The Best Restaurants In River North

There’s a lot going on in this neighborhood, and deciding on a restaurant can be tough. This is where you should be eating.
The Best Restaurants In River North image

photo credit: Maddie Cox

River North is a perplexing place: You love it. You hate it. The restaurants are great. The restaurants are annoying. It’s great for people-watching. These people are the worst.

This neighborhood is full of contradictions—it has a lot of stressed-out businesspeople and cheerfully drunk tourists, along with the best views of the river and the worst smells in the city. River North also has some of our favorite restaurants in Chicago. So when you can’t decide where to eat in between all the fancy steakhouses, Italian beef joints, and hyped-up party spots, this guide is here to help.


photo credit: Bavette's


River North

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Bavette’s is our favorite steakhouse in Chicago. First, because the actual steak here is the best in the city. Second, because the speakeasy atmosphere and 1920s jazz music make it feel different from a traditional Chicago steakhouse, as does the fact that you can come here, not order a steak (entrees like the fried chicken and the lamb chops are outstanding), and still have a fantastic meal. Still, though, you should definitely get a steak, and an order of buttery mashed potatoes and truffle mac and cheese that might as well come with a defibrillator.

Obelix is located in a quieter part of River North where, instead of witnessing drunken couples arguing with bouncers, you can enjoy some fantastic upscale French food in relative serenity. This spot is from the same team as Le Bouchon, and while they have delicious staples similar to their longstanding sister restaurant, the most exciting dishes are the fusion-y ones that have an international spin. From their steak tartare with a spicy and pungent shio kombu, to their impressively complex foie gras taco (aka foie-co), the combinations of flavors are interesting and unexpected. Paired with an energetic rotation of hip-hop jams, it makes for an exciting date night or small group dinner full of head-bobbing between savory foie-co bites.

Ciccio Mio is an Italian spot from the same team as Bavette’s and Gilt. In fact, it’s located right in between those two places, and also has consistently excellent food. You’ll find dishes like antipasti, pasta, and larger entrees—and everything from the simple burrata with housemade fougasse to the crispy chicken parmesan is delicious. Even better, the dining room (filled with old-timey pictures) feels a little like the setting for a murder mystery party, but here you can pick your own fake persona.

photo credit: Kim Kovacik



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Indienne is a fine-dining Indian restaurant from the original chef of Rooh in the West Loop. It has a large dining room full of white tablecloths and staff bustling around in crisp jackets, and the menu’s dishes are plated artistically. You can order a la carte, or a six-course tasting menu for $110-$120, which feels affordable in a neighborhood overrun with valets parking rented Lambos. Most of the food has some kind of French twist, so you’ll find things like eclair canapes filled with goat cheese and chutney, malai tikka formed into a terrine and sauced tableside, and a cute little potato pave accompanying the perfectly medium rare lamb chop.

Sifr is a “modern Middle Eastern” spot from the Indienne team, and the menu has a wide range of dishes, including chicken liver pate topped with pomegranate molasses and parsley oil we want to rub on our face. But there’s also fava-filled manti in a silky butternut ashta that might be our favorite dumpling in the city. The space looks like a lot of new restaurants these days (full of plants and playing tropical house) but it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours, and the service is attentive.

Originally from Miami, Joe’s has officially become a Chicago classic, too. This location does a great job of incorporating its signature stone crabs with an otherwise traditional steakhouse menu. You’ll find all the steakhouse sides you’d expect (there’s a whole section devoted to potatoes and plenty of creamed spinach), along with seasonal fish and shellfish. Joe’s proves there’s no better way to do surf and turf than steak and stone crabs.

Eating here usually feels like a corporate outing, probably because it’s at the bottom of an office building that houses prestigious corporations and successful-looking people in power suits. But the food (especially the bone-in prime rib) is excellent, and the space has an impressive view of the Chicago River. It’s also a great place for a general celebratory meal—because even if you’re not a fancy business person, you’re still a celebrity to all 312 of your Instagram followers.

