Here’s the deal: You thought you were going to stay in, but work killed you and you need to get out. Or your cousin decided to randomly come to town, and now he wants to go out for some real “Chicago food” and beers. Or, you’re just lazy and didn’t make plans. What should you do?
Don’t panic. There are plenty of great restaurants in town that don’t take reservations, so you have just as good a chance of getting a table as anyone else. Of course, there are going to be other people with the same idea, which means you might have to wait a bit. The good news is you have no plans, and it’s the perfect situation to eat at these spots. Considering you might have to wait, we also have you covered on where to grab a drink while you do.
The West Loop is dotted with more great restaurants than the Hollywood Walk of Fame has stars, but Avec is still holding it down as one of the true OGs. Despite everything else around it, Avec is always crowded, and still doesn’t take reservations. That means there’s no such thing as a bad time to go if you have the time to commit. If you have to wait, go next door to Salero (621 W. Randolph St.) and have a cocktail in the front bar area. Snack on marcona almonds and olives if you get desperately hungry.
There are two things you can count on at Kuma’s Corner: exceptional burgers and a constant dose of loud heavy metal music. Even if you’re not interested in Slayer’s music, you should be interested in the Slayer burger at Kuma’s, which is a burger on a bed of fries, with chili, cherry peppers, caramelized onion, andouille sausage, shredded monterrey jack, green onion, and anger. But this Slayer burger will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If there's a wait, nothing close by is worth popping into unless you're looking at an hour-plus. If that’s the case, head north on Elston to Chief O’Neill’s (3471 N. Elston Ave.).
What more can we say about Au Cheval that hasn’t already been said? Anyone who tells you Au Cheval is overrated wasn’t loved as a child. There is legitimately always a wait, but sometimes you need to get your Au Cheval burger fix. Don’t forget the bacon. If there’s a wait, go next door to Lone Wolf (806 W. Randolph St.)
Rather than making a reservation at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, because they are always available, spend some time to get yourself a table at The Purple Pig across the street. This is one of the few Michigan Avenue restaurants that we’d ever direct you towards. The Greek-inspired menu is not surprisingly heavy on the pork. If there’s a wait, head across the street to Howells & Hood (435 N. Michigan Ave.), who has plenty of space and a great beer selection.
You’re either Team Big Star or not and there’s usually no in-between. Of course, waits are brutal when it’s nice outside, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not worth taking a chance. Don’t sleep on Big Star in the winter either, because it’s worth popping into if you have no plans and are looking to hit the town. When there's a wait, try and snag some room at the bar. If you can’t, there are plenty of options nearby including Revel Room (1566 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and Links Taproom (1559 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
You’re bored, you’re really hungry, you’re not sure if you want to go out other than for food. It’s an all around dire situation. Answer – Green Street Smoked Meats. Hit up the West Loop BBQ spot that’s Texas Style BBQ meets cool West Loop loft space. Go heavy on the brisket and sides. Where to drink if there’s a wait? In line, because that’s how you get your food. Realistically, we don’t think Green Street will ever have a huge line. The place is big enough and things move. Grab a beer from the tub while waiting if you need.
Eat. Sleep. Whisky. That’s a motto we can live by, so we’ve got no problem with the fact Longman & Eagle won’t take reservations. Stick to some traditional favorites like the burger, or get a little adventurous because Longman is always mixing things up on the menu. The whisky selection is always top notch, so you’re going to want some of that as well. Where to drink if there’s a wait? Longman & Eagle understands supply and demand, because they used a small space next to the actual restaurant to create Off Site Bar (2657 N. Kedzie Ave.). OSB even has its own menu of snacks while you’re waiting for a table.
Deep down all we really want is pizza and beer, so head to Piece and you’ll wonder why you ever even make plans. The Wicker Park pizza joint doesn’t take reservations, which means you’ll be clamoring for a table just like everyone else. It’s the perfect spot for an adult pizza party. Where to drink if there’s a wait: Odds are you can find yourself some space at the bar while you wait. If not, let your inner nerd fly at Geek Bar Beta (1941 W. North Ave.) next door.
The Anglo-Indian restaurant has the best of both worlds: English drinking culture and Indian-inspired food. There’s no good system for getting a table, which makes the whole thing feel a bit like The Hunger Games. Stalk other diners if you have to and make a quick move to the first open spot you see. Order the hot fried chicken. If there's a wait, you're best off sticking around, because you can’t get a table otherwise.
Nothing like a giant Cajun-style crab boil on an otherwise barren strip of Lincoln Ave. near Bryn Mawr. Don’t shower before you come to Angry Crab because you’re going to want to shower after. Prepare to get messy while you dive into giant plastic bags filled with crab, shrimp, lobster, chorizo, and more. Damn this place is good. Where to drink if there’s a wait? No joke, there’s literally nothing close. Angry Crab is BYOB though, so bring some beers and have one while you wait in line.
Hopleaf is the best of both worlds – the beer list is massive and the Belgian inspired gastropub food is great. If you’re looking for a bite and a beer to see where the night takes you, this is a good place to start. The restaurant part in the back doesn’t take reservations, but luckily you can post up in front at the bar and wait for a table. Order their signature CB&J (cashew butter and jam), which will make all those other PB&J’s from your childhood feel like a waste of time. If there’s a wait, stay at Hopleaf and find standing space in the front bar while waiting for a table in the back.
Style wise, Tex Mex meets the 1950s old school diner at Dove’s Luncheonette. But in reality, it’s more Southern-style cuisine meets Mexican cuisine than it is real Tex-Mex. The almost counter-only restaurant is an interesting mix of style and food, but you can always try and pop in for comfort food and tequila-based cocktails. Looking for a drink while you wait? Grab a seat next door at the Big Star bar (1531 N. Damen Ave.), or go around the corner to The Revel Room (1566 N. Milwaukee Ave.).