Unique Restaurants in Chicago: 12 Quirkiest Chicago Eateries

by Jen
Unique Restaurants in Chicago
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Are you looking for the most unique restaurants in Chicago? Here are 12 of Chicago’s best places to eat that you won’t be able to resist!

Welcome to Chicago! Beyond the towering skyscrapers and the rhythmic beats of jazz lies a food scene that’s as diverse as the city’s rich tapestry of cultures. While many fly here for the iconic deep-dish pizzas and classic hot dogs, there’s a whole world of flavors waiting to be explored.

From the vibrant streets of the Magnificent Mile to the picturesque views along Lake Michigan, Chicago boasts unique eateries that are both intriguing and delightful. Each spot, whether a bustling downtown hub or a quiet corner cafe, offers something special. It’s a blend of passion, innovation, and a touch of the unexpected.

For those with an adventurous palate, Chicago promises a thrilling ride. You’ll find places that transport you with their authentic global flavors and others that surprise with their inventive dishes.

If you’re eager to dive into some of the best places to eat in Chicago and venture beyond the usual, this guide is for you. We’re about to explore a selection of eateries that stand out in the city’s vast culinary landscape. Ready to discover what makes dining in Chicago truly unforgettable? Here’s all you need to know about the most unique restaurants in Chicago, IL.

The top restaurants to visit in Chicago right now
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Unique Restaurants in Chicago: 12 Trendy Chicago Eateries

Are you ready to discover the most unique restaurants in Chicago? As previously noted, there’s a large range of places to eat in Chicago that cater to all tastes and budgets. Keep reading to find out where to eat in Chicago, Illinois for a unique dining experience.

Are you looking for a luxurious evening with panoramic city views? Or would you prefer a quirky diner with a side of nostalgia? Whatever your palate desires, Chicago can accommodate your needs. Here’s your in-depth guide to the most unique restaurants in Chicago.

1. SafeHouse Chicago

Dive into a world of intrigue at SafeHouse Chicago, a spy-themed restaurant that promises an experience like no other. Located near the bustling Magnificent Mile in the River North area, this spot is not your typical eatery. From the moment you arrive, you’re immersed in a covert mission. Forget simply walking in; guests are greeted with a unique entrance process that involves a secret password and a clearance test.

Inside, the walls are adorned with spy memorabilia, transporting diners to a world of international espionage. The menu boasts a delightful array of dishes, each with its own codeword. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic burger or something more exotic, SafeHouse Chicago delivers with a twist.

It’s not just about the food, though. The ambiance, the interactive elements, and the thrill of being part of a secret mission make this one of the most unique places in Chicago to eat. Perfect for families, groups, or even solo diners looking for an adventure, SafeHouse Chicago is a dining experience you won’t soon forget!

SafeHouse Chicago is one of the unique restaurants in Chicago.
SafeHouse Chicago, a spy-themed restaurant near Magnificent Mile, where a secret entrance and clearance test await.

2. Alinea

Tucked away in Lincoln Park, Alinea is where culinary dreams come alive. It’s not your everyday upscale restaurant; it’s an imaginative journey through a world of flavors. With a 15-course menu, every dish is a delightful surprise, blending the spicy allure of Thai with the sophisticated charm of French cuisine.

But the real showstopper? Molecular gastronomy. Imagine savoring a dessert that seems to dance on your plate or an entrée that playfully challenges your culinary expectations. This innovative approach, combined with impeccable presentation, has solidified Alinea’s reputation as one of Chicago’s most unique restaurants.

For those with a taste for the extraordinary, Alinea offers a dining experience that’s both a visual feast and a gastronomic delight. It’s a place where food, art, and science converge, promising an evening that’s as enchanting as it is delicious. So, if you’re in the mood for a culinary adventure that’s a cut above the rest, Alinea awaits.

Alinea in Lincoln Park: where flavors blend in a 15-course imaginative journey, fusing Thai spice with French charm. | Source: https://www.alinearestaurant.com/
Alinea in Lincoln Park: where flavors blend in a 15-course imaginative journey, fusing Thai spice with French charm. | Source: https://www.alinearestaurant.com/

3. The Wiener’s Circle

Welcome to The Wiener’s Circle, a no-frills spot in Lincoln Park that’s an iconic part of Chicago’s food scene. Forget the glitz and glamour; this is where you come for an honest-to-goodness Chicago-style hot dog, served up with a side of playful banter.

