Not every Thanksgiving has to involve an impromptu overnight at your packed hometown airport, a fight with your sister at the Des Plaines Oasis, or finally hitting absolute rock-bottom and making a phone call to the Food Network Turkey Hotline.
Chicago has lots of great restaurants that serve Thanksgiving dinner (with varying degrees of traditionalism), and our guide has you covered for a number of different scenarios - particularly the main one, i.e., forcing your family to eat in public so they can’t get into screaming fights about religion, politics, or whether or not you spoiled the latest Netflix phenomenon by mentioning a tiny detail from episode 8. Thank us later, after you’ve taken an extra-long nap since you didn’t have to do any dishes.
Chief O’Neills has a serious Thanksgiving operation, complete with timed seatings to keep the waves of buffet-goers under control. This place is a neighborhood pub, but on holidays they roll out an extensive spread with all the classics (including prime rib), a separate dessert table with white and milk chocolate fountains, and all the snack foods you typically miss out on when you go out to eat - like chips and salsa, or pita chips and hummus. It’s like going to your aunt’s out in the suburbs, with the bonus that you won’t need to talk to your cousin who’s creepily obsessed with his pet snakes.
The meal: Buffet, $50
This is a good pick if you’re hoping to spend most of Thanksgiving drinking with your friends. They’re serving turkey dinners with an upscale twist (so expect stuff like foie gras stuffing and bourbon cranberry sauce). Seatings start at 3pm, and the attached bar, OSB, is doing a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich, too - so pick up one of those on your way out if you anticipate needing some late-night seconds.
The meal: Family-style, $65 prix fixe
RPM in River North can be a scene, but it always delivers on food and service, making it a safe bet if you want a somewhat trendy experience. Count on seeing some expensive prix fixe upgrade options - and go ahead and add truffles and caviar to the foie gras torchon, parmesan risotto, and turkey prepared two ways, as long as you can put it on your corporate card. Charging Thanksgiving to your corporate card is probably not something you should do, but if you’re here, there’s a good chance your boss is making you work over the holiday weekend anyway.
The meal: Four-course, $85 prix fixe
If Willy Wonka catered your Thanksgiving dinner, it would look exactly like this. The Peninsula has a buffet that’s completely over-the-top, very expensive, and pretty f*cking awesome if you’re ready to go all out. You can expect elaborate holiday decorations revolving around a theme - like “apple orchard” or “The Mayflower” - as well as an absurd variety of food stations manned by people good at politely ignoring how much you’ve piled on a single plate. You’ll find everything from lobster to dim sum, a breakfast bar, and a whole room dedicated to different desserts.
The meal: Buffet, $185
You can come here for a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, or you can come here for some delicious crab with a pile of hashbrowns ordered a la carte. It’s a free country, as that annoying kid from homeroom loved to tell you in fifth grade.
The meal: Family-style, $49.95
Another place to come for crab. Sure, they also have a Thanksgiving buffet with turkey and tenderloin. But you should really be focusing your attention on the seafood - crab legs, salmon, crab cakes, and a full-on raw bar. It’s what Shaw’s does best, and you can fit a lot of oysters in your purse.
The meal: Buffet, $75
Bub City is where you want to be for a Friendsgiving-y Thanksgiving - when you want to get drunk and eat too much, but also not go broke. They specialize in barbecue, so in addition to sweet potatoes and stuffing you’ll be eating brisket and/or smoked turkey. Their “giddy-up” fries (nachos made with waffle fries) may sound obnoxious, but they still taste really good - and if you make it to late-night, there will be karaoke. You’ve been warned.
The meal Buffet, $24.95
This place is dedicated to what it calls “heritage cooking,” so a lot of their food is made with old-timey recipes that have ingredients like sorghum molasses and house ground sassafrass. They might not exactly be Mayflower old, but they’re close enough to feel perfect for Thanksgiving. The best part about the Southern Thanksgiving spread here is that you can eat a deep fried turkey without worrying that Uncle Bob will burn the house down. (They also have less traditional dishes like venison sausage, potted duck, and old-school biscuits made with pork fat.) And you can ask for seconds - so don’t be shy.
The meal: Family-style, $55 prix fixe
Come here if you want somewhere nice that won’t be full of big groups. It’s a small Italian place in the Gold Coast, and the tables are very close together (almost communal). You can expect Italian starter dishes like turkey bolognese pasta and a sweet potato ravioli, but traditional main courses - like turkey or a pork chop with stuffing and mashed potatoes. It’s the kind of restaurant where you can go with just your parents or significant other, and maybe make friends with whoever’s sitting to your left or right.
The meal: Four-course, $85 prix fixe
The main design elements of the Cherry Circle Room (in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel) are dark wood, overstuffed leather chairs, and a huge fireplace - so it reminds us of a fancy turn-of-the-century hunting lodge. They clearly think you can never have enough turkey, because they offer it two ways: turkey leg confit or turkey roulade, along with traditional sides like mashed potatoes and green beans. The restaurant is small and located on the second floor, so you won’t even notice you’re eating in a hotel. What you will notice is the strong urge to adopt an English Setter, or at least play a rousing game of Duck Hunt.
The meal: Family-style, $80 prix fixe