Where To Go In The West Loop If You’re Sick Of The West Loop
The West Loop can be overwhelming, but here are some casual places where you can actually have a conversation.
The West Loop—a.k.a. “restaurant row”—has some of the best restaurants in the city. Many of those are large, trendy places showing up on everyone’s social media, with booths that can fit nine people and a sound system that sets off car alarms. That can be fun, but it’s also exhausting. This guide—a mix of bars and restaurants—is for people who want to find the relatively relaxed slices of The West Loop, free from crowds waiting to valet, intoxicated hordes, and migraine-inducing music.
Tanoshii Sushi Mike's
Before Tanoshii Sushi Mike’s popped up in the West Loop, it was a cute restaurant in Andersonville. And it has thankfully brought that same relaxed pace to a neighborhood currently constructing 34 high rises on one block. The space is large but quiet, the menu is long, and the service is exceptional. Try one of the chef’s choice rolls or nigiri, which is completely customized based on your likes and dislikes. It might feel like a roll of the dice, but the same could be said about ordering sushi when you’re roughly 1000 miles away from the nearest ocean.
The Loyalist is the casual French restaurant and bar in the basement of Smyth. And while the food here is good (with dishes like foie gras-filled eclairs and gnocchi a la Parisienne) the main reason to come is for the outstanding burger. The patty is made from a mixture of chuck, short rib, and bacon, giving it a light, smoky flavor and incredible richness. The cheese is gooey and the caramelized onions are plentiful. In other words, this is a good f*cking burger, and The Loyalist is also a good place to hide from the tourists waiting outside Au Cheval.
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photo credit: Christina Slaton
El Che Steakhouse & Bar
This Argentinian steakhouse is fun and a little loud, but not full of Morningstar Investment conference goers like, say, Smith & Sons. The main attraction here is a live-fire grill and an open kitchen, and everything that grill touches is worth ordering. We like the steak, but don’t overlook the grilled oysters or sweetbreads, and breaking up the meat-fest by ordering plenty of sides is a good idea. El Che works for a big group since everything is easy to share, but it’s great for date night, too. No matter why you’re here, it’s an easy place to have a good time.
There are a lot of incredible Italian restaurants in the West Loop, and Viaggio isn’t one of them. But that’s kind of the point. You head to Viaggio when you want to keep it simple with a neighborhood institution. It’s been around for almost 10 years, and its classic Italian food (with dishes like rigatoni with Sunday gravy, linguine with clams, and chicken parm) is exactly what you want it to be—tasty and comforting. Plus they recently moved over to Madison, pushing them even further away from the untz-untz crowd on Randolph.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
Elske’s is a great under-the-radar special occasion spot that people often forget exists, partially because they closed for a while after the pandemic. Elske has a reasonably priced $115 tasting menu (especially compared to the other tasting menus in the neighborhood) but come here and order al a carte for a more casual dinner. It’s the most low-key way to try this spot’s Scandinavian cuisine. The space is bright and airy, and they have an outdoor area with a fireplace that’s great for drinks before or after dinner.
This quiet-but-still-fun Korean restaurant is on the outskirts of the West Loop, on the border of River West. You come to Perilla for Korean BBQ (the tables have a gas grill), but make sure to get some of the other Korean dishes—like the spicy fire chicken, dumplings, or the kimchi pancake, which is one of the best in Chicago. As far as Korean BBQ goes, this place is pretty sedate. You’ll be grilling your own meat to a quiet indie rock playlist, surrounded by couples on dates silently grilling away and people that clearly just came from the office. This place is ideal for a date night in the neighborhood (there’s a great back patio), or a group dinner.
photo credit: Christina Slaton
Forno Rosso does some of the best Neapolitan-style pizzas in town. The bright space is dominated by their wood-fired oven (which is responsible for the excellent pies), and the service is friendly. It’s the kind of casual spot that’s perfect for a weekday dinner, but it’s also cute enough inside to turn into an easy date night, especially if you add in a bottle of wine to your order.
photo credit: The Times
Mart Anthony's Italian Restaurant
Just because a spot has a bar with regulars doesn’t make it “just like Cheers,” and saying so is usually wishful thinking and obnoxious. But Mart Antony’s might be the exception. It’s an out-of-the-way spot on the cusp of West Town and the West Loop, and it looks like a typical neighborhood corner tavern. But, it’s also a fantastic Italian restaurant. The owner, servers, and bartenders are all welcoming and will chat with you even if it’s your first time there. On any given night, it’s full of friends getting together after work and couples on casual dates, and more people who unironically call this restaurant their “place.” Get the clams for an appetizer, and the braciole or lasagna.
From the projections of busy city streets, to the clubby playlist, to a giant neon Godzilla, Gyuro Ramen seems determined to bring the energy of Tokyo nightlife to the West Loop. But luckily for us, it doesn’t. Instead, it’s a not-too-busy ramen shop that happens to be one of two restaurants in the city serving gyukotsu broth, a creamy, rich beef soup. Gyuro also has tasty gyoza and specials like Japanese curry, and this casual sit-down spot has become an important player in our ramen rotation.