After over a year of lockdown restrictions, Chicago is returning to some semblance of normalcy. Vaccines are on the rise, the weather is no longer freezing, and our pets are sick of seeing us wear the same sweatshirt for the third week in a row. It’s finally time to emerge from our apartments and re-enter society. But as exciting as the prospect of socializing may seem, it’s possible you’re a bit rusty when it comes to making dining decisions beyond “let’s go eat some peanut butter-filled pretzels on a bench.”
So, this is a guide to help you ease back into socializing. Some of these restaurants are smaller and won’t have huge crowds, some are loud, boozy, and fun. And some are places that recently opened that you might have missed. So go forth, tip generously, and have fun being social this summer.
Like the rest of us, Lonesome Rose has been relying primarily on carryout and delivery over the past year. Now this Logan Square spot is waxed and vaxxed (or whatever the restaurant equivalent of that is), and available for indoor dining. Their sidewalk patio and rooftop are also open, and they have great Tex-Mex dishes that are easy to share with a small group. Get an order of the chili con queso (order extra tortilla chips - they’re excellent), the fish tacos, and any of their cocktails. And then, after you’ve had enough booze and queso, go home and crash on your couch.
Mama Delia’s is a fun Spanish spot that opened in Wicker Park last year. And if you’re familiar with Beatnik, you’ll know what to expect. It’s from the same team, and has a similar atmosphere - meaning loud music and ornate furniture, even on their covered sidewalk patio. It’s an ideal spot to catch up with friends over cocktails and share dishes like conservas, tartare, or a cheese plate. It’s also an ideal spot to blame the loud music if you remember how terrible you are at small talk.
If you’re looking for a Big New Restaurant (as in popular, and also literally large), the answer is Andros Taverna. This Greek restaurant in Logan Square is spacious, has great food, and you can usually get same-day reservations. You’ll find appetizers like the must-order kataifi cheese pie (shredded filo layered with cheese, baked, then topped with honey and pistachios), entrees like prawn saganaki in a rich tomato sauce, and the best spanakopita we’ve ever had. They also have an 80-person patio for outdoor dining.
Want to go out for some great Italian food, but the idea of sitting at a restaurant feels like watching The Irishman when you only have the attention span for an episode of Schitt’s Creek? Enter Tortello. It’s a brightly lit, counter-service restaurant in Wicker Park that specializes in delicious handmade pasta. You can get things like burrata-filled tortellini, cacio e pepe, or squid ink bucatini. Whichever pasta you choose, make sure to order some of their focaccia with ricotta and honey to go with it. Also worth noting: They have a cute sidewalk patio if you prefer to eat your pasta outside.
Rose Mary is a popular new Croatian spot in The West Loop, which means that reservations are hard to get. But you should try and book a table, because this place has delicious food like stracciatella with strawberries, incredible pastas, and crni rizot with grilled squid. And even though they just opened, the service is great. For example, if you’re feeling a little uncertain about what the new etiquette is for dining out, the friendly and easygoing staff will help you feel comfortable. In other words, if you want to go somewhere new, but are feeling a little awkward, come here.
Giant is another great debut dinner spot if you’ve been eating at home for the past 15 months, for a few reasons. One, it’s been closed since last year so, like you, it has also been dormant. Two, they refreshed their space and added plexiglass between the tables, so if you want some separation, you’ll find that here. And three, the food is still f*cking fantastic, and exactly what you missed about going out to eat at a restaurant. Meaning, complex dishes that just can’t be taken home - like perfectly seared scallops on top of crispy masa with oranges, cotija, and a bunch of other things that can’t survive a trip in the car. Also worth noting, if you prefer to sit outside, you can do that here, too.
Alcohol has helped people socialize since time immemorial, and you’re going to find plenty of it at Azul Mariscos. It’s the kind of spot that has a live DJ, bottle service, a patio on the water, and gives you the option to order something called a “shot tree” which will get you as drunk as it sounds like it will. This seafood restaurant recently opened along the Chicago River in Goose Island, and the food is Latin-inspired. This means the menu is full of things like lobster empanadas, tacos, shrimp aguachile, and seafood towers. Is it Miami? No, but it doesn’t feel like Chicago either.
A lot of restaurants in the West Loop are very busy, and if you’re sitting outside there’s a good chance you’re in the street or on the sidewalk. So if you want something more secluded (and with fewer Divvy bikes) you should know about Trivoli Tavern. It’s owned by the same team as Green Street Smoked Meats, and it’s located right next door in Gin Alley. This means they have a twinkly lit, very quiet, cobblestoned patio that’s very cute for a date or dinner with some friends. Trivoli serves upscale bar food like fish and chips, a great burger, and they also have fantastic housemade pastas (like vodka rigatoni). Plus, they have Happy Hour every day from 4:30-5:30pm.
If you just want to sit with friends outside, drink some cocktails, and eat delicious pizza, go to Pizzeria Lobo in Logan Square. They serve Neapolitan pies, and you’ll find excellent red sauce options like the “amatrice yo-self” (roasted tomato, pancetta, and Calabrian chile), and white pies like the castello bianco - with meatballs, ramps, and parm. Plus, their large patio is heated and partially covered. Of course, that means you can’t try and use the weather as an excuse to cancel your plans.
