The Best Restaurants In The Loop
Restaurants in the Loop tend to be terrible or overpriced—often both. So the decision to eat in this neighborhood is usually based on necessity, not choice. Perhaps you have a business meeting, an event downtown, or some visitors who think there’s a containment field surrounding The Bean. The good news is that while good spots here can be hard to find, they do exist.
The Listening Room is a bar and listening cafe in the Loop. What’s a listening cafe, you ask? Taken from their website, it’s “a clubby dining experience with a state-of-the-art audio experience.” And “clubby Loop restaurant” is not something we expected to like. But it turns out it’s not very clubby—it’s more of an upscale cafe that works for a casual date night. Plus, the food is delicious. The menu has dishes like tender chicken thighs with crispy skin, mac and cheese that gets melted raclette poured over it tableside, and some very interesting roasted carrots served with a fluffy coconut mousse and topped with peanuts. The “listening” part really just means that the sound quality is really good, and the music genre changes, so check their Instagram to see what they’re playing before you visit.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
If you’re looking for a break from tourists after your visiting friends force you to go on a boat tour, show them the Sears Tower, and have a way-too-long photoshoot at the Bean, head to MingHin for dim sum. The large dining space may look a little fancy, but it’s casual enough for a family-style meal where you will find kids (and adults) leaping across the table when the sesame buns arrive. The menu is long, with options like juicy shrimp and pork shumai, shrimp crepes, steamed BBQ pork buns, and desserts like puffy egg custard tarts. A visit here makes all the Bean selfies worth it.
If you’re having a business dinner with out-of-towners, going to a Chicago steakhouse is usually a safe bet. And Prime & Provisions is where to go when you’re in the Loop. This place is hard to classify - it’s not as iconic as Gibsons, as trendy as RPM, or as corporate as Chicago Cut. But it still serves fantastic steak, along with options like seafood, fried chicken, and a giant piece of bacon topped with maple syrup and dark chocolate. Plus, the upbeat space is huge and full of giant booths - two good indicators that you’re in a genuine, accept-no-substitutions Chicago spot.
photo credit: Bistro Monadnock
After going to the Art Institute to check out the French Impressionism, you might be inspired to eat some rich boulillabaisse, buttery escargot, or croque madame. You can have great versions of all of the above at Bistro Monadnock, a great French restaurant hiding on a small side street just a short walk away from the museum. Its charming wooden space is not too busy, so it's easy to pop in and grab a booth by the open kitchen or a spot at the bar. Plus, everyone that works there is very friendly, so don't be surprised if you get a tour of the dry-ager, or a brief history lesson of the historic Monadnock building from your server.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
Bereket took over a space that used to be a counter-service restaurant. And when you walk into the bright yellow dining room with drop ceilings and a now-defunct metal cafeteria station, it will definitely feel like a place you should be visiting during a rushed lunch break. Instead, the food on the long menu should be savored. Everything is housemade–from the fresh bread that starts your meal to the firm manti topped with marinara and yogurt sauce. The tender döner meat in the iskendar pairs wonderfully with its buttery tomato-sauce-soaked croutons, and the flaky baklava will make you wonder “Why don’t I eat more baklava?” And because this place is open all day, seven days a week, there’s really no excuse for you not to.
Venteux is an upscale French brasserie inside the Pendry. And unlike a lot of other nearby hotel restaurants at similar levels of fancy-ness, Venteux isn’t stuffy. There’s a clubby soundtrack, and a surprising amount of diners who were too young to vote for Obama. The menu is full of solid versions of French classics, like seared foie gras on brioche, steak au poivre, and enough shellfish to warrant its own section of the menu. So if you have out-of-towners visiting, consider meeting them here for dinner or bottomless brunch before taking them around the city for some boozy sightseeing.
