Flights get delayed, water mains break, bosses make you stay late. In other words, life doesn’t always go according to plan, and as a result, a table at your first-choice restaurant isn’t happening. Don’t panic - we made a list of the perfect Plan B spots for when your Plan A fails. And sure, just like how the “New Style Ninja Tortoises” knockoff toys aren’t quite the same as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you really wanted for your birthday as a kid, these share enough qualities with the place you had your heart set on to make them reasonably good alternatives that will save your night.
For When You Wanted Maude’s Liquor Bar
You’ve decided to finally check out Maude’s for date night - after all, you keep hearing how great this restaurant is. Well, it is, and that’s why it’s packed. Luckily, The Front Room is right next door serving tasty New Orleans-inspired food, including things like crab cakes, lobster campanelle, and steak. Along with its French (Quarter) menu, The Front Room also has the same dimly lit environment you were hoping for, making it a reasonable replacement. If you squint, you can convince yourself you’re actually at Maude’s. Sort of how you hope your mom does when she uses the “Gucci” bag you bought her.
For When You Wanted Monteverde
Monteverde is Chicago’s best Italian restaurant, and you’ll probably only be able to get a same-week reservation at 5pm on a Tuesday. If you end up staying late at the office to file those TPS reports (or you just don’t feel like going out for the early bird special), eat at Formento’s instead. It’s also in the West Loop, has almost-as-good housemade pasta, and is never as busy. Plus, it has an excellent chocolate cake that makes a compelling case for this place being destination-worthy in its own right.
For When You Wanted Giant
Giant’s been around Logan Square long enough that you might think you could safely drop in on this small, busy restaurant for a casual weeknight dinner. You can’t. Head next door to Scofflaw, which is primarily a gin-focused bar, but now also serves a full dinner menu. You can get dishes like lamb ribs, bone marrow, and a fantastic cheeseburger. But perhaps most importantly, Scofflaw offers free fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies after midnight. Which is kind of an upgrade from Giant, anyway.
For When You Wanted Au Cheval
If Au Cheval is your Plan A we made an entire guide for you: Where To Eat When The Wait At Au Cheval Is Three Hours Long.
For When You Wanted Galit
If you have friends visiting over the weekend, don’t be surprised if someone read about Galit, and is really looking forward to eating there. And while it’s possible to walk in, it’s not likely if you have more than two people. Thankfully your friend’s pita and hummus dreams don’t have to end there. Consider Ema in River North. The Mediterranean small plates are very good, and while the pita isn’t quite as life-changing as it is at Galit, you’ll probably still end up eating three baskets of it before the night is over.
For When You Wanted Pizzeria Portofino
Pizzeria Portofino is a very beautiful and absurdly busy spot right on the river. If you’re strolling around downtown and think it looks like a promising option, there’s a good chance the host will tell you there’s a four-hour wait. You can decide to put your name in anyway and kill time taking an architectural boat tour (twice), or you can go a little further north and eat at Robert’s Pizza And Dough Company. It’s a pizza place on the Ogden Slip that also has a great view of the water. Order one of the specialty pies (we like the fennel and the sausage) and use all that extra time you would have spent waiting at Portofino seeing an IMAX movie at Navy Pier.
For When You Wanted Parachute
Few spots are as likeable, or as consistently delicious, as Parachute in Avondale. But Mott Street comes close. It’s only about ten minutes away, and we like this Wicker Park spot more and more each time we eat here. The Asian fusion dishes are perfect for sharing, and the communal seating and large outdoor patio makes it a great place to come with a group. Make sure you get the kimchi-stuffed empanada, and if you sit at the bar or come for brunch, order the Mott burger - it’s amazing, and those are your only opportunities to eat it.
For When You Wanted Duck Duck Goat
Duck Duck Goat is a fun spot with interesting food, and it’s always incredibly busy. So when OpenTable tells you to wait until 10:45pm, take it as a sign to travel to Sun Wah in Uptown instead. It’s nowhere near the West Loop, but when your plan hinges on sharing a whole duck with your friends, Sun Wah is well worth the trip. This Chinese barbecue spot specializes in Peking duck, which is actually an off-menu item. It’s carved tableside and served first with bao, then as a rice or noodle dish, and finally as a soup. And yes, the rest of the menu can be hit or miss, but the duck alone is worth the extra travel time. (Time that you’d be spending waiting for your 10:45 reservation, anyway).
For When You Wanted RPM Italian
When your suburban friends are in the city and planning on going out out in River North, you want to make sure they have some food in their system beforehand. And while they’re excited about the idea of a potential Giuliana and Bill Rancic sighting at RPM Italian, no one’s eating at RPM Italian on the weekend without a reservation. Walk over to Quartino. Is it as sleek and trendy? Absolutely not. But the large space has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of open dining rooms, and the tapas menu makes it easy to share lots of different things. Quartino might not be filled with reality stars, but it’s in River North, so there’s still very good people watching to be had.
For When You Wanted Bavette’s
Gilt Bar debuted the same year as the iPad, and since your first iPad has been gathering dust for a long time, it’s understandable if you’ve similarly forgotten what a great restaurant this is. When Bavette’s is booked (which is always) this place is a fantastic substitute. It’s right next door, has the same speakeasy feel, and is owned by the same people - so you’ll even find a lot of the same dishes on the menu (like the tenderloin tartare). The best part is that it’s much easier to get into, and there’s a good chance you can get a table even if you just walk in.
For When You Wanted Girl & the Goat
Other than location, Girl & the Goat and The Publican don’t seem to have a lot in common. The former offers a wide range of cuisines, and the latter focuses primarily on New American food. But there are actually a lot of similarities between the two: they’re both “two to three plates per person” spots, both have menus divided into meat, fish, and vegetable categories, and both tend to add a creative twist to their food. One thing they don’t have in common is wait times: Girl & the Goat has been hard to get into since 2010, and the Publican almost always has a same-day reservation available.
For When You Wanted Cabra
The sales team is in town from Rochester this week, and you booked a table weeks ago at Cabra, the rooftop restaurant on top of the Hoxton from the same team as Girl & the Goat and Duck Duck Goat. Or you thought you did... but never actually hit “confirm” to reserve. Before your group spirals out of control negotiating alternative options, head for Cira - a nice-looking, perfect-for-a-business-meal spot on the ground floor of the same hotel. And while the Mediterranean-inspired food is pretty boring and won’t blow you away, it’s fine. Just like this quarter’s sales projections.
For When You Wanted Kyoten
Chicago has several omakase-only spots, and Kyoten is the best of them. But it only has eight seats, which makes it very hard to get a reservation. So if you need a Plan B special occasion omakase place, try your luck at Mako - their dining room can fit 22 people, so you won’t need to book a seat quite so far in advance. The sushi and small plates are thoughtfully prepared and delicious, and you’re still getting over 20 courses like you would at Kyoten. All those extra seats mean that dinner here can take longer, but hey, you should have planned further ahead.