7 Classic Chicago Restaurants You Shouldn't Miss
By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 2, 2016 6:13PM
Chicago's restaurants scene is booming, and new, trendy spots open every single day of the week. But more and more, we find ourselves drawn to the old classics, the places that have stood the test of time. They may not have all the current fine dining bells and whistles, though you may be surprised about how "trendy" they actually are, as old school staples like relish trays, raw bars and tableside service slowly come back into vogue. But they're all utterly reliable; that's the only way you keep a place going for generation after generation.
Here are 7 of our favorite classic dining spots in Chicago. Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know by commenting.
Calumet Fisheries has been smoking fresh seafood in its tiny bridgeside shack since 1948, and honestly, I think it keeps getting better. Since they got national attention from Anthony Bourdain and the James Beard awards, the place has had something of a second life, with lines out the door and cars parked down the block on some weekends. They smoke their fish right out back (you can smell it, and if you ask, they'll probably let you go take a look) and some of it still comes from Great Lakes fisheries. While that smoked fish is the traditional staple, I always bring home a pound of smoked shrimp and make sure to get some fried fish for the ride home.
Calumet Fisheries is at 3259 E. 95th St.
I'm willing to bet that most Chicagoans have walked past the facade of the Italian Village in the loop, but have you ever actually been inside? This iconic establishment (opened in 1927) is actually three restaurants in one: La Cantina, the wine cellar, Vivere, the spot for more modern Italian, and The Village, the place that everyone goes for their first visit. The food here is still incredibly solid, and the wine list is, we are told, a place to find very well-priced Italian bottles that not many other places carry. Next time you cruise by, check it out.
Italian Village is at 71 W. Monroe.
Ethnic spots don't always make it onto the lists of Chicago's "classic" restaurants, but one look at Won Kow will change your mind. Opened in 1928, Won Kow is Chicago's oldest Chinese restaurants, and it still has some menu staples (chop suey, anyone) that have been dropped from just about everywhere else. You wouldn't necessarily think it's that old, given its huge new sign, but look past the sign to the carvings around the door, and you'll get the idea that this place wasn't built yesterday. It's got a huge menu of every chinese staple you can think of, but it's known for fresh seafood, tiki-themed drinks and dim sum.
Won Kow is at 2237 S. Wentworth Ave.
Via Geja's Cafe
Any friend of mine will instantly know that I'm the one writing this list because of the inclusion of this nearly 50-year old Chicago fondue spot. It has won every award ever for "Most romantic restaurant," and that's totally accurate—as long as you don't mind your date smelling like oil on your way out of the restaurant. That being said, the ambiance is perfect, the wine list is extensive and somehow, I keep find myself going back year after year. If you're looking to save a little cash, it's easy to fill up on the "cheese and chocolate" option and skip the expensive meats and veggies.
Geja's is at 340 W. Armitage Ave.
Photo via Chicagoist Flickr user Elena Kovalevich
I don't usually recommend restaurants with mediocre food in these pages, and I know I said up above that all of these restaurants are incredibly reliable. Well, this may be the exception, unless you read that to mean "reliably not great." But here's the thing: once you're seated in that classic, giant-ceilinged room, especially if there's a giant Christmas tree next to you during the holiday season, you won't care that the cuisine isn't spectacular. I prefer breakfast, as it's a bit less complicated and, blessedly, less expensive, but you can feel the ghosts inside this 110 year old Marshall Field's restaurant no matter what time of day you visit.
The Walnut Room is at 111 N. State St.
This super-old school Italian spot on West Irving Park hasn't changed much in almost 50 years, and yet it still is fully booked every single weekend. Former Chicagoista Lizz Kannenberg once put it best: "If you ever wanted (or needed) to recreate the scenario from the first season of Mad Men where Don gets Sterling hammered on vodka martinis and stuffed full of oysters over lunch, Sabatino's would be he place to stage your scene." There's still food prepared tableside (including one of my favorite old fashioned dishes, steak diane, swimming in shallots and mustard) and if you're looking for a plate of pasta that can't be beat, Sabatino's won't let you down.
Sabatino's is at 4441 W. Irving Park Road.
< ahref="https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoPizzaAndOvenGrinder/photos/pb.100868569958210.-2207520000.1470161400./1182405348471188/?type=3&theater">via Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
Chicago Pizza and Oven Ginder Company
While the name is a bit of a misnomer (the cheesy baked wonders that they serve here are not, in any universe, pizza), this wood-paneled basement spot in Lincoln Park, open since the early '70s, is one of my favorite indulgences in the city. Order a bottle of wine (less than $20), a salad the size of a small child and a "pizza" filled with mushrooms the size of tennis balls and go to town. Just don't expect to get anything done for the rest of the day after you leave.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company is at 2121 N. Clark St.