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Nov 10, 2007 04:40 PM

Best Romantic Restaurant in Downtown Chicago?

I'm taking my wife to downtown Chicago for dinner in December and am looking for a fantastic place to have dinner. This will be for our 2nd wedding anniversary so I want it to be special. Cost is not too much of an issue, but whatever might be reasonable for the area is fine. We are coming from the Pittsburgh area, en route to WI for the holidays. Any advice? We're planning to stay at the Westin on the North Chicago River in downtown on West Adams.

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  1. IMHO, the best romantic restaurant in downtown Chicago is Everest, which is widely regarded as one of the very best restaurants in the city, and is just a block or two from your hotel. The setting is spectacular, at the top of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building, with a great view of the entire city spread out below. The service is impeccable, friendly and approachable and not at all stuffy; in fact, I have had the very best service in my life at Everest. And every time I have been there, the food has been superb. They specialize in Alsatian/French cuisine. It's not inexpensive, and it's dressy (e.g. jackets and preferably ties for gentlemen). (They also have a bargain three-course pre-theater menu at 5:00/5:30 every day they're open except Fridays.) I highly recommend it.

    You'll find a report on Everest from someone who was looking for a romantic restaurant for a special occasion at

    10 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      I agree with Nsxtasy that Everest is very romantic, since it is set up some number of floors with a gorgeous view of the city. But, it is very expensive. When you say cost is not an issue but anything reasonable for the city is fine, I am unsure as to how much you are willing to spend. Everest will run you $100-$150 per person depending on whether you order wine, etc. If price is truly not an issue, go there. It is close to your hotel, as well.

      On a more "moderate" scale (not inexpensive, but less expensive than the above), I think that Merlo on Maple is romantic Italian right in the gold coast, where you could take a walk down MI Ave to see the lights, etc. Cab ride would not be too expensive.

      When I want romantic I think French, Italian,some about Le Colonial upstairs if you like French Vietnamese? It is lit by candles and has more exotic foods. People may have different opinions on this site, but I have always had a great meal. check out their website.

      1. re: ljero

        Thanks, ljero, for pointing out the cost of Everest (which is actually the least expensive of our top half dozen "splurge" restaurants). The pre-theater special I mentioned is a way to keep the cost down. Otherwise, that $100-150 estimate is generally accurate, although it's also possible to cost even more than $150 per person, if you run up the alcohol bill. Oh, and I think it's on approximately the 40th floor of that building.

        If cost is an issue, I recommend several places within walking distance (which will save you the cab fare!). Vivere ( ), for Italian fine dining, is just 2-3 blocks walk from the Westin. Trattoria No. 10 ( ) is another excellent Italian choice, although it's several blocks further. For a non-Italian choice, Custom House is also 4-5 blocks away in Printer's Row, and has contemporary American cuisine from famed chef Shawn McClain, with an emphasis on meats. All of these have excellent food and similar prices; the total per person with moderate alcohol and tax/tip should come in around $80-110. And all are suitable for a romantic dinner.

        One other choice isn't less expensive, and it isn't exactly close by, but... North Pond is a wonderful restaurant, featuring delicious contemporary American food of Chef Bruce Sherman, specializing in local and seasonal ingredients. The reason I mention it is because its setting is so unique (and, yes, romantic). It is in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park, not just the neighborhood of the same name), about three miles north of the Westin. It's housed in the building that formerly rented skates to the skaters on the pond. It faces the pond and the Chicago skyline towers above the opposite end, which is an exquisite setting, especially if you're sitting in the outer dining room with its large windows facing the pond. This place, too, ends up in the $80-110 range per person including moderate alcohol, tax, and tip.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          We are wine distributors in Chicago and so we get to do some great dining. I like Everest, and it does get lots of hype, but I really love Nomi at the Park Hyatt. This is NOT your typical hotel restaurant. It overlooks the water tower and you can get a look at Lake Michigan. Excellent wine list, and wonderful food. North Pond is awesome. Try Shikago...a new one for lunch if you have time. Opera in the south Loop has funky asian/thai cuisine and it is loud and wild....not exactly romantic, but fun. Alina if you can get in is really an experience. Custom house is a great customer also and food is suppose to be wonderful....I haven't gone yet but our son who is in the business loves it. There are so many GREAT places to eat in the city that it is hard to pick. Have a GREAT TIME.

