A guide of what to do in the West Loop Chicago. This neighborhood is home of many of the city’s best restaurants and it has a lively nightlife.
When I moved to Chicago in 2008, I worked in the West Loop. Back then the neighborhood was considered to be somewhat dangerous and some of the only businesses in the area were meat packing factories. That has changed dramatically. Today the West Loop is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Chicago. It’s home to some of the most acclaimed restaurants and it has a booming nightlife. When we go out, we often head to the West Loop.
Getting to the West Loop
You can take the green or pink line to the Clinton, Morgan or Ashland el stop or you can take the Metra to Ogilvie Station.
What to Do in the West Loop
The United Center is a hub of activity. Both the Bulls and the Blackhawks play here, plus it is a venue for major concerts. Blackhawks games are a true Chicago experience. As a concert venue I love the United Center because you don’t have to worry about the possibility of rain like you do at Soldier Field.
An antique and vintage market that takes place one weekend a month. In the summer it takes place outside on Randolph Street the last weekend of the month, in colder months the market moves inside. The market is considered one of the best flea markets in America.
City Winery is a winery, concert venue, and restaurant. There is always something happening here.
This is less of a museum and more of an immersive art experience/place to take cool instagram photos. General admission is a whopping $32 (about twice the price of The Art Institute of Chicago).
A theater devoted to offering plays for children such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show and The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party. They also have a summer camp and acting classes.
A live music venue, restaurant, and bar with a packed schedule featuring a wide variety of bands. General admission tickets to most shows are $20-$25.
Where to Eat in the West Loop
The West Loop is Chicago’s dining destination. There are dozens of restaurants and bars to explore. Listed below are my top picks for restaurants in the West Loop. Many of these restaurants are located within the Fulton Market District which is a restaurant dense section of the West Loop.
Avec is deeply loved in Chicago. It’s definitely one of the best restaurants in town. Expect 5 star food paired with a casual atmosphere. They serve lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Their chorizo stuffed dates with a slightly spice tomato sauce are a must order item and a menu staple. Other than that, the menu changes often but I have loved every bite that I have tasted at this restaurant.
An elegant fine dining restaurant that serves lunch and dinner. The menu focuses on seasonality and modern American cuisine like Berkshire pork tenderloin with endive, potato, cider, and smoke.
This modern diner is home to one of the most famed burgers in America. Yes, it really is that good. The thing is, getting in isn’t easy. They don’t take reservations, and sometimes the wait for a table can be up to 5 hours long. The best strategy is to go for lunch and to get in line 15 minutes before they open. Or, go late night. In addition to the burger, I also recommend trying the fries with mornay sauce and a fried egg and the chilaquiles (I think chilaquiles are only available late night and at brunch).
This restaurant helped to transform the West Loop neighborhood. Opened by Top Chef winner Stephani Izard in 2010, this is one of the best places to eat in Chicago. Plan ahead and make a reservation or get there right when they open to try and get a spot at the bar. Izard is known for her love of bold flavors and unexpected combinations of ingredients. Be sure to try the goat – there are several preparations available keep in mind that goat legs must be pre-ordered.
Roister is my favorite. I don’t say that lightly. The food is just exceptional, I love the relaxed atmosphere, plus the staff is wonderful. They do take reservations and they are open for lunch as well as dinner. The booking system has you pay to reserve a table and then the amount you paid is deducted from the bill. There are different seating areas – I always like to hearth so that I can watch the chefs in action. Some can’t miss menu items are the aged cheddar rillettes with fry bread, the chicken which comes prepared three ways, and the cookies & milk. These are all menu staples.
One of the most highly reviewed restaurants in Chicago, it is a sister restaurant to Roister and Alinea. Next has a unique concept, every four months the menu and restaurant concept changes. Upcoming menus include Tokyo and Mexico City. The menu is prix fixe and reservations are necessary and prepaid.
Located on the ground level of Soho House, this is one of the spaces of the members-only club that is open to the public. They serve an all day menu, plus afternoon tea and dinner. I love to settle in here and do work since the atmosphere is so calm and quiet. Some of my favorite menu items are the chopped salad and the macaroni and cheese.
This is Charles’s favorite spot for drinks – although the food is good too! This Mediterranean restaurant explores the cuisines of Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece. The rooftop seating area is one of the West Loop’s prettiest outdoor spaces.
The Publican just started serving weekday lunch in addition to dinner and weekend brunch! Meat and seafood are the stars of the show at this eatery. All of the meat and produce is sourced from local farms, while the seafood gets flown in from destinations as far away as New Zealand. Charles and I are big fans of the weekend brunch which has a very man friendly menu.
