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Chicago's 100 Best Restaurants: #50-26

By Sarah Freeman
December 27, 2013

The last days of 2013 are sparse, and that means it's time to look back on 365 days of eating and drinking. To commemorate, we're counting down the top 100 restaurants in Chicago, according to our 2014 Restaurant Survey. We already gave you the first 50 (100 to 76 and 75 to 51), but today, let's break into the top 50. From a BYO barbecue joint to fine dining on the waterfront, a wide array of cuisines and neighborhoods are represented in this blockbuster list.

Be sure to check in before the end of the year, when we'll give you our final installment: 2014's 25 top-rated restaurants.

  • No. 50: The Aviary

    Food: 26
    Decor: 27
    Service: 27
    Cost: $60

    Some of the "most interesting cocktails ever" come from Grant Achatz's "cool" West Loop lounge where the "expertly crafted" "over-the-top" drinks feature "playful, whimsical" touches and especially "inventive" presentations, and are offered alongside a recently retooled Eclectic menu (which may not be reflected in the Food score); "top-notch" service and "chic" banquette-enhanced digs also make it a place to "impress" – if you can "get over the sticker shock" that is.

    955 W. Fulton Mkt.; 312-226-0868

  • No. 49: Lula Cafe

    Food: 26
    Decor: 20
    Service: 23
    Cost: $30

    "Classic dishes with a twist" feature on the somewhat "small" farm-to-table menu at this midpriced Logan Square Eclectic where the "interesting" and "divine" fare is often reminiscent of a "Top Chef episode"; "funky" staffers (think "tattoos and rad beards") enhance the "cool, unassuming" space, and though seating can be a bit "tight", especially during the "excellent brunch", there's always the patio.

    2537 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-489-9554

  • Photo by: Nick Murway

    No. 48: Smoque BBQ

    Food: 26
    Decor: 11
    Service: 18
    Cost: $20

    "Still the best" in town (possibly "on the planet") say fans of this "laid-back" Old Irving Park "king of barbecue" offering "sublime" eats with an "addictive ‘smoque' taste" including "outstanding" brisket and "delicious" ribs plus "very good" sides and "unbelievable" sauces; the "spartan" decor and "shared Formica tables are nothing to get excited about" and lines often "stretch out the door", but no matter since most agree it's "so freaking worth it", especially since BYO further makes its "value off the charts."

    3800 N. Pulaski Rd. # 2; 773-545-7427

  • No. 47: Publican Quality Meats

    Food: 26
    Decor: 18
    Service: 23
    Cost: M

    From chef Paul Kahan and across the street from his resto The Publican, this "outstanding" West Loop "turn-on" for "adventurous" foodies offers "top cuts of meat", "amazing sausages" and other "unique" "gourmet items", all in a butcher/market/cafe mash-up; it's "pricey", but a staff that's "accommodating" and an atmosphere that's "cool" add value.

    825 W. Fulton Mkt.; 312-445-8977

  • No. 46: Sweet Maple Café

    Food: 26
    Decor: 16
    Service: 21
    Cost: $20

    Regulars "recommend" this "tiny" Little Italy American given its "phenomenal", "down-home" daytime fare; toss in affordable tabs and solid service, and the only catch is that you may have to "wait in line" since the modest space is "not nearly as big as its popularity."

    1339 W. Taylor St.; 312-243-8908

  • No. 45: Michael

    Food: 26
    Decor: 22
    Service: 25
    Cost: $70

    You can enjoy "always great" "classic" French fare "without the hassle of going into the city" at this "white-tablecloth" Winnetka dining room where chef-owner Michael Lachowicz turns out dishes strengthened by an "excellent use of spices and sauces"; "consistently great service" befits the fare, and though it's expensive, fans find the bills "reasonable" given the "fine quality."

    64 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka; 847-441-3100

  • No. 44: Sprout

    Closed

  • No. 43: Naha

    Food: 26
    Decor: 23
    Service: 25
    Cost: $74

    Carrie Nahabedian has a "track record" of providing "consistently excellent", "high-quality" meals at this River North New American where many dishes feature "Mediterranean influences" and get a boost from "inventive" combinations of flavors; "top-line" service and "Zen-like decor" further justify the "pricey" tabs and also help cement its status as a "fine-dining favorite."