Fiya opened in Andersonville last spring, and this Israeli restaurant is wonderful. From the pillowy pita to the tahini-rich hummus that’s slick with olive oil to a khachapuri filled with shakshuka - it’s all delicious. And you can’t see it from the street, but they have a large, quiet, courtyard behind the restaurant that’s filled with string lights and trees. It’s exactly the kind of relaxing spot that’s perfect for a low-key summer dinner.
Recess in the West Loop is a theme bar, and the theme is basically “City Hall,” which means menus are made to look like municipal forms and cocktails have names like the “Alderman’s Choice.” We’ll be the first to admit that might not sound like fun, but we promise, it is. The outdoor space is huge (14,500 square feet), and includes tables situated inside repurposed shipping containers, giant games of things like Connect Four, and it even has an outpost of Bob’s Pizza. In conclusion, come here, get drunk, order pizza, and repeat all summer long.
This Logan Square sandwich shop is a collaboration between the former Blackbird chef and a chef from the sandwich spot Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans. This means the sandwiches (like the collard melt with braised collard greens, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on rye) are incredible, and the small bites (like the tater tots) are also good. Plus they have a cute sidewalk patio, and they have fun drinks like milk punch or the ecto cooler. It’s just a chill spot to grab some food with people you forgot you liked being around.
This spot in Bridgeport serves (wait for it) pizza, fried chicken, and ice cream. It’s right next to Maria’s and Kimski (they do the fried chicken, and the ice cream comes from Pretty Cool Ice Cream). But what we really like about this place is their large back patio. Order a tavern-style pizza (they have some of the best in the city) and get a drink from Maria’s next door.
Kasama is a West Town spot that’s open all day, and does everything exceedingly well: pastries (like the ham and cheese danish or cardamom kouign amann), Filipino plates like the chicken adobo, snacks like the lumpia - everything here is absolutely delicious. Right now they’re counter service only and closed for indoor dining, but they have a great side patio next to the restaurant. Meet someone here for a weekday breakfast, a casual dinner, or grab lunch - it doesn’t matter. You just need to talk to some people IRL, OK?
Bar Avec is the rooftop bar on the eighth floor above Avec River North, which recently opened in the former Pacific Standard Time space (which is about 78 times larger than the original). And it’s a perfect low-key rooftop option that has great food, and won’t involve a gazillion tourists. The rooftop is shaded and full of plants and trees It also has a separate Spanish-inspired menu from Super Avec downstairs. Food options here include small plates like mussels escabeche, crudos, and entrees like fideo noodle paella. And in case you were wondering: yes, they have the bacon-wrapped dates on the menu.
We were very happy when Ludlow Liquors reopened after being closed during the pandemic, because we badly missed this neighborhood spot’s relaxed outdoor space. This Logan Square bar has a large fenced-in back patio full of colorful picnic tables and bright green turf. It’s a fantastic low-key drinking spot, where you can meet some friends and even bring your dog to hang out with you for an hour on fake grass - and dogs are an even better social lubricant than alcohol. Plus, now they make great Sicilian-style pizza.
Remember fun bars? Well, Little Victories in Wicker Park is a fun bar that has great bar food like burgers and spinach dip, and plenty of outdoor and indoor seating. It’s the kind of casual place where you can drop by for a drink to see friends who have been hanging out here for hours, and/or meet a date that you’ve only spoken to over DM.
Joe’s Imports Wine Bar
It’s 5pm and you just need a glass of wine, some food, and a safe space to complain about work that isn’t Slack. Head to Joe’s, an easy-to-get-into wine bar in the West Loop with tasty small plates, and order dishes like ricotta with honey, meatballs, or the pasta of the day. It has both a dimly lit interior that will soothe your burned-out screen eyes, and a sidewalk patio that rarely feels crowded.
This Italian restaurant in Logan Square opened late last summer, and if you don’t know about it - well, you should. The menu is short - some hot and cold small plates, two Roman-style pizzas, a few entrees, and pastas like cacio e pepe and mezze maniche. The food here is great, the space is lovely, and it’s ideal for a low-key dinner to catch up with friends, or have a date night that doesn’t involve arguing about if you should watch The Irishman or 12 episodes of Schitt’s Creek while you eat. They also have a quiet back patio if that’s more your speed.
Taqueria Chingon in Bucktown is not a sit-down restaurant, but this casual counter-service spot has a little patio where you can sit and eat their incredible tacos. They’re all made with chewy handmade tortillas, and have a variety of flavorful fillings - like the morcilla (sausage made with blood, bread, onion, and apples before getting topped with brown butter salsa macha), crispy pig head carnitas, and tender al pastor. It’s a great place to agree to meet up with a friend or two you haven’t seen in a while - and if all the seats are taken, you can just say goodbye and head home to your cat. Who, by the way, is not wondering where you are.
You probably know Minghin. Your uncle who visited Chicago once, 16 years ago, probably knows Minghin. And it’s a great place to know about - it’s large, has several locations, and is open 365 days a year. It also happens to have the most consistently good dim sum in Chicago. And nothing will break the socializing ice easier than navigating a long dim sum menu, then sharing a bunch of delicious things like pork buns, shu mai, and sesame balls.