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  • Balena

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Balena Details

  • Dining Style: Casual Dining
  • Website: http://balenachicago.com/
  • Email: Info@bokagrp.com
  • Phone: (312) 867-3888
  • Hours of Operation: Open for Dinner Monday through Thursday 5pm until 10pm.

    Friday and Saturday the kitchen is open until 11pm.

    Saturday and Sunday the kitchen opens at 4:30pm.
  • Payment Options: AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
  • Cuisine: Italian, Pizzeria
  • Executive Chef: Chris Pandel
  • Dress Code: Casual Dress
  • Accepts Walk-Ins: Yes
  • Additional Details: Bar Dining, Beer, Chef's Table, Farm to Table, Full Bar, Non-Smoking Restaurant, Personal wines welcome, Personal wines welcome (corkage fee applies), Private Room, Wine

Getting there

  • Cross Street: North Ave
  • Parking: Valet
A word from Balena
Balena is first collobaration between Boka Restaurant Group and The Bristol Group. Led by Execeutive Chef/Partner Chris Pandel, the restaurant serves what he calls "Honest, Italian cooking." Balena's many accolades include Best New Restaurants in America by Gayot and Bon Appetit, 3 stars by the Chicago Tribune, and a James Beard semi-fnailist position for Best New Rstaurant at the James Beard Awards.Continued
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Diner Reviews
  • "What stood out for me was the excellent service and very knowledgeable wait staff. I would go back for the service for sure. The food was very good, but tough for those needing gluten free selections."
    Dined on 4/5/2014
  • "I always enjoy Balena for the creative food and good service, as well as a pleasant ambiance. On this visit we ordered the spicy pepperoni pizza, which was a big mistake. I like spicy foods, but this was way over the top. I really didn't know that pepperoni could be this spicy/hot. The pizza crust was great, but the pepperoni was basically inedible. I doubt that it will appeal to many people. Next time we'll stick to the margherita!"
    Dined on 4/13/2014
  • "I went here for the 2nd time, this time bringing along 2 first timers and it again did not disappoint. I just got a beer and the other folks got wine and there were no complaints there. We started with a meat platter and it was outstanding. We then got 2 pasta dishes, they were both simple but very delicious.. especially the bevetta (don't recall exact name) but it was just red sauce with basil, garlic and olive oil and it was unbelievable. We got the pepperoni pizza again and that is excellent. We ended with the hangar steak (medium rare) and it was perfect. Our waiter was also very knowledgeable and gave us a little history of the particular cut. Overall, cementing itself as one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago!"
    Dined on 4/11/2014
  • "Balena was a great experience. Wife and I was visiting Chicago and went with another couple from Chicago. great ambiance! Located in a great area of the city. We enjoyed the wine list and food. We would recommend this place base on atmosphere, ambiance and location."
    Dined on 4/12/2014
  • "We had dinner before a play at Steppenwolf. The hostess and our waitress both acknowledged this. Our waitress disappeared for long stretches. The Sommelier left our bottle of wine at the server's stand because of limited space on the table. Several minutes after we finished our glasses, we were still waiting for more wine. We finally got up from the table and served ourselves. For a restaurant that gets much of its business from the pre-theater crowd, the service and pacing was horrible. We arrived at 5:45, and had to rush out for the 7:30 play, without time for dessert. If you're going to the theater after dinner, do yourself a favor and go to Vinci - they will make sure you enjoy your meal, with good service and efficient service."
    Dined on 4/12/2014
  • "Nice drinks, great food. It's a neat place inside. My only suggestion is fresh bread before or with meal would be a plus. Barata appetizer without bread is a no no for me. Otherwise had a great experience. Drink service seemed a little slow. Would definitely return. Unique and super tasty dishes."
    Dined on 4/12/2014
  • "Outstanding service and the food was delicious. Very energetic vibe but also quite romantic at the same time! The pizzas are perfect for sharing. Cocktails were skillfully made and very top shelf! We will definitely be back!!"
