It’s been about two years since I last did a guide to Chicago and since then so many places have emerged. I’ve found a new found love for discovering restaurants, coffee shops and grab and go spots in the city and love sharing them with you guys. I’ve wanted to do this for quite a few months now but I’m going to be putting together separate guides rather than one post alone. To start, I figured I’d give you all a list of my absolute favorite spots that I’d recommend to anyone coming to Chicago for a 3-4 day weekend.
I often get asked “I’m coming to Chicago next weekend — what are your must-have spots to visit?” I always felt like this question was nearly close to impossible to answer so quickly because I know/have been to so many places in my (almost) 6 years of living here but alas, here we are.
I’m going to break it down from start to finish, morning to night to give you guys a glimpse at if I moved and was visiting for a bit — these are the places that I would without a doubt hit. I hope you enjoy and let me know if you have any questions or try these spots. They’re not your typical Lou Malnati’s or Portillo’s but don’t worry, those will come in another post.
Heritage Bicycles – Someone asked me this morning what my favorite coffee shop in general was and while I wanted to jump and say C.C. Ferns right away (because that probably is #1 if I’m being honest), for combination of space to sit/convenience/multiple locations and good wifi… Heritage takes the cake. They’ve got a location pretty much everywhere in the city: West Loop, Lakeview, The Loop, River North and Uptown. My favorite is their River North location because it’s located inside of an apartment building and no one really knows about it. They have a huge table, velvet couches and it’s the quietest spot to get work done (they do play really great music, too just relatively quiet).
They offer baked goods and pastries from West Town bakery, DRAM cbd beverages, Topo Chico water (a favorite of mine), use Califia Farms barista blend almond milk and Oatly oat milk and have one of my favorite matcha lattes (although also the most expensive – $7 roughly if you get it with Oatly *eye roll*).
Only their Lakeview, West Loop and Uptown locations operate as both coffee shop and bike repair shop. All of the baristas are super friendly and overall it’s just one of my favorites in the city. You can’t go wrong!
CC Ferns – I’ve featured this place in most of my guides and mention it to literally all of my friends but through and through it is my favorite. It reminds me of being in college because I went on one of my first dates here and it just seems so warm, cozy and inviting. Every time I’ve been the line is usually out the door because there’s only one barista/cashier and the coffee bar itself is very small, but it’s worth the trip. It’s located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood which is West of the city so it’s kind of a pain to get to in my opinion. There’s no simple way to get there and it’s not near a train so I usually take an Uber but a few times a year I love taking myself there on a day-date. They sell donuts from Doughnut Vault that pair perfectly with their matcha made with macadamia nut milk, ask for it unsweetened.
Taking photos on their white marble hexagon-shaped countertops is one of my favorite things. The lighting in the space is dim and the drinks always look so presentable, you can’t go wrong. Even on weekdays they’re busy as it’s a pretty small space (probably the size of a one bedroom apartment or smaller) so come early if you want to snag a cozy spot. If you check this place out let me know!
Floriole Café and Bakery – One of the first French-inspired cafés I ever visited in college, Floriole has the cutest interior and reminds me of one of my favorite bakeries back home in Cleveland (On The Rise Artisan Breads). They make their own HOMEMADE almond milk that tastes absolutely incredible but they also have oat milk because I know so many people care about that in 2019 (let’s be real). Their pastry case alone is absolutely beautiful – from buckwheat scones filled with fresh jam to chocolate almond croissants, you can’t go wrong.
Their lunches are super simple, fresh and always rotating what’s available — they focus on seasonal ingredients and have the tastiest chia seed pudding and ricotta toasts (with fresh seasonal berries). I love meeting friends for coffee here because they open their front windows in the summer and have a cute upstairs seating area with a big communal wooden table. Whenever I frequent bakeries I focus on REAL whole food ingredients and this place truly delivers.
La Colombe Coffee – If you know me, you know this is my #1 go-to. I absolutely love their oat black and tans (it’s half cold brew coffee with half oat milk DRAFT latte) but their cans of pure black coffee are also 100% the best. I’ve been a fan of La Colombe for a few years but within the past year have been frequenting all the time. I love their aesthetic overall and how they’re becoming more widely available, especially at Whole Foods. As for coffee shop locations, they have one in Gold Coast, Andersonville, Wicker Park, West Loop and Lincoln Park so pretty much all over the city – aside from the Loop.
