Have a taste for deep-dish pizza? Hankering for a tantalizing steak? How about Italian, Mediterranean, fusion, or ethnic cuisine? The wonderful thing about dining in Chicago is that you can find it all here. Chicago is a melting pot of cuisine, influenced by the 77 different neighborhoods that make the city so unique.
While there are many restaurants we return to time after time, Chicago is also a prime spot for new eateries. As a theatre reviewer, I get many opportunities to see plays downtown as well as in local storefront theatres, getting a chance to try all kinds of cuisine. Here are my recommendations.
1. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse
Chicago is a meat and potatoes kinda town, and Gibsons is the go-to place for great steaks. Since 1989, this legendary chophouse has welcomed celebrities, tourists, and locals into an upbeat, comfortable atmosphere. Known for its U.S. Prime Angus beef, fresh fish, classic cocktails, and an extensive wine list, dining here will make you feel like an A-list celebrity!
I recommend the New York strip steak, masterfully grilled with just the right amount of seasoning, accompanied by a yummy double-baked potato (the size of your head or so it seemed) and sautéed spinach. If you prefer something that swims, try the Faroe Island salmon with salsa verde and paprika.
You should definitely splurge, calorie-wise, on the luscious sky-high carrot cake, rich with cream cheese frosting, walnuts, and flavor. Turtle pie also makes the perfect finale. You’ll probably have enough to take home and then some. Reservations recommended. Wheelchair accessible.
Before Gibson’s took over, the iconic Mr. Kelley’s nightclub occupied the space and launched the careers of many popular entertainers. (I saw Barry Manilow the week he was here in 1975 before he was a superstar. Twice.)
2. Carmine’s Rush Street
For me, eating at Carmine’s is like having Sunday dinner at my Aunt Bella’s. Sure, it’s got white tablecloths, but the atmosphere and service are a cut above. Carmine’s is known for serving up generous portions of steak, chicken, and handmade pastas. But it’s also a hot spot for more casual dining with handcrafted brick-oven fired pizza such as the Rosebud Meatball Pizza. Begin with the minestrone soup, chock full of vegetables, and the Caesar Salad. The Eggplant Stack Salad is also fantastic with breaded eggplant, mozzarella, and more. You can’t go wrong with any one of the parmesan dishes — chicken, veal, or eggplant — topped with marinara sauce for a satisfying, savory meal.
Pro Tip: Carmine’s is one of the restaurants under grand restaurateur Alex Dana’s portfolio, comprising the Rosebud restaurants, including the newest Rosebud in Millennial Park.
Longtime maître d’ at The Pump Room, Chez Paree, and other beloved Chicago institutions, Arturo Petterino was a gentleman’s gentleman who now has a swanky restaurant named after him. Recognized for its classic American dishes, prime steaks, and fresh seafood, this old-school Italian supper club invites you in with a welcoming environment.
Located in Chicago’s Theatre District, Petterino’s is the place to go before the theater, and reservations are strongly recommended because everyone else has the same idea. Check out the Goodman Theatre next door as well as several other theatres down the street. If you can’t get a table to make curtain, eat at the bar.
Start out with their tomato bisque soup, creamy and succulent, or their truffle fries. My favorite is the Ferrioli Salad with Nona Rosa blended leaves, Port pear, and candied walnuts.
For entrees, I suggest Angry Salmon, penne ala vodka, or the petite filet. Delicious sides include roasted broccoli, whipped garlic potatoes, and balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts. Be sure to leave room for their fantastic desserts like Bailey’s Tiramisu or various flavors of gelato.
Newly opened is the Petterino’s to Go window where you can order coffee, pastries, pizza, salads, or sandwiches on the run.
Pro Tip: What’s terrific about having dinner here is that they offer valet parking, so you can park your car for dinner and keep it there until the show is over.
4. RPM Italian
Located in the River North neighborhood, RPM Italian is the first partnership between Chicago’s infamous Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic. The result is an inspiring dining experience with authentic Italian dishes that are meant to be shared, accompanied by an extensive wine list. Exquisite views overlooking the Chicago River and skyline add to the ambiance.
Go for any of the house-made pastas, like the short rib bolognese or bucatini, both of which are rich and filling. My recommendation is the Roasted Ora King Salmon, served with artichoke and olive tapenade, or the Chicken Vesuvio al Forno. If you’re really hungry, think big — order the 20 oz. Painted Hills Ribeye Steak, which is juicy and succulent.