This Asian-fusion vegan spot is the rare plant-based restaurant where the food is really good and enough of a scene to earn its River North address. Planta Queen's space is sleek, has a thump-y music playlist that may briefly make you consider going clubbing afterward, and the long menu is full of dishes that are objectively tasty—whether you’re vegan or not. There’s spicy tuna nigiri made with dehydrated watermelon and firm udon noodles swimming in an unbelievably silky truffle mushroom cream sauce. The large space has plenty of seats for couples, but also enough big booths for a group of friends.

Even if you're not a wine drinker, this restaurant inside Chicago Winery is still worth a visit. Liva’s pastas are delicious, like tender ricotta ravioli with sweet corn. They have great small plates as well, like hamachi crudo with blood orange and almonds. And if you do like wine, the knowledgeable staff is always happy to chat about varietals and the ideal pairings for each dish. Its large bright dining space is good for a casual group dinner or a nice date night, but there are also plenty of seats at the bar if you want to enjoy some pasta and wine by yourself.

​​This casual Croatian cafe has become our favorite place to get some work done in the neighborhood. It’s not just because Doma is quiet, has strong wifi, a cute side patio, and a soothing Scandinavian furniture store aesthetic (and vintage chairs for sale). No, it’s also because the food is excellent. It’s open for breakfast and lunch, and the menu has dishes like must-order ćevapi wrapped in fluffy flatbread with clotted cream and a roasted pepper spread, a spicy breakfast sandwich, and tasty soups and pastries. All of which are likely to distract you from whatever reports you’re supposed to be typing on your laptop.

You probably either love Sunda or find it obnoxious, because—late at night or on the weekends, at least—it can be tourist overload. And we respect both sides of that argument. Sunda is basically one giant scene, but we stand firm in our belief that it also serves great food. From the adobo fried rice to the pork buns to the sushi (especially the rolls), it won’t disappoint.

Nothing says “going out to dinner in Chicago” like a River North steakhouse with giant booths that’s owned by a former reality show star. And RPM Steak checks all those boxes. It also has excellent service, and really good food. This includes some very expensive cuts of steak (there are three categories of wagyu on the menu), along with small plates, salads, and seafood dishes that deserve equal attention on your table.

We were initially skeptical when we heard Avli opened a restaurant in River North. After all, we weren’t particularly impressed with the Greek food at their small Lincoln Park outpost. But this location is actually pretty great. It has a slightly different menu, with dishes like astakomakaronada (a lobster pasta in a great ouzo-tomato sauce) and chicken souvlaki—tender chicken breast skewers on top of a bed of fries topped with feta and yogurt sauce. Plus, the large two-level space is perfect for groups, while also being quiet enough to have a conversation.

This is the second location of Avec, and is about 56 times larger than the original in the West Loop. Other notable differences are that it doesn’t have communal seating, and has a longer menu full of Avec classics (like the chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates and taleggio focaccia), along with a lot more small and large plates, pastas, and pizza. And because the space here is bigger and everyone gets their very own seat, this is the better Avec for a group or business dinner when you don’t want to ask the boss to move whenever you need to go to the restroom.

Tzuco is an upscale Mexican restaurant that feels a little like a trendy installation at a desert art museum, and we mean that in the best way possible. The food here is flavorful and well-executed, from their tetela with tinga de pollo, to chorizo and mussels in a saffron beurre blanc, to delicious cochinita pibil. This spot is a great alternative to the usual suspects in the neighborhood if you’re planning a business dinner or a group outing.

Mr. Beef has been making Italian beef sandwiches in River North since 1963, long before it became the inspiration behind The Bear. And if this counter service spot’s longevity isn’t enough to convince you of its greatness, their sandwiches will. The meat and gravy isn’t too peppery or salty, which allows the pure beefiness to shine through, and the sturdy bread develops a pleasant softness as it soaks up all the juices. Just know that Mr. Beef is cash-only, so stop by an ATM before grabbing lunch (they’re only open until 4pm). It’s mainly a takeout spot, but they do have an old-school communal table in the back.

The large Peruvian menu at Tanta has sections devoted to ceviche and skewers as well as main dishes like the pollo a la brasa. Everything is great, so the best strategy is to come with a group so you can try as much food as possible. This place is perfect for a weekend date, a nice dinner during the week, and during the summer when you can eat on their fantastic rooftop.

