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Jan 17, 2013 04:30 PM

Solo dining in Chicago

I've never been to Chicago and am headed out there for a conference in April. I have dinner plans Saturday and Sunday, so I'm trying to figure out Friday and Monday night. Not sure if things are closed that day or what reservations are like.

One night I am thinking casual, the other something more fancy.I always like to sort of treat myself to a really nice dinner when I go to these things, and dining solo at an amazing meal is great.

So, any restaurant suggestions for a solo female? I eat anything and am willing to try something new - sadly I guess would consider myself a "foodie" (I hate that term).

Oh, I'm staying in the Chicago Loop area, so if there is anything worth checking out there, that would be great. If not, definitely can cab it.


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  1. If you know which hotel you'll be staying at it would help. "Loop area" isn't that specific.

    1. No need to apologize for enjoying one of life's great pleasures. Nothing wrong being a "foodie." Nothing especially right about it, but certainly nothing wrong with it.

      1. You should be able to eat almost anywhere solo. I've heard of a handful of places that only accept reservations for even numbers of people, but they are the truly rare exceptions. Also note that a few restaurants are happy to accept solo reservations over the phone, but not on Opentable, due to the fees involved.

        And it's up to you whether you prefer to eat at the bar, or at your own table, or at a communal table at places that offer that option. You can specify your preference when making your reservation.

        I've done a lot of solo dining, mostly when I'm out of town. The really good restaurants are usually really great about it - everything from bringing tastes and extra courses, to offering reading material, etc. I've had places really knock themselves out for me.

        So all that being said, I have zero recommendations for a solo female that I wouldn't also recommend for a party of two or more. Hope that makes sense.

        As for specific suggestions, assuming you're staying in the Loop itself, rather than the adjacent neighborhoods (if this is not correct, please let us know)... For the casual meal, you could have deep-dish pizza, our local specialty. Pizano's has a location on Madison in the Loop. There are also nice mid-priced places where you can dress casually; just to cite one example, I had an excellent dinner last night at tesori, a contemporary Italian restaurant in the Loop. (Gotta post about it later.) Mercat a la Planxa is our best tapas restaurant and it too is in the Loop. A couple of my favorite casual restaurants are in River North, just north of the Loop, and offer a small plates menu format: Sable (contemporary American) and GT Fish & Oyster (seafood). Both offer excellent craft cocktails.

        As for your "really nice dinner", there's nice, and then there's nice. Our very best restaurant is Alinea; I'm not sure but their new ticketing system may or may not permit solo diners. (kathryn may have good advice here.) It's $300+ per person including moderate alcohol and tax/tip.

        Just below that, the places that have impressed me the most include TRU, Acadia, and Naha (all of which I've been to in the past year or so), as well as North Pond, Everest, and Spiaggia. TRU, Everest, and Spiaggia are in the $200-250ish range and are more formal (jackets required for gentlemen), while the other three are $100-130ish and business casual is acceptable. (I've been somewhat less impressed with recent meals at Sixteen, Goosefoot, and Sprout, all of which were good but didn't have one dish after another that truly "wowed" me the way the first six did.) I'd say TRU is the second best restaurant in Chicago right now. Everest is in the Loop; TRU and Naha are in River North; Spiaggia is at the north end of the Magnificent Mile (North Michigan Avenue); North Pond is in Lincoln Park, three miles north of the Loop; and Acadia is in the South Loop, two miles south of the Loop. Also worth mention is the setting for Everest, on the 40th floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange building with a great view looking out over the city, and North Pond, in the middle of the park facing its namesake pond and the city skyline.

        This is just a quick overview in response to your query. Feel free to ask more questions!

        3 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Nsxtasy made some great suggestions; I just have a little more information to add.

          Regarding Alinea, they do not sell advance tickets to solo diners, but do try to accommodate a limited number of solo diners on a day of basis - the procedure is to e-mail them the morning of the evening you want to dine there and they e-mail you back some time in the afternoon if you are in (so you would need a back up plan in case you do not get in). They are not open Mondays, so you'd have to opt for Friday if you want to dine there and weekend pricing there is really expensive (just over $300 for food/tax/tips - any drinks other than water would add to this).

          A couple of nice options not mentioned by Nsxtasy:

          1) Moto. Similar style of cuisine as Alinea (lengthy tasting menu with modern, post-molecular techniques and beautiful, interesting presentations). You can book via Open Table for one person and they usually do not book up too far in advance. They too are closed Mondays. Great choice if you want an Alinea style experience without the hassle of obtaining tickets and for a little less money (food is $175 before tax and tip, drink pairings are $95 or you can opt for wines by the glass). Moto is in the West Loop (just West of downtown).

          2) Boka is a contemporary American casual fine dining venue. They are Michelin starred, but significantly less pricey than venues such as Alinea, Moto, Tru etc. They have short tasting menus (I believe 4 or 6 course) or a la carte pricing. Really great food, cocktails and outstanding service. Would be a very comfortable place for a single too; they have a nice bar area (where you can order food from the full menu) and extremely friendly bartenders (but you could also opt for a table if you prefer that to the bar).

          1. re: Gonzo70

            Just to add info to these suggestions, which expand the scope of the options available...