When it comes to choosing dessert, you’ve got lots of sweet options. But Bill’s Salted Caramel Cocoa Nibs are an excellent choice. Or go all out and order the RPM Cheesecake, crowned with sour cherry compote and vanilla whipped cream.
5. Mastro’s Steakhouse
Considered one of the Top 10 Steakhouses in the U.S., you will come to Mastro’s expecting to be wowed. You will be. I say start with the gooey French onion soup that’s rich and flavorful, served with crunchy croutons. For something eye-popping, try their 2-foot-tall seafood tower featuring chilled crab legs, shrimp, and oysters over a bed of dry ice. Wow is right.
If great steaks are what you’re after, try the porterhouse or bone-in ribeye, so tender with juices flowing. Mastro’s is known for its premium, over-the-top cuts of Japanese Wagyu steaks, including the 32-ounce and 40-ounce Tomahawk chops. Dare you go big? For something lighter, the Chilean sea bass is flaky and delicious.
All the sides are large enough to share. Will you get enough of the world-class lobster mashed potatoes? Indulge in the white cheddar mac & cheese or sauteed spinach, too. For dessert, I’d stick with the popular Mastro’s Signature Warm Butter Cake with vanilla ice cream. It tastes like it just came out of the oven — a delectable end to an exquisite meal. The high-energy atmosphere with live music is back again! Proper attire is required.
6. Greek Islands
Go to Greek Islands, this popular Halsted Street restaurant, and you’ll think you’ve landed smack dab in the middle of Mykonos. Don’t miss the flaming saganaki cheese, which is a performance unto itself. Prepared tableside, the cheese is flambeed with the Greek liquor Ouzo and the flames are doused with a squeeze of lemon juice. Wait until it cools off a bit and then enjoy! I always choose the Combination Plate, which features roast leg of lamb, mousaka, dolmades, meatballs, vegetables, and potatoes because you get a taste of everything. The other thing I like is Create a Combo, which allows you to choose two menu items and make your own favorite. Look for their Daily Specials as well and be sure to save room for their sweet baklava.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to go to the Lyric Opera House for a performance, let them know that, and they’ll provide express seating and service.
7. Kabobi Persian And Mediterranean Grill
Get an authentic taste of the Mediterranean at Kabobi Grill with its extensive menu of beef, chicken, lamb, and seafood with tons of vegetarian options. Start by ordering the fresh, flaky pita bread with a generous dollop of hummus and a side of falafel. It’s insanely good. Then, decide which entrée you want and prepare to enjoy ginormous portions of kabobs, Basmati rice, and vegetables. All of the kabobs come out hot, crisp, and juicy. Kabobi also offers a variety of mixed grills that give you a chance to try a spectrum of spices and tastes. My favorite is the salmon kabob, which features a 12-ounce filet of seasoned Atlantic salmon, cooked to perfection and smothered with Basmati Rice and veggies. Their whitefish dinner comes with a huge portion of fish, hummus, and Persian salad. The saffron butter chicken, braised in a yogurt cream sauce, is also a must-try!
When your dinner is done, you’ll get a complimentary glass of hot tea and an assortment of pastries. Their other tasty desserts like the roasted hazelnuts and caramel halva or maamoul are fan-faves. Or go with something more traditional like their Five Layer Chocolate Cake. No matter what you order, you’ll feel like family here because, well, this is a family-run business that is genuinely interested in your dining experience. For guests, it’s just one more way to embrace an abundance of Persian hospitality. Now offering complimentary valet parking.
Pro Tip: If you feel like dining late, Kabobi is open until midnight every night and features a special Late-Night menu.
Get Special Deals With Chicago Restaurant Week From March 25 To April 10
Enjoy great savings on more than 300 restaurants in the 15th-annual celebration of the city’s award-winning culinary scene. For 17 days, participating establishments will offer set menus at $25 for brunch and lunch, and $39 and/or $55 for dinner, excluding beverages, tax, gratuity, and delivery. Reservations recommended. Learn more at choosechicago.com/chicago-restaurant-week/.
Chicago’s vibrant foodie scene is dynamic and one that keeps changing with new entrepreneurs and bold innovations. Come for a visit and try my recommendations. You’ll definitely be hungry for more!