The only ones that have wifi are the Lincoln Park and Wicker Park locations and as a heads up the Gold Coast one literally has no outlets. I think those are always important notes to hit 😉
Ipsento 606 – One of the reasons why I love Ipsento so much is that it’s just steps away from one of my favorite yoga studios (Zen Yoga Garage) where I did my yoga teacher training this past spring. They have tons of high top tables, you can sit at the coffee bar itself and they have a bar along their back windows for seating where the floor to ceiling windows are open during the warmer months.
They only have Pacific Oat Milk so I usually stick with their almond milk (Califia Farms) and go for their almond milk iced lattes. One of my favorite parts about them is that they sell these tiny little donuts that come from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate down the street in Bucktown which are the cutest treat to have with a latte.
I love their matcha latte as well but it’s roughly $7-8 which I never think is worth it to spend that much on a matcha out but if coffee isn’t your thing, know that they have it on the menu.
Every time I’ve been there their door is always open and you’ll see tons of yogis straggling in from down the street and the park right next to it by the 606 (a 3-mile walkway/bike path/bridge that goes through Wicker/Bucktown) is right outside. People always are sitting on the grassy area with their Ipsento beverages and it just has the best neighborhood feel.
Hi Vibe Juicery – Known for their smoothies, juices and aHi Vibe has been my go-to ever since I started interning down the street from it back n 2016. My co-workers and I used to go a ton and it was one of the first spots in Chicago that sold bulletproof coffee. I love how extensive their menu is when it comes to options for pretty much every dietary restriction and preference whether it’s vegan, keto, paleo, etc. They’re definitely very paleo-focused I’d say as they offer keto sweeteners like xylitol and stevia which I’m not a huge fan of but it’s nice to see something in the city with options for those who need it.
It’s not a sit-down café but rather more of a grab ‘n go and they have 2 locations (both in River North). I personally find when I’m ordering that I need to modify the items extremely to either remove the added sweeteners or to take out some of the fats. Since they’re more keto-focused, a lot of the smoothies have coconut butter or almond butter AND avocado which just seems heavy to me.
My go-to modifcations: The chocolate shaman smoothie (no date, no avocado, add collagen), mint matcha chip smoothie (no avocado OR do no coconut meat and keep the avocado), the dopa-mint matcha (no xylitol, add collagen), the chagachino (no xylitol).
I love that they offer so many different tonics and medicinal mushroom options and you can even make your own out of a variety of ingredients from aromatics like vanilla bean and pink salt to superfoods and adaptogens. Their coffee and matcha are also both organic!
Graze – During college I was obsessed with açai bowls, especially right when they were coming onto the scene and everyone was looking for where to find one. I’ve tried many over the city but through and through, Graze’s is my absolute favorite. My friend Mason owns it and he’s one of the nicest, sweetest and realest human beings ever. You can get their bowls in 3 different sizes if you’re looking for more of a post-workout snack or a meal, they’re actually THICK AF (sorry best way to describe it honestly) as opposed to other ones that are legitimately liquid (not how you make an açai bowl, people!), they use Purely Elizabeth granola and you can even get a pitaya bowl instead of açai. Pitaya offers a more tropical flavor, doesn’t stain your teeth blue 😉 and is great with mango/pineapple.
They also offer smoothies at all of their locations – two in River North (one is attached to my favorite workout studio — Studio Three), one in the Loop at Revival Food Hall and another in Lincoln Park.
My go-tos: So Fresh, So Green smoothie (no apple, no agave), Gone To The Tropics smoothie and the Acai Pt. 2 açai bowl with no agave!
Café Robey – Honestly hands down one of my favorite places in Chicago and extremely underrated. I first went to Café Robey in 2017 for brunch and then followed it up with dinner a few months later and both were phenomenal. They’re located right in Wicker Park off of the Damen blue line, right down the street from La Colombe and their rooftop has one of the best views in the city. I’ve gone to their upstairs bar/roof (called “The Up Room”) for drinks before too and it’s perfect for a date.
