Downtown Chicago at night
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Chicago City Guide

Chicago Travel Guide

Rising up from the southwestern edge of oceanic Lake Michigan, Illinois’ largest city (and the nation’s third-largest metropolis) has endured devastating fires, Al Capone’s corruption and beleaguered baseball teams. Yet its hearty Midwestern ...

Rising up from the southwestern edge of oceanic Lake Michigan, Illinois’ largest city (and the nation’s third-largest metropolis) has endured devastating fires, Al Capone’s corruption and beleaguered baseball teams. Yet its hearty Midwestern character not only endures but flourishes, with dazzling architecture, gritty blues, innovative live theater and comedy, world-class restaurants and a welcoming heartland disposition. 

Most visitors stay in or near the downtown “Loop," the central business district circumscribed by the elevated metro tracks, and there are ample attractions here, from the nation’s tallest skyscraper, Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower); to the Beaux-Arts Chicago Cultural Center, boasting elaborate mosaics and the world's largest Tiffany glass dome; to the resplendent civic green spaces of Grant and Millennium Park. The justly renowned Art Institute of Chicago can constitute an afternoon alone. And in warm weather, there is no better introduction to the city than a fascinating architectural boat tour along the river (the Chicago Architecture Foundation has the best).

But to really get to know Chicago, venture out into the neighborhoods, exploring the North Side’s theaters, bars and clubs (and its vintage baseball stadium, Wrigley Field), or the bohemian havens of the West Side, where, in Wicker Park, an independent arts scene thrives and Polish and Ukrainian businesses and cultural attractions offer a taste of the city’s Slavic roots. A remarkable string of parks, beaches and marinas borders the entire eastern side of the city and Lake Michigan.

Recommended Luxury Hotels in Chicago

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Chicago

As a new formal French restaurant, Brindille swims directly against the currents of culinary fashion. Inside the tranquil storefront, tables of well-dressed couples engage in hushed conversation beneath backlit photos of leafless trees. The food tends to be unfussy but beautifully presented, and the menu encourages the traditional appetizer-main-dessert progression. My perfectly cooked sweetbreads came with a flavorful combination of baby beets and horseradish, while the Dover sole meunière was delicate and buttery. A list of superb wines by the glass includes unusual selections such as an ethereal Trousseau Gris from the Jura. Everything is very expensive, but the quality is uniformly high. 

534 North Clark Street Chicago $100

This is one of the prettiest restaurants in the city, set in a turn-of-the-century brownstone. The menu is contemporary French. Look for the rich assortment of house-made pâtés served with cornichons and toasted brioche. Main courses might include Spanish turbot with watermelon radish, potato cakes and English pea sauce; or braised wagyu beef short rib with root vegetables and trumpet royale mushrooms in a Bordelaise sauce. The extensive wine list has 16 selections by the glass. Closed Sunday and Monday.

222 East Ontario Street Chicago Four-course menu, $115; five courses, $130

The city’s finest Italian restaurant overlooks Oak Street Beach and showcases the talents of chef Tony Mantuano. The seasonal menu changes, but look for pastas such as guitar-string spaghetti with Taleggio, ramps and morels; or potato gnocchi with ricotta sauce and black truffles. Main courses might include black cod with asparagus, guanciale, green strawberry and black lime; or venison with spring onion, radish and Tuscan beans. 

980 North Michigan Avenue Chicago $95. Six-course tasting menu, $140

Chicago has no shortage of fine steakhouses, but the candlelit atmosphere of Bavette’s makes it more appropriate for couples than for businessmen. We had a wonderful dinner of cognac-infused foie gras with a blackberry compote, garlicky shrimp de Jonghe, tender lamb T-bone with rosemary and garlic, and flawless filet mignon with roasted tomatoes and spicy watercress. Our side dishes of creamy elote-inspired corn and flavorful roasted butternut squash with sage proved equally delicious. 

218 West Kinzie Street Chicago $85

This tiny BYOB restaurant hidden in an unpromising northside neighborhood was once easy to reserve. But that has changed with the acquisition of two Michelin stars. Tickets purchased through the website include the tasting menu, tax and tip, as well as seats at either a 10-person communal table or a counter facing the open kitchen (our preference). A wildly creative dish of asparagus gelato, salt-cured tuna, sea buckthorn cream, wood sorrel and apricot kernels created fireworks of flavor, as did courses such as triple-seared Miyazaki wagyu beef with baby bok choy, Japanese pickled plums and rich crumbs of dehydrated beef marrow. Well worth the taxi ride. Reserve far in advance. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

4662 North Broadway Chicago $245

This stylish and expensive restaurant comes with leather chairs, fine linens and soft lighting. Chef Curtis Duffy previously worked at Charlie Trotter’s and The Peninsula’s Avenues, and he recently earned his third Michelin star. Each night, he creates two prix-fixe menus, one vegetarian. Look for dishes such as watermelon radish with green strawberries, ginger and fennel; trout with osetra caviar, lychees and chives; and Miyazaki beef with romaine, peanuts and Vietnamese herbs. Partner/sommelier Michael Muser’s fascinating wine list emphasizes the Loire and the Rhône. Closed Sunday and Monday.

652 West Randolph Street Chicago $295

Mellow brick walls, soaring windows and a vaulted wood ceiling create a handsome setting for the impeccably prepared food of chef Michael Kornick. A starter of two tartares comprises yellowfin tuna tartare with a celery root remoulade, and salmon tartare with a citrus crème fraîche and salmon pearls. Among the main courses, you could find salmon grilled over hardwood charcoal and served with bok choy glazed with Chinese mustard, or a similarly grilled prime New York sirloin with roasted fingerling potatoes, baby leeks and a red wine sauce.

868 North Franklin Street Chicago $70. Six-course tasting menu, $90

The view here, from the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, is magnificent. Chef Jean Joho hails from Alsace, and he combines that heritage with top American ingredients, as in a starter of crusted Berkshire pork cheeks with a choucroute salad. Among the main courses, you could find fillet of sole meunière with mousseline potatoes and petite capers, or Colorado lamb with garlic flan and garden vegetables. The wine list contains more than 1,600 selections. Closed Sunday and Monday.

440 South LaSalle Street 40th Floor Chicago $95

Located just off the most touristy stretch of Michigan Avenue, this new Central European restaurant has no business being so warm, stylish and well-priced. Pierogi come filled with delectable shredded beef, and a salad of orange and purple cauliflower achieves remarkable complexity with a poached egg, watermelon radish slices and crunchy chicken skin. The pork schnitzel is simple but satisfying, and the crisp “Czech Roast Duck” confit is accompanied by brandied prunes and delicately bitter turnips. 

11 West Illinois Street Chicago $65

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