            I like Boka a lot. The food is generally excellent (although desserts aren't a strong point) and the service is exceptional. However, it's a small step down, in style as well as price ($75-90/pp), from the North Pond / Naha level. It's in Lincoln Park, two miles north of the Loop. If you're interested in getting a little more value, rather than a place that's a little more special, it's worth considering. So is Nightwood, which is in Pilsen, three miles southwest of the Loop. Like Boka, Nightwood has contemporary American food, and the price range is similar. The "feel" at Boka is a bit more upscale, whereas the feel at Nightwood is a bit more neighborhood-ey. Either way, these two places may or may not be on the level that you're looking for; if, by "something more fancy", you mean a more upscale, luxurious experience, with tasting menus available and lots of waitstaff, then the previous group is probably more along the lines of what you're looking for. Hope that makes sense.

            Oh, and I've been less impressed with Moto than some other places around town. The presentation techniques are interesting - not exactly an Alinea style experience but it is along the lines of "dinner as entertainment" - but the food hasn't struck me as consistently amazingly delicious the way it is at the high-end and higher-end places previously mentioned. Moto is in the West Loop, just west of the Loop.

            I forgot to mention, several of the places I previously mentioned are closed on Mondays: North Pond, Everest, and Acadia. (All of these places accept reservations on Opentable, so you'd find that out pretty quickly when you type in your Monday date.)

            As usual in Chicago, the challenge is narrowing down the huge number of excellent places to choose from!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Have you been to Moto in the past six months? They have really made a lot of dramatic improvements during the past several months and the taste of the food has become on par with the entertaining, theatrical element of the meal. Service has really been elevated and the sommelier is doing an incredible job with the wine pairings. I would have agreed with you as recently as 10-12 months ago about your comments, but if you have not been to Moto in the past several months it is really now a much different experience (all for the better).

        2. Thank you for all the suggestions! Definitely appreciate it.

          It was mentioned that Boka has a bar area to sit at. Do any of the others - TRU, Acadia, NaHa, North Pond, Everest, Spiaggia or Moto - have bar seating, or something similar (chef's counter/table, etc). As a solo diner, I find that to be a little less awkward (might just be me though!).

          3 Replies
          1. re: kws123

            I suspect that ALL of these restaurants have a bar area where you can sit; it's pretty unusual for a restaurant not to have a bar area, unless it's a BYO place without a liquor license. However, I don't normally pay attention to the bar area when I am dining so I can only answer for a few of them. Acadia has a lounge as the front room, where it has a bar as well as a few small tables. North Pond has a small bar near the entrance. I know TRU has a lounge (because I know you can get their dessert tasting served there - also note they don't require the formal attire there that they do in their dining room) but I can't tell you how it's configured because I wasn't paying attention to it when I ate there last spring. Hopefully others here can chime in further about what the setup is at each of these places. In the absence of additional info here, you can always call a place to ask what they have available. (Some places also have photos on their websites, often in a "Gallery" section.)

            Personally, I generally prefer the privacy of my own table to sitting at a bar, but either way, it's up to you and most places will be happy to accommodate either preference. Neither should feel awkward in any way.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Thank you! I'm looking forward to this. I checked online with a few places, and there is availability at most of them. I figure I should probably lock something down now, just in case.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Moto would be one exception that does not have a bar. They do have a downstairs seating area they call "the lab" that you should request if you end up reserving there. The lab has about six tables for guests (various sizes) and a work station where two of the chefs prepare some of the courses - so they are in plain view. As a solo diner it would make for nice viewing in between courses and the chefs and front of the house staff are extremely friendly there as well. Executive Chef Richie Farina (he was on top chef a couple of years ago) often comes out from the main kitchen to the lab area, so you'd likely get to see him.

            2. I think a great option would be avec, just west of the Loop. There's a bar with a nice view of the open kitchen -- bartenders are always very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu and the large wine list. The menu is Mediterranean-ish, with a large focus on seasonality and simple preparations. Don't hesitate to ask about half-plates, even if the menu doesn't explicitly mention the possibility.

              avec is often very busy and they don't take reservations, however. I wouldn't necessarily go there on a Friday night (unless you go pretty early) but I've rarely had issues on weeknights. They are also open on Mondays, which is when many restaurants might be closed. Some say the restaurant is too loud and the barseats too uncomfortable (I wouldn't say either) - your mileage may vary.

              3 Replies
              1. re: danimalarkey

                >> Some say the restaurant is too loud and the barseats too uncomfortable (I wouldn't say either)

                Seriously? :)

                Too loud? It may be THE LOUDEST RESTAURANT I've ever been to in Chicago.

                Uncomfortable seats? They may be the most uncomfortable in Chicago - not only the backless wooden bar stools, but also the backless wooden boxes and church pews that pass for seating at the tables (which are all communal seating - no private tables unless you have the eight people needed to fill a table).

                All this for food that I've found to be mediocre and forgettable. I know avec has its fans, but I never understood the attraction.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Indeed I am being serious! SERIOUSLY!

                  To elaborate -- Chef Bower is putting out some of the best food in Chicago these days. There was a sweetbreads dish a few months back that was a game-changer for me. Best preparation I've ever had. His pasta dishes are very strong and the introduction of salumi plates was one of the best things to happen to avec in years.

                  Also, the chairs/noise issues are obviously not so universally reviled or the restaurant would have closed years ago. Apparently they must be doing something right all these years.

                2. re: danimalarkey

                  The food is awesome at Avec and the noise level has never bothered me. It's just part of the ambience. I also think it's a great option for a solo because it's so easy to engage in conversation with table mates. Unless you don't want to talk to strangers.