The West Loop is the neighborhood bounded by the Chicago River to the east, Grand Avenue to the north, Ashland to the west and I-290 to the south. It has exploded with activity in the last 10 years; at any given moment, you’ll find umpteen construction cranes, all dead-set on urban domination. All these new condos, companies and restaurants means parking is scarce, and God only knows where the valets are taking your car. Skyrocketing rents in the West Loop have forced restaurateurs and hoteliers to develop properties that look beyond West Randolph Street — the West Loop’s main artery and Chicago’s well-known Restaurant Row. Just north of it you’ll find the Fulton Market District, which is staking its own claim to the hearts and stomachs of Chicagoans.
302 N. Green St., 3rd Floor
This is Lettuce Entertain You’s second restaurant with Chef CJ Jacobson — the first being River North’s Ema — and he’s chosen a meat-centric focus on Mediterranean cuisine. It’s also currently one of the hottest tables in town.
955 W. Fulton Market
A slew of local, national and even international awards testifies to the uniqueness of Grant Achatz’ artisanal-to-the-nth-degree cocktail bar. Molecular gastronomy in a glass.
834 W. Fulton Market
Beatrix cafés and markets are making their mark on Chicago neighborhoods. A pet project of Lettuce’s founder Rich Melman, it features healthy but super-craveable menu options, juices, and an inspiring selection of house-made bakery items.
702 W. Fulton Market
Back when Fulton Market was still lined with meat-packing companies, Carnivale forged a path for future West Loop restaurant dominance. The fanciful, technicolor interior and the spirited Latin-Fusion cuisine still brings in the crowds, especially for special events.
857 W. Fulton Market
“Top Chef” winner Stephanie Izard is the Midas of Chicago restaurants — everything she touches turns gold. This super-popular spot serves “reasonably authentic” Chinese food, including a number of goat dishes, not surprisingly.
311 N. Sangamon St.
Locally sourced ingredients shine in veteran chef Jonathan Harootunian’s rustic but still sophisticated cuisine. His culinary influences span the globe with stops in Italy, Spain, China, Mexico, France and Japan.
950 W. Lake St.
Chef Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro Prime) fell in love with okonomiyaki, the savory Japanese cabbage pancake, and opened a Fulton Market restaurant dedicated to it – and wow, is it delectable. Finish up with an enormous mound of kakigori, a shaved ice dessert, and a few mochi donuts.
847 W. Fulton Market
Talk about finger-lickin’ good! This Memphis import is serving up some very fine fried chicken — the tenders are terrific and fried pickles are a must.
852 W. Fulton Market
The celebrated Kuma’s rock-‘n-roll burgers have made it to the West Loop, and you’ve got to appreciate their consistent and meaningful support for local charities and heavy metal groups alike. Look for that local flavor to carry on to their beer list as well.
905 W. Fulton Market
This modern Greek taverna is the hot spot of the moment, not surprising as it comes from DineAmic Hospitality — Siena Tavern, Bar Siena, Prime & Provisions. The chefs are the real deal from Mykonos, and the seafood-heavy menu is filled with crowd-pleasing ingredients like feta and halloumi cheeses, charred eggplant and crispy phyllo dough. Opa!
820 W. Lake St.
Chef Gene Kato continues to turn out some of the best Japanese food in town, from pristinely fresh sashimi and maki rolls to perfectly grilled robata yaki and more. The downstairs Izakaya is a fun spot for cocktails and bites.
953 W. Fulton Market
The menu theme at Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’ James Beard Award-winning Next evolves a few times a year, and Achatz’ thematic, multi-course meals continue their relevance. The non-alcoholic beverage pairings are particularly astonishing.
661 N. Walnut St.
This two Michelin-starred contemporary American from Executive Chef and Owner Noah Sandoval is a truly epicurean experience. The prix fixe, multicourse meal is absolutely astonishing, both in taste and presentation. An total must-visit for any self-respecting foodie.
837 W. Fulton Market
Emphatically not for the kosher at heart — oysters and pork rule the day here — Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia’s Publican is Chicago’s answer to a European beer hall, but with much better food. Don’t miss the Country Ribs or the Farm Chicken and hoist a pint or two to the well-chosen craft beer list.
825 W. Fulton Market
Across the street from The Publican is this combo butcher shop-café-gourmet market. Charcuterie and freshly made sausages are the stars, but you’ll also find unique pantry provisions, fabulous crusty breads and spectacular sandwiches.
310 N. Green St., 2nd Floor
This enormous venue — nearly 30,000 square feet — is gamers’ nirvana, from ping pong and bocce to bowling and billiards. Comfort foods — like chicken ‘n’ waffles, Sloppy Joes, burgers, nachos, etc. — are the name of the game.
819 W. Fulton Market
The ramen craze is still going strong in Chicago, and this Logan Square transplant does a mighty fine version. Their selection of Japanese whisky is impressive, or enjoy a still or sparkling sake as you happily slurp your noodles. The Omakase Takeya is a smaller restaurant within, a seven-seat sushi bar that requires reservations for a 15-course omakase meal.
951 W. Fulton Market
One of the unremittingly loudest restaurants in town — the chef is fond of hip hop and heavy metal at top volume, and it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation — the food is special. The choice is yours to make, but if you do go, the shrimp and grits and the whole chicken are both must-orders.
932 W. Fulton Market
“Top Chef” winner Joe Flamm’s grandmothers inspired his solo restaurant, filled with the flavors of his Italian and Croatian heritages. The pasta, all made in house, is a distinct highlight, as are the grilled clams and the Cevapi, a Croatian sausage. And the veggies here will make your heart sing.
1000 W. Fulton Market
The Boka Group hit it out of the park with this stunning temple to beef. Executive Chef Chris Pandel treats his proteins with great respect. Next door, Cold Storage showcases raw and tinned shellfish, craft cocktails and beers, and has a killer happy hour Monday-Friday, 3-6p.m.
905 W Fulton Market
The first TimeOut market opened in Lisbon in 2014, a groundbreaking concept that allowed a highly curated group of independent restaurants to open smaller versions within its constructs. The Chicago Market, opened in 2019 to great fanfare, survived the pandemic, although many of its initial tenants have moved on. Now, it’s 50,000 square feet is filled with 14 fast-casual eateries; a rooftop terrace; a number of bars; and a top-notch sit-down restaurant — Valhalla, from Chef Stephen Gillanders of S.K.Y. and Apolonia. Current tenants include Avli (Greek), Bar Goa (Indian), Soul & Smoke (BBQ), Evette’s (Lebanese), Demera (Ethiopian) and Luella’s Southern Kitchen (NOLA).
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Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.