RPM Seafood rounds out the RPM trifecta. All of the above applies except this spot focuses on seafood and there’s the added bonus of eating in a space that feels like a shipping magnate’s yacht. You’ll see a steady parade of seafood towers go by but the best dishes crank the dial on flavor—like the smoky and spicy charcoal-grilled black bass. Besides the food, the biggest draw of RPM Seafood might be the large riverfront patio and one of the nicest views in Chicago.

Frontera has been in River North since 1987. And even though it’s way past the point of “hot and new” it’s still a good option if you’re looking for Mexican food in the neighborhood. Particularly things like enchiladas, tacos, carne asada, and moles - which are all done very well. The brightly colored space is casual, the service is always friendly, and they have a cute sidewalk patio that’s great for people-watching.

Sushi-san in River North has wooden tables, loud rap music, and the menu is a mix of sushi and Japanese small plates. Sure, this place has a poop emoji instead of a bathroom sign, but the food here is no joke—it’s really really good. Sushi-san is also both reasonably affordable for the neighborhood, and a fun spot for a group dinner. Order a “San-set” (an assortment of sushi), and make sure you get the Japanese pancakes for dessert.

Fueled by solid ramen, a long drink list, and omnipresent hip-hop soundtrack, Ramen San is a laid-back alternative to the upscale, menus-as-big-as-your-torso, River North spots. Their ramen comes with thin wavy noodles and a variety of flavorful broths, from the vegetable ramen with mushrooms and tofu, to the chicken shio with buttery corn, to our favorite: creamy tonkotsu with fatty chashu and a gooey soft-boiled egg. The energetic atmosphere and large dining area works for a meal with friends, or end-of-the-week drinks with your coworkers.

As you might suspect, RPM Italian is the sister restaurant to RPM Steak, and everything we said about its steakhouse sibling holds true for their Italian restaurant, too. It’s the opposite of laid-back, but it’s a fantastic choice if you’re craving delicious pastas and don’t mind tourists and seeing and/or being seen. The bucatini here is some of the best in Chicago.

Kyuramen is a Taiwanese ramen chain with over 120 locations in Asia, but this is their first one in Chicago. And while their ramen is pretty good (the spicy tonkotsu is particularly flavorful), the menu's sleeper hit doesn’t involve any soup or noodles: the omurice. This bright, spacious restaurant (full of curtained private dining stalls and cute honeycomb-shaped booths) is one of the few places in the city that serves this Japanese dish. The server will cut open the scrambled egg pillow resting on top of mushroom and beef fried rice to reveal a molten blanket of bright yellow, and it’s finished off with rich demi-glace poured tableside.

Ema is a Mediterranean small plates restaurant, and all the dishes are designed for sharing. You can keep it simple with basics like hummus and kefta, or order some of the more interesting dishes like the parmesan farro "risotto" with mushroom ragu. Whatever you do, make sure you order extra housemade pita—it’s excellent. Also good to know? There are plenty of round tables that can easily seat mid-sized groups, and they have a nice sidewalk patio, too.

Gilt Bar is a dark restaurant that feels a little like a speakeasy and is great for dates. It’s particularly great for holing up in the winter with favorites like tenderloin steak tartare, truffle pasta, and wood roasted chicken. You’ll forget about, well, everything, when you’re deep in the bone marrow at Gilt Bar.

Shaw’s has all things seafood in a refined (slightly stuffy) dining room. It’s a great place to come with the family and have a comfortable, upscale meal. You can’t go wrong with any of the fish or crab dishes, but the more casual oyster bar is also a great option—go heavy enough on the oysters and appetizers, and you can skip entrees altogether.

There’s a phenomenon that occurs in Chicago—one where city blocks slowly get taken over by a series of restaurants all owned by the same people. This is the case with Frontera Grill, Xoco, and Topolobampo, which are all right next door to each other on Clark Street. And now the alleys aren’t safe either, thanks to Bar Sotano, a cocktail bar right behind all those spots. Luckily, the Mexican food here is great. The menu has a mix of bar snacks (like habanero-glazed fried chicken bites), plus entrees like a burger and short ribs with avocado mash. So it’s definitely improving the alley.

