Recently, Ella and I jumped on an Amtrak and headed south to Chicago. We were going for two things: food and cupcakes. Er, I mean food and educational enrichment. (But also cupcakes.)
One of the best parts about travelling for me has to be getting to visit amazing restaurants and experiencing a variety of cuisine, so today I wanted to share my top ten Chicago restaurants for foodies with kids!
Teaching my daughter how to behave in and enjoy restaurants has to have been one of my best parenting moves — it has given us so much freedom and opened up some amazing opportunities for her, including preparing her own desserts in two world-class restaurant kitchens.
I’m recommending these restaurants as “kid-friendly” in the sense that all of them welcomed us with open arms, but Ella was well-behaved and I was attentive to the experience of other patrons during our visits. Check out my tips for eating out when travelling with children if you want to set your kids up for success at your next restaurant meal.
Hands down, one of the best meals we ate in Chicago was at Naha. Would you just look at that plate?
A Michelin-starred restaurant, Naha specializes in American-Mediterranean cuisine that is fresh and authentic. We visited with a friend from Syria and she was blown away at their attention to detail.
We ate at lunchtime on a weekday and found the place quiet and welcoming to our small party, though I felt bad at how many times the server felt it was necessary to clean crumbs off of our table! They often have a prix fixe menu (3 set courses offered for a low price) at lunchtime that is worth considering.
What we ate: Naha Mezze: Hummus, Babaganoush, “Tel Baneer” Armenian String Cheese, Kalamata Olives, “Tabbooleh” Cracked Wheat & Greek Salad, Our Mom’s Feta Cheese Turnovers and “Basterma” Spiced Beef
2. Lou Malnati’s
We’re just going to get this one out of the way. You have to eat Chicago Deep Dish Pizza when you’re in the Windy City, right? We went with Lou Malnati’s because they took reservations (many Chicago pizza joints won’t), were close to where we were staying, and Bobby Flay lost to Lou Malnati in a deep dish pizza making contest.
We were able to get a comfortable booth and the restaurant was definitely family-oriented. While it wasn’t quiet, the kids were able to take a short nap in the booth so it wasn’t too noisy.
Tip: You want to check the menu out online before you head over so that you can order your pizza immediately, and plan to order an appetizer or two. A deep dish pizza takes awhile to cook, you don’t want to get into the hangry zone.
What we ate: Caesar Salad and the Malnati Chicago Classic Pizza: The Classic is made with lean sausage, extra cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce on their trade-marked Buttercrust.
3. Graham Elliot Bistro
I’m sad that I didn’t get a chance to visit Graham Elliot’s namesake restaurant before it closed, but we thoroughly enjoyed Graham Elliot Bistro (GEBistro) and Grahamwich (also now closed).
The bistro has a great atmosphere and an open kitchen, with small serving sizes and awesome staff. (Who actually sent us over some complimentary champagne to acknowledge how well behaved Ella was!) These were the actual serving sizes before Ella and I split them, so plan to order a couple of plates per person. (And would you look at how excited she was at “popping the egg!”)
If you forget to make a reservation and the restaurant is full, it’s in a great district for food and right down the street from an amazing Greek restaurant, Nia.
What we ate: Two types of pasta and Ella had some ice cream or gelato that she wouldn’t share
4. Skyhigh Cafe or Signature Room
You’re really coming here for the view but the coffee at both was some of the best I had in Chicago. Brunch at the Signature Lounge is a bit pricey (around $45 per adult), but again, you’re paying for the view and it’s all you can eat.
What we ate: Brunch: chilled seafood, fresh fruit, yogurt and granola parfaits, seasonal market salads, gourmet soups, artisan cheeses, assorted charcuterie, pancakes, bread pudding, eggs benedict, steak and eggs, braised goat, grilled pork loin, roasted chicken, and desserts!
5. Hot Doug’s (now closed)
Long-time readers may remember, Ella has a slight obsession with celebrity chefs (she plans to be one someday), and among her favourite is Anthony Bourdain.
Hot Doug’s was featured in an episode of No Reservations, so we naturally had to order the exact same meal that Anthony Bourdain ordered and sit at the exact same table. It’s so funny to me now looking at how little Ella is in these pictures because her foodie personality is full-fledged.
I’m honestly so sad that this restaurant has closed – but I included it because you absolutely must have a Chicago-style hot dog if you’re planning on visiting Chicago, and you can buy the Hot Doug’s cookbook for a taste of Chicago!
What we ate: Chicago-style dog, Duck fat fries, and Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel (or as I like to call it, the best $10 hot dog you will ever eat)
6. Mon Ami Gabi
This classic French bistro is located close to Lincoln Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo and boasts one of the best brunches in the city.
While I found entering the restaurant difficult with a stroller, they were happy to greet us and the atmosphere was relaxed and sophisticated. We tried to return again for supper, but weren’t able to on this trip. Cannot wait to visit here again.
7. Billy Goat Tavern
This is less a foodie destination than a cultural landmark. The Billy Goat Tavern was immortalized in the SNL skit and when planning our trip, I knew we’d have to stop in at one of their locations.
We went with the Navy Pier location – less authentic, but the location is better for families who can then pop into the Children’s Museum or ride one of the ships.
The story behind this picture is that Ella was being a bit of a ham out front, doing her best Bill Murray interpretation, when one of the cooks came out and gave her an authentic Billy Goat Tavern cap. My dad freaked out when we showed him the hat on our return home and is “keeping it safe” for her.
What we ate: “Cheezborger Cheezborger Cheezborger!”
While Marketplace had great food, it’s really being included in the list for having the best service out of any of the restaurants we visited and it is a great option for a foodie parent with a picky kid.
What we ate: Iceberg Lettuce Wedge, Mac and Cheese Gratin (apple wood smoked bacon; 7 year aged carr valley white cheddar), Pot Pie (artichoke, chanterelle mushrooms, asparagus, fingerling potato, celery root, truffle cream, crispy golden brown puff pastry)
9. La Sardine
In contrast to Marketplace, we probably received the worst, most condescending service at La Sardine, but that may have just been that particular waiter. La Sardine is across from Harpo Studios, so many patrons are there hoping to catch a celebrity sighting… maybe that waiter was, too!
The food was amazing — clearly, or it would have never made the list — and the atmosphere is really laidback.
What we ate: Battered blue crab salad, Cassoulet Toulousain (pork sausage, lamb, duck confit, smoked ham, bacon, white beans)
10. The Cheesecake Factory
We actually ate here twice during our week-long stay, and while I was prepared for it to be “just another chain restaurant,” I do have to say that the flagship Michigan Avenue location is pretty lush, but be prepared for a long wait no matter what time of day you stop by.
However, once you are seated the food comes quickly, and you can use that long wait time to browse their gigantic menu.
What we ate: Shrimp Scampy, Caesar Salad, Fish and Chips, and Cheesecake (of course!)
There are also many amazing Chicago restaurants that are a bit inaccessible to those travelling with children. If you find yourself visiting a Chicago neighbourhood, seek out what the locals love — they usually won’t steer you wrong!
Here are some other restaurants that we enjoyed during our stay, or were not able to make it to and think would have made the list if we did:
- Alinea (with older kids… or none at all)