The café is connected to their hotel which I’ve never stayed in but reminds me of the Ace Hotel in the West Loop. The second floor of the hotel has a super cute lounge where you’ll most likely find hipsters working from home and drinking coffee or the 6th floor during the summer is the “cabana club”. They literally have a little stand that has frozen drinks like piña coladas (my FAVORITE) and a tiny pool so guests can sit outside and take in the 180º views.
Overall the space is super minimalist with neutral interiors and honestly I think it’s great to stay in hotels that aren’t located in the Loop/Michigan Avenue especially if you have family visiting.
As for the café… I basically always want everything on their menu but here are my favorites below. P.s. keep in mind they focus on seasonal ingredients and switch up their menu a bit with the seasons but the avocado toast remains – it’s so damn good and THICK. They also label their menu with gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options and are happy to accommodate.
Brunch: The Avocado Toast with pickled onions (holy hell it’s fire) and be sure to add crab and an egg, the duck hash with potatoes, red peppers and egg and their side of hash browns (they come in a crispy little block of thin spiralized potatoes that are SO dreamy)
Dinner: Acorn squash with crema and chili, their brussels sprouts with bacon vinaigrette, housemade pasta with short rib (wow) and their cauliflower soup with fennel and apple.
The Allis – I’ve been recommending The Allis to friends and followers for a bit now but it’s just such a good spot to meet people, have brunch and take a photo or two! Be careful because they usually are very strict about letting anyone take photos but The Allis (main lobby of the Soho House) is free to the public and their Allis breakfast is great with a side of coffee. If you go with a group of girlfriends, the afternoon tea is super cute. For $40 you get a tiered-tray of finger sandwiches, cookies, scones, fancy little cakes and tea.
They’ve got chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, beautiful artwork and the prettiest pink velvet couches that make me swoon. Another spot similar, and also located in the West Loop, is The Hoxton Hotel which opened up in Spring 2019. Same type of vibe/feel. Keep in mind they have barely any outlets and everything is a tad bit overpriced but once again, it’s a good spot to go for fun and if you’ve never been to a Soho House, it’s like a little glimpse into what one is like.
My go-tos: The Allis breakfast (smoked salmon, eggs, toast, roasted tomato and avocado) that comes build-your-own style, their hard green juice (all greens, no fruit), and their egg sandwich with sausage and porchetta.
For dinner, you can’t go wrong with their cheeseburger with grass-fed beef, a prosciutto pizza (hello hello), and their lamb meatballs (maybe my favorite food to exist is meatballs so naturally this is it for me).
Food by FARE – If there’s one single place you need to go when you visit Chicago it’s FARE. It’s absolutely without a doubt the place I go to the most and they’re convenient for breakfast, lunch or a quick bite for dinner. I tell people it’s like sweetgreen and Dig Inn had a baby but so much better. The food always tastes extremely fresh, the ingredients rotate with the seasons, they carry gluten-free bread from Cocobakes that makes for the best avocado toast in the city and they sell Spindrift, Coconut Cult yogurt, Coco June coconut yogurt and so much more.
It was started by my two friends, Kasia and Britni, in 2018 and I’m already counting down the days until they expand into a bigger more badass location. They’re such wonderful humans and deserve all the love they get because Chicago needed a restaurant like theirs.
They’re sadly not open on weekends but available on Caviar for delivery in the Loop/River North area if you can’t swing by their Wells St. Market location. They’re always slammed during the lunch rush during the work week but trust me, it’s worth it!
Since their menu is always rotating, I can’t really tell you what my go-to is but I will say I love the Edie smoothie (mint, cacao nibs, spinach and banana — to die for), their avocado toast on Cocobakes bread with an egg AND bacon (their bacon is my jam), and for lunch I do a bowl of tender greens with either ground turkey, salmon or their housemade veggie patty, whatever veggies are available (they’re all so good and I love their sweet potatoes) and the roasted garlic tahini for a dressing. P.s. they also have avocado, hummus and Publican sourdough for your toast.
