Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
Apr 3, 2011 03:25 AM

HELP! All the GREAT high end restaurants...But which one!?!

My family is planning the first vacation we have had in over 10 years. As my profile reads I am a Chef and 2 of my daughters will have graduated from Culinary school by the time we go in July 2012. We would like to dine in the best of the best restaurant in Chicago but based on the possibility that a specific restaurants reservations may be unavailable, even 15 months out, please give say 5 or so options by most desireable and the reason for your selections is optional. I trust the Chowhounds! Thank you in advance...JJ

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Alinea. Hands down. No question.
    Not just the best restaurant in Chicago, but the best in the United States.You can't get reservations for July 2012; they book about 3 months out.

    Now, there are some superb (best is hard to come by because it is so subjective) restaurants that are mid-range or even inexpensive. But iit may depend on what you are looking for and what "best means to you.

    At the high end, there are strong differences of opinion among us:
    Charlie Trotter

    There are also places that ma

    1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

    Charlie Trotter's
    816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

    445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

    2 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      In this case,"best" would have to be where would you call next if Alinea was booked and so on if your 2nd choice was booked. I asked this question with the understanding that,"best" is subjective but was just curious what the people who have experienced these restaurants had to say. Thanks for responding...JJ

      1. re: Chef Jimmy J

        If Alinea was booked I would call Topo, Tru or Everest. In the last year I have eaten at both Everest and Trotters.

        Serious service problems at Everest, but extraordinary food.
        Great service, but ok (not not heart-stopping) food at CT and since I am going out for food, not service, I wouldn't bother with CT any time soon.

        I love Topolobambo and what Rick Bayless does.

        L20 just lost Chef Laurent Gras and no one knows how that's going to shake out.

        Spiaggia has had mixed reviews lately and I would go to Spiaggia Cafe before I would spend the big bucks for its big sister.

        Hope that helps.

    2. >> Alinea. Hands down. No question.
      Not just the best restaurant in Chicago, but the best in the United States.

      I agree, 100 percent. Based on posts here and elsewhere, most of those who have been to most of the high-end restaurants here would agree, too.

      >> You can't get reservations for July 2012; they book about 3 months out.

      I believe they start taking reservations on the first of the month, 2-3 months out. So at least as of right now, they would start taking reservations on May 1, 2012, for dates in July 2012.

      A lot can happen in 15 months. Restaurants can close, and others can open. Restaurants can improve, and others can decline. I would not even think about where to eat more than about four months in advance. There isn't a single restaurant in Chicago where you have to make a reservation any further out than that.

      Regarding what else is great in Chicago, a few days ago the question was asked, "I already have a reservation at Alinea, but what's the next best high-end restaurant?" in the discussion at Copied below is what I stated in response. But again, if you ask the question a year from now, you'll probably get a slightly different response, because of changes during the next year.

      Copied from posts at :

      I ate at L2O when Gras was still around and I was disappointed. It wasn't bad, but it was just okay, and nothing wowed me except a canele that was part of the mignardises at the end of the meal. I ate at Trotter's and it was wonderful, but it's been a few years. You've probably seen the article about Trotter's in the NY Times this week:

      Bottom line is this - If you discuss this with those who have dined at most of Chicago's high-end restaurants, you'll get something close to a consensus on Alinea as best, but you will get a total lack of agreement regarding what is second best. You can generally get agreement on which restaurants belong in the discussion: Charlie Trotter's, Everest, Avenues, TRU, Spiaggia, Les Nomades, Carlos, and L2O (some would also add Ria and Sixteen; maybe NoMI but it's currently closed for remodeling and they are changing chefs too). However, at every one of these, there have been one or more significantly negative reports along with the positive ones. Frankly, I think your best bet is to look at the website menus for all of them and go to whichever one sounds most appealing to you.

      The reason I didn't mention Topolobampo (or any other restaurants) is that, based on the opening post, it seems that willyum is interested solely in high-end restaurants. Now, I don't mean to spark a debate over what constitutes high-end eating, as it can be one of those "eye of the beholder" concepts. But to me, the places I've mentioned above are the ones that, in general terms, fit that term in Chicago. Just as do the ones that willyum mentions from other cities (based on my own meals at four of the five mentioned).

