In a city like Chicago, hundreds of little gem restaurants have been around for years, some hidden in plain sight.
These somewhat off-radar places may not get as much media attention as they deserve, but they should certainly get your attention. Most of these restaurants are in Chicago, but not all are on the restaurant-heavy north side and a few are outside the city limits.
This new pop-up restaurant will only be open until December 30, 2018. At Il Tartuffo there are classic Italian dishes that only get better with the addition of freshly shaved truffles. There also is a four-course tasting menu (with optional wine pairings) that includes the rare truffles, which also are sold in the restaurant. Inside Eataly Chicago, 43 E Ohio S. Chicago. 312.521.8700
A throw-back to the days when French cuisine was synonymous with fine dining, this relatively new restaurant by Michael Lachowicz offers six- or nine-course tasting menus and shows us just how marvelous classic French food can be. No corkage fee and jackets are required, befitting the elegantly appointed dining room attached to the somewhat older, only slightly less formal though equally exceptional Restaurant Michael. 64 Green Bay Road, Winnetka; 847.441.3100
This restaurant serves pretty much just goat meat (in a taco or a bowl), slow-cooked until tender and tremendously flavorful. This humble place has been praised by Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods” (though goat, the world’s most popular meat, is not exactly that unusual) as well as celebrity chef Rachel Ray and Chicago’s Steve Dolinsky. 4852 S. Pulaski, 773.523.3700
La Storia Ristorante
With a beautiful dining room paneled in dark wood and dominated by a huge Edward Sorrel mural of Chicago notables, La Storia offers one of the Gold Coast’s most thoughtful Italian menus. Many ingredients are sourced from Midwestern farms, and dishes tend toward the classic (carpaccio, calamari, pastas). The wine list—with dozens by the glass—is smartly curated by general manager Bill Terranova. 1154 N. Dearborn, 312.915.5950
On the fifth floor of The Gwen, Circa offers mostly American cuisine (think Wisconsin cheese curds, Cobb salad and prime ribeye) in an Art Deco atmosphere that allows diners to go formal or casual. In the lounge, have your drinks mixed tableside by a bartender who rolls around his Prohibition Porter, a fully-stocked booze-cart. In warmer months, there’s an expansive terrace with panoramic views of the city. 521 N. Rush, 312.645.1500
Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya
With the popularity of sushi, you might think Japanese cuisine was all about nigiri and rolls, but Kizuki proves otherwise with spectacular ramen and other warm Japanese izakaya dishes—such as prawn cutlet and octopus dumplings—supported by one of the city’s best sake menus, some available in flights, which are highly recommended. 1482 N. Milwaukee, 773,270.1450
It’s not deep dish and it’s not cracker-crisp Chicago-style; rather, the Neapolitan pizza served at Forno Rosso is crafted of Italian flour and baked in a wood-burning oven that puffs and slightly chars the crust. Gluten-free pizza is available, and check out the spiedini, which is prosciutto wrapped around arugula—a kind of hand-held salad; for lunch, you can get the relatively rare panuozzo, a sandwich made of pizza dough and filled with meat, cheese and veggies. 3719 N. Harlem, 773.295.5697
It’s a pub, it’s an oyster bar, it’s an institution—around since 1968. The dining area seems situated in an old garden apartment, so Half Shell has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it aura that makes eating there feel like you’re part of a select crew of food savvy adventurers. Value-priced, a half-dozen oysters will run you less than $9. There's a plethora of cooked seafood as well, and if you must, a steak burger. 676 W. Diversey, 773.549.1773
Don’t let the name fool you: there’s a lot more here than just pizza, including an old-school hot table where you line up alongside local cops and construction workers for such house-made Italian specialties as insalata de mare, rapini and beans, and many pastas. After eating at Freddy’s glassed-in dining annex, you will want to take a world-class gelato to go—and some fresh baked bread, too. 1600 S. 61st, Cicero, 708-863.9289