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The Best Chicago Restaurants For A Special Occasion

Congratulations, you have something to celebrate. Here are the best places to go.
The Best Chicago Restaurants For A Special Occasion image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Special occasions remind us of the famous saying about obscenity: You know it when you see it. Sometimes it’s obvious—maybe you’re getting engaged or celebrating a major birthday—and sometimes you just want to go big on a particularly awesome Tuesday. It doesn’t matter why you’re celebrating, but if that’s what you’re doing, you’re going to want to go someplace exciting. Someplace that probably requires advance planning, costs more than you’d usually spend, and has extra-good food and service. These are the best places in Chicago for a special occasion, no matter what it is.

THE SPOTS

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Lincoln Park

$$$$Perfect For:Fine DiningImpressing Out of TownersSpecial OccasionsUnique Dining Experience
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This is one of the most famous restaurants in the world, and choosing to have a meal here is pretty much a mic drop. Alinea has three Michelin stars, and its tasting menus can cost anywhere between $300 and $500 per person. Your meal won’t just be expensive—it’s also guaranteed to be bonkers. It’s molecular gastronomy-palooza here, with lots of theatrics (like fog machines), and dinner will be a one-of-a-kind—maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime—experience. You can always use those savings bonds grandma gave you if you decide to go again.

photo credit: Daija Guy

$$$$Perfect For:Serious Take-Out OperationSpecial OccasionsDate Night

This small cafe-by-day, fine-dining-by-night spot in West Town has the only Filipino tasting menu in the city, and reservations for the $255 dinner are almost impossible to snag. The droves are warranted, because this is one of the best restaurants in the city. Each tasting-menu course is delicate without being too precious. Mushroom adobo is served alongside a frothy mussel emulsion. Consider it your solemn duty to come here. We don’t care how dramatic that sounds.

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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 $235, 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 who did the restaurant’s lighting made sure everyone looked like they were wandering around naturally FaceTuned.

Google “Monteverde” and try to make a reservation for some time over the next month. Did you hear that? That was Resy laughing at you. This is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago, and the first place we try (and often fail) to make reservations when we want to celebrate with someone from the East Coast. The menu is full of hits, from cacio e pepe to the ragu alla Napoletana—a tomato-braised pork shank with three soppressata meatballs, two cacciatore sausages, and a pile of fusilli we want buried with us when we die. The service is always great, and at no point during a meal here will you wonder why it’s so hard to get a reservation.


Oriole is another spot that will give you one of the best meals of your life for a high price tag ($295). 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.


The dimly lit space at Bavette’s has big, comfortable booths, and jazz music that makes you feel like you’re in a speakeasy. It’s a French-style steakhouse, and everything on the very extensive menu is fantastic. It’s the kind of spot where you can get a $275 shellfish tower, followed by a prime rib sandwich. This versatile spot is great for an anniversary, or breaking in your new corporate card.


This River North spot looks like a typical white-tablecloth French restaurant. It’s not. Obelix expertly walks the tightrope of feeling formal without being stuffy. And that same balance is present in its menu, which is filled with a mixture of classic dishes like escargot and beef wellington, as well as playful, fusion-y ones like the foie gras-filled taco. Yes, we know the squab pithivier on the menu might say Serious French Restaurant, but it’s counterbalanced by a hip-hop playlist, and attentive servers who are chill enough to crack a few jokes. Come here for any celebration that you want to feel special, but not take too seriously.


Elske’s is a multi-faceted contender as a special occasion spot. You can order al a carte, but Elske also has a lovely nine-course tasting menu. It’s reasonably priced ($125) especially compared to the other tasting menus in the West Loop, and it’s the best way to try this spot’s Scandinavian cuisine. Without the tasting menu we might not have started our meal with a “tea of lightly smoked fruits and vegetables” and we’re really glad we did. The space is bright and airy, and they have an outdoor area with a fireplace that’s great for drinks before or after dinner.


photo credit: Kim Kovacik

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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 $110-$120, which feels 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.


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When framed as a $190, 10-course, two-hour meal, Atelier in Lincoln Square seems like a standard special occasion restaurant. But unlike other places on this list that are huge, loud, sceney, or all of the above, this is none of those things. It’s tiny, quiet, relaxed, and minimally decorated, and that toned-down elegance makes it unique. But that’s not to say it’s void of personality—the incredibly friendly staff and fun playlist that cycles through hip-hop and bluegrass keep it from feeling uncomfortably sterile. And like its wide-ranging playlist, each delicious course also covers a lot of ground, jumping from crispy akara to yuba noodle soup, to a cute mini apple cider donut with tiny edible flowers. If you want a refined, low-key celebration with zero chance of interruptions from errant sparklers, this is the spot.

This is an upscale French place in River North, and it has a traditional entree/appetizer/dessert-style menu. The food at Brindille is outstanding, but this is an especially good choice if you get nerdy over extra touches. For example, your server may casually inform you that the silverware you’ve been using is 100 years old.


This is a very old-school steakhouse, and you should find at least one occasion to have a meal here. Your server will have a jacket, your table will have a tablecloth, and you’ll get a basket of bread at the beginning of your meal. The menu is standard steak and seafood, and all of it is delicious.


North Pond, in the middle of Lincoln Park, is like an extremely attractive person who never gets asked out because everyone assumes he or she is in a relationship. In practical terms, this means it’s a very good spot to snag a last-minute reservation. The space and view make you feel like you’re in a really nice cabin, and the seasonal American food is always outstanding.


There’s nothing understated about Maple and Ash. This steakhouse has chandeliers, candelabras, and a $200 tasting menu called “I don’t give a f*ck,” where the kitchen decides what you eat. It’s surprisingly versatile—it can support a large group or a quiet dinner for two. This is where you should eat when an occasion calls for going all out, and you want to do so in a space that feels like you’re in the "November Rain" music video.


RPM Steak is where to go if you’re looking for a scene—for instance, if you’re with a group of people from the suburbs who want a real night out in the city. It’s also a good choice if your dining companions happen to watch “E!”, since it’s part-owned by Bill and Giuliana Rancic. You might be skeptical of a spot with reality star connections, but the food is actually excellent, and the menu has a variety of small plates, salads, and seafood dishes that all deserve equal attention on your table.


This warehouse-style Japanese restaurant is huge, and has an equally huge menu full of small plates and sushi. It’s a great spot for a group celebration, especially if you settle in and commit to trying as many dishes as you can. It makes for an expensive, but very fun night.


Sometimes you want to celebrate in a nice neighborhood restaurant, and in that case, Riccardo Trattoria is perfect. It’s cozy and elegant, with great Italian food. Your server will most likely be charming and make sure you leave feeling special.


Like RPM Steak, come to RPM Seafood if you’re looking for a scene—specifically one that feels like a shipping magnate’s yacht party. A special occasion meal here is a great excuse to drop $250 on one of their seafood towers, or eat a piece of perfectly-cooked fish on their large riverfront patio. And a golden hour dinner where you can watch the sunset in the glassy buildings melt into a twinkly backdrop will make an occasion that much more special. It’s one of the nicest views in Chicago, so naturally, that necessitates making reservations at least a few weeks in advance.

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