Chicago's connection to beef started around the Civil War when it was the epicenter of cross-country food commodities and the hog and cattle trades. It grew into the nation's largest commercial meatpacking city and dominated the industry through the 1920s. Chicago's world-renowned chophouse culture celebrates this meaty history in every bite.
Recently, a new breed of steakhouse has opened downtown. U.S. News asked local experts where carnivores are herding now.
Maple & Ash
"Maple & Ash in the Gold Coast offers a stimulating, modern dining experience including a beautiful atmosphere and strong choice of dry- and wet-aged beef," says Victor Colon, head concierge at The Langham, Chicago.
The posh third-floor steakhouse serves dazzling martinis, artistic desserts, and perfectly charred steaks and seafood, all cooked over flames in a wood-fired hearth. From the theatrical silver-draped dining room, guests glimpse chefs working in the open kitchen.
The a la carte menu features extravagant and affordable offerings, such as an ounce of caviar scooped up with potato chips for $120, and some giant prime cuts costing more than $100. Menu items for less than $30 include roasted oysters, 10-ounce steak frites and salmon. Sides start at $8. Craft cocktails and an extensive curated wine list, encompassing 50 bottles for less than $50, make the ground-floor Eight Bar and upstairs lounge local hot spots year-round.
[Read: The Best Hotels in Chicago.]
GT Prime in River North reimagines the city's steakhouses of once upon a time, offering shareable meat sampler platters in fanciful Brothers Grimm-inspired hunting lodge surrounds.
Taxidermied glassy-eyed antelopes sprouting feathers and horns from different hoofed beasts, and massive still-life paintings of raw meat and fish decorate its rustic wood-paneled walls. Diners seated in faux gray wolf fur chairs nosh on juicy loins of beef, lamb, venison and bison.
"They've taken a totally different approach to traditional Chicago steakhouses, whereby guests order different ounce-sized servings of various meats to share," says Onal Kucuk, general manager at Hotel Lincoln.
The a la carte menu says all meat is cooked medium rare, unless requested otherwise. Prices are based on 4- or 8-ounce servings, ranging from $14 to $56. Fish entrees start at $29. The sizable small plate selection includes quail pot pie, gnocchi and veal cheek.
Chicago Cut Steakhouse
Power flows through the swank River North steakhouse. Attentive wait staff circling the crisp white linen-draped tables anticipate requests of business executives, Chicago sports celebrities and film stars.
"This steakhouse hits all the right Chicago notes for me: great food, a huge, impressive wine list and fabulous views of Chicago's riverside architectural skyline, bridges and L tracks," says Kristen Klus, head concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago.
Some of the a la carte prices are as highbrow as the clientele. Chicago Cut serves only U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified Prime beef butchered and aged 35 days on site. Prime cuts start at a 6-ounce $40 filet to a $135 double-cut porterhouse. Add-ons include au poivre seasoning, foie gras and bearnaise sauce. Less dear, there are fish entrees starting at $34, as well as a $27 skirt steak and a $16 burger. Sides number many, including lobster mac 'n' cheese and assorted vegetables.
Guests tucked into tufted red leather booths are tete-a-tete between bites of beef, short rib stroganoff, raw oysters and lemon meringue pie. The intimate restaurant's touted French flair is conveyed through comfortable, sultry decor: silvered mirrors, crystal chandeliers and a bistro-style zinc bar.
"Bavette's has a romantic, ultracool vibe and cult following for its diverse menu of steaks, seafood, crispy fried chicken, meatloaf and burgers," says Judson Corrie, concierge at Waldorf Astoria Chicago.
The a la carte selections skew eclectic. Only USDA Prime beef is served, priced at $38.95 for a 6-ounce filet up to $69.95 for a hefty dry-aged bone-in rib-eye. The roasted bone marrow and beef tongue plates cost less than $20. Noteworthy appetizers are terrines and sherry-laced garlic shrimp de Jonghe, a Chicago culinary invention.
Swift & Sons
Located in West Loop's Fulton Market district where Chicago's meatpacking industry once thrived, Swift & Sons steakhouse in the Google building occupies a ground-floor former cold storage facility.
The sprawling restaurant's name honors Gustavus Franklin Swift, a late 19th-century Chicago meatpacking industry titan and refrigerated rail car entrepreneur. The multiple dining rooms' and bilevel bar's decor recreates how Swift's 19th-century company headquarters may have appeared with subway tile floors, shiny brass fixtures, tailored leather furniture and rich dark woods.
[Read: The Best Things to Do in Chicago.]
Extensive wine, cocktail and food menus cover varied preferences and a la carte price points. Prime steaks range from $48 for an 8-ounce filet to $100 for a Japanese A5 wagyu strip loin. Pastry-wrapped, foie gras-filled beef Wellington serves two, and costs $105. Fish entrees cost about $30. Appetizers include steakhouse classics oysters Rockefeller and lobster bisque. The dessert chocolate trolley features house-made bite-sized pastries and candies for $3 each.
Standby Chicago Steakhouses
Open for decades, these chophouses transcend trend:
- Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse is an iconic Chicago chophouse promising ginormous cuts of USDA-certified Prime beef, classic cocktails and celebrity sightings.
- Family-friendly Benny's Chop House offers Prime aged steaks, live jazz music Wednesday through Saturday evenings and menus in seven foreign languages.
- Chicago Chophouse plates USDA Prime beef, including Mishima cuts, pours excellent wines and decorates the Victorian brownstone's dining rooms with portraits of historic Chicago influencers.
- Owner-chef Susan Frasca's Kinzie Chophouse serves pasta dishes and succulent beef perfectly paired with a choice of 25 wines by the glass and a more than 430-bottle wine list.
- Family-owned, clubby Gene & Georgetti's, Chicago's oldest steakhouse founded in 1941, lives up to its reputation for generous portions and Hollywood stars' patronage.
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