Hard-to-Get-Into Spots in Chicago

Local favorites, minus the crowds
April 6, 2017
by Zagat Staff

As urbanites escape the concrete jungle, take advantage of these popular Chicago spots that usually have lines out the door.

Big Star
Wicker Park · $$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.0 · Service 3.7

A "garage turned honky-tonk taco shack" , Paul Kahan’s "Wicker Park institution" boasts a "party atmosphere" fueled by "loud vinyl" , "to-die-for" tacos and a "ferocious spirits selection" , not to mention "killer margaritas" ; factor in "low prices" and a "popular" patio with an "outdoor fiesta" –vibe and it’s no wonder it "can be hard to find a table" , but a walk-up window offers an "easy" take-out fix.
Girl & The Goat
American · West Loop · $$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.4 · Service 4.5

Stephanie Izard’s "genius vision" defines this "hopping" West Loop "star" known for "life-altering" small plates that feature both "fun" uses of "familiar ingredients" and more "adventurous options" ( "the pig face is a must" ), plus "amazing breads and butters" ; the "high demand" for reservations keeps it "packed with people" , but "strong cocktails" and a staff that "makes you feel special" help ease the inevitable "long wait."
Schwa Restaurant
American · Wicker Park · $$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 3.5 · Service 4.0

"In a class by itself" , this "tiny" Wicker Park BYOB from Michael Carlson "will delight and surprise you" with "inventive" , "expertly prepared" New American tasting menus executed in an unapologetically "dinky kitchen" and served by the "wicked-talented" chefs themselves; "don’t expect fine dining" or "pomp and circumstance" to match the upscale tabs, but if you’re "lucky enough to get a reservation" , a "one-of-a-kind" "culinary experience" awaits.
Au Cheval
Burger · West Loop · $$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.0 · Service 4.1

Some of the "richest diner food in town" can be found at Brendan Sodikoff’s "trendy" West Loop hang known for "creative" , "earth shatteringly good" takes on "homestyle" "comfort food" , including potato hash with duck heart gravy, a "delicious" fried bologna sandwich and, of course, the "absolutely killer" burger; "interesting" cocktails, "excellent" beers and a "dark, sexy" vibe add more "hipster" cred – just be "prepared to wait" since it doesn't take reservations.
Fat Rice
Chinese · Logan Square · $$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.1 · Service 4.4

A "tiny restaurant" with "big flavors" , this "unconventional" Logan Square "standout" offers an "exceptionally creative" Macanese menu ( "it’s every bit as exotic as it sounds" ) of "gorgeous" , "next-level" dishes, including a "fantastic" brunch; factor in "excellent cocktails" and a "convivial" , "boho-chic" setting and it’s "worthy of the hype" – the "only bad part is the wait."
Mexican · River North · $$$
Food 4.8 · Decor 4.5 · Service 4.5

"If you think you know Mexican cuisine" , an "educational experience" awaits at Rick Bayless’ "remarkable" River North "masterpiece" , where "dynamite" tasting menus feature "food that’s wildly inventive" yet still "approachable" , backed by an "excellent wine list" and "cocktails that are works of art" ; "knowledgeable, passionate" service and a "lovely" , "upscale" setting (remodeled with a sculptural ceiling and dramatic lighting) are further reasons to "splurge here."
RPM Italian
Italian · River North · $$$
Food 4.5 · Decor 4.5 · Service 4.5

"Delicious" , "well-presented" Italian food is just part of what draws "beautiful people" to this "classy" River North collaboration between Giuliana and Bill Rancic and the Melmans, where the "chic" , "modern" space also boasts a "vibrant bar scene" and "impeccable" service; while "not inexpensive" , it's "perfect for a special night out" , and though some find it "crowded and loud" most chalk it up to the "happening" vibe.
Frontera Grill
Mexican · River North · $$
Food 4.6 · Decor 4.3 · Service 4.5

Still "fresh and inventive" 25-plus years in, this near "perfecto" River North "icon" showcases Rick Bayless’s "elevated" approach to Mexican cuisine in "outstanding" plates presented in an "informal" , "festive" setting; factor in "exceptional service" and fans say it’s "always worth" the "long waits" for a table, especially if you can pass the time indulging in the "superb margaritas."