Maybe you dodged the CTA Santa train this season, but New Year’s Eve can’t be avoided so easily. And while you want to acknowledge the holiday, you’d prefer to skip the prix fixe menus that build in an extra $100 for a “complimentary” glass of champagne, or bars that charge you money to stand around surrounded by people desperately searching for someone they can kiss at midnight. Instead, follow our guide to 17 great restaurants where you can celebrate, and order off the regular menu as you damn well please.
The recent rise in Covid cases has caused some Chicago restaurants and bars to temporarily shut down. Make sure to check in with the restaurant about New Year’s Eve-related reservations and events.
Unlike a lot of spots you might typically find yourself celebrating New Year’s, En Passant isn’t large or crowded or “buzzy”. This Logan Square restaurant is small and dim, with vintage chandeliers and candles decorating the space, and a surprisingly good sound system playing chill music. But that great music and lighting make this place a vibe. And the menu is full of delicious things, like escolar topped with black garlic honey, an airy chicken liver mousse, and an incredible burger. They recently started serving wine too, so you can toast 2021 goodbye with a glass of prosecco.
If you’re craving dim sum this NYE, Minghin in Chinatown has you covered. It’s huge, with tons of tables, and it’s also open 365 days a year. It’s great for groups, and is easy to walk-in and get a table—even on holidays. Which is helpful to know in case all your friends from college are still in town, and you need a last-minute place to get together on New Year’s Eve.
For someplace that’s popular and busy but won’t be full of chaotic energy, check out Andros Taverna. This Greek restaurant in Logan Square is spacious, has great food, and is serving their regular menu on December 31st. On the menu you’ll find appetizers like the must-order kataifi cheese pie (shredded filo layered with cheese, baked, then topped with honey and pistachios), mezze spreads, entrees like prawn saganaki in a rich tomato sauce, and the best spanakopita we’ve ever had.
We can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year than with the excellent food at Segnatore in Humboldt Park. Every dish at this casual Italian restaurant has some kind of creative twist that makes it interesting. Like meatballs filled with melted scamorza, and a deconstructed “lasagna” made with handmade garlic mafaldine, whipped ricotta, and mushroom bolognese. The restaurant has the vibe of a European cafe, which is the antithesis of Navy Pier—a.k.a. Chicago’s Times Square. Plan to kiss your cheese-filled meatball at midnight.
Bar Siena in the West Loop is where you take your Midwestern friends who would get drunk and fall into the bonfire at parties. The space is loud and trendy, with a huge bar dominating the first floor and a larger dining area upstairs that’s perfect for groups. They have some specials and an optional tasting menu for New Year’s Eve, but pastas and wood-fired pizzas make up most of the menu and they’re great. The prosciutto and fig pizza has a nice balance of sweet and savory, and the gnocchi is pillowy and delicious. It’s a good spot to get a little wild, and since it’s not downtown, you won’t risk losing your people in a sea of suburbanites.
Some spots are good for celebrations and special occasions without being obvious about it— meaning they aren’t full of neon signs you’ll want to take pictures under, or crowds of people holding plastic glasses of cheap champagne. Ema is one of those spots. Its menu of affordable Mediterranean small plates are designed for sharing, and the indie pop playlist is fun without making you feel like you need to do drugs in the bathroom.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
New Year’s Eve or not, you can always count on Aba in the West Loop to be a scene. It’s crowded, the space is beautiful, and there’s a huge rooftop patio that’s perfect for hanging out over drinks (even during the winter). But the good news is that Aba has great food, and they have their regular a la carte menu available for the holiday. And just like its sister restaurant, Ema in River North, a lot of things on the Mediterranean menu are meant to be shared.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
El Che Steakhouse & Bar
This Argentinian steakhouse in the West Loop is fun and a little loud, and has an open kitchen with a live-fire grill. Everything that grill touches is worth ordering—including, of course, the delicious steaks. They’re all served with a tasty chimichurri, and our favorite thing to get (and share with other people) is the 32oz bone-in ribeye. Make sure to order some garlic fries to go with it, and plan on not close-talking for the first two days of 2022.
Shaw's Crab House
Your New Year’s Eve dreams include eating enough seafood to put you on some sort of sustainability watchlist, and you don’t want to commit to a prix fixe menu. Then go to Shaw’s in River North. This place is only serving their regular menu, so you can focus all your attention on the crab legs, salmon, lobster, crab cakes, and raw bar. It’s what Shaw’s does best, and you can fit a lot of oysters in your purse.
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Joe’s is an old-school spot that has white tablecloths, jacket-wearing servers, and great food (some of which is prepared tableside). It’s also the kind of place that makes sure you get a bread basket, transporting you back to a time before you had to spend $9 for rolls made with hand-milled wheat and housemade cultured butter. PSA: it’s located in the section of River North that’s very close to Michigan Avenue, so definitely plan on taking the train, and you might want to consider doing it at 3pm.
Bavette's Bar and Boeuf
The bad news is that if you don’t already have a reservation at Bavette’s, you’re probably not going to get one for New Year’s Eve. Luckily, the bar is first come first served, and the dining room always has some seats reserved for walk-ins. The food and ambience here are so enjoyable that it’s worth a try. Plus, fun fact - you can bring in a bottle of your own champagne or wine. As a corkage fee, they’ll just make you share a glass with another table.
Summer House Santa Monica
New Year’s Eve means it’s almost January, January means it’s cold, and the cold means wearing a coat that ruins any outfit you might have thoughtfully picked out. Try and trick yourself about this whole winter situation by grabbing NYE dinner at Summer House Santa Monica, where the plant-filled space does a good job of making you feel like you’re actually in California. Order fish tacos and kale salad, and (at your own risk) feel free to leave your coat at home.
GT Fish & Oyster
There’s only one problem with oysters - it’s easy to spend too much money eating them. But they’re delicious, and you read on the back of a menu somewhere that they’re lucky. So you should probably spend the final hours of 2021 eating as many as possible to set yourself up for success next year. Luckily, they’re reasonably affordable at GT Fish & Oyster, and this place is serving its regular menu of oysters and seafood small plates. The nautical atmosphere is casual, but still nice enough that you can get dressed up if you want. We’re sure the oysters will appreciate it.
GT Prime is one of Chicago’s steakhouses that arrived during the Great Steakhouse Rush of 2016. You’ll find animal heads on the wall, fuzzy bar stools, and oversized paintings of food dominating the room. The menu is very long, with steak, pastas, seafood, and lots of small plates. Everything is good, and it’s an ideal place to ring in the New Year with people who can’t make up their minds about what to get, and want to look at a giant octopus painting while they decide.
Momotaro is another restaurant with an overwhelmingly long menu, full of delicious sushi and Japanese small plates. The menu is so long, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to make a quick decision. But if you come here on the evening of December 31st, your server can unironically ask you if it will take you all year to order, and you can say yes.
Swift & Sons
This guide is full of steakhouses, but so is Chicago. And if your 2021 resolution was to visit as many as possible and you’re one short, Swift & Sons in the West Loop has you covered. It’s a straightforward steakhouse with excellent food, and the menu has everything you’d hope for (like steaks, a wedge salad, and lots of potatoes), along with entrees like roasted chicken and fish. Make sure to grab something from the chocolate cart at the end of your meal.
The wait for a burger at Au Cheval already feels like it spans years, and if you come here on New Year’s Eve, you can make that a reality.