The charm of The Wiener’s Circle isn’t just in its delicious hot dogs or crispy fries, but in its genuine, unpretentious atmosphere. The staff often have cheeky exchanges with patrons, making every visit memorable. It’s this mix of great food and spirited interactions that has locals and tourists alike coming back for more.

Affordable? Absolutely. The prices here won’t break the bank, making it a favorite for those looking for a tasty bite without the hefty price tag. It’s places like The Wiener’s Circle that showcase the heart and soul of Chicago’s culinary landscape.

For an authentic taste of the city, paired with a dose of good-natured humor, this is the spot to hit. Dive into one of the best cheap eats in Chicago, IL, and leave with a story to tell.

Experience The Wiener's Circle, Chicago's iconic no-frills hot dog spot in Lincoln Park, with honest-to-goodness flavor and playful banter.
Experience The Wiener’s Circle, Chicago’s iconic no-frills hot dog spot in Lincoln Park, with honest-to-goodness flavor and playful banter.

4. Three Dots and a Dash

Escape the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s streets and step into a tropical paradise at Three Dots and a Dash. This tiki bar-inspired restaurant in River North is a vibrant oasis that transports diners straight to the islands. It’s a super romantic spot, making this a great place to visit for couples.

From the moment you walk in, you’ll notice a canopy of colorful lights, bamboo decor, and island music. But the real star of the show? Their extensive menu of exotic cocktails. From fruity concoctions served in unique mugs to drinks that come with a fiery presentation, every sip is a mini vacation.

And let’s not forget the food. With a menu inspired by island flavors, dishes like coconut shrimp and Polynesian ribs promise to tantalize your taste buds. It’s the perfect blend of flavors to complement your drink.

If you’re seeking a dining experience that’s both fun and flavorful, Three Dots and a Dash is a must-visit. It’s a slice of tropical heaven right in the heart of Chicago, and unquestionably one of the coolest places in Chicago to eat. So, why wait for a vacation? Your island getaway is just a reservation away.

Escape to Three Dots and a Dash: a vibrant River North oasis, a tropical paradise away from Chicago's bustle.
Escape to Three Dots and a Dash: a vibrant River North oasis, a tropical paradise away from Chicago’s bustle.

5. Carnivale

Bright, bold, and bursting with life, Carnivale is Chicago’s answer to a Latin fiesta. Located in the West Loop, this restaurant is a sensory explosion from the moment you step in. Vivid colors, dynamic murals, and the rhythmic beats of Latin music set the stage for a dining experience that’s as lively as it is delicious.

Carnivale’s menu is a tribute to Latin American flavors. From succulent Argentinian steaks to zesty ceviche, every dish is a celebration of taste. And for those with a love for cocktails, the bar doesn’t disappoint. Think classic mojitos with a twist or a pisco sour that dances on your palate.

Moreover, Carnivale hosts regular events, from salsa nights to live performances, ensuring that the vibrant energy never fades. It’s a place that appeals to both the young and the young-at-heart, making it a favorite for celebrations or just a fun night out.

For anyone looking to experience the essence of Latin America without leaving Chicago, Carnivale is the place to be. It’s one of the best restaurants in Chicago which provides a journey to the heart of Latin culture.

In Chicago's West Loop, Carnivale is a vibrant Latin fiesta, exploding with color, music, and dynamic dining.
In Chicago’s West Loop, Carnivale is a vibrant Latin fiesta, exploding with color, music, and dynamic dining.

6. Sideshow Gelato

Looking for the best desserts in Chicago? Step right up to Sideshow Gelato, where the world of circuses and sweet treats collide! Nestled in the vibrant neighborhood of Logan Square, this quirky spot offers more than your average gelato. With a circus-themed interior, complete with vintage posters and playful decor, every visit feels like a step back in time to a quirky carnival.

The gelato flavors here are as adventurous as the ambiance. From classic favorites to daring new combinations, there’s gelato for every taste. They also serve up sorbets, affogatos, and other delightful desserts that promise to satisfy your sweet tooth.

And if you’re looking for unique things to do in Chicago, Sideshow Gelato hosts regular magic shows, juggling acts, and other circus-inspired performances. It’s a hit with both kids and adults, offering a delightful escape from the everyday.

For those in search of a dessert spot in Chicago that offers both mouthwatering treats and a dose of entertainment, Sideshow Gelato is a must-visit. Dive into the world of circuses and gelato and discover one of the hidden gem eateries in Chicago.