Range – A lot of people don’t know about Range which makes me so sad because it’s SUCH an underrated farm-to-table restaurant and the cutest, coziest vibe. They use sustainably source, local foods and their menu is in constant rotation. I’ve taken my friends and family here and everyone always loves it. Their dinner is incredible but the real winner is the brunch.
The sweet potato benedict for brunch is hands down one of my favorite brunch items they have but I also love their gluten-free pancakes that come with 100% maple syrup and their grilled parsnip omelet. Who loves parsnips as much as I do? Omg.
There’s never really a need to make reservations because every time I’ve been there there are about 5 max tables occupied. They’re also very accommodating to gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian lifestyles.
Casual lunch/dinner spots
Now I’m going to share with you guys my favorite spots where I love to grab lunch/dinner with friends that for the most part have healthier options. I tell people time and time again, when you eat out no matter where you go, it will never be as healthy as a home cooked meal. While some options, especially when you travel, won’t be the healthiest or best quality ingredients — I love nothing more than finding something that uses simple ingredients, can customize for dietary restrictions and won’t leave you feeling blah after you walk out. After all, if you’re spending the weekend in the city and restaurant/bar/café hopping, you want to feel your best the entire day. But anyways… the below are a few of my personal faves. Let me know if you check ‘em out.
Antique Taco – Tacos are without a doubt my favorite food group and if we’re getting specific, the cauliflower shrimp taco at Antique is my absolute favorite. They prepare their cauliflower elote style, add in crispy kale and then throw in a basil avocado salsa. To die for. They’ve got 7 different tacos on their menu that all come 1 per order so you can switch things up if you like. The sweet and spicy chicken with pickled onions is another one of my favorites (I get it without the jalapeño).
It’s a tiny space but they do have a few outdoor picnic tables for the warmer months. Since Big Star Taco (another favorite lunch spot) is down the street, they’re usually not nearly as packed but if they are, taking them to go and hanging out in the park is always a move.
Other items to mention: their horchata milkshake (omg), their guac and their antique taco salad with shrimp and avocado added.
They have three locations: one in Revival Food Hall, Wicker Park and then Bridgeport. I’ve only ever been to the Wicker location though. P.s. if they have it, snag a watermelon margarita. It’s super good.
Spinning J – The cutest soda fountain bar I ever did see. I’ve only been to Spinning J once since it’s right next to C.C. Ferns (pretty far out) in the Humboldt Park neighborhood but it’s one of my favorites — especially for dates — and so worth trying out for lunch or dinner. When I went it was the dead of winter in January but my photographer and I did a fun little shoot. The staff was so incredibly sweet and they made us the tastiest strawberry milkshake for myself and my photographer got an incredible homemade chicken pot pie
They are always rotating different desserts, pizzas and milkshakes among their menu. There’s local gelato sourced from Zarlengo’s, their soda syrups for all drinks use in-house recipes that use fruits, herbs botanicals and essential oils so you KNOW it’s none of the fake junk you find at most diners/soda fountains AND their savory dishes always have seasonal veggies. When I went in the winter their strata was an insane butternut squash variety… swoon.
All Together Now – Nestled in the Ukrainian Village, this little bottle-shop, all day eatery and market reminds me of a café you’d find out of New York City. The interior is full of dreamy pastels, they have honestly the best cold brew I’ve tasted in Chicago, an entire case packed with fresh meats and cheeses and delicious breakfasts that will blow your mind without going over the top. I dragged my boyfriend in last weekend and I had the hardest time choosing what to get. Between the build your own meat and cheese board and fried egg sandwich on a homemade english muffin… I was like I WANT IT ALL.
I ended up getting the smashed white bean sandwich on focaccia that essentially was a few slices of beets, marinated fennel, a creamy feta sauce and large white beans. It was delicious but was it was light on the veggies and essentially just tasted like focaccia. My boyfriend had the french exit sandwich which was salami, an amazing stone ground mustard and provolone on a baguette that was amazing. What I loved most about the meals was the simple ingredients used and everything was super fresh. Still wishing I would have gotten the lamb meatball sandwich but another day.. It’ll happen.
This would be a great spot to come for a date with your significant other or a bunch of girlfriends. They also do a wine club and sell fun drinks like DRAM cbd beverages, Topo Chico (my favorite) and exotic fruit spreads. Worth it to check out!