      Now, if willyum is interested in expanding his/her consideration to restaurants that are in what might be called the next tier, in terms of price, formality, etc., then there are plenty of excellent restaurants that could also be considered, including Topolobampo and Mexique for provincial Mexican, North Pond and Naha for contemporary American, the Florentine and Cibo Matto for contemporary Italian, just to name a few, and many more. (I'm not sure where willyum is from, but if it's New York, the analogy would be to expand the discussion from Le Bernardin and Jean Georges to consider places like Craft.) But based on the post, it sounds like he/she is looking for the top-tier places, in which case I'd stick to my original list. Perhaps willyum can let us know!

      The prices, service, and dining experience at Topolobampo don't put it in the same group as Trotter's et al. At the highest-end restaurants, you won't usually see entrees in the $30 range - you may not see a la carte pricing at all - and tasting menus start above $100. You'll typically pay $200-300 or more, including wine/alcohol/tax/tip, at the high-end restaurants. I paid $100 at Topolobampo last year - impossible at a high-end place. At the high-end restaurants, there's a veritable army of servers at your beck and call, sweeping dishes away, with the utmost of politeness and efficiency. The service at Topolobampo is typical of the more casual finer dining restaurants, where almost all interaction is with a single server, you don't have a sommelier automatically stopping by, etc. The seating at Topolobampo is cramped and the room is rather loud - again, typical of the more casual finer dining restaurants, not the high-end places. You rarely see diners dressing up at Topolobampo, e.g. most gentlemen are not wearing jackets, which predominate at the high-end places (even at the few that don't require them). Don't get me wrong; I like Topolobampo a lot, and I often recommend it. I just don't consider it in that high-end category of haute cuisine. (I've also enjoyed some dinners at some of our next-tier casual finer dining restaurants every bit as much as ones at the high-end places.)

      I don't think someone's brother who has no association with a restaurant is a reason for deciding whether or not to go there, but everyone can make his/her own decisions. I also don't think the Mexican cuisine at Chicago's places like Topolobampo, Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, etc., is anything like what I've found in the U.S. southwest. However, if willyum is looking for a second high-end restaurant in Chicago, that's his decision, and I think we should try to help him make that decision.

      Given the preference for French cuisine, my first choice for a second dinner is Everest. The cuisine is French-Alsatian and simply wonderful, the wine list is phenomenal, and the view from the top of the Midwest Stock Exchange building is breathtaking. Personally, I had the best service experience EVER at Everest, which is all the more remarkable considering that I've been to many of the finest restaurants around the country. I realize that chicgail had a bad service experience there recently, but she has also remarked on their food in the same dinner as great. If I had to choose my personal vote for second best restaurant in Chicagoland, it would come down to Everest or Trotter's.

      6 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thank you both, I read your above mentioned post. You both have given enlightening information. Anybody have an opinion on Moto? Their TV programs were amazing but is the food more show than substance?...JJ

        Moto Restaurant
        945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

        1. re: Chef Jimmy J

          >> is the food more show than substance?

          Yes, in my opinion. What I find truly amazing about Alinea is that, as unusual as all of the preparation and presentation techniques are, the food turns out to be incredibly delicious. I can't make the same statement about Moto. Not that Moto is bad - it's decent and it's fun - but I wouldn't consider it one of my top meals of the year (whereas Alinea qualifies among my top meals ever).

          1. re: Chef Jimmy J

            I wouldn't bother with Moto. What Moto and Alinea have in common are the techniques of molecular gastronomy. My experience is that Moto uses those techniques because it "can" and less so because it enhances the flavor of the food. Quite the opposite with Alinea. Especially if you are planning on Alinea, I would choose another top end restaurant for your visit, rather than Moto.

            1. re: Chef Jimmy J

              I'm a Moto fan - had a wonderful meal there with superb flavors and a lot of fun. While they definitely play with technique, what I found really interesting was how they play with food memories ... clam bakes, crackerjacks, dreamsicles ... all were referenced in my dinner and made me smile so much at the same time as pleasing my palate.