For Chicago's best desserts, visit Sideshow Gelato in Logan Square: where circus charm meets sweet treats in a quirky, vintage carnival setting. | Source: https://sideshowgelato.com/
For Chicago’s best desserts, visit Sideshow Gelato in Logan Square. | Source: https://sideshowgelato.com/

7. Schwa

In the heart of Wicker Park, Schwa breaks the mold of traditional fine dining. This unique Chicago restaurant surprises diners with its casual atmosphere juxtaposed with a meticulously crafted 12-course meal. The ambiance is relaxed, yet every dish exudes sophistication and creativity.

What sets Schwa apart is its hands-on approach. Chefs double as waitstaff, serving dishes they’ve personally prepared. This direct interaction adds a personal touch, allowing diners to connect with the culinary minds behind their meals.

The menu is ever-evolving, reflecting seasonal ingredients and the chef’s inspirations. From avant-garde presentations to unexpected flavor combinations, each course showcases culinary innovation.

Schwa offers an intimate dining experience, making reservations a hot commodity, so it’s a good idea to book in advance. If you’re keen on exploring the cutting edge of Chicago’s culinary scene, Schwa awaits with an experience that’s both intimate and groundbreaking.

In Wicker Park's heart, Schwa redefines fine dining with a casual vibe and a meticulously crafted 12-course meal that balances sophistication and creativity.
In Wicker Park’s heart, Schwa redefines fine dining with a casual vibe and a meticulously crafted 12-course meal that balances sophistication and creativity.

8. The Waterfront Café

On the shores of Lake Michigan, The Waterfront Café offers diners a picturesque escape from the city. Located within Berger Park in Edgewater, this laid-back eatery boasts panoramic views of the lake, which makes it a favorite spot for both locals and tourists.

The ambiance is relaxed and breezy, with outdoor seating that lets you soak in the sun and the gentle sounds of lapping waves. The menu is a delightful mix of classic American fare and fresh seafood options. From juicy burgers to fresh salads and fish tacos, there’s something to satisfy every craving.

Evenings at The Waterfront Café are particularly enchanting, with the setting sun casting a golden hue over the waters. Live music events and performances add to the charm, making it a perfect spot for a casual date night or a family outing.

Offering delicious food without the hefty price tag, and with views that are hard to beat, The Waterfront Café stands out as one of the most scenic places in Chicago to eat. It’s a little slice of beachside paradise right in the heart of the city.

The Waterfront Café at Berger Park in Edgewater is a serene escape with panoramic lake views, drawing locals and tourists alike.
The Waterfront Café at Berger Park in Edgewater is a serene escape with panoramic lake views, drawing locals and tourists alike.

9. Big Star

Tacos, tequila, and tunes — Big Star in Wicker Park is a lively joint that captures the essence of a honky-tonk bar with a modern twist. With its open-air patio, string lights, and vibrant atmosphere, it’s a magnet for those looking to enjoy good food in a laid-back setting.

The menu is a nod to Mexican street food. It features a variety of tacos that range from classic al pastor to inventive options like roasted cauliflower. Pair your meal with their selection of whiskeys or a refreshing margarita, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect evening.

Big Star is also known for its vinyl collection. The tunes spinning in the background, handpicked from an array of genres, add to the eatery’s eclectic charm. It’s the perfect spot for music (and food) lovers!

Affordable and always buzzing with energy, Big Star offers a taste of Chicago’s vibrant nightlife. It’s a destination where food, music, and good vibes converge, making it one of the most unique restaurants in Chicago.

Big Star in Wicker Park is one of the unique restaurants in Chicago.
Big Star in Wicker Park: A modern honky-tonk with tacos, tequila, and a laid-back vibe.

10. The Charnel House

The Charnel House is an experience that blurs the lines between food, art, and performance. Housed in a converted Logan Square church, this venue is unique because it doubles as a performing arts space. It offers avant-garde theater and music performances alongside its culinary offerings.

The Gothic architecture, with its high ceilings and stained-glass windows, sets the tone for an evening that’s both mysterious and enchanting. The menu, though compact, is curated to complement the evening’s performance. Each dish is thoughtfully crafted, with ingredients and presentation chosen to evoke the themes and emotions of the show.

