When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on a moon movie set in 1969 they were instant celebrities. Kids everywhere wanted to be astronauts when they grew up, and everyone knew Neil’s and Buzz’s names. But in the wise words of Kenny Powers, “astronauts are out and celebrity chefs are in.” And thanks to the Food Network and Mario Batali’s crocs, truer words have never been spoken.
Here in Chicago, we’ve got more than our share of chefs from TV, many of whom have several establishments around town. Which ones are worth visiting? We ranked them in order so that you can decide.
These are the top 16 Chicago restaurants run by TV celebrity chefs. Just know that doesn’t mean you’ll find them in the kitchen.
BEVERLY KIM: Beverly Kim flamed out on Top Chef, but like Daenerys Targaryen, she rose from the ashes of despair to open Parachute shortly after. How much do we like Parachute? More than George R.R. Martin likes killing likable characters in his books.
STEPHANIE IZARD: Nobody has done more with their Top Chef exposure than Stephanie Izard. After winning her Top Chef season, Izard put a Michael Jordan-like stamp of ownership on Chicago with Girl & The Goat. The place is a championship contender year in and year out.
FABIO VIVIANI: Fabio and his DineAmic crew decided Chicago needed another steakhouse. Bold move Cotton, but it played out well. Prime & Provisions is the real deal, and in addition to delicious steaks they also have chocolate-covered bacon and a s’mores dessert that makes you think dirty thoughts.
RICK BAYLESS: There are few places in the world we hate more than O’Hare. It’s the worst. There are only two positive parts to being there: the thought of traveling somewhere warm, and the thought of a satisfying sandwich from Torta Frontera. The low expectations but high quality result is what earns Torta Frontera a spot towards the top of our list.
RICK BAYLESL: Rick Bayless flipped the Mexican cuisine game on its head when Frontera opened in 1987. It’s kind of ridiculous to think the place has been open in its River North location for that long. Frontera has kept consistently great food and service even if their rent has increased 100000X over the years.
TONY MANTUANO: The ritzy and creative Italian restaurant has long been a Michigan Avenue staple. It’s newly a 100% tasting menu situation, which means there’s some unknown as to how that will go. If anything, that means you need to check it out soon.
FABIO VIVIANI: The only thing we can think about at Siena Tavern is giant wagyu beef meatballs as big as our heads. All of the Italian food at this River North trendsetter will treat you well, but the order of best dishes goes meatball, meatball, then meatball.
FABIO VIVIANI: Fine dining Mexican on top of the casual dining Mexican at Frontera next door.
GRAHAM ELLIOT: We long for the days of the original Graham Elliot. That’s not to say the Bistro isn’t good. It’s kind of like Mighty Ducks 2 – good as far as sequels go, but not the original.
FABIO VIVIANI: Bar Siena focuses on pizza and pasta, and it’s basically the more casual and cooler cousin to Siena Tavern. We’re also on record as saying we think Fabio Viviani is spying on us, particularly at this restaurant of his. Is it rational? Um, yes, because it’s true.
RICK BAYLESS: Xoco serves the same purpose in River North as its sister restaurant, Tortas Frontera, does for the airport. It’s a great place for a casual yet excellent Mexican style torta in an otherwise desolate neighborhood of casual eats. Thankfully, River North isn’t as miserable as O’Hare (most of the time), which is why Xoco finds itself in slot 13.
STEPHANIE IZARD: If Girl & The Goat is consistently great, Little Goat is consistently full of surprises. Sometimes you’ll eat crazy things will blow your mind, and other times you’ll think, “what the f*ck was that?” It’s an entertaining meal, and you’ll at least try some combinations you’ve never had like the “kimchee & bacon & eggs & pancakes Asian style breakfast tasty thing.”
TONY MANTUANO: River Roast is perfectly fine. It has beautiful views on the river at the LaSalle bridge, which means it’s also a little corporate and expensive. So what we’re really saying is River Roast isn’t cool. But if you need a good business dinner or a spot to take your parents, River Roast can accommodate that.
FABIO VIVIANI: This is where we draw the line with you, Fabio. Siena Tavern and Bar Siena make sense, and you surprisingly wow’d us with Prime & Provisions. But the jig is up with your fast casual pizza chain in the loop.
TONY MANTUANO: Terzo is another Tony Mantuano project inside of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. What kind of people have lunch in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago? That’s an honest question. We’re not high enough society for this.