Chicago Restaurant Guide: West Loop
I’ve been meaning to share a Chicago restaurant guide for – oh, I don’t know – over a year? So, that’s what we’re doing today.
To keep things simple, this guide focuses strictly on the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago (where Connor and I live), which happens to hold many of the best restaurants in Chicago. The plethora of options is overwhelming and wonderful all at the same time!
What this neighborhood lacks in retail shops, it makes up for in dining options. We’re incredibly lucky to have some of the greatest restaurants this city has to offer within walking distance of our apartment. After living here for two years, I still haven’t dined at half of them! But I have been to a lot and I’ve been wanting to share my recommendations with you.
The character, abundance of great food, and old meatpacking buildings are one of the main reasons why we fell in love with this neighborhood two years ago. It’s been incredible to watch this area transform in the time we’ve lived here, and nearly every other week a new spot is opening up or beginning construction.
Randolph Street, aka. Chicago’s Restaurant Row, and Fulton Market are home to many of them. We’ve got casual taco spots, delicious burgers, incredible coffee, and three-star Michelin restaurants all within a three or four block radius of one another.
If you are planning a trip to Chicago (spring and summer is the best time of year to visit!), skip the deep dish and plan to enjoy at least one meal in this area.
COFFEE SHOPS + BAKERIES
Sawada Coffee – 112 N. Green Street – if you’re looking for great, beautifully prepared coffee (or a fun spot to people watch), Sawada is my favorite coffee shop in the West Loop. Sawada is the first U.S. shop from Hiroshi Sawada, a renowned barista from Japan. This funky industrial location is actually home to two other restaurants in this guide, Green Street Smoked Meats and High Five Ramen. My favorite drink (warning: not wallet friendly) is the military latte, which is a combination of a classic latte, matcha, homemade vanilla syrup, and cocoa powder, but everything is good. They also sell old-fashioned doughnuts from Doughnut Vault. Be prepared for a major buzz.
La Colombe Coffee Roasters – 955 W. Randolph Street – while La Colombe is actually a Philadelphia-based coffee roaster, this is a good classic coffee shop right on restaurant row. My favorite drinks are the on draft lattes or black and tans. This is definitely a spot to enjoy coffee with a small group (it’s hard to snag a table that can fit more than three at most) and not work from home (they don’t have wifi).
Glazed and Infused Doughnuts – 813 W. Fulton Market – technically these are not my favorite doughnuts in Chicago (I prefer Doughnut Vault or Do-Rite), but if you’re looking for fun, festive doughnuts, Glazed and Infused is the best spot in the West Loop neighborhood. My favorites are the massive apple fritter and anything old-fashioned (particularly the seasonal pumpkin ones they sell during fall).
Groundswell Coffee Roasters – 1168 W. Madison Street – a relatively new coffee shop to open in the area, this slightly off-the-radar and quieter West Loop coffee shop is another good option for coffee, especially if you’re exploring Madison Street (or that restaurant supply store mentioned below!).
BREAKFAST + BRUNCH
The Allis at Soho House – 113-125 N. Green Street – for casual, light everyday breakfasts (they also serve lunch/afternoon tea/dinner) with great coffee, The Allis at Soho House is one of my favorite spots in the West Loop. If I’m treating myself, I’ll go there with my laptop, grab coffee and lunch, and linger for a few hours. If you’re not planning a meal here, take a minute to peek your head into this gorgeous, impeccably designed space and building! I want to live in it. P.S. The avocado toast (which inspired this fancy avocado toast) is my favorite.
Little Goat Diner – 820 W. Randolph Street – Little Goat is our most visited spot for breakfast or brunch on the weekends. It can get fairly busy on the weekends, so you should definitely plan for at least a 30 to 45 minute wait at peak times. We love to sit outside if the weather is nice. Little Goat has the classic feel of an old-school diner with a funkier, more creative menu. The portions are generous. They offer a blue plate special every day (some of my favorite dishes have been these), but it can sell out fairly early. Other favorites: corn beef hash, blueberry pancakes, parathas burrito, and the super crispy hash browns.
Publican – 837 W. Fulton Market – if we’re looking for a more special brunch spot, we often head over to Publican. It’s perfect for people that love brunch, but have a tendency to wake up early: brunch starts at 10 am on Saturdays and 9 am on Sundays. As long as you plan about a week out, you can often snag a reservation for a larger crowd too, especially if you go on the earlier side. Warning: the menu is smaller and Publican is known for it’s meats/charcuterie, so it is not quite as vegetarian-friendly!
Meli’s Cafe – 320 S. Halsted Street – located in Greektown, Meli’s is more of an everyday spot for people that seek a traditional breakfast menu. It also offers a ton of dietary friendly options. If you have friends or family that are gluten-free or vegan, it can be a good spot for them. The space doesn’t offer the charm or character of other West Loop restaurants, but we do enjoy going every now and then. I love the vegetable heavy breakfast bowls (eg. farmland bowl) and fresh-pressed juices.