    Dined on 4/5/2014
  • "One of my favorite places to dine I Chicago. Fantastic food and atmosphere."
    Dined on 4/8/2014
  • "Although this was proclaimed to be one of the best new restaurants of 2013, the food was decent but not memorable. I think we should have stuck with pasta and pizza, which may the specialities here. The pasta course and dessert were quite good."
    Dined on 4/6/2014
  • "Appetizers: Smoked mackerel; Burata Pasta: Tagliolini nero -- with crab and sea urchin Entree: Bronzino -- terrific, whole fish, bones removed Desert: Semifredo Perfect service!"
    Dined on 4/6/2014
  • "My wife entertained some colleagues from out of town and everybody was blown away by their dining experience. Balena has become one of our go to venues. The staff is so warm and friendly that you feel like you are dining among family. The cocktails are fantastic and the food is consistently amazing. The service here is really as good as almost anywhere in Chicago and the pizzas and pastas are to die for (though virtually everything I have consumed here has been exquisite). Whether you are ordering organ meats or a nice steak everything is high quality and cooked to perfection, yet prices are very reasonable. Definitely my favorite Italian restaurant in Chicago and one of my very favorite overall venues in Chicago."
    Dined on 4/3/2014
  • "For my birthday this year, my husband took me to Balena-- and got us a seat at the Chef's Table. If you ever have the opportunity, be sure to take it. The food was absolutely delicious yet deceptively simple. We had a cheese plate with perfect accompaniments, take on carbonara, the daily special of halibut cheeks, squid ink pasta with sea urchin and crab, plus a cheesy onion side dish and chocolate panna cotta for dessert. Everything was delicious- I would gladly order every single item again. We wanted to try to fresh pizza, after watching them come out of the oven all night long, but couldn't eat another bite. The service was amazing-- everyone was polite, attentive, helpful. We absolutely will be back!"
    Dined on 3/24/2014
  • "Been here many times. Still one of my favorites in town. Have also brought many people here in the past. No complaints about our wait staff, food, environment etc. was running "5" minutes late in lincoln park traffic so called to inform the hostess. Many people don't do this but I feel it's considerate. Was told on the phone "hopefully you won't be more than 15 min late or we must give your table away because of our grace period." No real flexible niceness in the comment either. Half our party had never tried Balena yet. Hadn't even arrived there and they were ready to go elsewhere. Just a suggestion to them is to treat the people who don't call like this, not vice versa. We were 6 min late."
    Dined on 4/5/2014
  • "I don't get the big appeal of this place. It's not that it's bad, it is just fine, and not inexpensive. We had a pistachio pizza that was very good, but everything else was just -- fine, not remarkable. The worst aspect was the service. My wife is restricting her diet, and the waitress kept commenting on her choices and giving her backhanded compliments on her restraint, etc, which of course is actually rude. Then the waitstaff did their best to get us out and turn the table, which I really can't abide. I acknowledge we did stay a longish time, but I worked in the restaurant biz, and I know that sitters can seem a drag, but sometimes you just need to let them be, and be nice to them. At least if you hope they'll ever want to come back."
    Dined on 4/4/2014
  • "I would highly recommend this restaurant! The service was exceptional at the bar and after we sat down. We were celebrating my birthday and it was definitely a special experience. The chef accomodated special diet requests at the table and the food was amazing! We shared some pasta and pizza dishes and it was a fun way to eat! I would highly recommend this restaurant!"
    Dined on 4/2/2014
  • "Great pizza one of the best. Drinks are amazing specially the strawberry no. 1. Love the atmosphere."
    Dined on 4/1/2014
  • "we went for my partner's bday and the food, the service and even when we arrived the hostess wished him a happy birthday, there was a birthday card signed by the staff on the table. the server gave great suggestions on food, was attentive and the whole staff worked as a team to make sure water was full, wine glass was full and although it was a Tuesday and probably not as busy as a Friday or Saturday, the whole experience was top notch!!"
