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15 Restaurants To Have A Client Dinner That Aren’t Steakhouses

PHOTO: Christina Slaton

Picking a restaurant for a client dinner is often a balancing act. It should be a fun spot, but still somewhat professional. You want it to be nice, but not too fancy. You should be able to hear each other talk, but you don't want awkward silence. And, of course, the food needs to be good. That means there are a lot of ways to mess it up, which is why we want to help.

Steakhouses are usually a safe bet, but they're also overplayed. Not every client dinner has to be a meat and potatoes gathering. Consider these 15 spots instead, all of which will be a guaranteed hit whenever you need to take clients out on the town.

The Spots

1

Ema

River North
74 W. Illinois St.
7.7
MAP

You're looking to play it safe, but not so safe that you bore Angie from the social media department. Angie has a big budget to play with this year, and you want all of her money. Take Angie to Ema. The small plates Mediterranean restaurant in River North is a very bright and comfortable place to sit and talk, but the Mediterranean small plates give it a bit of spunk. Try some of the more interesting dishes like sweet corn and bulgar risotto or braised lamb shoulder with dates and cherries.

2

Giant

Logan Square
3209 W Armitage Ave
8.7
MAP

Prove to your clients you know where the good stuff is by taking them to Giant in Logan Square. The menu is excellent from top to bottom, ranging from uni shooters to waffle fries to crab salad to perfectly al dente pastas to baby back ribs that might seem out of place but are definitely good. It's a great place to entertain a smaller group over a lot of food and wine while still being able to discuss your plentiful business opportunities together.

3

Monteverde

West Loop
1020 W Madison St
8.6
MAP

You're a people pleaser, so please the people by taking them to Monteverde. It's a cool spot in the West Loop but still approachable and affordable. And the food is f*cking delicious. There's something for everyone, including some of the best pastas in town being prepared from scratch right in front of your face, plus hearty meat dishes like the ragü alla napoletana - a serious plate of pasta, sausage, meatballs, and a giant braised pork shank.

4
8.2
MAP

Everyone loves Chinese food, and everyone loves a fun night out in the West Loop. So if you want to experience the two together, head to Duck Duck Goat. The follow-up to Girl & The Goat and Little Goat is an incredibly designed space that's always lively, and the Chinese dishes are traditional at the core but with some fun twists.

5

Balena

Lincoln Park
1633 N Halsted St
7.7
MAP

Keep it simple, stupid. That's an important saying to live by in life. So don't overthink things and just take everyone to Balena. The high ceilings give Balena a cool vibe, and the simple Italian menu is heavy on the pasta and pizza, which means your clients are stupid if they don't like it. (You already know Gary from the sales team is kind of dumb, but he's not so dumb that he won't enjoy this place.)

6
8.0
MAP

Your client wants to go to a cool spot in River North, but you've seen Steve dance and know he's not cool enough for Sunda or RPM Italian. That's ok. Take him to Bernie's, a place that's still fun and kind of trendy, but not so trendy that everyone else in the room is definitely going to Underground after dinner. The Mediterranean-influenced plates are delicious and ideal for sharing, but there's also a great burger you can fall back on.

7
7.8
MAP

GT is a nautically themed place, but instead of white or pastel colors you might associate with sailing, GT has dim lighting and more sex appeal at night. The food is also (as you might have guessed) seafood-focused, so make sure everyone in your party is down with that. Assuming they are, GT offers the kind of steakhouse vibes perfect for a client dinner, but with oysters and fried po' boy sliders instead of hunks of meat.

8

El Che Bar

West Loop
845 W Washington Blvd

El Che Bar is what we imagine our backyard barbecues would look like in Argentina, except for it's inside in the West Loop and there are no cheap beers in sight. Ok, so maybe the only real similarity is that there's a bunch of food cooked on an open flame. But that's a good thing, because the Argentinian-influenced dishes here like morcilla (blood sausage) and ribeye are much better than anything you could cook at home.

9

Roister

Fulton Market , West Loop
951 W Fulton Market
8.9
MAP

You already closed the deal and want to celebrate the beginnings of a robust partnership in the exciting paper industry. That calls for dinner at Roister, the more "casual" restaurant from the Alinea crew, which means it’s still pretty pricey but nowhere near Alinea’s level. But you can do a truly impressive tasting menu for $85 per person.. Add in some drinks and ultimately you'll spend the same amount as you would at a steakhouse anyway, but Roister is a guaranteed fun and different experience. The food is excellent, especially their fried chicken dish (best in town).

10

Leña Brava

900 W Randolph St
MAP

Leña Brava will help you keep your new clients in their comfort zone while still showing them some good, interesting Mexican food. The newest Rick Bayless spot in the West Loop focuses on food from the Baja Peninsula of Mexico, better known to you as that part of the map that juts out from California but isn't part of the United States. The menu is split into two distinct parts: "fire" - meat and fish cooked on an open flame, and "ice" - an excellent selection of various ceviches and raw fish. Pair it all with some mezcal cocktails for a great night.

Photo: Huge Galdones
11

The Gage

24 S. Michigan Ave.
MAP

Traveling makes you tired, and if you have clients who are visiting from out of town they may want to stay close to their hotel. Assuming they're somewhere near the Loop, hit up one of the few casual but good restaurants in the area we can get behind - The Gage. This isn't a steakhouse, but they do have great steaks, plus other crowd-pleasers like fish and chips and pork chops. It'll leave everyone primed for an excellent night of sleep. And sleep makes people happy. And happy people want to do business with you.

12
7.7
MAP

Blue Door Kitchen sits in a former coach house (AKA horses used to sleep here), which gives the building a feeling of 1800's history. The first thing you'll realize is that 1800's horses lived in a nicer home than you live in now. But the atmosphere at Blue Door is still approachable, in a Southern hospitality kind of way. Add in a beautiful side patio and this is the perfect place to have a nice meal and still easily talk. The menu changes seasonally, but you can always count on a good mix of healthier salads and veggies, along with comfort food like fried chicken and mac & cheese.

13

Mott Street

1401 N Ashland Ave
MAP

Mix things up with an outing to Mott Street, an Asian fusion spot that has really grown on us over the years. Mott Street has been around for a little while, but dishes like kimchi and oaxaca empanadas, General Tso's sweetbreads, and boat noodles (beef shank broth with chicken and pickled peppers) are better than ever. You’re already feeling really good about your chances of locking in this deal, and chocolate covered bananas sprinkled with szhechuan peppercorn peanuts for dessert is the final push you need to close it.

14
8.6
MAP

Your best LA clients are in town to meet you for the first time in person and they want a real "Chicago experience." Don't take them for deep-dish - that's not really the kind of experience they want. Instead, you owe them dinner at The Publican. It's a place that highlights the best of the Midwest (with pork and beer), but there's also a great selection of oysters and simple vegetables to make them feel like they're not too far from home.

15

Davanti Enoteca River North

30 E. Hubbard St.
MAP

Your boss unexpectedly asked you to entertain some important people and you're panicking with no clue what to do. Relax - Davanti Enoteca in River North is your safety net. The central location means nobody will have to travel far, and the Italian-American menu has something for everyone. You can almost always make a reservation last-minute, but it's never too empty or quiet. Bonus points for being able to feed a lot of people on a very reasonable budget.

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