Are These Chicago Restaurants Worth The Hype?
Find out whether the spots you're always hearing about are worth your time and money.
People generally fall into two categories when it comes to a hyped-up restaurant. They either have a primal instinct to experience it as soon as possible, or, they deem it overrated, despite never having been. Either way, you know you want to know:
Is this restaurant worth it?
Chicago has a lot of these restaurants. Places with elaborate tableside gymnastics trending on TikTok. Overexposed classics your cousin in Florida knows about for some reason. Restaurants that you keep hearing about. Again. And again. And….again. Some are good, some are not, and some are fun enough that it doesn’t matter. So before you decide to wait in line or make that 4pm dinner reservation, consult this guide.
photo credit: DineAmic Hospitality
The Verdict: A mid-century theme that actually works.
This Italian steakhouse on the edge of Fulton Market is working hard at channeling mid-century-era glamour, complete with bartenders in waistcoats and a checkered marble floor. But instead of men in power suits flagging down a dessert trolley in a stuffy dining room, diners wearing tech vests order the tableside Caesar salad cart at the bar. There are excellent steaks on the menu—like an olive-fed wagyu New York strip that will make you wonder whether that cow had its own personal masseuse. There are also tasty 4oz plates of housemade pasta if potatoes aren't special enough to accompany your $165 steak.
The Verdict: Bypass the restaurant and go have a drink on the roof. Collect $200 (of money, that you have now saved).
Nobus are ubiquitous in major cities, and Chicago’s very own is in the West Loop, at the bottom of the (you guessed it) Nobu Hotel. It has an identical Japanese fusion menu to its brethren, and nothing is mindblowing. What is mindblowing is the bill—especially for just-fine food and an unpredictable dining experience that might have you surrounded by tables filled with sulking couples, MMA fighters on their phones, recent grads celebrating with their parents, and an ever-growing pile of dirty dishes the staff is too busy to clear. Instead of coming here for dinner, head to the elevators and go up to the much-more-fun rooftop bar.
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The Verdict: Yep. Kasama is one of the best restaurants in Chicago.
This small cafe-by-day, fine-dining-by-night spot in West Town has the only Filipino tasting menu in the city, and reservations for the $235 dinner are almost impossible to snag. Daytime is just as mobbed—the line for breakfast pastries forms before they even open at 9am. The droves are warranted when delicately laminated danishes are basically meditation in pastry form. And at night, each tasting-menu course is delicate without being too precious. Mushroom adobo is served alongside a frothy mussel emulsion. Consider it your solemn duty to come here. We don’t care how dramatic that sounds.
photo credit: John Stoffer
The Verdict: Come here when you’re sick of eating out in the West Loop and/or found a babysitter for Thursday night.
Itoko in Lakeview is on Southport Corridor (a.k.a Stroller Row) and comes from the same team behind Momotaro in the West Loop. It has a similar Japanese fusion menu (with a lot of the same dishes) and the same kind of minimalist wooden interior, only tinier. But the formula works—and this place is keeping babysitters in business. Focus on the sushi, from standard nigiri to shareables like DIY tuna handrolls. Save room for dessert—both the orange kakigori or mochi donut with light matcha semifreddo are excellent—and try to get home before Jackie starts eyeing the liquor cabinet.
photo credit: Anthony Tahlier
The Verdict: Le Select is destined to disappoint you.
Le Select in River North is what we like to call a BCR: Big Chicago Restaurant. And BCRs (spots that are physically big, and from a chef or team that both your boss and your dog walker have heard of) tend to garner quite a bit of buzz. Dinner at this football field-sized French restaurant from the Boka group feels like eating in a mid-century cruise ship. The menu has hors d'oeuvres service for $25 per person, where a trolley rolls around with things like bread and a column of butter that’s carved tableside. Sounds impressive, but Le Select is too loud and chaotic for a special occasion, and the food is inconsistent. Even when dishes are great (on a good night the duck l’orange is excellent) they’re still snoozy French classics. As far as the “wow” factor goes—the trolley—there’s only one for the entire space, so count on getting those “hors d'oeuvres” in the middle of your meal.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
The Verdict: Obelix recently made our list of Best New Restaurants Of 2022, so, yes, we think it’s worth the hype.
The hype surrounding this River North spot has been of the slow-burn variety. It didn’t open to much fanfare in the summer of 2022, but has steadily become one of the most sought-after dinner reservations in town. On the surface, Obelix looks like a typical, white-tablecloth French restaurant. It’s not. Obelix walks the tightrope of feeling formal without being stuffy. And that same balance is present in the food, which is filled with a mixture of classics like escargot and playful, fusion-y things like a foie gras taco.