Dirty Root – Finally, a restaurant in the West Loop that is ENTIRELY gluten-free, paleo options available and has essentially every. Single. Ingredient. Listed. On the menu! If you’re someone like me that’s always curious as to what a restaurant uses when it comes to ingredients like oils, spices and additives – Dirty Root is for you. It opened in July 2019 literally next door to my favorite La Colombe in the West Loop (also worth checking out) and it’s a great option for a fast casual lunch that won’t leave you feeling like you just ate out.
The owners Matt and Connor’s focus with Dirty Root is to local, seasonal produce and sustainable proteins from reliable partners to build nutrient-dense meals whether it be for breakfast, lunch or the coffee/tea/snacks we’re consuming. All of their ingredients are free of refined sugar, canola oil and GMOs. Not to mention, Matt and I had an extensive talk about why avocado and coconut oil are so beneficial AND how much we LOVE 4th and Heart ghee (which they use at the store).
Essentially at Dirty Root you pick a base, two sides, a protein and sauce. They’re kale caesar with nut and seed “parmesan” is literally my favorite thing ever and their sustainable salmon as a protein is insane. For breakfast they serve a grain-free biscuit made with goat milk, grass-fed butter and chickpea flour that I’ve heard is out of this world and if you get it with their coffee, they source from a local retailer (Kickapoo) that is super smooth and tasty.
P.s. they sell Purely Elizabeth, Hu Kitchen and Four Sigmatic products. They get me.
Also… I would say for the portions they’re bowls range from $14-18 which is a bit on the steeper side but for how carefully they source and use the finest oils and proteins while also keeping things local.. It makes sense.
Uncommon Ground – With two locations, one in Rogers Park/Edgewater and one in Wrigleyville, this is one of my favorite spots for a farm-to-table lunch or dinner up north. Uncommon Ground is also the first certified organic rooftop in the U.S. which is pretty darn cool. I found out about it in college since I went to Loyola University and I can’t rave enough about how good their sweet potato fries and artichoke pesto dip are.
I used to get their tacos all the time with the side of fries and absolutely loved it but you really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu and they’re super accommodating to all dietary preferences/restrictions which is always a plus for me. Another gem on the menu? The chicken sandwich with avocado and honey mustard. I remember getting it once with my dad probably 4-5 years ago and to see it still kicking on the menu makes my heart happy.
The Rogers Park location has a cute little outdoor seating area located behind a fence and a little bit of a bigger space than the Wrigley location, too. They use organic alcohol when possible, have gluten-free beer options and are always highlighting local musicians and artists in their space. It’s such a great community vibe and I lerrrrveeee it. If you go let me know what you get!
Burger Bar – My boyfriend saw me put this on the list and was mad because whenever we go they have awful service but in fairness, their sweet potato fries are the best of the best. Squishy on the inside but crispy on the outside and super salty — you know the kind! The most delish. They’ve got two locations — South Loop and Lincoln Park — both of which have so many burger options to choose from
Not only do they have a few fries options (the parmesan covered ones are a solid 10/10) but you can pick from 100% USDA prime, a grass-fed beef, a grass-fed bison (always my pick even though it’s like $7 more.. oops!) or an Impossible (vegetable-based) burger. The list of toppings is pretty extensive like most burger bars and they even have a lamb meatball sandwich, a shrimp sandwich and a few different bun options — including gluten-free. Definitely a spot to come with your guy friends/dads or anyone who likes more indulgent food but you still want a good burger/fries! And honestly.. I’m more into the basic burger spots than the tourist traps like Au Cheval. Sue me 🙂
Mini Mott – In fairness I haven’t been to Mini Mott or Mott Street (sister restaurant) before but I’ve heard and seen nothing but wonderful things so I had to include it in my list. I’ve heard that their burger is one of the best in Chicago and I mean… even the image on the homepage makes me agree. Crispy sweet potato fries piled high on a burger with cheese and pickles — name a better combo! If you ask me, it’s basically an Instagrammers paradise. The colors, menu, decor, food alone… everything I want to take a photo of.