A sister to The Publican, PQM is a retail store, butcher, bakery, and cafe. You can get soups and sandwiches and stay for breakfast or lunch. Or you can buy meats, breads, and speciality food products to cook your meal at home. Let me be clear, the food here is anything but basic. These sandwiches have creative combination of gourmet ingredients (they are also available for delivery via caviar).
Greektown is just south of the West Loop so I wanted to be sure to mention it here. Greek Islands is considered to be the best spot in the neighborhood. The expansive menu has traditional favorites and family style options.
A sister restaurant to Girl and the Goat, this diner serves up three meals a day. Breakfast items like biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, and fat elvis waffles are available all day. You can find burgers, pierogis, reubens, and pork ribs on the dinner menu.
A casual Italian restaurant helmed by Fabio Viviani with a menu featuring a mix of pizzas, pastas, and Italian inspired bar foods. I am especially fond of the short rib lasagna and I also love their weekend brunch.
A walk-up window on the outside of Bar Siena, Bombo Bar serves coffee, tea, hot chocolate, bomboloni (stuffed Italian doughnuts), and housemade gelato.
One of my favorite pizza spots in Chicago, Bonci serves Roman-style pizza by the slice. When I say slice, imagine this: the pizza is made in large rectangular trays and is laid out for display on the counter. You simply tell the staff how much you want and they pop it in the oven to heat it up for you. The pizza is simple and fresh. My favorites are the lemon ricotta and the prosciutto cotto. (This pizza travels well and is available via caviar).
A restaurant that has healthier, yet still delicious, meal options. They serve breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner. I love the cauliflower grits, the chicken meatballs, the prime burger, and pastas. Save room for the caramel pie, it’s exceptional. If you are in a rush, check out Beatrix Market (next door to the restaurant) for grab and go options.
Chef Sarah Grueneberg’s James Beard Award winning Italian restaurant is known for their handmade pastas. The menu has two sections listing pastas: atipicia and tipica. You can get simple spaghetti al pomodoro or a wok-fried version of arrabbiata with shrimp. Family style portions of meat and seafood are available too.
Another Stephanie Izard restaurant, Duck Duck Goat, is a Chinese restaurant offering both dim sum and a menu of classic noodle, rice, and meat dishes. It’s one of the rare places in Chicago that serves scallion pancakes. I highly recommend the short rib ragu slap noodles.
Rick Bayless’s restaurant focused on wood-fired cooking from Baja, Mexico has a menu that heavily features seafood.
An honest to goodness delicious Italian restaurant inspired by the red sauce joints of the 1950s. Make sure you save room of the chocolate cake that is made with dark chocolate mousse and hazelnut praline!
The name can be confusing because this is more of a restaurant than a bar. Maude’s is a sister restaurant to Au Cheval and Bavette’s, and its dimly lit atmosphere reminds me of Bavette’s. The menu is French and includes lots of chilled fresh seafood and classic French dishes like steamed mussels, escargot, steak tartare, and duck confit cassoulet.
A Latin American taco place with patio seating. They serve gourmet tacos like cheese croquette, grilled portobello, and coconut shrimp. Plus they have larger shared plates like paella, octopus, and carnitas.
A cupcake bakery based in Chicago that is known for selling cupcakes that are filled with creme brûlée, peanut butter, nutella, and more in the middle. In addition to a wide variety of cupcakes, they also sell cakes, cookies, bars, pies, and cheesecake.
An Italian bakery that sells bread and pastries plus pizza, sandwiches, salads, soups, and breakfast items. The bakery shares its space with a small Starbucks Reserve location.
A casual spot with long communal tables, lots of twinkle lights, and Texas-style BBQ. The menu focuses on smoked meats that are available in sandwiches or by the half pound, and a variety of side dishes.
You can find doughnuts, breakfast sandwiches, and fried chicken sandwiches at this Do Rite Donuts location. They offer both vegan and gluten-free doughnuts too. One of the most popular flavors it the candied maple bacon. (Note: the Do Rite Donuts are on the left, I was doing a doughnut taste test with friends).
The Smyth and The Loyalist are two distinct restaurants. The Smyth is a rustic restaurant serving New American cuisine with two Michelin stars. The Loyalist is a neighborhood bar with one of the best burgers in Chicago.
Food Halls in the West Loop
Inside this food hall you will find Thattu, a restaurant serving Indian street food from the Kerala region. The small spot is getting big buzz after making the list of semifinalists for a James Beard Award. I had the appam, a light fluffy crepe made with a rice batter, and the roots korma. You tear the appam into pieces and use it to scoop up the korma, it’s delightful.
