SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
It’s no secret Chicago is a steak and potatoes kind of town. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another city in America where steak is more celebrated. So, it only follows that The Windy City would have ample offerings to satisfy the cravings of every steak lover west of Lake Michigan. Personally, steak is my go-to meal. When special occasions come around, I’m always going to recommend a place where I can indulge in a good piece of beef.Over the last seven years or so, Chicago has seen an influx of great new steak restaurants that attempt to re-imagine the concept. These eateries bring in or butcher prime steaks, like all the great Chicago steakhouses do, but serve them in swankier digs, with more nuanced preparations, and (sometimes) more modest portions than their traditional counterparts. As new kids on the block, these restaurants have garnered a lot of well-deserved attention and praise. But this article isn’t about them. I was compelled to mention the new breed to offer a bit of perspective, and acknowledge my awareness of the current state of affairs. That being said, I want to refocus your attention on the tried-and-true spots.
Chicago has a rich history with beef. The restaurant business can often be about what’s new, what’s hip, and what just opened up. When it comes to steak, however, these new concepts owe a lot to those that came before them. The quality and longevity of the old guard paved the way for the new breed. Without their success, and their place within the Chicago dining space, there’s no way we’d continue to see the openings of so many more places for steak, modern in style, or otherwise. While the new restaurants have a lot going for them, only time will tell if they’ll leave a lasting impression. The old guard, however, has withstood the test of time.
Why is that? From my perspective, it’s not that complicated. The traditional steakhouse was (is) a place where you found four things: 1) Comfortable atmosphere; 2) Great service; 3) The highest quality prime aged steaks, seafood, and drinks; and 4) Large portions. Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want in a night out. I want a relaxing environment where I can partake in the finest and freshest fare, and know that I’m going to leave satiated. There’s nothing worse than going to a restaurant and: 1) Feeling like I could have made that meal just as well, for half the price; 2) Receiving service so poor I wonder if they’ll tip me; or 3) Leaving hungry with a need to stop off at Wendy’s on the way home. Traditional steakhouses ensure none of that happens. Come to think of it, why exactly do they need to be re-imagined, anyway?
The short answer? They don’t. Now, I’m not saying I haven’t been to and enjoyed some of the newer offerings in Chicago. I have. However, I think it’s worth keeping 12 of Chicago’s traditional steakhouses in mind whenever that hankering for red meat hits you. Their significance to the current scene alone is worth a trip, if only to keep proper perspective. But that’s really only part of the tale because these storied spots still deliver some of the best steaks, seafood (yes, seafood!), and service around. Without further ado, here are 12 classic Chicago spots for steak.
This is the original Chicago steakhouse. Having opened in 1941, this is also the first example of the hybrid Italian Steakhouse.
If you’re the type to experience the first of anything, this spot needs to be on your list. Whether you want steak, or pasta, or a seafood salad, you can get it here.
These days, you can find a Morton’s in cities across the country. In 1978, it all started at the State Street location in Chicago. It’s since been acquired by Landry’s, but its status as a Chicago institution ought not be forgotten.
Steak, simply seasoned, is the main event, along with large salads, large sides, and a gooey hot chocolate cake.
Opened in 1986, Chicago Chop House is a delicious steakhouse in a beautiful building that feels like it’s seen far more Chicago wheeling and dealing than its age would indicate.
While a bit pricier than some of its brethren, the onion ring-topped steaks are still a nice once-in-a-while indulgence.
In 1987, Harry Caray’s changed the celebrity restaurant game by focusing on food and service rather than showbiz gimmicks.
As a result, they’ve been in business for over 30 years, serving a great selection of prime wet aged and dry aged beef, along with Italian favorites.
The current steak king of Chicago, Gibsons on Rush Street is the first offering from Gibsons Restaurant Group (which also owns Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, LuxBar, Quartino, and Gibsons Italia), the highest-grossing independent restaurant in the city and a haven for locals, tourists, and celebrities alike.
Opened in 1989, it’s the only restaurant in the United States with its own USDA prime certification. In the summer, their patio is a place to be. Be warned: The portions are legendary.
Named after the beloved coach of the 1985 Super Bowl winners (he still is involved and eats at the restaurant), Ditka’s opened in 1997 serving high-quality comfort food like meatloaf and prime rib, an impressive list of steaks and chops, and a fresh banana cream pie.
More than a sports bar, it continues to go strong due to its focus on the menu, and its desire to please its guests.
If you’re looking for a see-and-be-seen type of experience, this is the place for you. Since 1998, Tavern (as the locals call it) has been serving up prime steaks that come with a salad (bonus!), along with one of the more extensive non-steak menus around.
Like its neighborhood pal, Gibsons, it also has a happening summer patio.
In 2000, Lettuce Entertain You paired up with Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami to open a winner for the city of Chicago. Consistently the second highest grossing independent restaurant in the city, Joe’s is known for surf and turf, and their bone-in filet.
Their sides, while delicious, are a bit more modest in terms of size, but their substantial appetizer and dessert offerings ensure you won’t leave with an empty stomach.
The Rosebud Restaurant Group is known for its Italian fare. In 2000, it opened a steakhouse that served prime steaks with just the right amount of au jus, a plethora of rich steakhouse sides, and favorites from its Italian restaurants (like the chopped salad and the brick chicken).
Located in Streeterville, the restaurant offers a cozy ambiance which is quieter than some of its peers.
As an anchor in the South Loop since 2000 (excluding a brief, yet ironic fire-related sabbatical), Chicago Firehouse brings prime steaks to the south side of the city.
Housed in an historic firehouse, the updated bar, dining room, and solarium offer three unique experiences. Additionally, the secluded patio is perfect for relaxed al fresco dining.
Steak lovers will appreciate the extensive list of options at this River North restaurant established in 2010. While relatively contemporary given its opening, Benny’s model still falls into the traditional category.
They offer dry aged and wet aged varieties, small and large portions, and varied price points. In addition to the eats, Benny’s hosts live jazz several days a week in their bar, and north lounge.
Opening just after Benny’s in 2010, this restaurant on the river offers dry aged steaks, large sides, an energized atmosphere, and an opportunity to see a celeb or two.
They also serve a pretty extensive weekday breakfast (rare) and weekend brunch, and have prime (prime, get it?) patio space that overlooks kayakers and architectural boats cruising the Chicago River.
Greg is a Chicago guy who likes to cook, dine, and help others navigate their food choices. Why? Because food is an integral part of our lives, he's the best version of himself when he's well fed, and he wants to help others more consistently make a routine activity into something special. When he's not writing, he's watching sports, searching out ways to laugh, offering unsolicited-yet-rational positions on social media, handling the domestic responsibilities of a husband and dad, and figuring out his next meal.