The Windy City is known for many things — pizza, hot dogs, and inclement weather among them —but when it comes to planning the perfect date, your neighborhood deep dish spot just might not cut it. That’s why we’ve asked a few of Chicago’s crème de la crème of the restaurant biz to weigh in on their go-to places for a romantic tête-à-tête over some of the best food and drink around. Your date will thank you.
“I love Spanish food and sherry,” shares Benjamin Wood, Bar Director at Beatnik, home to the most coveted reservation in Chicago right now. “There’s no better place to find delicious tapas and an endless selection of sherry than Black Bull. I especially like to share both of these things with someone who may not be as familiar, so it’s a great way to introduce your date to something new. It’s also easy to pop upstairs after dinner to the speakeasy bar, Bordel, to catch a live jazz or burlesque show.”
Wood pays homage to his home turf, and we don’t blame him. “I am clearly biased, but damn…Beatnik is just such a fun, upbeat, and a beautiful space. Chef Marcos [Campos] is über-talented, we have some great cocktails and wine, and it exudes all the vibes. You can bring a date for drinks at the bar, after-work bites in the courtyard, or a nicer dinner in the main dining room.”
Brent Balika, Executive Chef at Margeaux Brasserie, recommends a chill (pun intended) time at Cold Storage, a low-key seafood and raw bar spot inside Swift & Sons. “The West Loop is always a great destination for date night, and Cold Storage is a simple, laid-back space. It’s a nice, yet simple spot with a great happy hour and light bites like oysters.”
El Che Bar
Balika keeps it central: “Another one of my go-to hot spots is in the West Loop –– El Che Bar is a dark and cozy restaurant and bar space with a great atmosphere to bring a date. Also, the live-fire cooking is a really unique feature and cool to see while you’re dining.”
El Che Bar also comes highly recommended by Sophia de Oliveira, Bartender and Partner at Good Measure. “John (chef) and Nicole (Director of Operations) are a powerhouse couple both inside and outside of the restaurant, so the place already holds some romantic undertones. The space is warm and energetic while the food and drinks are outstanding and highlight flavors from all over South America. It’s basically a mini vacation in a date.”
Nothing like an open flame to keep the spark alive. Okay, we’ll stop.
De Oliveira keeps the Latin vibes consistent in her next recommendation: “I can sum Tanta up in three words: Rooftop. Ceviche. Pisco sours. That combination sounds like a damn good time for a date.” And afterward, you’ll want to hit her stomping grounds for a nightcap — it just opened in July. “I’m proud to say that our bar [is] one of the sexiest spots in the city. Why? Two words: red lighting. Nothing gets the libido pumping like the warmth of a red glow and the sip of a perfectly chilled martini.”
You might recognize Marcos Campos from up top; naturally, the chef behind some of the most buzzing hot spots around knows best, so we picked his brain on this one…and he did not disappoint. Campos, who will be helming the kitchen at the forthcoming Café Bonhomme in addition to manning Black Bull and Beatnik, recommends the city’s top tri-level dining and drinking experience: “Celeste is just always a fun place with so many date night options –– you can come for an after work happy hour date on the first floor, a more intimate dinner date on the second floor, or just hang on the rooftop garden for cocktails. The bar also serves great late-night food (until 3 a.m.) and has the dance club, Disco, on the third floor in case you want a dinner date to turn into some late-night dancing.”
Funky vibes and approachable fare abound at Big Star, a go-to for Jenna Liberman, Co-Founder and Strategy Lead of Slow Down Co., a local branding and communications agency specializing in the food and drink scene. “I love the high-low of tacos and fancy cocktails,” says Liberman. Kick things off at Big Star with margaritas and chips and guac before heading across the street to The Violet Hour for candlelit cocktails…but be careful! “The vibes and the drinks are both strong.”
“Few things in life are better than weeknight pizza,” Liberman continues. “My favorite is Pizzeria Bebu in Lincoln Park. The space is adorable, and since they do half-and-half pies, so you and your boo can try a little bit of everything.”
Shelby Allison, co-owner of Lost Lake (arguably one of the best tiki bars in the country), is also a proponent of the old open-fire aesthetic, although at RL Restaurant, you’re seated next to the flames versus watching your dinner emerge from them. “The lounge area is perfect for an intimate fireside cocktail date in a beautifully decorated space,” Allison advises. “Order fries and a couple of gin martinis to start; if it’s going well, then you can stay for a full meal or explore another restaurant nearby.” Solid advice.
Pho 77 on Argyle
Allison’s expertise continues with an unassuming pho spot on Chicago’s historic West Argyle Street. “This BYOB spot is super cute and quiet — and especially great if you’re looking for a restaurant where you won’t run into anyone you know! Grab a nice bottle of wine (or use it as a test to see what your date brings) and head up to Argyle for a giant bowl of delicious pho.” Let the Lady and the Tramp vibes ensue.
The Bakery at Fat Rice
If you’re taking a more non-traditional date route, then Allison recommends one of Chicago’s top pastry haunts. “The Bakery at Fat Rice is the perfect breakfast date spot (whether you want to meet in the morning or if your date the previous evening went so well you just don’t want it to end). Grab a Double Duck coffee and create a pastry buffet for you and your cutie to share.