Their menu is simple yet extensive, with a list of wings, sandwiches, tacos AND burgers — they’re doing it all and then some. They use jackfruit as their veg option for their burger and tacos (calling it “jackfruit carnitas”) and add miso butter, jalapeño and onions to their burgers to make them really pop.
Once I go here I’ll keep you all in the loop but I think it’s just too good not to share. As for their sister restaurant, Mott Street – it’s much more of a fine(r) dining experience and focuses on dishes like kimchi empanadas, steamed dumplings and a bone-in rib eye entree. A little bit more on the fancy dinner side rather than Mini Mott’s “let’s do Sunday brunch here” vibe.
The Little Beet Table – I first found out about LBT in New York when I visited their restaurant The Little Beet but it’s another entirely gluten-free restaurant in the city that also accommodates to dairy-free if necessary. They’ve got brunch, lunch and dinner and I absolutely love how vegetable-forward they are.
I’m a huge fan of their broccoli pizzetta (think a fine-thin crust personal pizza with roasted broccoli and oil), their roasted shrimp salad (sub salmon instead of shrimp!), their grass-fed burger (with the side of HUGE CHUNKY sweet potatoes — it’s life-changing) and both their mushroom AND carnitas tacos are amazing.
If you go for brunch, their banana bread and eggs florentine are my top picks.
Pro-tip: They’re available on Caviar, Uber Eats and GrubHub. I usually never bother to make a reservation because they’re usually not too busy at all and it’s great for a go-to dinner in the city (located in Gold Coast) in between shopping on the weekend or after work on weeknights.
Publican Quality Meats – I’m usually not a huge fan of popular tourist traps like everything you’d find in the West Loop (Au Cheval, Girl & The Goat, etc) but believe me when I say you NEED lunch at Publican Quality Meats. Publican is the main restaurant located across the street that’s a full-service restaurant whereas PQM is their butcher-shop/café. I’ve only ever been to PQM and their sandwiches are the best ever. They do all of their bread and meats in house and the quality is unlike anything else.
They’ve got so many varieties from bacon to breaded chicken cutlet and even a crispy falafel sandwich with smoked eggplant puree and date yogurt (omg hi).
My go-to order is the P.S.T club (turkey, bacon, ranch dressing, munster, avocado, lettuce and giardiniera on sourdough). Trust me when I say it’s a unique take on a club you won’t forget.
If you’re looking for a meat/cheese spot that’s quality and no fluff… this is your spot.
Saint Lou’s Assembly – This is honestly my most recent favorite spot in Chicago and I don’t know how I just found out about it this summer. I was looking for spots to take my best friend when she visited a few weeks back so my boyfriend recommended this to us and even though at first I almost passed it up, we ended up going and I LOVED. Right when I saw the neon sign on the outdoor window of a soft-serve cone I knew it was probably going to be my new summer spot. Think old fashioned diner meets outdoor patio with bleachers, umbrellas and string lights.
I got the patty melt on marble rye with caramelized onions, swiss and special sauce that came with a side of HON. EST. LY. some of the best waffle fries and my best friend got a grilled cheese on parmesan crusted sourdough. We both wanted to try the pork belly BLT with rotisserie porchetta and tomato jam but they sold out but I can already imagine me recommending that to you so… go for that, too! 🙂
They also have a portion of the menu called “Meat N Three” where you can pay one price for either pork shank, chicken, scallops, rotisserie pork belly, and strip loin with your choice of three sides including options like creamed corn elotes, brussels sprouts and mac and cheese.
Also rumor has it that their soft serve selections are constantly rotating and in June they did a fruity pebble special… which is my dream come true. When I was little fruity pebbles were my go-to cereal and in high school I’d always get them on top of my frozen yogurt. Super underrated combo and the fact that Saint Lou’s did this shows how perfect they are. But truly… get some soft serve post patty melt.
When it comes to dinner, I’m super picky. Once again, there are so many spots to choose from and in between healthier options to Italian restaurants, tapas, tourist favorites, etc… I can’t throw them all into one post but some of the below are ones I rarely see posted on anyone’s go-to dinner lists and my current favorites for the past few months/years. I tried to get a wide range from farm-to-table to vegan to mediterranean and obviously deep dish because… you know. Enjoy ‘em!
