1. Le Select
River North

The gist: When two titans of the restaurant industry join forces, would you expect anything less than cherry heering-glazed bone marrow and gilded eclairs the size of an Italian beef sandwich? Of course you wouldn’t. Le Select is the kind of swanky, terrazzo-clad brasserie that looks like New York’s Pastis in its glory days, replete with antique mirrors, arches, and glass from Maison de Verre. It’s all courtesy of the spare-no-expense Boka Restaurant Group, a winning team with more James Beard Awards than Adele has Grammys, and Daniel Rose of New York City’s perpetually buzzy Le Coucou.
The food: A sultry love letter to Parisian brasseries, Rose’s menu is so buttery and extravagant you can practically feel your belt buckle snap just reading it. But it’s well worth the splurge for Le Select’s smattering of classic-meets-contemporary French fare. Start with Eggs Mimosa (soft-boiled eggs with caviar) and Fish Terrine with sea urchin vinaigrette, before migrating to Les Plats like Saint-Jacques au Curry (seared scallops in French curry with celeriac puree) or a masterful Steak Au Poivre swimming in Cognac-spiked peppercorn sauce. For dessert, finish with ice cream-filled profiteroles enrobed in warm chocolate sauce or the Eclair XL with coffee cream. The drink list follows suit with a French-leaning wine list and cocktails that highlight French spirits. For extra sips, head upstairs to Bar 504, a second-floor lounge designed as a pre- or post-dinner nook.

2. After
Fulton Market

The gist: Most late-night snacks involve regrettable fast-food and post-booze stops at the Wiener Circle, but if you’re a night owl with your wits about you (and some cash to burn), it doesn’t get much better than After, an after-dinner bar that far exceeds the call of digestif duty. Created as a late-night counterpart to tasting menu sister restaurant Ever, this posh parlor is a project from chef Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser, who have put together a space that’s dark, sultry, and romantic, with intricate bites and drinks that are well worth the second wind.
The food: Most of the eating to be done in this corner of Fulton Market involves hours-long degustations at seasonally driven Ever, but for those who want a taste of Duffy’s cuisine without the budgetary blowout, After scratches the itch with snacks like sticky-sweet Vietnamese Duck Wings, paprika-spiced Lamb Ribs, and Purple Sweet Potatoes with pecorino, brown butter, and mascarpone. There’s also Caviar Service, with roe so ritzy that it costs upwards of $2,000. The drink list shares top billing, with classic riffs like Fig Sazeracs, coconut Daiquiris, and truffle-infused 24K Espresso Martinis.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.

3. Kindling | Downtown Cookout & Cocktails

The gist: At this point, it should be well known that The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group is far more than wings. Sure, the bar and restaurant group is behind arguably the best chicken wings in town, but its portfolio of chef-driven concepts continues its steady march towards city-wide fame. Case in point: The group partnered with celebrated celebrity chef Jonathon Sawyer for its latest effort, a fun and eclectic contemporary American venture in the Willis Tower. Easily the best restaurant at the skyscraping tourist attraction, Kindling | Downtown Cookout & Cocktails lives up to its name with a showy live-fire kitchen and a funky, plant-filled bi-level space that feels like attending a summery cookout party that just so happens to be hosted by a James Beard Award-winner
The food: A roaring wood-fired oven reigns over much of the menu at this cookout-inspired restaurant, where Sawyer gets playful and whimsical. Confit Chicken Wings are a requisite starter, along with Twice-Cooked Sweet Potatoes slathered in BBQ butter and Charcoal-Toasted Quesadillas filled with rotisserie chicken. That same rotisserie churns out heartier fare like Horseradish-Crusted Celery Root Steaks, while must-eat entrees include Pastrami-Spiced Short Rib and BBQ Grilled Scallops.

5. FONDA Cantina

The gist: Any time seasoned chef Michael Lachowicz unveils a new restaurant, it’s an automatic big deal; a culinary star on the North Shore, he’s like the Rihanna of chefs, with a beloved portfolio of restaurants (e.g. Aboyer and George Trois in Winnetka) and eager anticipation for what’s new. The latest is Lachowicz’s first Mexican venture, FONDA Cantina, a heartfelt collaboration with the chef’s veteran team members, including Carlos Cahue who mans the menus, and Miguel Escobar and Sergio Angel as managing partners. Together, they preside over a downtown Evanston restaurant, at once homey and vibrant, that takes design cues from natural materials and textures inspired by the homes, monuments, and rustic tiles of colonial Mexico.
The food: Billed as a “Memoir of Mexico,” Lachowicz cedes the spotlight to his team of Mexican natives to cook up a menu of modern snacks, tacos, entrees, and desserts as lustrous as the decor. Plates include beef-filled Chile Relleno with peach picadillo and green mole, Carne Asada with charred spring onions and salsa martajada, and pitch-perfect Tacos Al Pastor. Finish with a dessert tamale flavored with tropical fruits and goat’s milk caramel. To drink, the cantina slings all manner of lustrous cocktails, mocktails, and crisp cervezas.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.

6. Second Generation
Logan Square

The gist: Whereas many restaurants pivoted during the pandemic from full-service to takeout, or from fine dining to casual, the folks behind Second Generation did the opposite, transforming burger-centric Mini Mott into an intimate, familial restaurant rooted in the owners’ upbringings as second-generation Asian Americans. And if their fan-favorite sister restaurant, Mott St, is any indication, this is the kind of sentimental hospitality that they excel at. That beloved burger remains, molten miso butter onions and all, but the vibe and menu are decidedly more elevated, personal, and captivating—the kind of contemporary American restaurant, influenced by stories of immigration and legacy, that endures for generations to come.
The food: Courtesy of chef Edward Kim, Second Generation’s offerings delve far deeper than burgers. In its new full-service format, the chef is able to flex his culinary muscles with an expanded menu of veggies, meats, and seafood dishes, plus signature dishes like Kalbi Steak Frites and Pork Belly with ginger congee. Try the sourdough tartine laced with Misoyaki Eggplant, the Charred Octopus with fermented black soybeans, and the Everything Wings, another holdover from those Mini Mott days, with fish sauce and tzatziki.

More City Guides

Discover the best things to eat, drink, and do
with our expertly curated city guides.