Thattu is one of 13 vendors at Politan Row. Other eateries include Smashed Radish (vegetable-forward cuisine from the owners of Fat Shallot), Asian street food, tacos, hummus, and Cajun cuisine. Plus there is a cocktail bar in the center of the space and a beer garden outside during warmer months.
This 50,000 square foot space is home to 18 restaurants and a rooftop bar. This new addition to the city has gained lots of buzz. Inside you will find mini versions of beloved restaurants including Lost Larson, Mott St, and The Purple Pig. There is also a demo kitchen where local chefs host special events.
There is a French market located within the Ogilvie train station. Inside and open year-round, you can find a collection of 30+ different vendors selling produce and grocery items plus a wide variety of restaurants here. Although it is called the French Market, food from all over the globe can be found here.
Coffee Shops in the West Loop
Without a doubt, Sawada is one of the coolest coffee houses in town. It’s filled with fashionable people typing away on laptops sipping military lattes and cold brews. At night the space is occupied by Green Street Smoked Meats.
You can buy custom locally made bikes, coffee, and snacks at this shop on Racine.
The most traditional coffee shop on this list, La Colombe offers a full range of coffee drinks plus pastries and light meals.
Need your coffee with a dose of CDB? This is the place. They also serve breakfast and lunch bites.
Where to Drink in the West Loop
A chic cocktail bar and music lounge in the basement of the Hoxton hotel. They don’t take reservations so cross your fingers that a table is available. The menu features 52 different cocktails.
A sister restaurant to Roister and Next, The Aviary has won many awards for their innovative cocktail program. They are known for serving up elaborate futuristic cocktails. You’ll need a reservation to get in.
Located below The Aviary, this is a speakeasy serving classic cocktails and small plates. Make a reservation in advance.
Part game room and part bar/restaurant, Punch Bowl Social is the place for a fun night out. The 30,000 square foot space has an arcade, bowling, and karaoke. The food is classic American and they serve a variety of beers and craft cocktails.
The entrance looks like a florist, but it’s hiding a cocktail lounge with two levels. At 7:30 the bar hosts throwback entertainment – it could be a burlesque dancer, a musical performance, or something else. The menu has complex cocktails, mocktails, classic cocktails, and multiple old fashioneds. The food menu has bar snacks, small plates, and large plates that serve up to 6 guests.
A taproom with 40 taps serving Ballast Point brews in the Fulton Market District, the brewery was sold in March 2020 and the taproom has closed for a refresh.
An open air bar known for serving shots in ice glasses so that after you down the drink you can throw the ice glass at a target. It’s a popular happy hour spot. They do serve tacos and a variety of stackable sharable appetizers.
Where to Shop in the West Loop
The shopping options in the West Loop are limited. People tend to come here to eat not shop, but there are some lovely locally owned boutiques and some brands you are probably familiar with. I am focusing on shops that aren’t nationwide, but Free People, Lululemon, Warby Parker, and Anthropologie all have locations in the West Loop. Gucci has a popup store too.
A clothing shop specializing in elevated essentials for men and women. They also offer made to measure custom pieces. Their goal is to make high quality clothing that will stand the test of time.
A shop focused on American-made men’s clothing with a hipster vibe. They have a great selection of denim and outerwear.
A locally based female owned company that makes handcrafted small batch food grade skincare products. In addition to selling their own line of products, the shop hosts wellness events like meditation classes, yoga, and craft classes. On weekends they have a mask bar where guests can participate in DIY facials where they make their own face masks.
A shop owned by Kristin Cavallari that sells jewelry, home goods, and kids clothing. Yes, the same person who said “Chicago’s just not home” moved away and then opened a store here.
Maria Pinto is a local fashion designer known for her timeless yet modern style. She gained attention when Michelle Obama wore her designs during her time as first lady.
A slick store selling designer clothing, footwear, and accessories for men and women.
This boutique has a mix of home decor items, jewelry, apparel, and gifts.
A massive bookshop selling both new and used books. They also run a literacy program that has helped over 5,000 students.
Find upscale streetwear and designer sneakers for men and women here.
Old St. Pat’s announced that they will no longer host the World’s Largest Block Party and they are hosting a St. Patrick’s themed event instead. The block party with a pop-up pub will coincide with the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and will feature live music.
You could call this festival the cooler more indie version of Lollapalooza. This outdoor multi-stage music festival takes place at Union Park over three days in July. This year the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Run the Jewels, and The National are headlining.
If you love barbecue and country music, this party is for you. The three-day event takes place in July and attracts some of the top pit masters and country musicians. Note: this festival has changed locations a couple of times, but now it is near United Center.
Taste of Randolph Street
Most Chicago neighborhoods have their own street festival. Taste of Randolph Street brings local restaurants and live music together for a weekend long street festival.
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