The Verdict: Come here if you’re looking for someone with access to a boat, or are someone who pretends to have a boat.
This Greek spot is a party restaurant, infamous for TikTok-ready tableside preparations, and an 11pm weekend “ritual” where servers dance on tables with sparklers and everyone waves napkins around to clubby Greek music. The food is hit-or-miss, but it’s also probably not the reason you’re here. You’re here for ouzo-fueled shout-talking and to brag about scoring an invite to a yacht this summer. There is a selection of spreads that are just fine, and an overly acidic tuna tartare that’s too wet. But the “tableside gyros" are tasty enough that you're able to move past the fact that the dish is really just lamb shoulder that a server listlessly shreds with a fork. It’s all pretty expensive though, so you should only come here if you want to be somewhere buzzy while surrounded by an absurd amount of wicker lampshades.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
The Verdict: The rumors are true, it’s worth the hype.
Google “Monteverde” and try to make a reservation for some time over the next month. Did you hear that? That was Resy laughing at you. This is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago, and the first place we try (and often fail) to make reservations when someone from the East Coast tells us they're visiting. The menu is full of hits, from cacio e pepe to the ragu alla Napoletana—a tomato-braised pork shank with three soppressata meatballs, two cacciatore sausages, and a pile of fusilli we want buried with us when we die.
photo credit: Matthew Gilson
The Verdict: Yes, if you can avoid social media spoilers—luckily Alinea is too old to be trending on TikTok.
Everyone knows Alinea. Since its 2005 opening it’s been on countless worldwide “Best” lists, featured in documentaries, and helped fuel the aughts’ obsession with liquid nitrogen and eating stuff that looked like other stuff. And despite what Hot Take Harry tells you, dinner here is still an incredible time. The almost $500 per person dinner at Alinea is a delicious experience (think fog machines and edible napkins) and there’s nothing quite like it. Accept no substitutions.
photo credit: Bavette's Bar & Boeuf
Bavette's Bar and Boeuf
The Verdict: We’d like to be eating at Bavette’s right now.
This dark steakhouse (filled with plush leather booths and 1920s jazz music) is like hanging out in the windowless parlor of some old money mansion. Everything about the River North space seems designed to keep you there forever, which might explain why tables are never available—no one leaves. Some of our favorite dishes here (like the fried chicken, chocolate cream pie, and complimentary bread—yes it’s that good) aren’t even steak at all. And drinking Old Fashioneds in a room that makes you feel like a character in Clue is objectively fun.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
The Verdict: This is a great restaurant that’s worth your time.
Rose Mary has been hyped up since before it even opened during summer 2021. We blame it on this large Croatian spot’s combination of being in the West Loop and having a Top Chef winner in the kitchen. It’s so hyped, in fact, that you’ll hear people claim that the food here isn’t even any good. That is untrue. The Croatian food is consistently delicious, and the service is always top-notch. The crni rizot is what the ocean would taste like if it made a wish to become risotto. There’s a plate of garlicky cevapi perfect for sharing, and incredible pastas too. Despite the busyness of this place, you’ll always be seated in a timely fashion, and have a relaxed dinner with clairvoyant servers who bring the check exactly when you’re ready to leave.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
The Verdict: Not reinventing the wheel, but book a table and wear those cute new shoes that hurt your feet.
Any Chicago restaurant associated with the words “West Loop,” “Italian,” and “Boka Restaurant Group” is guaranteed to be hyped. This is the case with Alla Vita, an Italian BCR on Randolph. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, buzzing with everyone from couples to large groups in town for some investment conference. It’s also pretty, decorated with hanging plants and an intriguing overhead installation that looks a little like fish gills. And while the menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees) what’s on it is good. The pizza has a chewy wood-fired crust, and the silky cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings will have you waving a spoon in the air like a 2000s Yoplait commercial.
The Verdict: Don’t come here just for the burger.
You’re probably aware that the Au Cheval burger is good—the 673 people standing expectantly outside the all-day restaurant right now can’t be completely wrong. The question is just how good one burger can possibly be? And should you spend three hours in a line that has stretched outside and around the corner since 2012? You shouldn’t…unless you also order dishes like the duck heart hash, chilaquiles, and towering mille-feuille. It’s the rest of this diner’s menu (along with a very good burger) that make Au Cheval one place you’ll still be waiting for no matter what time of day you show up. The food is, and always has been, worth it.