This 12-seat omakase is hidden in the back room of Lady May, and like Sushi-San, is a little bit tongue-in-cheek. But where Sushi-San has things like poop emojis for bathroom signs, Sushi Bar decides to go unconventional when it comes to the food. For $165, you’ll get 17 courses of “new wave” nigiri, involving foams, dehydrated herbs, and multiple blowtorch appearances. Toppings can be a little over-present, but everything is generally pretty tasty. Courses move along at a brisk pace, and the atmosphere is fun enough that this is still a good option for a special occasion dinner.

Chicago is the fifth location of this casual Spanish restaurant that opened in D.C. back in 1993, and the brightly lit, busy space can definitely give you chain restaurant vibes. But that concern will disappear fast thanks to the attentive service and great food. The menu includes tapas, paellas, sangrias, and a long list of Spanish wines. And the crowd—while a mixed bag of tourists—is clearly having some fun. It’s contagious, so even if you come here in a bad mood, you’ll be joining them soon. It’s a great spot for dinner and drinks before going out downtown, or if you just want to get together with some friends and not worry about how loud you’re being.

Gene & Georgetti is quintessential old-school Chicago, and we love it for that. It’s technically a steakhouse—in fact, it’s Chicago’s oldest steakhouse, since it’s been around since 1944. But it was opened by two Italian guys, which means this is a great spot to get Italian food, too. Come here and split items like steak, sausage and peppers, and a giant bowl of spaghetti with meatballs.

The Rick Bayless River North trifecta ends here, and Xoco is the most casual and convenient of the bunch. Xoco is great for lunch—pop in for a quick torta, a bowl of tortilla soup, and some churros and hot chocolate. Not necessarily in that order.

On the surface, Siena Tavern has all the traits of a typical River North spot: it’s trendy, always crowded, and it has giant booths. And it also happens to be a really great Italian restaurant. You can order the pizzas here half and half, and you can’t go wrong with any of the pastas, like the gnocchi, or the squid ink linguine with lobster.

Beatrix is a handy utility player. The all-day menu has a variety of solid options for brunch, lunch, and dinner, and there are a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options on the menu. But, they also have a pastry case that’s full of fantastic baked goods. Get the apple oatmeal cookie on your way out.

When GT Prime first opened, it was more of a meat-centric small plates restaurant that served steak in sliced tasting portions. We’re glad they changed their minds and decided to go full-steakhouse, serving their high-quality red meat in normal cuts. You’ll find fuzzy bar stools, animal heads on the walls, and giant leather booths that help show you this is a bonafide USDA River North restaurant. And if you do miss the sliced portions of steak, you can always order the “carnivore,” which has 8oz servings of filet, venison loin, and two types of NY strip for $300.

We’re big fans of this little counter-service Indian street food and pizza spot. The menu is short—they have some build-your-own bowls and wraps, plus dishes like pav bhaji and biryani. But the best things at Moti are their snacks, particularly the samosa chaat and momos, and the masala pizzas. The chicken tikka and palak paneer versions of the pizza are the perfect balance of creamy, tangy, and spicy, and the personal sizes come on a wonderfully crisp slab of naan. Moti is a great option for a quick, affordable meal before you decide to go spend $80 on a pair of socks.

Friends Station is an AYCE shabu shabu spot, where colorful plates of ingredients zoom past you on a conveyor belt, loud music blasts from the speakers, and diners hectically stack empty dishes to try to make the most of the 80 minutes allotted for eating. Our favorites are the thinly sliced lamb shoulder, black pepper marinated pork, and ribeye, especially when topped off with some spicy, garlicky hua lampong sauce. Also great is the serotonin boost you get when you emerge victorious against your friend after racing to snag the same plate of beef.

Portillo’s can do no wrong. This is our go-to spot in River North for hot dogs, Italian beef, and cheese fries. Don’t skip the chocolate cake shake.

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