranean menu are meant to be shared.
This place is from the same chef as Juno and charges $175 for around 15 courses of delicious nigiri, sashimi, and small plates (like a buttery sea bass with charred frisee and seaweed). Compared to the other omakase-only spots in the West Loop, Mako is the largest (it seats 22 people, with 12 at the bar and the rest at tables), and dinner here is long. Plan on a very expensive and enjoyable experience. Also worth noting is that they offer omakase to-go if you prefer to have that experience on your couch.
It’s 5pm and you just need a glass of wine, some food, and a safe space to complain about work that isn’t Slack. Head to Joe’s, an easy-to-get-into wine bar in the West Loop with tasty small plates, and order dishes like ricotta with honey, meatballs, or the pasta of the day. It has both a dimly-lit interior that will soothe your burned-out screen eyes, and a sidewalk patio that rarely feels crowded.
PB & J
PB & J (which stands for pizza, beer, and jukebox) opened in a neighborhood that isn’t suffering from a shortage of pizza and/or beer. But we’re not mad about one more, especially when the vibe is fun. This place feels more like a bar than a restaurant, but the thin crust pizzas are actually really good. They also have things like sliders, wings, and fancy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (Get it? PB & J). There’s a sidewalk patio full of picnic tables that work well for groups, Happy Hour deals, and lots of weekly specials. Come here for a drink after work, and expect to see a lot of awkward post-pandemic office get-togethers.
PQM is a butcher shop, cafe, bakery, and mini market. Come here for cheese, fresh-baked bread, delicious sandwiches, charcuterie, and more. This is the kind of place where seemingly simple-sounding things (like a chicken parm or falafel sandwich) taste way better (and more complex) than you expect.
This upscale cocktail bar and restaurant is from the owners of Oriole, a fancy and expensive tasting menu spot that’s right next door. They’re closed for indoor dining, but you can order their cocktails, coffee drinks, and snacks to-go or to have on their garden patio. All the dishes look pretty and artistic, and you’ll find delicious options like tamago and tonakastu sandos, karaage, and yakisoba.
Texas BBQ meets West Loop warehouse at Green Street Smoked Meats. The entrance is in a somewhat mysterious alleyway, and you’ll instantly feel like you stepped into a low-key warehouse party. The music is loud and the open, industrial-looking space is good for a number of occasions. Rather than argue over the best barbecue styles, we’ll just argue that you should eat here and see for yourself. The large picnic tables are good for groups, so feel free to bring your friends and argue with them.
Loud, dark, and not always easy to get into - that’s High Five. This is a 16-seat ramen bar in the basement below Green Street Smoked Meats. We suggest hitting it solo to increase your chance of getting a spot. But if you’re coming with friends, make a night of it by adding in drinks at Green Street upstairs.
This is the Chinese restaurant follow-up to Girl & the Goat and Little Goat. Like everything in the goat empire, Duck Duck Goat is a fun spot with delicious food. Here, you’ll find Chinese food with twists - like glass noodles with blueberries. Of course, several dishes have goat in them (like the duck and goat spring rolls) and they’re always good. Plus, this spot doesn’t get booked up as quickly as Girl & the Goat, so you can usually get same-week reservations.
La Josie has three full bars and a rooftop deck, and all of them get crowded, even on weeknights. Since this place also happens to serve great food and drinks, it’s ideal if you’re looking for a party but don’t want to be hungry at the end of the night. The best things here are their tacos (all on house-made tortillas) and Mexican classics like enchiladas. The servers and bartenders are really friendly, and they have an extensive cocktail menu. A good option for day drinking or dinner with friends.
Momotaro is an upscale Japanese restaurant with an izakaya in the basement. Come here for sushi, small plates, and robata with friends. Pretend your heading downtown for a night out after dinner - when deep down you know you’re heading straight to bed.
Rooh is an upscale Indian restaurant right on Randolph that’s great for a date, casual business dinner, or getting together with family. You’ll find pretty versions of dishes like duck and apricot-stuffed flatbread, tuna bhel, and butter chicken. The large space has two levels and each has a different feel - the downstairs bar area is busy and loud, while the upstairs is nicer, quiet, and filled with comfortable velvet booths. Plus, there’s a large tented patio that’s full of plants. It’s a little like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but with more curry.
Bar Siena combines a fun crowd and atmosphere with tasty Italian food. A heavy focus on the menu’s pizza and pasta is the best way to go. All the housemade pastas are solid choices, and the pizzas are easy to share. Stay at the downstairs bar with one or two other people, or gather a bigger group for a table upstairs.