    500 N. Clark St.; 312-321-6242

  • No. 42: Adelle’s

    Food: 26
    Decor: 22
    Service: 25
    Cost: $44

    "Top-notch", "imaginatively prepared" New American fare and "friendly, warm" service are standouts at this moderate Wheaton "jewel"; the modern, earth-toned space features fireplaces and an "inviting" bar area, and there's live jazz on Thursdays.

    535 W. Liberty Dr., Wheaton; 630-784-8015

  • No. 41: Moto

    Food: 26
    Decor: 24
    Service: 27
    Cost: $228

    "Molecular wow" sums up this minimalist West Loop Eclectic where chef-owner Homaro Cantu takes guests on a "true dining adventure" courtesy of an "inventive" multicourse tasting menu filled with "ingenious" dishes presented like "works of art"; sure, big-ticket prices are part of the experience, but "courteous" servers boost its "special-occasion" appeal.

    945 W. Fulton Mkt.; 312-491-0058

  • No. 40: North Pond

    Food: 26
    Decor: 27
    Service: 25
    Cost: $74

    Chef Bruce Sherman's "fabulously creative" seasonal cooking plus a "lovely", "romantic" location inside Lincoln Park and "excellent" views of North Pond are all a part of the "magical" experience at this "upscale" New American; "accommodating" service is another reason it's "perfect for a celebration" – and why it's easier to "get over the price."

    2610 N. Cannon Dr.; 773-477-5845

  • No. 39: NoMI

    Food: 26
    Decor: 27
    Service: 26
    Cost: $72

    You can "relax and get away from the loudness of the city" at this "expensive" but "worth it" New American in the Gold Coast's Park Hyatt where local ingredients feature heavily on the "fantastic" menu, which includes "incredibly fresh" sushi too; the upscale-casual space with "beautiful views" overlooking Michigan Avenue and a "delightful" roof garden works well for "date night" or "business meetings", and an "excellent" staff adds to the appeal.

    800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030

  • No. 38: Nightwood

    Food: 27
    Decor: 23
    Service: 25
    Cost: $41

    You may find yourself "close to licking the plate" at this moderate Pilsen New American where chef Jason Vincent's "innovative", "well-prepared" dishes "celebrate" seasonal ingredients and are augmented by handcrafted cocktails made with housemade mixers and small-batch spirits; rustic exposed brick features in the "hip" digs, and there's a "nice outdoor patio" too.

    2119 S. Halsted St.; 312-526-3385

  • No. 37: Xoco

    Food: 27
    Decor: 16
    Service: 18
    Cost: $19

    You'll get "fantastic" Mexican "street eats" with the "usual [Rick] Bayless upgrades" at this River North counter-serve where grub like "tremendous" tortas, "amazing" churros and "incredible" breakfast items succeed in offering "fast food without compromising quality"; the "small" space can have "long lines" (and be a "mob scene" at lunch), and the ordering process can be "kind of weird", but all is forgiven considering the "affordable" tabs.

    449 N. Clark St.

  • No. 36: Hot Doug’s

    Food: 27
    Decor: 14
    Service: 20
    Cost: $14

    Fans say you "won't find a better hot dog place" than Doug Sohn's "distinctive" Avondale joint, where the "unbelieveable" pups go well "beyond the standard" with "tons of options" including "exotic and innovative sausages" plus "sinful" Friday and Saturday–only duck fat fries; there's often a "long wait", and because the "simple" space is "small" you may have to "brave the lines" outside, but given the "extremely tasty" payoff many still insist it's a "Chicago must-do."

    3324 N. California Ave.; 773-279-9550

  • No. 35: Green Zebra

    Food: 27
    Decor: 23
    Service: 24
    Cost: $49

    "Exciting" meat-free dishes impress "even confirmed carnivores" at this Noble Square destination, where Shawn McClain's "upscale", "inventive" small plates make it the "best vegetarian in town"; a "knowledgeable" staff elevates the sage-colored space, and notable cocktails plus "interesting" wines are further enticements.