        2. re: ljero

          I would not include Merlo on Maple as I think the service is sometimes insufferable, at least if you don't want appetizers, primi, secondi and dessert. I am not the only person who feels that way. A friend described the experience as "decide what you want and then just keep repeating it until the waiter goes away." Of course if you are a very hearty eater this may not be an issue, but it doesn't sound very romantic to pass out after dinner from eating too much. Other recommendations here are all very good.

          1. re: abhalsey

            "I would not include Merlo on Maple as I think the service is sometimes insufferable."

            As someone who has dined there on countless occasions, I would have to disagree. On almost every visit, I have always found the service to be excellent. The one time I had bad service I said something and I have never seen that wait person there again. I also think that Merlo on Maple is serving some of the most outstanding Northern Italian food in Chicago (I prefer only Spiaggia, and not Cafe Spiaggia). And I've never ordered four courses there, although I have ordered just two on many occasions.

            As to the ambiance, the setting is a beautiful brownstone, dining on three floors (all small rooms), lots of dark wood, white tablecloths and formal service.

            1. re: BRB

              Have you gone to Del Rio 228 Greenbay in Highwood. We went for the 1st time a month ago and can't wait to go back. It is a hike...but we live in Crete, IL and it was well worth the trip. Ambiance is not the best, but the food is authentic old world Italian. Bill Piati is the 4th generation owner of this place and the wine list is one of the largest in the "country" not Illinois. We went early on a Friday night w/o reservations and got right in.

              1. re: Kathfootball

                No I have not been, but it sounds like it's worth the trip -- sounds a little similar to Francesco's Hole in the Wall in Northbrook, another place I find worth the trip.

                1. re: Kathfootball

                  Del Rio's has been somewhat legendary among wine lovers for many years. They have more than one wine list and it could take all night just going through them. The above description is dead on - the food is good but not gourmet but the wine list and reasonableness of the prices more than makes up for it. I remember one occasion years ago when my wife and I went there to celebrate an event and I was able to order a Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet for not much more than the retail price!

            2. re: ljero

              Le Colonial was a great recommendation, ljero. At least in the affordable range. The food is very, very good at about half what you would pay for the really expensive places. There are a ton of bistros that would be nice, but Le Colonial is distinctive.

          2. Thank you all so much! I am aiming at a cost of approximately 80-100 per person. Ideally, the place we go to will have a fantastic wine list, as we are both wine drinkers (I am a collector). As far as cuisine, we're not so much into Italian but Thai, French, Southwest, Spanish, Continental US. Again, thank you very much for your information. We also really like modern decor...if this helps.

            10 Replies
            1. re: sanchoman

              I don't really consider modern decor to be romantic, but it you do, check out Blackbird, Naha, and 160 Blue. 160 Blue is a 10 minute cab ride from your Hotel, but I would consider it the most romantic of the three, but all three have excellent food.


              1. re: sanchoman

                It's interesting that you mention modern decor because I don't necessarily associate it with a romantic atmosphere. Not that a place with modern decor can't be romantic, just that it's not necessarily what I think of. Also thanks for the clarification on cost. $80-100/pp, including moderate wine and tax/tip, gets you into all but the most expensive places in the city. Unless you really go crazy with the wine, which could put you over that figure almost anywhere.

                Here are a few more notes on the places mentioned by myself and others.

                I realize it might be above your target budget, but it's worth mentioning that Everest has a HUGE wine list (over 1700 bottles) and is a winner of the Wine Spectator's "Best of Award of Excellence". It's considered to have one of the best wine lists in the world, and the largest selection of Alsatian wines in the world.

