8 Best Historic Chicago Restaurants
Chicagoans are immensely proud of their city’s history. So much so that you can find remnants of the city’s history in every square inch of the Windy City — even in the restaurants. Here, you can find a meal at any price point to eat in a historic setting. There’s even a few foods that were invented in Chicago. Discover all the best places to feed both your belly and your brain.
When the Green Mill opened in 1907, it was originally named Pop Morse’s Roadhouse. It only took a few years for the owners to rename the establishment Green Mill Gardens in homage to the Red Mill (Moulin Rouge) in Paris. Just like its Parisian counterpart, the Green Mill has been known for its musical performances — specifically jazz music. It was also a famous haunt of Al Capone, and you can still sit in his favorite booth.
Today, you can still see live music at the Green Mill as well as spoken-word poetry. The Art Deco interior is the perfect spot to throw back a cocktail while you pretend you were born in the 1930s.
If you’re on the hunt for a kid friendly foodie stop, check out Margie’s Candies. This old-school ice cream parlor and candy shop has been around since 1921. Not much has changed inside either — from the pinstriped wallpaper to the bright red-and-white awning, Margie’s still retains all the charm it had back in the 20s. The shakes, sodas and sundaes are the stars of the menu, but you can even order a few savory items — like corned beef, grilled cheese and even a kosher hot dog. Just don’t forget to save room for dessert.
We know, we know… when are we going to get to Sinatra already?! Well you can breathe a sigh of relief because Ol’ Blue Eyes himself was a patron of Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern. Established in 1932, this beloved hot spot is located in a building that actually dates back to 1881.
While Twin Anchors is known for its history, it’s also known for its food — specifically Chicago-style baked ribs. These baby back ribs are smothered with barbecue sauce and served as a half slab or full slab and accompanied by creamed spinach, Cole slaw and a dill pickle.
You can’t talk about Chicago food without mentioning steak. And a trip to Chicago would be replete without making the trip to the oldest steakhouse in the city, Gene & Georgetti, established in 1941. Gene & Georgetti was where famous Chicago politicians, actors and musicians would crowd for great conversation, drinks and of course — steak.
Established by Italian immigrants Gene Michelotti and chef Alfredo “Georgetti” Federighi, Gene and Georgetti was soon lauded for its high-end food in an upscale environment. Don’t even think of making the trip to this famed Chicago institution without stopping by the Chicago Room to get a glimpse at the mural of the neighborhood.
Though Berghoff originally opened as a brewery in 1898, it did not close its doors during prohibition. Instead, it transformed into a restaurant. After prohibition ended, it received the city’s first liquor license. Until 1969, it was a men’s-only establishment.
Berghoff was opened by Herman Berghoff, a German immigrant who tried out a handful of odd jobs before opening his own brewery. After working on sugar cane and cotton plantations and performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Herman opened a beer stand at the Chicago 1893 World’s Far.
Specializing in German cuisine, this is the spot to head if you’re the type of diner who enjoys drinking large beers out of equally large steins. The menu features traditional items, such as spatzleknodel, pierogis and soft Bavarian pretzels.
Italian beef is to Chicago what thin-crust pizza is to New York City and the media noche is to Miami. If you’ve never eaten an Italian beef sandwich, a trip to Chicago is the perfect excuse to expand your horizons. It all starts with a Italian roll, stuffed with seasoned roast beef and peppers. The beef is simmered for hours in a gravy that’s spooned over the sandwich before serving.
Established in 1938, Al’s is one of the few Italian beef restaurants to still be in business since the dish was invented in the 1930s. In fact, Al’s claims to be the first establishment to start selling Italian beef in the city. In addition to the famed dish, they also serve up some other favorites, including Polish sausage, gourmet salads and tamales.
You could order the Polish sausage at Al’s Italian beef, or you could order one from a shop that’s been specializing in them since 1943. Originally opened by Jimmy Stefanovic, it’s the longest continually operating hot dog stand on Maxwell Street.
To get the perfect balance of sweet, spicy and salty, Jim’s adds a handful of “secret” ingredients to the sausages. Each sausage is placed on a soft bun and topped with sweet onions and sport peppers. Though some may consider this a hot dog, Jim’s calls it a sausage sandwich. Jim’s is also known for its pork chop sandwich, served on a bun with sweet onions, mustard and peppers. All sandwiches come with a paper bag full of hot fries.
How could we make a list of the best historic restaurants in Chicago without mentioning a cafeteria-style lunch counter? Valois opened in 1921 and was the brainchild of chef William Valois, who previously worked at the Chicago Beach Hotel. Though the restaurant has changed hands many times over the years, not much else has changed. The place still serves a similar menu to the one it opened with. Food is still served on cafeteria-style trays. The awning still encourages guests to, “See Your Food.”
Menu items include daily specials, a large selection of breakfast items and old-school desserts (like Jello and cherry cobbler).
If you need yet another reason to head down to “The Valoys” as locals call it, consider this: it’s one of President Obama’s favorite lunch spots.