MARKETS + SHOPS
Publican Quality Meats – 825 W. Fulton Market – if you follow along on Instagram, you’ve probably heard me mention Publican Quality Meats (the sister market/butcher shop to Publican restaurant) several times. The head baker, Greg Wade, was just nominated for a James Beard Award. If Publican is too busy for brunch, stop here for a casual breakfast instead – and be sure to be pick up a loaf of their fantastic bread (my favorite bread in the city), some charcuterie, or a few local products to take home!
West Loop Salumi – 1111 W. Randolph Street – keep walking west down Randolph Street and you’ll come across a tiny little red shop called West Loop Salumi. They specialize in traditional Italian cured meats (they supply charcuterie to restaurants across the city, and some can be found at Eataly too!). If you visit in the summer, grab a sample charcuterie board, glass of wine, and sit outside! Everything they make is fantastic, but the nduja and finocchiona might be my two favorites.
Olympia Meats – 810 W. Randolph Street – another favorite old-school butcher shop (est. 1969) located right on Randolph Street, Olympia is worth peeking your head into if you’re visiting the area, need a fresh cut of meat, or want a taste of what this neighborhood was like before the West Loop became super trendy and popular.
Herzog Design Co. – 1034 W. Madison Street – a few blocks away from restaurant row, you can find Herzog Design Co. – a restaurant supply and equipment shop that’s been around for more than 100 years. If you’re looking for cheap pots or kitchen equipment, it’s worth a visit.
BURGERS, TACOS, BBQ + PIZZA
Grange Hall Burger Bar – 844 W. Randolph Street – if you don’t have the patience to wait for Au Cheval or prefer more customized, unique or grass-fed burgers, Grange Hall can also satisfy a burger craving.
Au Cheval – 800 W. Randolph Street – (no reservations) – this famous spot has repeatedly won the title of best burger in Chicago (and the country) and has a line running out the door at all times of the day. Prepare for at least a two and a half hour wait unless you go at an off peak time. Try a super late lunch or very late dinner. If you love rich burgers and griddled thin-style patties, you will love it. This is not the place to stray off the menu or request off-the-menu toppings. Go very hungry. Order the single (technically, a double patty) cheeseburger with bacon and split an order of fries. If you love eggs, add an egg (they are gorgeously presented, but IMO the burger doesn’t really need it). I don’t even love bacon, but Au Cheval’s super-thick bacon is fantastic!
De Cero Hello Tacos – 814 W. Randolph Street – if you’re looking for a casual, everyday taco spot, De Cero is a good spot to visit. If we’re in the mood for tacos, it is also a good brunch spot on the weekends – and they offer a few outdoor tables!
Cruz Blanca Brewery + Taqueria Bar – 904 W. Randolph Street – the casual taco bar attached to Rick Bayless’s Lena Brava. Unlike other taco spots, you order different grilled meats and actually assemble the tacos yourself. If you love beer, be sure to grab one of their signature brews.
Parlor Pizza Bar – 108 N. Green Street – if you’re looking for a lively, loud sports bar (or super casual pizza), Parlor Pizza can be a fun spot to visit with a group, especially if you sit outside on their massive outdoor patio (or upstairs beer garden) in the spring or summer.
Green Street Smoked Meats – 112 N. Green Street – if you visit Sawada Coffee, you’ll notice Green Street Smoked Meats just behind you. When you first walk in, you feel like you’ve been transported to a super trendy Wild West bar. I’m not a BBQ connoisseur (and have had better BBQ), but it can be a fun spot to visit with a large group for a casual, rowdy dinner.
COCKTAILS + DRINKS
Lone Wolf Tavern – 806 W. Randolph Street – on the outside, Lone Wolf Tavern looks like an old-school bar from the 1980’s, but the inside begs to differ. It’s a fun spot to visit for a drink (especially if you are waiting for a table from a nearby restaurant), but expect to stand – as they have limited seats and the leather booths fill up early.
Bad Hunter – 802 W. Randolph Street – technically, Bad Hunter is a restaurant, but it is also a great place to grab a cocktail or drink too. They specialize in low-alcohol craft cocktails, which I sort of love. Favorites are the spicy carrot cooler and low and slowe cosmo.
RM Champagne Salon – 116 N. Green Street – located at the back of a cobblestone alley (also home to High Five Ramen, Green Street Smoked Meats, and Sawada), RM Champagne salon is a great place to visit in the summer and enjoy a drink and fresh oysters.