                I mentioned North Pond, which I consider the most romantic restaurant in your stated price range. I mentioned that they took the skaters' building and remodeled it. The outer dining room, facing the pond, now has floor-length windows to make it easy to see the view from anywhere in the room. The inner dining room doesn't, but it has exposed tile and a few pillars with glazed brick surfaces that I assume are original. The decor is very charming, sort of a mix of old and newly remodeled with a touch of Frank Lloyd Wright. North Pond is a winner of the Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence". You can view the wine list on its website.

                I didn't mention one sixtyblue, which wak mentioned, just because I was concentrating on places near your hotel, and throwing in North Pond for its romantic ambience. However, one sixtyblue is my favorite restaurant in the entire city. Every time I go there, I am impressed by the spectacular food, which I consider the very best in the entire city in this price category (although we have many, many other great restaurants here too, including Blackbird and Naha). The service is excellent as well. The decor is contemporary but classy (not "hit you over the head ultramodern"), with interesting lighting and fixtures, an open kitchen along one wall of the dining room, windows along the opposite wall, and the few interior walls painted a solid charcoal gray. one sixtyblue is another winner of the Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence".

                I think Custom House is quite charming and has excellent food, but it can sometimes run a little over your target price range. It is not a Wine Spectator award-winner. Neither are Blackbird or Naha.

                If you are interested in seeing all the Wine Spectator award winners in the city of Chicago, they're listed here:
                by award level and then alphabetically. Charlie Trotter's and Tru, the two winners of their "Grand Award", are both very expensive restaurants, $250-350/pp. You'll note that Vivere is a winner of their "Best of Award", but I see you're not so much into Italian. Other winners of their "Best of Award" include two steakhouses (Chicago Chop House and Capital Grille), two contemporary American restaurants (MK and Zealous - I've been to both, and although they're good, I like one sixtyblue better), two more places above your price range (NoMI and Les Nomades), several more Italian places, and Salpicon, which is an excellent Mexican restaurant in Old Town, a short cab ride from your hotel in the Loop.

                Personally, from what you've posted, Everest would be my first choice but it's probably going to be above your budget, unless you go early for their pre-theater deal. Leaving aside Everest, I would choose between North Pond and one sixtyblue. Both have attractive decor but with an advantage for romantic atmosphere to North Pond; both have excellent food but with an advantage to one sixtyblue. You can't go wrong with either.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  I am actually planning a 2-year anniversary as well for my boyfriend and I for next weekend. The recommendations above sound wonderful, but most of them won't work for us -- we are students on a pretty tight budget, and would like to keep the bill to around $40-50 per person. We still want to have dinner somewhere romantic where we can make a memory, although we understand that our budget will limit how upscale we can get. We aren't big drinkers, so a glass of wine each should do. We love interesting and inventive food. We're more into french, italian, bistro, fusion, and american and less into mexican and asian. another catch - i'm a vegetarian and he likes his meat. if anyone has any recommendations, i'd really appreciate it.

                  1. re: velvetdc1

                    Le Bouchon has a daily special for $22 each of appetizer, entree, dessert, but you only get two choices for each. I find the dining area overly crowded, but you might also find it very cosy.

                    If you can put it off until early in the week, La Sardine has a Tuesday prix fixe menu - any appetizer, entree, and dessert for $25 per person. Its quite a bargin for some of the best French Bistro food in town. The food choices make this a much better culinary experience than Le Bouchoon, but maybe not quite so romantic.

                    1. re: wak

                      I actually think Le Bouchon would be the perfect place. Crowded/Cozy -- just depends on your perspective, but the food is excellent. Bistro Campagne in Lincoln Square might also be a good bet.

                      Another great idea might be Sabatino's, but you have to be able to appreciate that old school charm. If you are looking for a real throwback (but with excellent food), I couldn't think of a better place:

                    2. re: velvetdc1

                      How about Terragusto? It's intimate (altho it can be a little noisy), and the appetizer and pasta (usually one or two vegetarian) will set you back about $20-$25/head. It's also BYOB. Be sure to reserve (and you can then ask about the vegetarian options), and this thread will give you more info (Ignore the "contrroversy" at the center of the thread; mountain-out-of-molehill stuff).


