The West Loop Big New Restaurant Power RankingsAll these spots you keep hearing about, ranked.
The West Loop has a constant stream of new restaurants popping up like mushrooms after the rain. But recently, the neighborhood has seen an influx of Big New Restaurants: large, trendy places showing up on everyone’s social media, with booths that can fit nine of your closest friends and a sound system that sets off car alarms. Some are good, some are not, and some are fun enough that it doesn’t matter. So before you decide to make that 4pm reservation, consult this guide. Here are The West Loop’s newest places, ranked.
Coming Soon: The Oakville Grill & Cellar
Rose Mary is hyped, and has been since before it even opened during summer 2021. It’s so hyped, in fact, that you’ll hear people claim that the food here isn’t even any good. That is untrue. The Croatian food is consistently delicious, and the service is always top-notch. The crni rizot is what the ocean would taste like if it made a wish to become risotto. There’s a plate of garlicky cevapi perfect for sharing, and incredible pastas too. Despite every table being filled, you’ll always be seated in a timely fashion, and have a relaxed dinner with clairvoyant servers who bring the check exactly when you’re ready to leave. This is a very good restaurant that’s worth your time.
This guide exists specifically to answer questions about whether you should bother booking dinner at Alla Vita. This Italian spot is buzzing with everyone from couples to large groups in town for some investment conference. It’s decorated with hanging plants and an intriguing overhead installation that looks a little like wavy gills. And while the menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees) what’s on it is very good. The cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings are unbelievably rich, the pizza has a chewy wood-fired crust, and the chicken parmesan stays crispy even while sitting in a rich tomato sauce. Plan on booking a month or so in advance, or do some solo dumpling reconnaissance and just snag a seat at the bar right when they open.
Pop-ups are a little like restaurant one-night stands, and it can be hard to know if they’re hyped because they’re great, or because you’re bored and want something new. This great Baja-influenced seafood spot is a pop-up operating out of Soho House until January, which means you have plenty of time to make reservations. And you should, because the food is delicious. The menu has plates like perfectly acidic snapper ceviche, smoky octopus skewers, and buttery garlic shrimp that are great for sharing. The busy space is upbeat, with a bass-heavy playlist, couples on dates, and small groups grabbing dinner and drinks in the neighborhood. Plus, they occasionally have a $185 tasting menu, just in case you have something to celebrate between now and January.
Aikana is a buzzy Latin American restaurant opened in the space formerly occupied by Yugen and Grace. But the only holdover from those previous tenants appears to be a great sound system, which plays a mix of tropical and Euro house. The dark, windowless restaurant is filled with hanging basket lights and tropical plants, and the menu focuses on food from Central and South America. This place delivers more on the vibe than the food, though some dishes are pretty good: like lime-cured wagyu on top of a crispy rice cake, and mote and chorizo mixed with an incredible poblano salsa. It can work for a group, or anytime you want melon balls in your cocktails.
This Greek spot is a party restaurant, so if you’re here celebrating a 29th birthday on someone else's budget with a group of shout-talkers unbothered by expensive and average food, it’s fun. Lyra is loud, crowded, has a gigantic bar area, an even larger dining room, and hit-or-miss Greek food. There is a selection of spreads that are just fine, and an overly-acidic tuna tartare that’s wet like a ceviche. But there is also flaky spanakopita and gyros (“carved tableside”) that are tasty enough that you forgive it for being a plate of lamb shoulder that’s half-heartedly shredded with a fork by a server who’s in a rush to get away from your table. It’s all pretty expensive though, so you should only come here if you’re in the mood to be somewhere buzzy while surrounded by an absurd amount of wicker lampshades.
Tabu is a gigantic Latin American-inspired restaurant from the team behind the bar Recess, where someone is probably making a bad decision there as we type. The colorful space has pop art, bright furniture, and a roped ceiling that looks like a bunch of shredded paper towel tubes. It’s the kind of loud, crowded place where you order shots with your dinner—but unlike most of these kinds of restaurants, some of the food is pretty good. Like the fried chicken tacos, burger, and shrimp and grits with griddled corn masa and lime morita crema. Plus, they have a long drink menu with over 100 types of tequila and mezcal.
With sparkling glass chandeliers, pyrotechnic desserts, and a hanging art piece that looks like a giant ball made of feather dusters, Hide & Seek is playing all the FYP hits. But the food isn’t great. The menu is full of unmemorable dishes, like the eggplant caponata topped with tomato confit that is both too tart and too sweet. Or a plate of lamb chops served with a bland red wine reduction. The drinks, however, are pretty decent, so if you’re in the market for a nightcap in a glitzy space, Hide and Seek is a good choice.
Bambola is from the Beatnik and Mama Delia team, places known for their elaborate atmosphere. This restaurant is inspired by countries along the Silk Road, so in addition to ornate chandeliers and overstuffed couches with fluffy pillows, there are antiques like a 300-year-old house from China decorating the dining space. And it’s hard not to feel like this piece of history deserves a better fate than to be trapped in a gaudy place playing club music and serving mediocre food. Some dishes are decent, like flavorful lamb dumplings with a smoked shakshuka sauce, or tender braised oxtail with polenta cake. But there’s also overcooked cod and walnut muhammara, and a nightmarish wok-fried risotto topped with truffle foam and pomegranate molasses that has a funky, sour flavor and the texture of gruel. Come here when you’re in charge of planning a last-minute dinner for a large group and everything else in the West Loop happens to be booked. Or just don’t come here at all.
This gigantic, two-story Greek spot has the usual trendy suspects: giant hanging basket lights, infrared reptilian-house lighting, thumping electronic music, and tableside gimmicks. The menu is full of unexpected twists, like a deconstructed moussaka that involves smoky dry ice and aerated gruyere, and salt-baked fish set on fire before getting carved tableside. Unfortunately, the twists don't always work (the pile of freeze-dried honeycomb on top of the tiropita has the texture of Airheads candy and gets stuck in your teeth) and all that carving tableside means your food is cold by the time you get to eat it. This place is also very expensive, so unless you have money to waste watching your server take an uncomfortably long time deshelling Jurassic Park-sized langoustines in lighting that makes everyone look perfect, head somewhere else.
Any Chicago restaurant associated with the words “West Loop,” “Italian,” and “bottle sparklers” is guaranteed to be busy. Such is the case with Gino & Marty’s, an Italian spot on Randolph. But it’s also expensive, chaotic, and not very good. The dining room is cramped and crowded, overflowing with people waiting 40 minutes past their reservation time. Once seated, you’ll have an uninspired meal that’ll take way longer than it should, filled with overdressed salads, mealy pasta, and entrees like an overcooked $75 steak. Skip this place.