Dining at The Charnel House is interactive. The performers often engage with diners, making you feel like you’re part of the act. It’s this immersive experience that sets the restaurant apart. Every visit offers a different performance, ensuring that no two nights are the same.

In a city filled with dining options, The Charnel House stands out as a place where food and art intertwine. It’s a testament to Chicago’s vibrant arts scene and its innovative culinary landscape. As such, it’s one of the unique Chicago restaurants that I recommend to every visiting the city.

The Charnel House in Logan Square blurs food, art, and performance, housed in a converted church with avant-garde theater and music. | Source: https://www.choosechicago.com/
The Charnel House in Logan Square blurs food, art, and performance, housed in a converted church with avant-garde theater and music. | Source: https://www.choosechicago.com/

11. Ed Debevic’s

Step into the vibrant world of Ed Debevic’s, Chicago’s retro diner that’s a blast from the past. Located in the heart of River North, this eatery captures the lively essence of the ’50s and ’60s. Neon lights, vintage jukeboxes, and classic Americana decor set the stage for a memorable dining experience.

But the real charm of Ed Debevic’s is the entertaining staff. Waiters serve up playful banter, dance routines, and cheeky humor alongside classic American comfort food. Join in the fun, engage in the antics, and be prepared for a dining experience unlike any other.

The menu offers a nostalgic journey with dishes like juicy burgers, creamy milkshakes, and crispy fries. Every bite transports diners to simpler times, making each visit a delightful trip down memory lane.

Offering a unique blend of food, fun, and flair, Ed Debevic’s stands out as a top pick among the unique restaurants in Chicago, IL. Your tastebuds will thank you!

Ed Debevic's in River North: a '50s-'60s retro diner blast with neon lights, vintage jukeboxes, and classic Americana
Ed Debevic’s in River North: a ’50s-’60s retro diner blast with neon lights, vintage jukeboxes, and classic Americana

12. Everest

Perched on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Everest provides a dining experience that’s truly elevated in every sense. With panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, this restaurant is a destination for those marking life’s most memorable moments.

The ambiance is sophisticated and intimate, with elegant decor and soft lighting setting the tone for a night of indulgence. Chef Jean Joho, at the helm, crafts dishes that are both visually stunning and palate-pleasing. Using the finest ingredients, many sourced from his personal garden, each dish tells a story of tradition, innovation, and passion.

From the delicate amuse-bouches to the decadent desserts, the menu at Everest showcases the art of French cooking. Paired with an extensive wine list, featuring some of the world’s most sought-after vintages, every meal becomes a celebration.

For those seeking luxurious and unique fine dining in Chicago, Everest is the pinnacle. It’s not just about the food or the views – it’s about the memories created, which makes Everest one of the best Chicago restaurants perfect for special occasions.

Everest on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange offers an elevated dining experience with panoramic skyline views. | Source: https://www.opentable.ca/
Everest on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. | Source: https://www.opentable.ca/

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Most Unique Restaurants in Chicago

Are you searching for more information about where to eat in Chicago? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about Chicago’s most unique restaurants.

What is the most iconic food in Chicago?

The most iconic food in Chicago is the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and the Chicago-style hot dog. For the deep-dish pizza, characterized by its thick crust and rich tomato sauce on top, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is a top choice among locals and tourists alike. As for the Chicago-style hot dog, a beef frankfurter loaded with a specific set of toppings, Portillo’s is a renowned spot to savor this classic. Both dishes are emblematic of Chicago’s culinary heritage and are essential tasting experiences for anyone visiting the city.

What’s unique about Chicago’s dining scene?

Chicago’s dining scene is a melting pot of cultures, flavors, and culinary innovations. From the avant-garde presentations at places like Alinea to the deep-rooted traditions of Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs, there’s a diverse range of unique restaurants in Chicago. This blend of tradition and innovation, set against the backdrop of Chicago’s rich history and architectural beauty, makes its dining scene truly unparalleled.

Where can I find the best cheap eats in Chicago, Illinois?

Chicago caters to all budgets without skimping on taste. The Wiener’s Circle in Lincoln Park is known for its iconic hot dogs. Alternatively, Big Star in Wicker Park offers flavorful tacos at great prices. These spots showcase that quality dining doesn’t always come with a hefty price tag.

What street food is Chicago known for?