                      1. re: velvetdc1

                        Forno at Milwaukee and Damen has a special on Tuesdays, $21 for three courses. It has plenty of veggie options, although it is really meat intensive. I'm taking my daughter there in two weeks to reward her for a great first semester in college.

                        1. re: Pete Oldtown

                          My husband and I will be in Chicago to celebrate our 3rd anniversary around New Years. We are staying at the Palmer House downtown. I was hoping to find a restaurant with Asian cuisine. We are from San Francisco, and will be spending the holidays in the midwest, so my husband will be ready for some lighter fare, i.e., vegetables, seafood, rice. Anyone have an opinion on Shikago? Or perhaps another suggestion?

                          1. re: karenina

                            I haven't been to Shikago yet. kathfootball has posted that she liked it, but hasn't posted a comparison with any of our other Asian fusion restaurants. It's certainly convenient, since it's walking distance from the Palmer House Hilton.

                            Other Asian fusion places are a long walk or short cab ride from the PHH. Red Light is a long time favorite, and I like it a lot. It's a little over a mile away, to the west. Aria is an Asian fusion restaurant in the Fairmont, maybe a ten minute walk from the PHH. For combinations of Asian and non-Asian foods, Le Colonial, mentioned by ljero above, has French-Vietnamese food, and Vermilion has Indian-Latin food; both a little under a mile north of your hotel.

                            These are not really our most authentic Asian restaurants, but the food at these is very good and interesting. They are upscale places, not surprising given their location near downtown.

                            Our most authentic Asian food is found in storefront restaurants in outlying neighborhoods away from downtown. Some of our best Chinese food is in Chinatown, 2.5 miles south of your hotel (and near the Cermak-Chinatown stop on the CTA Red Line), including Lao Sze Chuan. Two of our most popular Thai restaurants are on the north side, 5 miles north: TAC Quick is near the Sheridan stop on the Red Line, and Spoon Thai is near the Western stop on the Brown Line. We have many Indian and Pakistani restaurants 8 miles north of the PHH, on Devon Avenue between Western (2400N) and Sacramento (3000N); you can take the Red Line to the Loyola stop and transfer to the #155 Devon bus southbound (use a fare card to avoid paying for two separate fares).

                            For non-Asian restaurants, the recommendations in the posts above are close to the Palmer House Hilton, which is just a few blocks from the Westin where the OP is staying.

                            Website links:
                            Shikago -
                            Red Light -
                            Aria -
                            Le Colonial -
                            Vermilion -
                            Lao Sze Chuan -
                            TAC Quick -
                            Spoon Thai -
                            CTA -

                            1. re: karenina

                              Shikago is a nice place to go if you work nearby, to grab a drink and some food with colleagues, which I often did when I worked on that block. But I wouldn't recommend it for a romantic anniversary dinner - I don't think the atmoshphere would be suitable since it has a professional vibe and is essentially tucked into the lobby of an office building, though I think it also has an external entrance. I would definitely choose Red Light and Le Colonial over these for ambience and and food.

                    3. IMHO, the two most romantic restaurants downtown are Les Nomades and Copperblue. Both have amazing wine lists and cozy dining rooms where you feel quite separate from other tables. Service is elegant and savvy, but not stuffy.

                      1. IMHO, Geja's on Armitage is far away the most romantic restaurant in the city. Nestled in a cozy, very dark and warmly lit basement, flamenco guitar playing in the background. It's a fondue restaurant, but probably the best fondue restaurant you'll ever go to in this country. It's extraordinary. But that said, the medium does limit the sophistication of the food, so you won't be having the same kind of culinary revelations you'll see at Everest or most of the other restaurants mentioned here, but the romance of the place can't be beat.