Turn on your TV, and chances are you’ll see one of Chicago’s elite restaurants—or favorite corner spots—on the screen. With hundreds of diverse and eclectic dining venues that cater to every taste and budget, the local spread even led even Bon Appetit to call Chicago the Restaurant City of the Year in 2017. Word is also catching on thanks to repeat appearances on popular shows like “Top Chef,” “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” that gives the dining scene “a level of PR you couldn’t get otherwise,” says Spiaggia executive chef Joe Flamm, the latest Chicago culinary genius to win the coveted title of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” during the Season 15 finale in March. We talk to Flamm and look at some more of our favorite eateries to visit that look even better in real life than on TV.
When Joe Flamm won "Top Chef," he beat out fellow Chicago South Sider Adrienne Cheatham to win the honor, carrying on a long legacy of local cuisine connoisseurs that have made Chicago’s dining scene famous. But he had to keep the secret that he won for several months until a finale party at Spiaggia on March 8. “There were 150 of us jammed into the dining room and when they announced it, everyone lost their minds. You probably could have heard it from the other side of the lake,” he recalls.
Though it’s rumored that Flamm will soon open his own restaurant with the prize money awarded from his win, for now he’s happy to settle back into life at Spiaggia, which he said was a huge influence on the dishes he made in the competition. “It was the first restaurant I’ve ever been chef of where I create all the menus and have that much creative control. I really have cut my teeth creatively at Spiaggia and that came out on the show,” he says. Of course growing up cooking with his Italian grandma Mary also helped (she even appeared in an episode). Flamm’s win adds to the culinary scene in Chicago, which he calls “one of the best in the country, if not the best.” His favorites include Avec, Lula Café and Girl & the Goat, where he once worked. As far as Spiaggia, he says, “It’s getting harder to get a table by the minute.”
This West Loop staple, with globally curated, family-style menus, is helmed by the incomparable Stephanie Izard, a Bravo “Top Chef” winner and fan favorite. Izard is also a James Beard Award winner and in recent years has expanded her empire with the Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat.
This Lincoln Park gem is where art meets science. Considered a “gastronomical wonderland” and “one of the world’s best restaurants,” it’s helmed by Grant Achatz and can take 30 courses and three hours to complete with zany dishes like a green apple balloon filled with helium. Achatz has appeared on Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” and Alinea continues to hold the only three-star Michelin award in the city.
Fabio Viviani is a force in the dining world. A 'fan favorite' on “Top Chef,” he appeared on the reality series “Life After Top Chef” and frequently contributes to “Good Morning America.” His local restaurant footprint includes the bold Italian spot Siena Tavern as well as cicchetti-style Bar Siena and steakhouse Prime & Provisions.
Both the Food Network and The Travel Channel love this kitschy drive-in with carhop service, one of only a few left in the U.S. Its specialty is hot dogs of course with all the fixins.
If burgers are your thing check out this heavy metal haven (as seen on the Food Network) that pumps up tunes from Metallica to Maiden with burgers to match.