photo credit: Sandy Noto
The Most Exciting Tasting Menus In Chicago Right Now
Our favorite tasting menu restaurants in the city.
Chicago has so many tasting menu restaurants, there’s probably one hiding in your closet right now. These meals can be some of the most exciting in the city—but they’re often really long, and usually very expensive. No one wants to spend three hours and $200 on a meal that’s just OK, and that’s where this guide comes in. These are the best tasting menus in Chicago.
By day this Ukrainian Village Filipino spot is a low-key cafe that serves pastries and a life-changing longanisa breakfast sandwich. But by night it transforms into a softly lit, fine-dining restaurant. Whether we’re just grabbing lunch or celebrating an anniversary with a $235, 13-course dinner, the warm service and spectacular food have us wishing every meal had an “instant replay” option. And we’d gladly get stuck in a never-ending loop if it meant constantly getting to relive dishes like umami-packed mushroom adobo with mussel emulsion and their pear granita halo halo.
photo credit: Garrett Sweet
Oriole will give you one of the best meals of your life for $285. Despite the price, the environment (which you enter through a non-working freight elevator in an alley in the West Loop) isn’t stuffy at all. Attentive servers provide just the right amount of context while presenting you with dishes that will reframe your thoughts—like a truffle pasta with the power to finally convince you that truffles aren’t just a scam. And when it's time for the foie gras course (billowy foie mousse topped with blueberries on toasted brioche) you'll be moved to a counter seat in front of the open kitchen because we can only assume the chefs want to watch your face while you eat it.
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This fine-dining spot in Lincoln Park has everything we look for in a dinner designed to make us feel as luxurious and cared for as a cherished racehorse. The $200, 12-15 course three-hour dinner never drags, courses flow together seamlessly, and (most importantly) each experiential dish is fun without being too whimsical. A singular charred rib with banana caramel, for instance, comes wrapped around a ceramic “bone” you eat like a Flintstone character. There’s also savory sweet potato ice cream topped with caviar, and a canapé that tastes like a Cheeto from the future. Plus, the magician that did the restaurant’s lighting made sure everyone looks like they’re wandering around naturally FaceTuned.
This tasting menu spot doesn’t have a team of servers in uniform, wine pairings, or a hushed atmosphere filled with couples who just dusted off their anniversary outfits. It’s a BYOB place in Wicker Park that serves an incredible 12-course dinner for $170 set to the soundtrack of alt hip-hop. The chefs are also the servers, and they’ll casually drop foie gras pancakes in a raisin-miso broth on the table as if they aren’t about to change your life. The restaurant is tiny, the bathroom is in the center of the kitchen, and speaking of the kitchen, yes the table next to you just gave them a six-pack. The food is phenomenal, with just enough molecular gastronomy to let you know whoever’s cooking can’t be that drunk. Expect to be offered shots of whiskey at the end of your meal.
photo credit: Matthew Gilson
If you have a fancy restaurant bucket list, Alinea is probably on it. Of course, fame and 50-minute features on Chef’s Table don’t necessarily mean a place is worth your time (or in this case, several hundreds of dollars)—but Alinea definitely is. The $295, 15-course mish-mash of flavors is devastatingly good with Thai, Mexican, and French inspirations all at play. And a meal here is also guaranteed to be an experience—with theatrics (like fog machines), molecular gastronomy (egg “yolks” that transform into bread), and great servers (who are genuinely funny) that you won’t easily forget.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
This 25-seat tasting-menu spot, which, yes, is in a 100-year-old coach house, is hidden in the courtyard behind Wazwan, the casual South Asian restaurant in Wicker Park that's from the same team. The Coach House serves an incredible $150 eight-course meal with dishes like momos filled with crab kulambu in a spicy black garlic sauce, chewy fara dumplings swimming in clarified beet butter, and chettinad fish topped with eggplant and crispy shallots. Every dish has a story (like that the duck numidian was inspired from a cookbook titled “Recipes From Medieval Islam” read during quarantine), or that the fara is an homage to the chef’s street-food-loving uncle. And while this place is expensive, it feels relaxed. It’s casual, BYOB, you’ll be eating to a chill playlist filled with South Asian pop and hip hop. It’s only open Thursdays through Saturdays (with just two seatings a night), so once your dinner ends you’ll be scheming to book your next ticket.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
We can usually tell right away whether or not we’re going to have a good time at a dinner party (jumping dogs and Pillsbury tubes are a bad sign). Wherewithall feels a lot like a fun dinner party—starting with the friendly host and servers, followed by a fantastic $85 four-course (plus some snacks) tasting menu that changes literally every day. Halfway through the meal, we wanted to ask for the recipe to the current and sheep’s milk cheese-topped duck breast, and find out exactly where they get their bread (it’s Middle Brow Bungalow). Most importantly, this restaurant showed us that kalamata olive crumbles make an excellent ice cream topping.
Indienne, an Indian restaurant in River North, definitely falls into the fine dining category. Its large dining room is full of white tablecloths and staff bustling around in crisp jackets, and the menu’s dishes are plated artistically. Right now Indienne is offering a seven-course tasting menu for $80-$90, which feels very affordable in a neighborhood overrun with valets parking rented Lambos.Most of the food has some kind of French twist, so you’ll find things like eclair canapes filled with goat cheese and chutney, malai tikka formed into a terrine and sauced tableside, and a cute little potato pave accompanying the perfectly medium rare lamb chop.
Smyth is in the West Loop, and offers a tasting menu experience in a casual atmosphere. You can choose to do a twelve-course seasonal menu for $285 or a $385 Chef's Table experience (ranging in price from $95-225), and while it is expensive, it’s even less formal than Oriole. 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 avocado glazed in pistachio and peanut milk, and a cured-egg yolk dessert that’s in the running for one of the best ways to finish a meal, ever.