Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood is an extremely vibrant part of town that has been booming with new residential housing over the last 12 years. It is also a huge tourist area consisting of the iconic Grant Park, Museum Campus (Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium), Soldier Field and Northerly Island. Since there is so much to entertain in this neighborhood, you will need to know where to get properly fed and caffeinated. Below are my picks for the Best Food and Drink in Chicago’s South Loop:
Note: Since the exact boundaries of the South Loop are often disputed, my list does NOT include Chinatown, University Village or restaurants that straddle the border of The Loop and the South Loop.
What: This colorful, family-owned, Spanish restaurant is my favorite spot in the South Loop. The hot and cold tapas are excellent, and there is live flamenco dancing on Saturday nights. They serve brunch on the weekends.
Where: 1530 S. State St.
What: This James Beard Foundation award semi-finalist is serving contemporary American cuisine. Oysters and tasting menus are available. I recommend the Acadia burger.
Where: 1639 S. Wabash Ave.
Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen
What: This South Loop icon has been serving traditional
Jewish deli meats and dishes to residents, police officers politicians and other movers and shakers since the early 1960s. It is a quintessential Chicago experience you should not miss. The pastrami, beef stew and soups are divine!
Where: 1141 S. Jefferson St.
What: Not all essential Chicago steakhouses are located in the River North neighborhood. For instance, Chicago Firehouse (a former firehouse from the turn of the century) is in the South Loop near Grant Park and McCormick Place Convention Center. It has been popular with United States Presidents, Chicago politicians, law enforcement, first responders and residents for 112 years! Lucky for me, it’s only one block from my apartment. Chicago Firehouse underwent renovations a year ago, after suffering a terrible fire (how ironic!). You can dine in the large bar area, rooms on the main floor and an outdoor patio. The second floor as rooms for private meals and catering, as well as another outdoor bar space. The lower level is being turned into a speakeasy. There’s a lot of history to soak up here, so check it out. They are open for weekend brunch as well as dinner.
Where: 1401 S. Michigan Avenue
Maxwell Street Polish (a.k.a Jim’s Original)
What: If you are craving one of the very best Polish sausages with perfectly grilled onions, head to this iconic stand in Chicago’s South Loop. It’s open 24 hours, and it’s the perfect place to satisfy your meaty cravings or soak up a night of alcohol.
Where: 1250 S. Union Avenue.
Rubi’s at Maxwell Street Market (SUNDAYS ONLY 365 days a year!)
What: Every Sunday from 7:30 am – 3 pm you can stroll this historic marketplace for produce, drill bits, clothing and, of course, the best Al Pastor tacos in Chicago. I recommend that you arrive just before 10:30 am to avoid the winding lines. The tortillas, meats and grilled veggies are made fresh on site. There are other food vendors at this market, but Rubi’s is the best!
Where: 800 S. Desplaines St.
The BEST al pastor in Chicago!
Get to Rubi’s Tacos early.
What: Café Bionda is a comfy, cozy Italian restaurant in the South Loop which is open for lunch and dinner. I enjoy the veal marsala and shellfish dishes. The wine list and staff are lovely.
Where: 1924 S. State St.
Light and lovely salmon at Cafe Bionda
What: Mercat a la Planxa is a taste of Barcelona located inside the historic Blackstone Hotel in the South Loop. The bacon-wrapped dates, Jamon salad, and entrees are all quite good. The floor to ceiling windows allows for a people-watching on Michigan Avenue, across from Grant Park.
Where: 638 S. Michigan Ave.
Jamon Iberico salad at Mercat a la Planxa
What: This pizza joint is the best outside of NYC! Thin crust but not paper thin. The sauce to olive oil to oregano ratio is spot on! Get it by the pie or slice. Do NOT miss the fulsome Greek salad because it’s the best in Chicago. I love to add avocado to it!
Where: 719 S. State St.
I love the garlic knots as well as the pizza at Pauly’s Pizzeria!
What: No trip to Chicago would be complete without a stop at Buddy Guy’s Legends for some live music by local and international artists. Buddy Guy is on site for his annual birthday bash between the end of July and the first week in August, as well as during the entire month of January from Thursday – Sunday. The menu here is an ode to Southern fare from catfish to jambalaya to burgers. Don’t forget to order a Buddy Beer before you leave!
Where: 700 S. Wabash Ave.
Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago’s South Loop is a must-do!
Eleven City Diner
What: If you are looking for a New York or New Jersey diner in Chicago, Eleven City Diner is the place to be. Bagels, omelets, patty melts fountain sodas and sundaes – this is the place! Get the matzo ball soup or a patty melt. The portions are huge. It’s busy at brunch, but this place is open all day long!
Where: 1112 S. Wabash Ave.
Everything bagel, cheese, and crunchy slaw is my happy place at Eleven City Diner
What: This cute Italian spot near Printer’s Row in the South Loop is a lovely respite that many Chicago residents and visitors miss. Don’t be one of them! The main dining room is cozy, but I like the sidewalk seating in the warmer months. This Italian restaurant is a nice change from the busier, obvious choices in Chicago.
Where: 616 S. Dearborn St.
Sofi in the South Loop near Printer’s Row
What: Looking for a cold cocktail, brown liquor or a cold beer in Printer’s Row? Kasey’s Tavern is an excellent choice in this historic section of the South Loop. It boasts Chicago’s second oldest liquor license!