Lula Café – I always tell people I went here for the first time on a date and it was the only date with that guy but honestly… one of the best dates ever because I had the best gnocchi of my damn life here. Truly.
Checking their menu out online doesn’t do much justice to the restaurant as they are constantly rotating their dishes (for example I haven’t seen that gnocchi on the menu since I got it in June of 2018) but you can’t go wrong with anything you order.
Fresh ingredients but full of so much flavor, Lula Café is nestled in Logan Square (right off the square itself) and offers breakfast, brunch, dinner and dessert. For brunch I’d go for the whole wheat french toast with rhubarb compote and the lula ‘99 turkey sandwich with avocado, sprouts, lettuce, tomato and chile aioli.
If you’re going for dinner or brunch I’d definitely recommend making reservations in advance!
Ella Elli – I always forget about this dinner spot because it’s tucked away on the Southport Corridor in Lakeview but it is absolutely one of my favorites. I love the environment, the service, the food – everything is a 10/10. I used to live a five minute walk away and would always go with my roommate and even took my dad here once when he visited and truly everyone loves it. It’s also not ridiculously expensive but beautiful dishes and their booths are super romantic and cozy.
Their menu is separated into vegetables, pizza & pasta, and seafood & meats. All plates are on the smaller side so they’re better shared. I usually order 2-3 to share and then one dish for myself. My favorites are the maine lobster salad with avocado and grapefruit ( it’s so simple and so refreshing), ricotta gnocchi with mushrooms, confit potato salad with mustard seeds (the best thing ever) and crispy brussels sprouts.
I’ve never had their brunch so I can’t vouch for it but the eggs benedict with porchetta and avocado toast with everything but the bagel seasoning… I’m a-bout it.
Althea – People often ask me for vegan restaurants in Chicago and although there are a few good ones, there are literally 0 to my knowledge that use quality ingredients and don’t use crappy fake meats or cheese substitutes. Like we all know and love The Chicago Diner (amazing milkshakes) but the ingredients aren’t the best. Most vegan places use tons of soy and gluten… until Althea came to town!
I went here for Valentine’s Day this past year with one of my friends and absolutely loved how quiet and quaint it was. Located in the Saks Fifth Avenue on Michigan Avenue, Althea is a restaurant concept by Matthew Kenney; a plant-based chef who runs a few restaurants on the West Coast. The food uses organic, globally-inspired and thoughtfully-sourced ingredients and the view is of Michigan Avenue so perfect if you’re in town visiting.
They just recently launched a brunch menu that sounds incredible — a trio of toasts including a maple almond butter, avocado, and chickpea salad; barbacoa tacos using mushrooms instead of meat and a mango upside down pancake with cashew cream. Do I have your attention now?
When my friend and I went we shared 5-6 dishes and were completely satisfied yet not overly full. The spring gnocchi with pistachio cream and heirloom tomato and zucchini lasagna with macadamia ricotta are by far two of my favorite dishes they offer.
I’m usually not a dessert person because if it’s not ice cream I’m out but all of their selections are decadent and fabulous. Must try!
Galit – I feel like a broken record but one of my absolute favorite mediterranean restaurants EVER (Safta in Denver, CO) is very similar to Galit so when this opened this spring in Lincoln Park I was over the moon excited to try it out. I went with my best friend when she visited this past June and we were freaking out the entire time over the brisket hummus and fresh pitas. No joke the pitas were puffy little bundles of joy steaming the second they were placed on our table and we had to ask for more it was that good.
They have both a prix-fixe (sort of) menu of sorts where you can pay one flat rate and order multiple dishes or you can buy from the a la carte menu. We did a la carte and after devouring the brisket hummus with smokey cinnamon and braised carrots (omg can I have some now?) and “Salatim” (their selection of small salads including Labneh and Pickles) we were so stuffed but still ordered the carrots with feta, crispy chicken thigh and falafel with pickled turnips. All of it was amazing but in the future I’d definitely go with a group and just order a few veggies and a few hummus’ to split. That hummus was smoother than anything I’ve ever tasted.
As you can imagine… I loved it. A must try but be sure to make a reservation many few weeks out as they book up!
