Food

10 Chicago restaurants to try during the National Restaurant Association Show

After walking the Show floor at McCormick Place, it’s time to kick back those tired feet and take a seat at one of Chicago’s top restaurants.
chicago skyline
Chicago has restaurants to satisfy every craving for visitors to the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show./Photograph: Shutterstock

There’s good reason Chicago has been home to the National Restaurant Association Show for decades—the city is a top restaurant destination and dinner out is a major activity for operators and exhibitors coming to the city between May 19 and May 24.

Post-pandemic, new restaurant openings have accelerated and there are lots of newcomers on the dining scene. But some of the longtime favorites are very much worth a return visit, too. To help guide you through the hundreds of choices, we put together a short but varied (and subjective) list of 10 full-service restaurants to try this year, both old and new.

The Oakville Grill & Cellar

163 N. Green Street

Multi-concept operator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is based in Chicago and runs dozens of well-known restaurants in the city. The newest in the portfolio is The Oakville Grill & Cellar, opened this spring in Chicago’s buzzy Fulton Market District.

Oakville is a town in the heart of Napa Valley, and both the menu and wine list have a decidedly California spin. More than 750 wines are on offer, complementing the fresh, seasonally focused cooking, with many of the dishes prepared over live fire. There’s coal-roasted salmon with stone ground grits and ramps; prime steak frites with hand-cut potatoes, guajillo and garlic aioli; charcoal roasted chicken wings; and a full selection of pizza, pastas, seafood, salads and desserts. 

The Cellar Door is an intimate tasting room within the restaurant that can be reserved for guided wine tastings and small bites.

Kindling Downtown Cookout & Cocktails

202 S. Franklin Street

Another newcomer is Kindling Downtown Cookout & Cocktails, also focusing on wood-fired  cooking, with award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer fanning the flames. The two-story indoor-outdoor restaurant is located in Chicago’s landmark Willis Tower and designed around the live-fire action with 335 seats divided into several gathering areas.

Menu highlights include miso-grilled oysters, pastrami-spiced short ribs, barbecue grilled scallops, pickled-brined trout, pasta extruded from copper dies and rotisserie specialties. “Legendary Chicago Classics” make up a section of the cocktail list, with “Downtown Cocktails” rounding it out.

Kindling also offers wood-fired vegetables, a raw bar and extensive beer list. Vegetables, meats and even the semolina wheat in the pastas reflect Sawyer’s commitment to sourcing from Midwestern farmers.

Bar Mar and Bazaar Meat

120 N. Wacker Drive

José Andrés located Bar Mar and Bazaar Meat in the gleaming Bank of America Tower smack at the spot where the Chicago River forks into two tributaries. The views are stunning, and so is the food.

Bar Mar is all about the sea, with Andrés’ take on American favorites like fried calamari, lobster rolls, ceviches and oysters piled on ice, as well as more esoteric preparations such as boquerones  (white Spanish anchovies), sardines and mackeral. There are “Little Snacks” to enjoy with cocktails as well as heartier main dishes like fried red snapper, walleye pike and pulpo (octopus).

Upstairs is Bazaar Meat, with capaccios, tartares and Spain’s famous jamon Iberico for appetizers, followed by a wide selection of steaks, suckling pig and “meats from the sea.” Dinners are presented as a curated lineup of shared plates.

Avli on the Park

180 N. Field Blvd.

Close to Millennium Park and Lake Michigan, Avli offers an authentic Greek culinary experience with modern updates in a quintessential Chicago setting. The extensive menu lists spreads with house-made pita, soups, salads, small plates, entrees, sides and desserts—something for every appetite.

Small plates of wild-caught shrimp, octopus with fava beans, and couscous with talagani cheese, herbs and pumpkin preserve are easy to share with a glass of Greek wine or a signature cocktail. Entrees are hearty and include braised chicken in red wine with Greek pasta, oven-baked branzino with smoked eggplant, moussaka, and a variety of grilled meats and seafood.

There’s a second location of Avli in the River North neighborhood (702 N. Wells Street) if that’s more convenient. Guests can stop by at either for brunch and happy hour, too.

