Getting dinner with your parents is tricky, especially if they’re visiting from out of town. You’ve already taken them to all of the best steakhouses and need some new ideas. They want to be able to hear themselves talk, and even though your mom hasn’t gone full Amy Poehler in Mean Girls, she wants to do something “cool.” It’s a tough line to straddle, but you want to show them a good time.
Instead of settling for something boring, try one of these spots. They’re cool, and you’ll still be able to hear each other talk.
Blue Door isn’t trendy, but it’s good. And if your parents are looking to do something interesting but you want to make sure everyone stays in their comfort zone, then this is the place for you. The location in an old Gold Coast carriage house is charming in a homey way, and the food is a great mix of what’s seasonal and a few Southern favorites like fried chicken and shrimp and grits. Sit outside if it’s nice out, which everyone is sure to love.
Dad is all about adventures so he can brag to his friends about things they didn’t do. Take him to The Duck Inn in Bridgeport because it’s off the grid as far as cool and still great restaurants go. There aren’t many people willing to open a restaurant that’s this big of an undertaking in such a remote area, but not everyone grew up on this literal block like the chef and owner of The Duck Inn. The seasonal Midwest flavors change, but you can always count on an excellent rotisserie duck for two. You’ll feel part of the neighborhood over a great meal.
At Monteverde, your parents will feel comfortable and fun will be had by all. That’s partially because the lively West Loop restaurant is always full of people who know what’s up, and the food is straight-up delicious. Your goal here should be to eat all of the pastas. And if you’re unsure of what else to order, add on another pasta or two.
Hidden in a private room behind the kitchen of another restaurant, Intro, is Naoki, a separate restaurant altogether. Its location inside the Belden-Stratford building might lead you to believe Naoki is some super fancy and proper Japanese restaurant, but it’s actually not. Naoki isn’t cheap, but no good sushi here is, and it’s way more casual than you would expect. It’s the perfect sushi spot to take mom and dad, especially if they’re covering the bill.
“We want to know what your regular life is like,” said mom and dad. But you know that Friday’s usual plan of nap, couch time, pregame, and bars until 3am isn’t exactly what they want to see. So show them what they wish your regular life was like and take them to dinner at Gemini Bistro, where it’s easy to pretend you’re a regular. The Lincoln park restaurant is a real neighborhood kind of place that’s friendly and cozy but still maintains modern flair. The food has everything from classic American dishes to a few provocative dishes that keep things interesting.
Rick Bayless’ newest West Loop restaurant is cool but not over the top, and it always has a mixed crowd. The food focuses on the Baja California region of Mexico, which is that part of the map off California that you sometimes mix up as being in the U.S. or not. The menu is split up into “fire” and “ice” sections, the first of which is mostly entrees cooked on the open flame, while the second is made up of smaller and more delicate ceviches and other raw fish. Go heavy on the “ice” dishes, which are by far the best, and keep it to mostly seafood in general for the best results.
Ema is a happening and always crowded River North restaurant without being full-blown River North trendy. Because the last thing you need is mom being shocked at some of the outfits strolling up and down Hubbard Street while dad pretends he doesn’t notice. The food at Ema is a self-described California take on Mediterranean small plates, which means it highlights the lighter side of all things Mediterranean, like hummus, feta and olives, falafel, and grilled octopus. It’s all simple yet well done, and everything is meant to be shared.
If your mom considers herself a cool mom and your dad loves posting pictures on Instagram, then they just might be cool enough for El Che Bar. There’s no question that El Che Bar is the loudest and trendiest spot we’re going to offer you here, but it also might be the best. It’s a modern take on an Argentinian steakhouse in the West Loop, and, not surprisingly, meat dishes like braised lamb ribs and a bone-in ribeye are the highlights. Hopefully, your dad doesn’t have more followers than you.
Giant is one of our favorites and it’s honestly good for any occasion that involves a party of six or less. Not only will you be able to show them something outside the box in Logan Square, but there’s no way they won’t like the food. Start with an uni shooter and the Jonah crab salad and make sure you try as many of their excellent pastas as possible. You really can’t go wrong with this menu.
Meatballs, whipped ricotta, fusilli, bucatini - does it sound familiar? Hopefully, because it’s basic Italian food, and Formento’s does basic Italian food in a comfortable yet sophisticated way. You’ll like the Italian steakhouse vibes with the dark ambience, white tablecloths, and big leather booths. It’s good for you, it’s good for your parents, and it’s why you should make your next reservation with them here.
Boka has been running strong for over a decade, and an update a couple years ago ensures it can keep running for over a decade more. This works for a meal with the family because it’s a high-end, contemporary American restaurant, which means it’s nicer and a little more expensive without being over the top. The food on your plate says Michelin stars, but the atmosphere is more casual and inviting than that.
Your mom will think Dixie is cute because it’s in a little house, and your dad will be annoyed if it leads to her feeling the need to redecorate theirs. The setting is great though for upscale Southern food that looks like art on a plate. The presentations will be interesting, but the flavors are familiar, so order things like the buttermilk biscuits, tomato pie, or deviled crab, which is like deviled eggs on crack.
Your parents like a proper setting with nice wine, which is great, because you’re broke and your idea of nice wine is anything out of a bottle instead of a box. If they’re looking for something a little upscale, take them to Honey’s, the kind of place with formal service that crumbs your table but is still pretty cool. Make a reservation in the dining room, but consider coming early for a drink in the bar. Between the floor tiles meant to mimic a beehive and the skylights in both the bar and dining room, the space is memorable.
Shaw’s is one of those places that you probably know about, but where you rarely eat. The longstanding River North restaurant is basically the seafood equivalent of a steakhouse, and you’re not usually looking to spend that kind of money in a place like this. But it’s still fun, and it’s still really good, and it’s always a reliable place to take the fam. Load up on oysters and crab legs, or really anything involving fish. Also consider sitting in their oyster bar for a much more casual setting.