Chicago has lots of steakhouses, and it seems like they just keep multiplying. In fact, there might be a new one growing in your closet right now that you don’t even know about. Basically, this city’s love of cow meat is legendary, and the more places we can get it, the better.
Your classic Chicago steakhouse usually has a few of the following things: a downtown address, giant booths, an entire menu section devoted to potatoes, a name involving two words and an ampersand, and/or dressed-up servers who give you a little lecture while brandishing a huge tray of raw beef. And while we have a lot of love for these places, eventually you’ll have bankrupted yourself by eating at all of them, or you’ll just need to get dinner with someone who doesn’t understand the appeal of sharing a 167 oz. bone-in ribeye and three gallons of creamed spinach.
That’s when you need a secret steakhouse - a.k.a. a place that isn’t technically a steakhouse on the surface, but still serves excellent red meat. Here are 13.
We’re big fans of 5 Rabanitos in Pilsen. This casual BYOB spot has some of the best Mexican food in the city, and everything on its long menu is really good. Including the perfectly seasoned carne asada, which at $18 feels like a pretty good deal for a well-prepared and generously-portioned steak. Plus, on the weekends there’s usually another cut of meat available on special, like ribeye or tenderloin. So clearly your next date night should be happening here.
The menu at Avec changes a lot, but they always have their butcher steak on the menu. And while the preparation varies (it might come with hummus, chimichurri, or charred pumpkin), you can count on it being both perfectly cooked and delicious. It’s a small plate, but if you’ve ordered correctly (i.e. gotten as many bacon-wrapped dates as you can fit on the communal table without being considered a bad neighbor), it’s big enough to work as an entree for one person.
There are certain things you expect to find in a River North alley, like garbage bags and abandoned platform heels. You don’t, generally speaking, expect to find fantastic steaks. Bar Sotano, a hidden cocktail spot in the alley behind Frontera Grill, has changed that. The wagyu is one of the best things on the menu here, and it’s served with a smoky aioli and parsnip puree that complements it really well. It’s also one of the more expensive dishes on the menu ($35), and a pretty small portion, so plan on ordering some tacos on the side.
Getting a steak at Alinea might involve crawling inside a cow frozen with liquid nitrogen, then smashing your way out. Roister, which is from the same team, doesn’t have over-the-top theatrics - but the menu still has plenty of interesting dishes, including two excellent steaks (a very expensive wagyu for $115, and a more affordable prime rib). Since both are worth ordering, the answer to the question “Can I still pay rent this month?” should help you decide between the two.
Sirloin isn’t the sexiest-seeming menu item. It might bring back memories of Sizzler, or that steak your uncle overcooked at the family BBQ five years ago (it was so dry that you really remember it). But when you see the sirloin on the menu at The Publican, don’t be deterred. It’s always delicious, and it comes with plenty of stuff (like persimmons, fennel, and feta) to keep it interesting. You won’t regret that you’re not eating a bone-in ribeye. Much.
You probably have a favorite RPM restaurant the same way you have a favorite twin from Sweet Valley High. The difference being that sometimes you’re forced to decide between having your special night at RPM Italian and RPM Steak. Well, unlike its counterpart that rarely has pastas, RPM Italian always has a few steaks on the menu (like the bone-in ribeye and the filet), and they’re reliably great. For the record, the filet is totally what Jessica would order.
Etta is a BCR (Big Chicago Restaurant) in Wicker Park, owned by the same people behind the Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash. So it’s not too surprising that they also have a great steak here, especially since the focal point of of the menu is the wood-fired grill. The aged ribeye at Etta is as delicious as anything you’d find at Maple & Ash, and as a bonus, parking in this neighborhood is much more affordable.
Bavette’s is a very popular, very good steakhouse in River North. Gilt Bar is the speakeasy-style restaurant next door owned by the same people, and it’s not nearly as hard to get into. We suspect there might be some sort of bootleggers’ tunnel connecting the two, because the ribeye at Gilt Bar seems to be as good as one you get at Bavette’s. Do with that information what you will.
Like Gilt Bar, this West Loop spot is owned by the Bavette’s crew. And while it’s a French restaurant rather than a steakhouse, one thing that’s always on the menu is the Maude’s steak, which is a juicy ribeye served with steak salt and a bernaise sauce on the side. So unless that bootleggers’ tunnel is really long, it looks like these people just know how to make a great steak.
Obviously there’s a theme here. Steakhouses that open up non-steakhouses either don’t want to forget their roots, or know deep-down what they’re really good at. This is also the case with Gibsons Italia, an upscale Italian restaurant owned by the Grand Marshall of the Chicago Steak Parade, Gibsons. While we can take or leave the Italian food at this spot, the steaks are excellent. Plus, the space - which has three floors, a rooftop bar, and a beautiful view - is perfect if you’re trying to impress someone.
This is another secret steakhouse located the West Loop. Lena Brava’s Baja-inspired menu focuses primarily on seafood, so you’re only going to find a handful of meat dishes here. One of these happens to be the tomahawk - a huge piece of red meat that’s meant “for the table.” So you’d better hope that someone in your group wants to order it too, or at least doesn’t mind watching you try to eat half a cow by yourself. That said, if you’re from Chicago, you’ve been training your whole life to do that. Go for it.
Bear with us for a second here. While the jibarito at La Bomba in Humboldt Park isn’t exactly what you might typically consider a steak, it’s kind of like a full steakhouse dinner in sandwich form. It consists of charred, tender beef between two fried plantains (standing in for side dishes), plus tomato, lettuce, and cheese (there’s your salad), and a delicious garlic mayo that ties everything together. It will make your breath bad for days, but it’s completely worth it, and you don’t have to make a reservation, sign a lease for a huge booth, or stare down a traveling tray of raw steak to eat it.