Galit

2429 N. Lincoln Avenue

This restaurant is located in the residential Lincoln Park neighborhood in the city, for diners who want a little break from the convention center crowd and a taste of expertly prepared Middle Eastern cuisine.

Dinner is choreographed as a four-course “choose your own adventure” tasting menu, starting with hummus variations and vegetable appetizers (both shareable), moving on to mezze, then entrees and ending with dessert. The dishes draw from the cuisines of Morocco, Iran, Israel, Turkey and more. Wine pairings are available, too.

Rose Mary

932 W. Fulton Street

"Top Chef" winner Joe Flamm opened this Italian-Croatian restaurant to reflect his culinary legacy and journey. It’s named it for his two grandmothers—Mary and Mary Rose—and the herb, rosemary, that grows along the Adriatic coast.

The food is rustic but refined with chef-crafted touches. There’s a full range of homemade pastas, including gnocchi, tortellini and mezzaluna, many with Croatian accents, as well as risottos, roasted vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood. Signatures include coal-roasted beets, stracciatella and octopus peka style with garlic, potatoes and peppers.

A large selection of wines are available by the glass, with hard-to-find Croatian whites among the choices.

Indienne

217 W. Huron Street

“Progressive Indian fine dining” is how Indienne describes itself and the dishes are arranged into two six-course tasting menus–one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian with wine pairings—as well as an à la carte menu.

The food is a departure from the curries, tikka masala and tandoori most Americans identify with Indian cuisine. There’s pork belly with pickled peach, apricot, chili and puffed crackling; jackfruit katsu; duck keema with potato mousse; and octopus with miso, kohlrabi and fermented gooseberry jam.

The setting is unique too—Indienne is housed in converted loft in a 19th-century printing warehouse.

Vermilion

10 W. Hubbard Street

Vermilion has been operating in Chicago for 20 years, and with that anniversary, owner Rohini Dey felt it was time to transform the concept from Indian-Latin to Indian-Chinese. The menu is inspired by street hawker fare—the comfort food of India—with Vermilion’s fusion twists. It’s more casual and lighthearted than in its previous incarnation.

Dishes are given whimsical names like Crazy Hot Asians, and hot and sour soup flavored with south Indian tamarind, curry leaf and lotus crisp; Not Your KFC, Chongqing fried chicken meets Indian chicken with condiments including charred tandoori pineapple; and Kolkata Streets, a tangra crisp noodle chaat with Chinese chili sauce, mango and herbs.

There’s a selection of botanic nonalcoholic drinks made with mango, lychee and other tropical ingredients, as well as herb and spice cocktails and spirited Chicago drinks.

Bodega Taqueria y Tequila

912 W. Randolph Street

The newest addition to the Fulton Market district restaurant scene is Bodega Taqueria y Tequila, just opened last week on Cinco de Mayo. The Miami-born Mexican concept has a lively vibe and a menu of street tacos, frozen cocktails and shareable bar food.

Along with a full roster of tacos, burritos and quesadillas, there are snacks such as sweet chili jalapeno wings, fried yuca and chili queso. On Margarita Mondays, guests can score $5 frozen margaritas and on Taco Tuesdays, Classico Tacos are 3 for $11. This is a late-night spot, open until 1 a.m. Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and 3 a.m. on Saturday.

Virtue

1462 E. 53 Street

Located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, this James Beard award winner is worth a detour from The Loop. The polished restaurant features Chef Erick Williams’ inspired take on well-loved Southern dishes and ingredients.

The menu is divided into Small Rations (biscuits with pimento cheese, green tomatoes with gulf shrimp and remoulade, and gumbo) and Large Rations, which range from lemon chicken with roasted fennel, string beans and jus, to blackened catfish with Carolina gold rice and barbecue carrots. On the side, there’s Virtue’s renowned mac and cheese, cornbread with local honey and collards with smoked turkey.

An easy-to-navigate wine list, cocktails and house-made desserts complete the menu.

And some Chicago must-haves...

If your cravings veer towards the foods synonymous with Chicago (deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches and steak), head to reliable standbys like Lou Malnati’s or Pequod’s for pizza, Buono and Portillo’s for Italian beef, and Gibson’s, Chicago Cut or RPM Steak for Midwestern steaks.

This story has been updated to reflect more current information. 

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