7 fabulous restaurants to try in Chicago, according to a local

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Do you like deep pizza? Craving a mouth-watering steak? How about Italian, Mediterranean, fusion or ethnic cuisine? The wonderful thing about eating in Chicago is that you can find it all here. Chicago is a culinary melting pot, influenced by the 77 different neighborhoods that make the city so unique.

While there are many restaurants we return to time and time again, Chicago is also a hot spot for new restaurants. As a theater critic, I have many opportunities to see plays downtown as well as in local theaters, and I get to try all kinds of cuisines. Here are my recommendations.

Choose dishes from Gibsons (Photo credit: Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse)

1. Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

Chicago is a meat and potato city, and Gibsons is the place to go for great steaks. Since 1989, this legendary chophouse has hosted celebrities, tourists and locals in an upbeat and comfortable atmosphere. Known for its US Prime Angus beef, fresh fish, classic cocktails and extensive wine list, dining here will make you feel like a top celebrity!

I recommend the New York strip loin, masterfully grilled with just the right amount of seasoning, served with a delicious twice-baked potato (the size of your head, it seems) and sautéed spinach. If you prefer something swimming, try the Faroese salmon with salsa verde and paprika.

You should definitely splurge, calorie-wise, on the dizzyingly succulent carrot cake, loaded with cream cheese frosting, nuts, and flavor. The turtle pie also makes the perfect finish. You’ll probably have enough to take home and more. Reservations recommended. Wheelchair accessible.

Before Gibson’s took over, Mr. Kelley’s iconic nightclub occupied space and launched the careers of many popular artists. (I saw Barry Manilow the week he was here in 1975 before he became a superstar. Twice.)

2. Carmine’s Rush Street

For me, eating at Carmine’s is like having dinner on Sunday at my Aunt Bella’s. Sure, there are white tablecloths, but the ambiance and service are a cut above. Carmine’s is known for serving generous portions of steak, chicken, and handmade pasta. But it’s also a hot spot for more casual dining with artisan brick-oven pizzas such as the Rosebud Meatball Pizza. Start with the minestrone soup, full of vegetables, and the Caesar salad. The eggplant salad is also fantastic with breaded eggplant, mozzarella, etc. You can’t go wrong with any of the Parmesan dishes – chicken, veal or eggplant – topped with marinara sauce for a flavorful and satisfying meal.

Pro Tip: Carmine’s is one of the restaurants in restaurateur Alex Dana’s portfolio, comprising Rosebud restaurants, including Millennial Park’s newest Rosebud.

Surrounded by celebrity caricatures at a Petterino booth in Chicago, Illinois.
Surrounded by caricatures of celebrities at a Petterino stand (Photo credit: Petterino’s)

3. Chez Petterino

A longtime maître d’ at The Pump Room, Chez Paree and other beloved Chicago institutions, Arturo Petterino was a gentleman who now has a fancy restaurant named after him. Known for its classic American dishes, quality steaks and fresh seafood, this old-school Italian supper club invites you into a welcoming environment.

Located in Chicago’s Theater District, Petterino’s is the place to go before theater, and reservations are highly recommended because everyone has the same idea. Check out the Goodman Theater next door as well as several other theaters down the street. If you can’t find a table to make curtains, eat at the bar.

Start with their creamy and succulent tomato bisque soup or their truffle fries. My favorite is the Ferrioli salad with mixed Nona Rosa leaves, Porto pears and candied walnuts.

For starters, I suggest Angry Salmon, penne ala vodka or the small filet. Delicious sides include roasted broccoli, whipped garlic potatoes and balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts. Be sure to leave room for their fantastic desserts like Bailey’s tiramisu or various flavors of gelato.

Recently opened Petterino’s to Go counter where you can order coffee, pastries, pizzas, salads or sandwiches on the go.

Pro Tip: What’s great about dining here is that they offer valet parking, so you can park your car for dinner and keep it there until the show is over.

Eggplant Parmesan from RPM Italian in Chicago, Illinois.
Eggplant Parmesan from RPM Italian (Photo credit: Lindsay Eberly / RPM Italian)

4. Italian RPM

Located in the River North neighborhood, RPM Italian is the first partnership between Chicago’s infamous Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic. The result is an inspiring dining experience with authentic Italian dishes that are meant to be shared, accompanied by an extensive wine list. Exquisite views of the Chicago River and the skyline add to the ambiance.

Opt for one of the homemade pastas, such as short rib bolognese or bucatini, both of which are rich and hearty. My recommendation is the Ora King roast salmon, served with artichoke and olive tapenade, or the Vesuvio al Forno chicken. If you’re really hungry, think big – order the 20 oz. Painted Hills Ribeye Steak, which is juicy and succulent.

