Hard-to-Get-Into Spots in Chicago

Local favorites, minus the crowds
April 6, 2017
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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.
Topolobampo
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.