We admit that the interior of Tanoshii can be a bit sterile at dinner, but the sushi itself is good enough to help you overlook the lack of atmosphere. And that’s all that matters here - excellent sushi. We suggest sticking with nigiri and mixing in a roll or two. The sushi chefs have a tendency to get carried away with truffle sauce, so just keep that in mind.
For a long time, the West Loop was missing a steakhouse. But then along came Swift & Sons to fill that void. It has everything we like about a traditional steakhouse - meaning great food, service, and a rolling dessert cart. It’s a great combination, and it’s one of our favorite steakhouses in the city.
You can come to Perilla for Korean BBQ (most tables have a gas grill), but we prefer focusing on the other Korean dishes - like the spicy fire chicken, dumplings, or the kimchi pancake, which is one of the best in Chicago. This place is ideal for a date night in the neighborhood (there’s a great back patio), or a group dinner if you do decide to go the BBQ route after all.
Beatrix locations have popped up all over Chicago like mushrooms, and we’re not mad that this versatile restaurant is also in the West Loop. The well-rounded menu has solid options for brunch, lunch, and dinner, and many of the dishes are good for dietary restrictions. It’s a great choice for catching up with friends or even just stopping by for coffee at their cafe. It’s an agreeable choice for all situations.
Forno Rosso does some of the best Neapolitan-style pizzas in town. The bright space is dominated by their wood-fired oven (which is responsible for the excellent pies), and the service is friendly. It’s a low-key spot but does get crowded on the weekends. You should absolutely check it out if you like thin-crust pizza.
This is an iconic market and sub shop in the West Loop. J.P. has been around since 1937, and is a great option if you need a quick sandwich. The Italian is our favorite, but you can’t go wrong with anything (the muffaletta is also excellent). Order a cannoli, too, while you’re at it.
Parlor is a quick return to college in the West Loop. Although the pizza is good enough, you should mostly be eating at Parlor because it’s a ton of fun. Come with a group, drink a bunch of beer, and wash it all down with some pizza and cheesy bread. And yes, you’re washing the beer down with the food, not the other way around.
Nonna’s is another casual Italian sandwich shop - it’s the modern version of J.P. Graziano. The big difference? They also offer hot subs. If you’re looking for a meatball or chicken parm sub, then Nonna’s is your spot.
Ramen Takeya is very busy, very loud, and very crowded - but it’s a solid neighborhood ramen option. The signature ramens here are all chicken-based, so the broth is on the lighter side, and you can customize your spice level. There’s a bar which is great for grabbing drinks while you wait, and a counter that’s ideal for when you want a quick meal by yourself.
Come to Cruz Blanca for a plateful of tacos and a couple of beers when your group wants Mexican food. Downstairs is a casual spot good for grabbing a quick dinner and getting out - but what you want to do is head upstairs, where there’s more of a beer hall and party atmosphere.
This is one of the only spots in the city that specializes in okonomiyaki - savory Japanese pancakes topped with things like shrimp, chicken, and beef. Gaijin has a few different varieties to choose from (for example “Hiroshima-style” where the batter is layered with yakisoba), and we like them all. Be prepared, though - this small place gets very crowded. So definitely plan on making a reservation.
This is the upscale, Baja-inspired restaurant right next to Cruz Blanca. The menu is full of wood-fired dishes - like roasted carrots and carne asada, but also has things like a lobster roll, ceviche, and empanadas. Come here if you need a business dinner that’s not a steakhouse.
During the summer, this place needs to be in your rotation, primarily because of its backyard, which is perfect for a number of situations. In addition to a covered area with picnic benches, you’ll find round tables on mulch, some stadium seating benches, bocce ball, and an outdoor bar so you never have to go inside. All this combined with a new menu for summer 2021, with dishes like schmaltzy biscuits, po’ boys, and tahini soft serve.
Most of the good fried chicken spots in town aren’t really places you sit and eat. They’re more carry-out or delivery situations. Not Gus’s. At Gus’s, you want to take a seat, dine in, and enjoy your fried chicken and sides in the big Fulton Market space. Make sure to utilize the full bar, and get some pie for dessert, too.
Cira is another restaurant in The Hoxton, and we’re including it because its location in a hotel and its upscale atmosphere make it ideal for a business meal, and there aren’t a lot of those types of spots in the neighborhood. Plus, the food is well prepared - the Mediterranean-inspired menu is meant to be shared, with dishes like octopus, lamb tartare, and a housemade cacio e pepe that seems somewhat random but is actually really tasty.