When it comes to choosing a dessert, you have plenty of sweet options. But Bill’s Salted Caramel Cocoa Nibs are a great choice. Or go ahead and order the RPM Cheesecake, topped with sour cherry compote and vanilla whipped cream.

Master cuts of beef at Mastro's Steakhouse in Chicago, Illinois.
Beef centerpieces at Mastro’s (Photo credit: Mastro’s Steakhouse)

5. Mastro’s Steakhouse

Considered one of the top 10 steakhouses in the United States, you’ll come to Mastro expecting to be wowed. You will be. I say start with the gooey French Onion Soup which is rich and flavorful, served with crunchy croutons. For something breathtaking, try their 2-foot-tall seafood tower with crab legs, shrimp and oysters chilled on a bed of dry ice. wow is just.

If you’re looking for good steaks, try the porter or the bone-in ribeye, so tender with runny juices. Mastro’s is known for its premium cuts of Japanese Wagyu steaks, including 32-ounce and 40-ounce Tomahawk chops. Do you dare to grow? For something lighter, the Chilean sea bass is flaky and delicious.

All sides are large enough to share. Will you get tired of world-class lobster mashed potatoes? Let yourself be tempted by the white cheddar macaroni and cheese or the sautéed spinach. For dessert, I’ll stick to the famous Mastro’s Signature Warm Butter Cake with vanilla ice cream. It tastes right out of the oven – a delicious ending to an exquisite meal. The boosted atmosphere with live music is back! Proper attire is required.

6. Greek Islands

Go to the Greek Islands, that popular restaurant on Halsted Street, and you’ll think you’ve landed right in the middle of Mykonos. Don’t miss the flaming cheese saganaki, which is a performance in itself. Prepared at the table, the cheese is flambéed with the Greek Ouzo liqueur and the flames are drizzled with a squeeze of lemon juice. Wait for it to cool down a bit then enjoy! I always choose the combo plate, which includes roast leg of lamb, mousaka, dolmades, meatballs, vegetables and potatoes because you get a taste of everything. The other thing I like is Create Combo, which lets you choose two menu items and create your own favorite. Also look out for their daily specials and be sure to save room for their sweet baklava.

Pro Tip: If you’re planning on going to the Lyric Opera House for a show, let them know, and they’ll provide you with seats and express service.

Whitefish dinner at Kabobi Persian and Mediterranean Grill in Chicago, Illinois.
Whitefish dinner in Kabobi (Photo credit: Mira Temkin)

7. Kabobi Persian and Mediterranean Grills

Get an authentic taste of the Mediterranean at Kabobi Grill with its extensive menu of beef, chicken, lamb and seafood with tons of vegetarian options. Start by ordering the fresh, flaky pita bread with a generous dollop of hummus and a side of falafel. It’s incredibly good. Then decide which starter you want and get ready to enjoy huge portions of kebabs, basmati rice and vegetables. All the skewers come out hot, crispy and juicy. Kabobi also offers a variety of mixed grills that allow you to try an array of spices and tastes. My personal favorite is the salmon brochette, which features a 12-ounce seasoned Atlantic salmon fillet, cooked to perfection and topped with basmati rice and vegetables. Their white fish dinner comes with a huge portion of fish, hummus and Persian salad. The saffron butter chicken, braised in a yoghurt cream sauce, is also a must!

After your dinner is finished, you will receive a glass of hot tea and an assortment of pastries. Their other tasty desserts like roasted hazelnuts and caramel halva or maamoul are fan favorites. Or opt for something more traditional like their five layer chocolate cake. No matter what you order, you’ll feel like family here because, well, it’s a family business that truly cares about your dining experience. For guests, it’s just one more way to embrace an abundance of Persian hospitality. Now offering free valet parking.

Pro Tip: If you fancy a late dinner, Kabobi is open until midnight every night and offers a special Late-Night menu.

Get special deals with Chicago Restaurant Week March 25-April 10

Enjoy deep savings at over 300 restaurants during the 15th annual celebration of the city’s award-winning culinary scene. For 17 days, participating establishments will offer set menus at $25 for brunch and lunch, and $39 and/or $55 for dinner, excluding beverages, taxes, tip and delivery. Reservations recommended. Learn more at choosechicago.com/chicago-restaurant-week/.

Chicago’s vibrant dining scene is dynamic and constantly evolving with new entrepreneurs and bold innovations. Come visit and try my recommendations. You will definitely be hungrier!

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