Where: 701 S. Dearborn St.
Celebrating 43 years in business!
Armand’s Victory Tap
What: Victory Tap is an Italian steakhouse in the South Loop. Whether you belly up to the bar or grab a booth or high-top table, you can enjoy solid entrees in this old-school joint on South Michigan Avenue. It is open for lunch and dinner.
Where: 1416 S. Michigan Ave.
Blackened salmon at Armand’s Victory Tap in the South Loop
What: This time-weathered breakfast, brunch and lunch spot is steps from the Roosevelt ‘L’ stop, on the Red, Green and Orange Lines in the South Loop. The sweet side of the menu is truly cavity-worthy, and the savory side is delish!
Where: 1152 S. Wabash Ave.
What: The perfect donut spot when you are exiting the Roosevelt ‘L’ stop in the South Loop. If you like cakey donuts and good coffee, descend the stairs or escalator and turn into this tiny, sugary mecca for a sweet treat!
Where: 26 E. Roosevelt Rd.
The lemon-pistachio donut at Stan’s Donuts is a must-do!
What: A competitor among Chicago’s Best Brunches, Waffles has the goods in the form of waffles, pancakes, omelets and more. I like skipping the brunch crowd, though, and coming for breakfast or lunch.
Where: 1400 S. Michigan Ave.
Waffles in the South Loop
What: This is the answer to “Where do I go for good pub food and multiple plasma screens showing “the game” du jour. It’s loud, raucous and popular with locals and local sports stars. You never know who you are going to meet here. Get the grilled cheese!
Where: 1301 S. Wabash Ave.
The Scout has your sports games and pub food covered in the South Loop
Akirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House
What: Akhirah’s Praline is where you go when you want some house made pralines, beignets and other sweet treats that will have you craving a trip to New Orleans. The coffee is excellent, too.
Where: 1845 S. State St.
A taste of New Orleans at Akhirah’s Praline Candy and Coffee House
Overflow Coffee Bar
What: If you are looking to support a local business owner who is curating coffee drinks and pastries from local coffee roasters and bakeries, then Overflow Coffee Bar is a great spot to take a load off, mingle with the South Loop neighbors or get busy on your laptop. At Overflow, you will feel good that your coffee purchases support fair trade practices.
Where: 1550 S. State St.
Overflow Coffee Bar in the South Loop
Little Branch Café
What: This South Loop café is tucked inside one of the hi-rises east of Michigan Avenue, near Grant Park and the lakefront. It is my favorite neighborhood spot for morning coffee or a smoothie. Little Branch is a breakfast nook for locals in the area who are in-the-know. I love it because it is one of Chicago’s Hidden Eats. Most residents have no idea it’s there. Stop in before a concert in the park or a game at Soldier Field. I love to hunker down here on a winter day and watch the snowfall while I work and drink my java.
Where: 1251 S. Prairie Ave.
My sleepy little cafe is my favorite place for quiet morning coffee with great tunes
What: This burger respite and bar across from Grant Park open up for lunch through dinner. Get your burgers stacked, your mac ‘n cheese loaded and your beers and cocktails poured to your liking. If you’re heading to Lollapalooza, this is a great place to get out of the heat for a bit!
Where: 1150 S. Michigan Avenue
What: Yolk has been a breakfast, lunch and brunch haven in Chicago’s South Loop for many years. Therefore, be prepared to leave your name and wait for your table, if you choose to visit during brunch on the weekends. The South Loop location is so popular that more locations have opened around the city.
Where: 1120 S. Michigan Avenue
Yolk is a breakfast, brunch and lunch spot in the South Loop
Spoke & Bird
What: Spoke & Bird took over this South Loop location after another popular café departed a couple of years ago. While I enjoyed the food and Cuban coffee and its predecessor more, I still enjoy the quiet, tree-lined patio for my morning coffee or a light snack. The bonus is that the Chicago Women’s Garden (my favorite garden in Chicago) and Chicago’s oldest houses, Clarke House and Glessner Houser, both of which are open for tours, are located next door to Spoke & Bird. Stop by on your way to Soldier Field.
Where: 205 E. 18th St.
Dining al fresco at Spoke & Bird in Chicago’s South Loop adjacent to Chicago Women’s Garden
What: Kroll’s is a South Loop bar and grill which is perfect for those Soldier Field games and concerts because it is a short stroll east over the bridge toward the lakefront.
Where: 1736 S. Michigan Ave.
What: Reggies is a multi-level spot in the South Loop for good pub food, a music store, live bands and a rooftop with a pool table and a basketball hoop. Reggies offers free shuttle buses to Soldier Field and other music venues for big concert nights.
Where: 2109 S. State St.
Reggies is a great music and food venue in Chicago’s South Loop
These great restaurants, bars, and cafes in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood are accessible via the CTA Orange, Red and Green lines. The #3 King Dr., #4 Cottage Grove and #29 State buses make stops along Michigan Avenue and State St., respectively. The #12 Roosevelt, #18 Indiana, #146 Inner Drive and #6 Jackson buses serve the South Loop as well.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to get to these wonderful food and drink locations in Chicago’s South Loop. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!