    Dined on 4/1/2014
  • "Great spot with an amazing menu of modern italian dishes."
    Dined on 3/28/2014
  • "we got the seat right by the kitchen. the waitress knew everything about the menu including the drinks. one of the best spots ive been to in chicago"
    Dined on 3/28/2014
  • "Took my wife here for her birthday. It was a phenomenal success. I left a note in my reservation letting them know it was her birthday and asking if they could leave a flower at the table or put a candle in the dessert, etc. They not only did both of those things, but they also had a birthday card at the table that the entire staff had signed! The service was amazing...super friendly and attentive without being overbearing. The food was delicious...by far the best restaurant fare we have had yet in Chicago. And prices were reasonable. We can't recommend this restaurant enough! A+"
    Dined on 3/27/2014
  • "We have been to Balena quite often when going to the nearby theaters. I don't mind the small portions since it makes me eat less --- which is advisable before sitting in a theater seat for a couple hours. But some people might think the prices are too high for relatively small portions."
    Dined on 3/25/2014
  • "Amazing and flavorful pasta, light pizza and really everything. Great environment. Have been twice so far and can't wait to go back!"
    Dined on 3/24/2014
  • "Service was fine - curious why one table whose birthday received cake and we did not. While they boast of Family Size Portions they must be feeding a table of kids under 5. Food was excellent and the presentation great."
    Dined on 3/24/2014
  • "Service was tremendous. Wonderful, patient server who guided us through the menu without making us feel like we were bothering him."
    Dined on 3/22/2014
  • "We took advantage of the special restaurant menu so we were limited to 2 selections for four courses. The duck liver appetizer was excellent and the pici pasta one of the best. The trout was extremely fresh and well filleted with no bones but I though the peanuts had a drying effect. A little olive oil, butter or maybe almonds (yes, almondine is too typical). I peanuts did not give the fish justice. The desserts were good but nothing special. cocktails were unique and fun. The wines were a bit pricey and the waiter recommended one immediately that was $125! a bit high."
    Dined on 3/21/2014
  • "The atmosphere at Balenas is great! Romantic or great for friends to gather- energetic, but you can still converse. Love the apertivo drinks! Amazing Italian wine list. We had great service and a delicious dinner, trying something from each category and sharing. Our favorite was the pork ragu pasta dish. And the vanilla gelato with expresso and mini donuts! YUM! Hope to return!"
    Dined on 3/22/2014
  • "I took a friend as a guest to my Steppenwolf season tickets and suggested we eat at Balena beforehand as neither of us had been. Easy enough to get a table and we were excited. My friend decided to have a fancy drink and ordered something that had little to do with what she thought she ordered. The waitress let her swap it out but was pretty icy after that. we shared a few plates and really enjoyed the food. my friend paid the bill but it was pretty pricy as i peeked at the total. would go back but be a bit for conscious of the prices - note that we could have ordered from the chef's prix fixe menu but we chose not to. happy eating!"
    Dined on 3/18/2014
  • "Balena is one of the best restaurants in Chicago for service; we always leave here impressed with how warm, personable & efficient all the staff are; this really enhances the dining experience. When you combine 1st class service with some really fantastic food & a chic ambiance you end up with venue that time after time provides an amazing dining experience. Everything I have consumed here has been incredible; the pizza is the best I have had anywhere, the 5 or 6 different pasta dishes have all been wonderful, the fish top notch as well - even the desserts are amazing. Balena is the total package & has rapidly become one of my very favorite restaurants. Inexpensive enough for a fun night out, but an experience worthy of a special occasion."
