Chicago has upped its culinary credentials over the past decade, with high-end spots such as Alinea and The Smyth on the cutting edge of the molecular gastronomy trend (raising the average check price substantially along the way). But the city's thriving deep-dish pizza spots and casual ethnic eateries prove you don't need to be a hard-core foodie to find culinary satisfaction here. Steakhouses continue to be a draw, as they have for decades, and comfort food remains a staple of local restaurant menus.
Price Categories, by Average Entree Price
- Very Expensive $25-$40
- Expensive $20-$30
- Moderate $15-$20
- Inexpensive $15 or less
The Big Picture
Most restaurants in Chicago are open 7 days a week. A few in the Loop are closed on Sunday evenings, while some others are closed on Mondays (traditionally a slow night). In general, Chicago is not a late-night dining town. Most locals head out to dinner between 6 and 7pm, and the majority of restaurants are closed by 10pm on weeknights and 11pm on weekends. If you plan on heading out for a late dinner, you should definitely check the restaurant's closing time first.
A few restaurants with popular bar areas keep their kitchens open until midnight or later on weekends.
Overall, the restaurant scene in Chicago is casual; the locals go out to enjoy their food, not to score style points or check each other out. Only a handful of restaurants require jackets for men; even ties are optional at all but the most formal places. A business-casual look is appropriate for just about every restaurant in town, and at the moderately priced places, most customers show up in jeans and sneakers. That said, the higher the average entrée price, the more you're expected to make a modest effort: Showing up at Alinea or Blackbird in scuffed Nikes or shorts won't impress the waitstaff or your fellow diners.
A Spot of Tea
If you're shopping on the Magnificent Mile and feel like having an elegant afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries, head for the stately Palm Court at The Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton Place (tel. 312/787-2200); the sophisticated beauty of The Lobby at The Peninsula hotel, 108 E. Superior St. (tel. 312/573-6695); the Pavilion for Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood at the Langham Hotel, 330 N. Wabash Ave. (tel. 312/923-7710). In the Loop, the appropriately named Russian Tea Time, 77 E. Adams St. (tel. 312/360-0000), serves tea from 2pm to 4:30pm daily.
Eli's cheesecake is a Chicago icon -- the rich, creamy cakes have been served at presidential inaugurations and numerous other high-profile events. For a behind-the-scenes peek at Chicago's most famous dessert, you can attend the Tasting & Traditions Experience at Eli's Bakery on the northwest side of the city. After watching the PowerPoint and video presentation, you get to enjoy a full-size slice of your favorite flavor. Presentations are given daily at 1pm (although reservations aren't necessary, call to make sure the bakery isn't closed for periodic maintenance). The 40-minute presentation is free. Eli's bakery is at 6701 Forest Preserve Dr., at the corner of Montrose Avenue (tel. 800/ELI-CAKE [354-2253]; www.elischeesecake.com).
Deep-dish pizza may be Chicago's culinary claim to fame, but the city has added to the national waistline in other ways. Twinkies and Wonder Bread were invented here, Chicago businessman James L. Kraft created the first processed cheese, and Oscar Mayer got his start as a butcher in the Old Town neighborhood.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.