Whatever the occasion, finding that perfect restaurant in Chicago can be a struggle for Northwestern students. The university loves to boast about the campus’ proximity to one of the country’s greatest metropolitan areas, equipped with world-renowned tourist attractions, but all too often Chicago’s outstanding dining scene is overlooked. Enter: Randolph Street.
Located in the West Loop area of Chicago, this stretch of West Randolph Street has earned the name Restaurant Row due to its numerous fine dining establishments located within a short few blocks. After a tumultuous history, Randolph Street, which used to be in the vicinity of Chicago’s dreary, saloon-filled skid row, has drawn restaurateur after restaurateur. Vivo, Randolph Street’s restaurant vanguard, opened up in 1991 and continues to draw crowds 22 years later. Since Vivo, restaurants have both succeeded and failed, but in the last few years, there has been a resurgence of high-quality dining joints that effectively turned this part of Chicago into a trendy foodie haven. All of the following establishments are within walking distance of each other, so take a look at the following guide and make Restaurant Row your dining destination.
Girl & the Goat
After putting this magazine down, go make a reservation at Girl & the Goat for your end-of-the-school-year celebration dinner in June. Hopefully you’ll snag a coveted slot. Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard’s trendy restaurant is constantly packed, but it attracts crowds with good reason. Girl & the Goat is known for expanding customers’ palates with its roasted pig face and goat belly dishes. Not so adventurous? Izard turns pan-fried shishito peppers and sautéed green beans into tantalizing dishes as well.
809 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 492-6262
Maude’s Liquor Bar
Impress your special someone with a trip to famous Chicago restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s intimate establishment. Maude’s Liquor Bar has a beautiful dimly lit interior that creates a classy ambiance, but doesn’t intimidate. The restaurant boasts an extensive drink menu complete with both classic and modern influences. As for food, order the highly touted steak tartare or the rich, indulgent French onion fondue. Maude’s American-influenced French cuisine and reasonably priced dishes will have you and your date craving more.
840 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 243-9712
Grange Hall Burger Bar
With its abundant gourmet menu options that range from free-range turkey burgers to wholesome veggie burgers, fresh toppings and homemade buns, Grange Hall Burger Bar is the best build-your-own-burger option in the area. This farm-to-table restaurant features communal seating and a casual ambiance that make for a fun, group-friendly atmosphere. Start your meal with the signature handmade fries, dig into your individualized gourmet burger and cap off your food coma with freshly churned ice cream.
844 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 491-0844
When Chipotle visits become monotonous, check out this trendy taco joint. “De cero” translates to “from scratch,” which is how the owners of this modernized taquería strive to serve their food every day. The restaurant offers almost every taco imaginable, from battered catfish to chipotle braised beef to chicken mole. For those of age, be sure to take advantage of the seemingly never-ending margarita menu filled with tequila upgrades and exotic flavors like passion fruit, jicama, guava and pineapple jalapeño.
814 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 455-8114
When your parents are in town, trek to Avec to satisfy everybody’s culinary yearnings. Avec is the second most popular destination on Restaurant Row, surpassed only by Girl & the Goat, so go early to secure a seat. It offers a menu full of small plates, which allows you to get a taste of a variety of dishes. The chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates will trump anything you’ve ever eaten, and the “deluxe” foccacia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil and fresh herbs is even better than it sounds.
615 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 377-2002
Tired of questionable eggs and rubbery waffles? Skip the least appealing meal at Northwestern’s dining halls and trade it in for a breakfast at Ina’s. The restaurant offers a casual atmosphere with diverse breakfast options that makes for a great weekend spot to discuss last night’s antics. Chow down on vanilla bean waffles or try the baked French toast, served with sautéed apples. End your meal on a sweet note with a slice of moist sour cream coffee cake.
1235 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 226-8227
J.P. Graziano Grocery Co.
When you or your bank account can’t justify a sit-down meal, don’t give up hope on Randolph Street. J.P. Graziano Grocery Company, a well-known wholesale food distributor, recently began selling sub sandwiches and lines immediately formed out the door. This family-run company emphasizes fresh, top-shelf ingredients featured in sandwiches like its house specialty, the Mr. G, which consists of sharp imported provolone, hot sopressata, prosciutto, salami, truffle mustard balsamic vinaigrette, hot oil, artichoke, fresh basil and lettuce with red wine vinegar and oregano. If that doesn’t convince you to ditch Jimmy John’s and catch a train over to J.P. Graziano, we don’t know what will.
901 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 666-4587
Genius restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff opened Au Cheval after his success with Maude’s Liquor Bar just down the street. The restaurant is a dressed up take on the classic diner with an open kitchen, upbeat, retro music, and a torturously tempting smell of burgers constantly in the air. The burger, served simply with cheese, pickles and Dijonnaise, was named America’s best burger by Bon Appétit in 2012. Au Cheval prides itself on offering “playful takes on old-school favorites” like foie gras with scrambled eggs and toast, griddled bratwurst with smashed potatoes and roasted garlic gravy, and a fried bologna sandwich.
800 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 929-4580
Little Goat, g.e.b.
Two relatively recent openings on Randolph Street offer tastes of big-ticket meals without the exorbitant prices. Chefs and restaurateurs Graham Elliot and Stephanie Izard have opened g.e.b. (Graham Elliot Bistro) and Little Goat, respectively. Elliot’s newest establishment possesses more of a hipster, yet sophisticated vibe compared to his other restaurants. G.e.b. offers refined plates and specializes in meats, flatbreads and seafood. Izard’s Little Goat, a direct spin-off of Girl & the Goat, on the other hand, has a cheeky diner feel, but still manages to maintain the culinary excellence Izard is known for. Little Goat serves breakfast all day and is open from 7am to 2am. Just a visit to the website is an edgy, funky experience; you can only imagine what it’s like to take a step inside the real thing.
g.e.b.: 841 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312) 888-2258
Little Goat: 820 West Randolph Street, Chicago / (312 888-2455)