              It's a different experience from some of the more "serious" establishments already mentioned - though no less serious in terms of good flavors and service.

              I loved it. My host who is from the UK was less impressed. Of course, a lot of the food memories were unknown to him. He's an afficionado of Fat Duck and felt that was better. Of all the places I put on the list for him to try, his hands down favorite meal was a Naha.

              Moto Restaurant
              945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

              500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

              1. re: Siun

                Forgot to mention - Next is about to open along with Aviary - so I'd look for opportunities to buy tickets for that as well.

                From what I hear from the soft opening, it's stellar.

              2. re: Chef Jimmy J

                Definitely would keep an eye out for Next

            2. Here are the ones I'd recommend, in the order of preference

              1. Alinea: This is the best of the best. Service, taste, creativity. Everything is spot on, and then some. Molecular gastronomy is not for everyone, but Alinea succeeds in not being gimmicky. Everything is done behind the scene and for reasons of enhancing taste or smell of the dish. It's popular and hard to get in with short notice. But if you plan ahead (and it seems that you are), you should be fine landing a reservation.

              2. Avenues: This is also very very good. Best amuse bouche and beef dish I've ever had, anywhere. More traditional than Alinea in some aspects (bread service, champaign cart...). But the food is still quite creative and beautifully presented. Of two different tasting menus I've had there, I've only had one dish that didn't work (dark chocolate ganache in pumpkin soup), but even then it wasn't bad and was quite interesting.

              3. L2O: I love L2O. But I went when Gras was still there. Best seafood, desserts, and bread service in the city. Meat courses didn't shine, but weren't bad. Service and decor were great.

              4. Everest / Spiaggia: Chicago is the temple of contemporary American cuisine. These two, however, represent the best of European cuisines in the city. Everest is French, and Spiaggia is Italian. Both have great food.

              5. Schwa: I love the food at Schwa. From a pure food point of view, I'd rank it lower only to Alinea. But I don't think you want to risk the tricky reservation system or the possibility of having your reservation canceled last minute. That's why I rank it this low.

              9 Replies
              1. re: mountsac

                Thank you all for your responses. While I have everyones attention, we are in need of Sunday eats following a late afternoon arrival. Any opinions on Publican,Girl and the goat, Joe's stone crab and steak house, the Webber grill place or other similarly priced options open sunday evening?

                1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                  Are you still asking about a trip planned for July 2012, over a year from now?

                  If so, I really wouldn't worry about it right now. Too much changes in such a long period of time. Besides, most restaurants don't take reservations this far in advance. For example, Girl and the Goat, which may be our toughest reservation at the moment, only opens the book three months beforehand.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    I realize that things change, I am at the point of gathering information right now. Trying to plan for a group of eight, seven of them women from 15 to 48, with different tastes can be a challenge. Just trying to pick the brains of those in the know. This may be a dumb question but we have a full size van for transportation, what kind of parking issues are we looking at? Thank you for your time and advice....JJ

                    1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                      Ask the van question at Chicago board. That way you won't run the risk of the mods deleting the answers. Short answer - might have a height problem with some garages. There is really no reason to have a car/van in the city.

                      Food wise: skip Weber Grill. Chain. Depending on where you are coming from, Joe's is good but also a chain and we have better places for steaks/seafood. I loved the Publican and would highly advise going. It is a fun place with great food. Perfect for a larger group because you can try a lot of things on the menu. There is a facebook page for the Publican and they are very active in community charities, etc. Girl and Goat - haven't been but am eagerly waiting for a chance. I don't think that will change in a year or so.

                      Weber Grill Restaurant
                      1010 N Meacham Rd, Schaumburg, IL 60173

                  2. re: Chef Jimmy J

                    >> Any opinions on Publican,Girl and the goat, Joe's stone crab and steak house, the Webber grill place or other similarly priced options open sunday evening?

                    I'm not particularly fond of the Publican. It's REALLY REALLY NOISY, for one thing. Also, your group of eight will be stuck at one of the loooooong communal tables (they also have private tables but only for parties up to six) and those at one end of your group won't be able to hear those at the other end. The food is pretty good (but NOT fantastic IMO), and the desserts are dreadful.

