If you live in Chicago, you either are a comedian, know a comedian, or will at some point host an out-of-towner paying to see comedians at Second City. It’s the most famous comedy venue we have, so if you haven’t been there yet, it’s just a matter of time. And because the only thing more painful than bad comedy is terrible food, we’ve compiled this list of the best places eat nearby. Here’s hoping you end up seeing the next Tina Fey, not someone who thinks their George W. Bush impression needs to be in every scene.
We’re sure whatever show you’re seeing at Second City will be great, but just in case you need a guarantee that one part of your night won’t bomb, go to Somerset. This is one of the absolute best restaurants in Chicago, and also the fanciest spot on our list. Its upscale American menu manages to be interesting but still appeal to just about everyone - and nothing you eat will disappoint. Make sure to tell the server you have a time constraint, and you’ll easily get out in time for the show. It’s about a five-minute cab ride or 15-minute walk from here to Second City.
If you’re terrified of being pulled onstage later and need to loosen up, try SteakBar, which has a Vegas-lite kind of atmosphere. It’s run by same group as Au Cheval and Bavette’s, and it’s like either one of those spots reimagined as a clubby sports bar. The menu also has a lot of dishes you’ll recognize from both places, like the steak tartar and honey fried chicken wings - but not the famous Au Cheval burger, although the SteakBar burger is also very good. And because it’s an excellent place to get drunk, your pratfalls later will seem that much more realistic.
Bebu has the best thin-crust pies in Chicago, so if pizza is a part of your pre-show plan (and it really should be), this is your spot. Try ordering a half-and-half pie with two topping combinations, like the Ode to Rubirosa and the Bebu Meatball. They’re all business here, so you won’t need to worry about running late. And like Somerset, it’s about a 15-minute walk or a quick cab ride to Second City.
On the spectrum of sushi restaurants, Kamehachi fits into the “pretty good, and a little pricey” category. But it’s a solid choice if you’re looking for some reliable sushi and other Japanese dishes. The best strategy for tackling their big menu is to go heavy on the signature rolls (the Crouching Tuna Hidden Crab is a fun one), and get appetizers like gyoza and tempura for the table.
Happy Camper is a really good bar that has some solid pizza. It’s known for creative toppings, like buffalo chicken and pulled pork, and a crust that’s soft and airy but also crunchy on the outside (deep dish or thin crust diehards might not love it, but you can’t please everyone). You’re really here for the space, which is huge and kind of like an adult playground, with tire swing barstools, a rehabbed Airstream camper, and an enormous neon outline of the Great Lakes. It’s a weird decor combination, but it succeeds in making the entire experience fun, and it might even bring you back to that time in college when you took improv classes (before realizing comedy is best left to those who are funny).
If your Midwestern parents are visiting from out of town, this spot will make them happy. It’s been an institution since 1932, serving Chicago-style ribs (they’re slow-cooked rather than smoked, so this is technically not barbecue), and it has giant laminated menus that remind us of old-school supper clubs. The ribs are tender and juicy, so we’re pretty sure everyone (not just Midwesterners) will actually be happy here. It also has light-up beer signs in the windows. What’s not to like?
Topo Gigio is a small neighborhood spot in Old Town serving really good red-sauce Italian food. It’s a white tablecloth spot that isn’t cheap, but the accommodating staff is good at keeping it casual and not too stuffy. There’s a great patio to sip wine on during the summer, plus a heated inner garden area that makes this one of our favorite semi-outdoor situations year-round, even if we’re not in the neighborhood for a show.
This is not a destination restaurant - you should really only come here if you’re looking for something close and very easy before or after Second City. But Old Town Social has its perks, including the people-watching (imagine a crowd from Wrigleyville but wearing button-downs, cheap tube dresses, and the occasional sweatpant). It’s good for groups, and the elevated bar food is just fine. Hit it up after the show, when you feel like a burger and some cheese curds and don’t mind being surrounded by a cloud of cologne and bad decisions.
The nice thing about this place is that it works for just about anyone. The menu is broad (you’ll find pastas, wood-grilled mains, and lots of stuff for gluten free folks), and the food is good, so even your friends who complain about everything will (probably) enjoy eating here. Make sure to leave them at the restaurant, though - they will completely ruin your fun at a comedy show.
When you can’t decide between pizza and pasta, go to Sono, which does both very well, and also has a solid menu of antipasti and bruschetta to round out your meal. It’s a nice-but-still-casual space, with exposed brick and glowing edison lights, and it’s especially great for small groups. This spot is predictable and totally safe, but not in a bad way - just like the Second City tickets you’re going to get as your holiday bonus.