    1460 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-7100

  • No. 34: Blackbird

    Food: 27
    Decor: 23
    Service: 25
    Cost: $69

    "Interesting", "sophisticated" New American dishes are "beautifully presented" by "attentive" staffers at this "well-established" West Loop "classic" from Paul Kahan and crew; the "sleek, modern" space can get "a bit loud", and it's certainly not cheap, but many still consider it a "top" place to "impress" and just right for a "special occasion."

    619 W. Randolph St.; 312-715-0708

  • No. 33: Arun’s

    Food: 27
    Decor: 24
    Service: 26
    Cost: $111

    "Upscale Thai" is "taken to its apex" at this Northwest Side "must-visit", where chef-owner Arun Sampanthavivat prepares "out-of-this-world" prix fixe dishes elevated by presentations straight "out of a picture book"; the traditionally decorated space may not soar quite as high, and tabs are "pricey", but "excellent" service helps ensure an overall "fine-dining" experience.

    4156 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-539-1909

  • No. 32: Tallgrass

    Food: 27
    Decor: 25
    Service: 27
    Cost: $82

    The "fabulous" "old-school" French fare takes diners on "a trip back in time" at this prix fixe–only Lockport "destination" where "surprising innovations" elevate "classic" dishes; set in a "handsome, historic" building, it "delivers a complete dining experience" with "knowledgeable, attentive" staffers and environs that are "elegant but not stuffy", so many agree you "can't beat it for a world-class evening" – even if "it'll take years before you can afford to return."

    1006 S. State St., Lockport; 815-838-5566

  • No. 31: Fontano’s Subs

    Food: 27
    Decor: 9
    Service: 19
    Cost: $10

    "It's all in the bread" (and "finest deli meats") at this Chicago chain cranking out "awesome" subs "the way they should be" ("no wimpy" items); "you know it's good because all the cops eat here", but many get it to go since "it's a slice of life, not a fine-dining atmosphere."

    Multiple locations

  • No. 30: Henri

    Food: 27
    Decor: 26
    Service: 27
    Cost: $69

    A "sophisticated" set frequents this upscale Loop New American for "delicious" dishes enhanced by "fabulous French flavors" and staffers who "go out of their way" to make you "feel welcome"; crystal chandeliers and leather and mohair upholstery help set an "elegant" but "unpretentious" tone in the white-tablecloth setting, so it all adds up to a "fine-dining" experience – with fine-dining prices to match.

    18 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-578-0763

  • No. 29: Spacca Napoli Pizzeria

    Food: 27
    Decor: 19
    Service: 22
    Cost: $25

    You'll feel like you're "truly in Italy" at this affordable Ravenswood pizzeria where a "traditional, Naples-style" wood oven bakes "amazing" thin-crust Neopolitan pies; the casual space may lag a bit behind, but it's joined by a "wonderful" patio, and the staff is "friendly and efficient."

    1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420

  • No. 28: Pelago Ristorante

    Food: 27
    Decor: 25
    Service: 25
    Cost: $78

    Set in Streeterville's Raffaello Hotel, this "lovely little find" turns out "beautifully executed" modern Italian fare in a "serene" dining room fit for a "cozy", "romantic" meal; "wonderful" service helps offset the "pricey" tabs, and there's a terrace in season.

    201 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-280-0700

  • No. 27: Frontera Grill

    Food: 27
    Decor: 22
    Service: 24
    Cost: $45

    Still "hip", "always packed" and "innovative" after more than 25 years, Rick Bayless' "top-notch" River North Mexican draws 'em in with "perfectly constructed" "gourmet" dishes elevated by "creative and novel" flavor combinations and further boosted by "powerful but refined" margaritas; "helpful" staffers work the colorful, art-enhanced digs, and even if reservations are tough to come by and "you could have a birthday waiting for a table", it remains a "perennial favorite" that fans say "belongs on eveyone's bucket list."

    445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434

  • No. 26: Sai Café

    Food: 27
    Decor: 17
    Service: 23
    Cost: $37

    There's "nothing crazy or too creative" because "it's all about the fish" at this "steady" Lincoln Park Japanese turning out "pristinely fresh", "spectacular" sushi and other "high-quality" fare via "efficient" servers; the "pleasant" enough decor doesn't inspire the same praise, but it still "can't be beat", especially given such "reasonable prices."

    2010 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-472-8080

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