                    I haven't been to Girl and the Goat yet; I have a reservation later this month.

                    Joe's is good, but I think David Burke's Primehouse is even better, if you're looking for a steakhouse. However, we just had three major steakhouses open in the past couple of months, and there will undoubtedly be more opening in the next 15 months. Unless you know that your group loves steaks and nothing else, you can do far better by choosing a restaurant that will impress folks because they don't have it (or don't have the same quality) back home, and a steakhouse may not do that for you. See below for specific suggestions.

                    I ate at Weber Grill for lunch recently. It was pretty good. But it's a nationwide chain, and it's not anything your group can't get back home.

                    If you want food that will really impress your group, I would start with one of our creative provincial Mexican restaurants, with food that you can't find in most cities in the United States (although that could change in 15 months). Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in River North are still excellent (closed Sundays though), so is Salpicon in Old Town (open Sundays only for brunch), and Mexique in West Town (open for brunch and dinner Saturdays and Sundays, closed Mondays). I would also consider one of our best contemporary American restaurants (Sable in River North, North Pond in Lincoln Park), one of our contemporary Italian restaurants (Cibo Matto or the Florentine in the Loop), and something ethnic such as the tapas at Mercat a la Planxa. I would also consider one of the great restaurants that will be opening here later this year, that we don't know about yet. :)

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      Ok, this will be the last beating of this, temporarily(12 months), dead horse for now. I have spent several hours, here and else where, researching Dim Sum in your city. The problem is other than Phoenix, there is no reference,that I can find, as to how late Dim Sum is served. I am looking to make selection from a menu and the more exotic the better, dying to try Chicken feet and Jellyfish. Recommendations here were for, Shui Wah, Happy Chef and Three Happiness, but do they serve Dim Sum after 5 or 6 PM? Thank you once again and with all due respect to the Chicago Hounds, I have to say, NSXTASY, You are remarkable! Your depth of knowledge is Awesome. And special thanks to Chicgail....JJ

                      1. re: Chef Jimmy J

                        most places, as is tradition, serve dim sum in the morning and stretch to early afternoon on the weekends. i think a couple also do late night dim sum.

                        On a side note, in West Bloomfield, Michigan (where I grew up) there's an awesome dim sum place (Shangri-la) that does karaoke and dim sum on weekends from 10PM to 2AM. that is some fun and terrific eats.

                        i would call, but other than phoenix, not a ton of well-spoken english.

                    2. re: Chef Jimmy J

                      I loooove Publican. I know that the tables are communal and the noise level is high, but to me, that's part of the experience. I had the best brunch of my life there and think the food, in general, is extraordinary.

                      I have not yet been to G & the G (reservations upcoming) so I can't say, but I am excited.

                      Joe's is very good, but not a destination in my mind.

                      Webber grill - ok.

                      Most places are open Sunday evenings. can help you find them at your price point. I would echo nsxtasy's recommendations for Topo, Mexique, Mercat and would add Cafe Spiaggia (Tony Maturano's little sister restaurant to the very high priced Spiaggia).

                      Cafe Spiaggia
                      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                      1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                      1. re: chicgail

                        Just to comment on G&TG- I have been there a couple times and heading back next weekend, but it's a great spot. The menu does change frequently so some of my favorites from the first visit weren't there the next time, but we found some new items we loved- including some of the vegetable sides. Just a guess, but I think G&TG will still be pretty popular by the time you come. Stephanie Izard was just named one of F&W best new chefs. She is also going to be opening a diner nearby.

                  3. Everest and Spiaggia are some of the best meals we've ever had. Spiaggia gets some rather differing opinions around here. Everest was just incredible.

                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    1. I can't think of a single restaurant in Chicago that both takes reservations 15 months in advance, or would be worth booking that far in advance anyway.
                      I would relax, make the other arrangements for your trip, and re-engage on where to eat about four months in advance.
                      A lot can happen in 15 months. For what it is worth I second Mountsac's list, but I would not stand by it as the best recommendation for 15 months time...