Maybe you successfully 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.
Thankfully, Chicago doesn’t have a Times Square. But there are still plenty of people who travel into the city for New Year’s Eve, and you might be friends with some of them. If that’s the case, Prime & Provisions is a good option. It’s a Loop steakhouse, which means it’s full of tourists, along with business-type people still in town trying to end the calendar year in the black. This place serves great steak, along with options like fried chicken, seafood, and a dish of thick-cut bacon drizzled with dark chocolate and maple syrup that alone can salvage an entire bad year.
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 $6 for rolls made with hand-milled wheat and some “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.
RPM is trendy and popular without being obnoxious, and the food is always fantastic. This makes it a great place to celebrate not just regular special occasions, but also the end of another year of successfully ignoring your student loans. And yes, it’s expensive, but it’s also the kind of spot where you can get dressed up and not worry about anyone spilling a drink on you on their way to the bathroom.
Because the RPM restaurants are co-dependent and can’t do anything without each other, RPM Italian is also open on New Year’s Eve without a special tasting menu or event. If you’re in the mood for Italian food rather than steak, this is the way to go. Get the bucatini.
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.
Gilt Bar has the same kind of speakeasy-esque environment as Bavette’s (which makes sense, because they’re owned by the same people). It also has some very good food, although the menu here is eclectic, with a seemingly random collection of dishes. So if you want to finish out 2018 with a lobster roll, bucatini amatriciana, steak tartare, and a cheeseburger, you can (and should) do that.
This small, upscale sushi spot in Lincoln Park is hard to find - it’s hidden inside the Belden Stratford building, and you’ll probably need to ask someone at the front desk exactly where it is. But it’s worth the hassle, since the sushi here is very good. And since there are no windows, you’ll be completely unaware that 2019 is the beginning of the robot uprising until you go outside.
If you really want to go all out for New Year’s, but the idea of an overpriced tasting menu is holding you back, Siena Tavern is a good option. This sceney spot will be filled with enough spray tans and cologne to assure you you’re in a typical River North restaurant. For NYE they’re serving their normal a la carte Italian menu, and you’ll want to order plenty of pastas (like the squid ink one with lobster) and some pizzas. We can’t promise that this place won’t be a shtshow, but it will be a shtshow with the food you want.
If you really want to avoid any downtown crowds and madness, spend your evening at Lula Cafe in Logan Square. The food is delicious, and the atmosphere will be relaxed. This neighborhood staple has been serving farm-to-table food since 1999 (meaning it survived Y2K), and on NYE you can choose from the regular menu plus some specials.
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.
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 2018 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 trendy 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.
This guide is full of steakhouses, but so is Chicago. And if your 2018 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.
Girl & the Goat
Everyone has heard of Girl & The Goat. It’s one of Chicago’s most well-known restaurants, and if you haven’t been here yet, that needs to change. In other words, while it might feel like old news (because, well, it is), the food here is still really good. And they’re open as normal for New Year’s Eve, serving their regular menu of globally-inspired small plates. So try not to let another year go by without crossing it off your list. You’ll be eating with a bunch of out-of-towners, but they’re people, too.
This casual French restaurant in Humboldt Park is pretending that New Year’s Eve isn’t happening. So if you’re one of those people who consider this particular holiday “amateur hour,” and want to avoid interacting with anyone stumbling around wearing a 2019 party headband, come here. Order plenty of wine, and get the duck frites. Then taxi home as fast as possible.