Sushi Dokku – One of my favorite sushi spots is located in the heart of the West Loop, right next to the Soho House. I’ve only been a handful of times but all of their maki and sashimi are to die for. It’s a bit on the pricier side but the quality tastes better than most sushi spots I’ve visited in the city.
My absolute go-to is their miso salmon maki roll with asparagus, avocado, fried shallots, micro arugula and black sesame. Get an appetizer of their shishito peppers too!
Lou Malnati’s – I’m sorry but what’s a good weekend/guide to Chicago without deep dish pizza? I always remember my first visit to Chicago — my best friend and I went to Lou Malnati’s with my mom, ordered their butter crust deep dish and it was seriously the best of my life. On my second visit, my mom and I went to Lou’s again (to the one right across the street from my first job out of college), waited almost 2 hours for pizza but it was one of my favorite memories with her and being in Chicago before I moved here officially.
Their classic pizza has sausage, extra cheese and ripened tomatoes and is super thick but man is it good. I also love and appreciate Lou’s for being one of the few deep dish pizzerias in the city that offers a GLUTEN-FREE deep dish with a crust made of sausage. No breading, just meat. Insane but worth a try. P.s. if deep dish isn’t your vibe, they’ve got thin crust, pastas and salads too with GF options as well. Many locations around the city so you can really find one anywhere you’re near but I love the one on State Street in Gold Coast.
You guys know when it comes to dessert there’s really only one thing I’ve got my eyes and heart set on and that’s ice cream. I always have a hard time finding good ice cream in the city (there’s Black Dog Gelato and Cone in the West Loop aside from the ones I’ll mention below) but these two are my absolute favorites. I always love finding dairy-free options wherever I go and these fit the bill.
Jeni’s Ice Cream – I mean… DUH! Jeni’s has been one of my favorite ice cream brands since I was in high school (they have a location in Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and I just love that it’s an Ohio-based brand. Since I moved here 6 years ago they now have locations in Southport, Wrigleyville, Wicker Park, West Loop and Old Town. Believe me when I tell you it’s much more of an exciting experience going to a scoop shop as opposed to buying a pint at Whole Foods but you CAN find them there (and at Foxtrot Markets) if you want a pint in your hotel bed.
I love how all of the ice cream flavors use REAL ingredients and everything is thoughtfully created by Jeni Britton Bauer herself. She is seriously a queen when it comes to the process of ice cream making and I’m so happy that the brand released 4 dairy-free flavors this year.
If you go, here are my favorites: brambleberry crisp, pistachio & honey, honey vanilla bean, strawberry buttermilk, green mint chip, salted peanut butter with chocolate flecks AND of course, the dairy-free roasted peanut butter and strawberry jam.
Real Good Stuff Co. – I’ve been going to Real Good since college for their juices, smoothies and avocado toasts but truthfully, when they came out with their dairy-free almond-milk based soft serve called “noyo froyo” back in 2017… that was all I was focused on. Truthfully I’m not a fan of their smoothies and juices at all but their avocado toast on Floriole’s thick cut sourdough bread and their housemade almond milk ricotta is AMAZING but what’s even better is the noyo froyo. I recommend getting their matcha or peanut butter flavors, topping it with fruit and almond butter drizzle. So tasty, dairy-free and not as sweet as regular soft serve. Available at their Old Town and River North locations but call in advance as sometimes their machines are broken 🙁
Well, well. That’s it. For now! I hope you enjoyed reading through this and finding some new and maybe old favorite spots to visit in Chicago. I love this city so much and every time I find a new spot I’m so happy to have found it and the fact it even exists. I love finding new spots, especially when they’re vegetable-forward and health-focused. This city’s restaurant scene has expanded so much in the 6 years I’ve lived here and keeps doing so. Seeing places like Fare, Dirty Root and Sweetgreen especially – who focus on sourcing local and sustainable ingredients from farmers and businesses within Illinois and surrounding states is incredible to witness. Nothing makes me happier than having more farm-to-table options and sharing it all with you, guys!
As always, let me know if you try/enjoy any of these spots and what your favorites are. Most importantly, I hope this guide helps you navigate around the city and you have the most spectacular time doing so.