GREAT DINNER SPOTS
Avec – 615 W. Randolph Street – (limited reservations) Avec continues to be one of our favorite go-to restaurant in West Loop (and Chicago, in general). It is reliably great. We love going there for dinner, as well for less traditional brunches on weekends. Share everything, and always order at least one of the salad plates. Even on a busy night, we can generally get a table for two within 30 to 45 minutes, especially if we go slightly earlier or later. Since the restaurant is very small (and only has communal tables) and takes limited reservations, I recommend avoiding it for groups larger than four people. PS. If you see lamb tartare on the menu, order it immediately!
Publican – 837 W. Fulton Market – if you’d rather skip brunch, definitely plan ahead and make a reservation to visit Publican for dinner! It can get a bit loud – so it might not be the best spot for a huge crowd – and most of the tables are communal, but the food is fantastic. Great for meat and charcuterie lovers.
Duck Duck Goat – 857.W. Fulton Market – the descriptor for this restaurant is ‘reasonably authentic Chinese food’ and I love that. The restaurant (the newest addition to Stephanie Izard’s empire) is beautifully designed, and the food is great and fun to share with a group. Our favorite dishes that we’ve tried: short ribe/bone marrow potstickers (jiazo), octopus salad, dan dan noodles, and mapo doufu.
bellyQ – 1400 W. Randolph Street – located at the far West end of restaurant row, bellyQ is a great, casual Asian BBQ spot. We’ve been here a number of times, and love visiting because 1) it satisfies our craving for Asian food, 2) the menu changes fairly often, 3) we can generally find/reserve a table on short notice. Grab a handful of dishes and share everything. The Korean short ribs, fried rice, and lemongrass salmon are personal favorites.
High Five Ramen – 112 N. Green Street – (no reservations available) we’ve been to a handful of ramen spots in Chicago, and this is probably our favorite spot of them all! If you love spicy, rich ramen – and want an atmosphere that vaguely resembles the counter-style ramen shops of Japan – this is a great spot to visit. In fact, if you don’t know it’s there, you might not even realize that High Five Ramen exists. Visit at off-times or weekdays, or be prepared for a very long wait. They don’t take reservations and only have about 10-15 seats.
SPECIAL OCCASION RESTAURANTS
Momotaro – 820 W. Lake Street – our favorite sushi spot in West Loop! This beautiful restaurant is located just off restaurant row, and offers fabulous hot/cold dishes, unique sushi rolls (highly, highly recommend the Go Takara roll – which is actually about six completely different pieces), sashimi, and much more.
Blackbird – 619 W. Randolph Street – this Michelin-starred restaurant is a classic West Loop institution that has been around for years. We went a year ago for my birthday, and I still remember the corn gazpacho like it was yesterday. If you’re looking for a classic, pre-fixe high end dining spot (and can’t snag a reservation for Grace), this is a great option. They also offer a more afffordable lunch menu too.
Grace – 652 W. Randolph Street – ok, we technically have not visited Grace yet, but this three Michelin-starred restaurant is on my bucket list of places to visit in the next three years. Chef Curtis Duffy offers both a flora and fauna pre-fixe menu. If you’re curious to learn the backstory on this place, be sure to check out the new Netflix documentary For Grace.
Leña Brava – 904 W. Randolph Street – Rick Bayless’s newest Chicago restaurant, Leña Brava is a Baja-style seafood-focused spot right on Randolph Street. They specialize in cold dishes (think crudos, aguachiles, ceviches, etc.) and wood-fire roasted dishes. If you love Mexican/Baja style food and seafood, this is a perfect place to plan ahead for a more upscale meal.
Girl + the Goat – 809 W. Randolph Street – Stephanie Izard’s famous spot on Randolph Street. You might be lucky enough to walk in and be able to snag a table, but for the most part, you should plan on making a reservations months ahead. The food is great, but rich and slightly larger than tapas size, so if you prefer to share dishes (and try a bunch of them!), be sure to go with a group of three or four. You can’t really go wrong with any of them, but the wood oven-roasted pig face – and anything goat-based – is worth a try.
The Aviary – 955 W. Fulton Market – if you are into cocktails, you can’t write a West Loop restaurant guide and not mention The Aviary. I have not visited this spot personally, but I’ve always been curious and heard great things – but you really have to love cocktails and be willing to pay a pretty penny for them. Definitely an experience or special-occasion option!
PLACES TO VISIT NEXT
Below, you can find a handful of spots that are on our list of places to try next. I’ll continue to update this list as time goes on, and also add new spots as they open up!
Bad Hunter – 802 W. Randolph Street
Monteverde – 1020 W. Madison Street
La Sirena Clandestina – 954 W. Fulton Market
Next – 953 W. Fulton Market
Maude’s Liquor Bar – 840 W. Randolph Street
Sepia – 123 N. Jefferson Street
Bar Takito – 201 N. Morgan Street
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken – 847 W. Fulton Market
El Che Bar – 845 W. Washington Boulevard
Chicken Shop – 113-125 N. Green Street
Forno Rosso Pizzeria – 1048 W. Randolph Street