Located near the Art Institute and Symphony Center, Exchequer is good for a group meal after an afternoon of Monet or before an evening of Beethoven. Almost a museum in its own right, this massive 50-year-old deep dish pizza spot is covered in Chicago memorabilia, from “Al Capone Wanted” posters, to Bears and Bulls newspaper clippings. Though it’s not the city’s best deep dish and differs from a traditional Chicago-style pie—cheese is layered on top of a slightly sweet tomato sauce and soft, chewy crust—the combination of bread and cheese is predictably satisfying. There’s a wide selection of toppings available, but our favorite is aptly named The Chicago: Italian sausage, Italian beef, onion, and giardiniera.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
Before catching a performance at Auditorium Theatre, make sure to grab a quick dinner at Cafecito next door. This casual Cuban spot has platters with rice and beans, but the best things here are the sandwiches served on crispy bread. Our current sandwich rotation includes the classic Cubano, the saucy ropa vieja with sweet plantains, and the Guava Q: tender roasted pork or chicken, covered in a tangy guava BBQ sauce. Their cortaditos and cafe con leche also come in handy as a pick-me-up to help you survive the first act of Shrek: The Musical.
If you miscalculated how long mini golf at Maggie Daley Park was going to take and are now in a hunger-induced fugue state, the Loop is a minefield of bad decisions. Avoid going someplace like The Corner Bakery because now (in your vulnerable condition) it seems like the easiest choice. You need to know about The Dearborn, an easy-to-like spot with a well-rounded American menu that works for a lot of occasions. It’s nice enough for a business dinner, but still casual enough for lunch after that Segway tour you took with your parents. Plus, the space is huge, with multiple rooms that work for large groups or couples on a date. Order the pork belly appetizer and any of the salads, then make sure someone gets a cheeseburger - it’s really good.
Your friend’s bachelor/bachelorette weekend is finally here, and the good news is that it’s in Chicago, so you don’t have to fly anywhere. But this also means you’re now responsible for showing off the best parts of the city while making sure no one passes out on the roof of a double-decker bus. Put dinner and drinks at Cindy’s on the list. It’s on Michigan Ave on top of the Chicago Athletic Association, and has beautiful views overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. It’s particularly good for groups, with a lot of dishes designed to be shared among three or four people. The food probably won’t blow you away, but the atmosphere makes up for it.
In addition to Cindy’s, there are actually a lot of other great spots at the Chicago Athletic Association, like The Game Room (a cocktail bar) and this place, an upscale restaurant on the second floor. The main design elements at the Cherry Circle Room are dark wood, overstuffed leather chairs, and a huge fireplace. It reminds us of a fancy turn-of-the-century lodge, and the rustic menu (with plenty of roasted meat) fits the ambiance. It’s perfect if you’ve ever wanted to join a secret society without needing to learn a bunch of passwords and handshakes.
The Gage is our top choice in the Loop for bar food. The menu is full of elevated classics, like bison tartare, poutine, and entrees like fish and chips. Since this spot is right across from Millenium Park, you can also plan on it being full of tourists. But at least they’re the cool kind of tourists who know where to go for a good meal.
Acanto is a small, upscale Italian restaurant from the same people who own The Gage, and it’s right next door. This place has great housemade pastas, so focus on those when you’re here. Although you should still make sure to get one of their pizzas - there are two on the menu, but there’s typically another on special that you should try.
Chicago is an old city full of activities like architectural boat tours and visits to the places where mobsters used to hide out. And if you want to continue this historical theme, consider eating at The Berghoff. This German spot opened in 1898, and still has an old-school bar/tavern feel. You can expect dishes like wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, and a pretty fantastic reuben sandwich. Come here for a casual meal with someone who just spent the day listening to a tour guide talk like Al Capone. And hope they’re not inspired to practice their new gangster impression, or it’s going to be a long meal.
Cafe Bonhomme is owned by the same people as Beatnik in West Town. And much like Beatnik, Bonhomme puts a lot of effort into its atmosphere. It’s meant to feel like a lively European cafe (so it can get a little loud), and it has an eclectic menu, with dishes like baba ghanoush, tuna tataki, and curried meatballs. Come for drinks and small plates to celebrate the end of your internship.
If all else fails, there’s always the Shake Shack at the bottom of the Chicago Athletic Association. Sure, the line goes out the door at peak times, but it’s worth it for crinkle cut fries and a consistently great cheeseburger.