Chicago’s street food scene is as diverse as the city itself, offering a range of options that reflect its rich cultural heritage. Here are some of the street foods that Chicago is particularly known for:

  1. Chicago-Style Hot Dog: This is perhaps the most iconic street food in Chicago. It’s an all-beef hot dog served on a poppy seed bun and topped with a variety of condiments like mustard, onions, relish, tomato slices, pickles, sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt. Remember, ketchup is generally considered a faux pas on a Chicago-style hot dog.
  2. Italian Beef Sandwich: This sandwich features thinly sliced, seasoned roast beef soaked in its own juices and served on an Italian roll. You can get it “wet” (extra gravy) or “dry,” and it’s often topped with giardiniera or roasted sweet peppers.
  3. Elotes: Reflecting the city’s significant Mexican population, elotes are grilled corn on the cob slathered in mayonnaise, sprinkled with chili powder and cheese, and served with a lime wedge.
  4. Polish Sausage: Another nod to the city’s Eastern European heritage, Polish sausages are a popular street food item, usually grilled and served with sauerkraut and mustard.
  5. Tamales: Another popular Mexican street food, tamales in Chicago come in various flavors, including pork, chicken, and cheese, wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection.

Are there any scenic dining spots in Chicago, IL?

Chicago’s location by Lake Michigan offers several dining spots with mesmerizing views. The Waterfront Café, for instance, is a serene spot right on the shores, perfect for a relaxed meal. For those seeking a cityscape view, Everest on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange provides a panoramic vista of the skyline, which makes it one of the top scenic places in Chicago to eat.

Chicago, by Lake Michigan, boasts dining spots with mesmerizing views.
Chicago boasts dining spots with mesmerizing views.

Are there any restaurants with entertainment in Chicago?

Chicago is home to several eateries that blend dining with entertainment. Ed Debevic’s is renowned for its retro ambiance, where waiters engage in playful banter and spontaneous dance routines. The Charnel House stands out for its avant-garde theater and music performances, offering an immersive experience that goes beyond the plate.

While there are numerous online resources, this article is a curated guide that highlights a mix of renowned eateries and lesser-known treasures. From upscale dining at Everest to the quirky charm of Sideshow Gelato, this list ensures a diverse and memorable culinary journey, serving as your personal Chicago restaurant guide.

What’s famous to eat at Chicago?

Chicago is a food lover’s paradise, known for its diverse culinary offerings. Here are some of the most famous foods you should try when in the Windy City:

  1. Deep-Dish Pizza: This is perhaps the most iconic Chicago food. Unlike traditional pizzas, the deep-dish has a thick crust that forms a deep “dish.” This allows for layers of cheese and chunky tomato sauce.
  2. Chicago-Style Hot Dog: A Chicago dog is a steamed or boiled all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun. It’s topped with mustard, green relish, chopped onions, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. Ketchup is a no-no on a true Chicago dog.
  3. Italian Beef Sandwich: Thin slices of seasoned roast beef, dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll, often garnished with Chicago-style giardiniera (pickled vegetables) or sautéed, green Italian sweet peppers.
  4. Garrett Popcorn: Known for its “Garrett Mix,” a combination of cheddar cheese and caramel popcorn, this is a must-try snack.
  5. Jibarito: A sandwich made with flattened, fried green plantains instead of bread, filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.

Are there fine dining options in Chicago that offer a unique experience?

For occasions that call for something extra special, Everest is a prime choice. Located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, it offers an exquisite French menu, impeccable service, and breathtaking views of the city. The ambiance is sophisticated, making it a top pick for fine dining in Chicago and ensuring an evening to remember.

Final Comments on Chicago’s Unique Restaurants

Chicago is a city that never ceases to amaze. Beyond its skyscrapers and theaters lies a culinary landscape that’s as diverse and dynamic as the city itself. From the towering layers of a deep-dish pizza to the playful banter of waiters in retro diners, every meal in this city tells a story. It’s a tale of traditions passed down through generations, of chefs pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on a plate, and of diners seeking out new experiences and flavors.

This guide has taken you on a journey through some of the most unique places to eat in Chicago, from the upscale elegance of Everest to the quirky charm of Ed Debevic’s. But this is just the tip of the culinary iceberg. The city’s dining scene is vast, ever-evolving, and waiting to be explored. So, the next time you find yourself wandering the streets of the Windy City, let your appetite be your guide. Dive into its diverse eateries, savor its iconic dishes, and discover for yourself why Chicago truly is a food lover’s paradise.

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