    Dined on 3/20/2014
  • "I was very happy with my dinner at Balena and so were the other 3 people with me. I advice fellow diners to try the cheese platter: it's heavenly. Among the starters, the zampone was also very good and the burrata is as fresh as I had in Puglia. The quality of pasta dishes varied: the rigatoni with pork ragù were too salty according to my dad and boyfriend. I had the Tagliolini Nero with sea urchin and they were fully enjoyable. The sauce was maybe a bit too rich and too little spicy for my taste, but other than that very good. The texture of the pasta was superb, in particular. Desserts are not outstanding and service was okay: our waiter kept forgetting to replenish our glasses as we finished the wine. Good spirits menu, esp. amaro."
    Dined on 3/18/2014
  • "It's a beautiful combination: the tastefully designed space, really interesting, Italian-inspired food, exceptionally good service, and reasonable prices. I'll be back."
    Dined on 3/18/2014
  • "We had diner at Balena on a Saturday night and we seated for our reservation without delay. The wine list is spectacular and the menu was superb. We had the cured meat plate, a pasta dish that was perfect for sharing and a pizza. The service was warm and friendly and very helpful when we had questions on the menus (wine and food). I hope next time we are in Chicago we are able to eat at Balena again."
    Dined on 3/15/2014
  • "What an amazing place, all the food was fantastic, the service was amazing, and the bill wasn't terrible either. Great mixology drinks in addition to an extensive wine list. Didn't have room for dessert but I hear it's amazing as well. Will definitely be back and we are going to make this the place we bring out-of-turners for sure."
    Dined on 3/14/2014
  • "Thank you Balena for making my parents 40th anniversary dinner special beyond belief! They are still talking about all the unique touches the staff put on their day ...from the warm & funny anniversary card, to spinning tunes straight from their 1974 wedding day...in one word AWESOME. And did I mention the food & drink? Our meals and cocktails were all spectacular (special high marks for the Manlino & Branzino). We look forward to dining again soon!"
    Dined on 3/16/2014
  • "A good choice for before a show at Steppenwolf. Food is good, with a unique menu. Nice pre-dinner mixers."
    Dined on 3/16/2014
  • "Dine here, you will not be disappointed. Everything from the vermouth to the tagliatelle to the hangar steak were mouth watering. Definitely a place to take the honey for some romance and excitement."
    Dined on 3/15/2014
  • "This place has a good vibe to it and the service and food live up to expectations. Nice interior and the leather chairs are very comfortable. Love the bistecca."
    Dined on 3/13/2014
  • "We have been told by several friends that we HAD to try Balena. Finally, we got around to trying it and are so happy we did. The restaurant itself is beautiful and HUGE. The hostess was really friendly both entering and leaving the restaurant. Our waitress was amazing, I wish I remembered her name. Her suggestions were fantastic, the meal timing was spot on. We will be back. We had the Burrata, which was a very generous portion as well as the arancini. Both were yummy. Then we had the Spagetti and the Gnocchi. The Spagetti was really good, but the Gnocchi was to die for. We finished off the meal with the donuts and hot chocolate, both of which were really good. You gotta try this place!"
    Dined on 3/12/2014
  • "Each one of our courses was completely underwhelming. I was really looking forward to the squid ink pasta, which had a lovely texture, but was so overpowered by the citrus that the uni and crab felt secondary. The pizza, admittedly a weird part of an Italian multi-course meal, was also sub-par. The crust was a bit wrong, and completely overpowered by scallions, despite it being a cheese and mushroom pizza. The beverages were pretty good, but I wouldn't recommend the food."
    Dined on 3/11/2014
  • "Balena is a nice restaurant and well staffed although our experience was not great. When our food came out many of the dishes were not hot and obviously had been sitting waiting to be delivered for a while. Some of the items came out wrong and one was missing. Drinks orders were also forgotten. The food quality was nice but would have been nicer when it was hot. The restaurant was not overly busy and my guess is they just werent on their game that nite. Our experience was disappointing."
    Dined on 3/9/2014
  • "We went before the theatre for a quick bite and we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was! The manager was very helpful in getting our order out quickly once we mentioned we were in a hurry in order to make the show. The pizza was outstanding. We went back after the show and enjoyed some more wine."
    Dined on 2/27/2014