Balena
Balena

Balena

  • Dining Style: Casual Dining
  • Website: http://balenachicago.com/
  • Phone: 3128673888
  • 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.
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Balena reviews from OpenTable diners
348 reviews since June 3, 2014
Overall Rating4.3
  • Food4.4
    Service4.3
  • Ambiance4.3
    Noise LevelModerate
90% of reviewers would recommend this restaurant to a friend.
fit for foodies (228)special occasion (172)neighborhood gem (148)romantic (139)notable wine list (126)hot spot (107)good for groups (100)vibrant bar scene (54)late-night find (17)kid-friendly (12)scenic view (6)great for outdoor dining (4)great for lunch (3)great for brunch (2)Show More
  • Great date spot
    OpenTable Diner Since 2014
    Dined on 9/27/2014
    Balena is a great spot for a swanky girls night out, or an intimidate date night. The ambience was beautiful and the food was perfect for sharing. I'd definitely recommend this place to friends.
    Special Features:
    hot spot, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Not Impressed
    OpenTable Diner Since 2014
    Dined on 9/27/2014
    I absolutely love trying new places around the city. I saw the reviews about Balena and was excited to try it. Unfortunately, our service was VERY slow. It took 3 and a half hours for four people to eat dinner, not to mention we had 1 app, 1 pizza and 1 meal at our table. It wasn't like we ordered a ton of food. The prawns were disgusting! The eyes were still on the shrimp and the aiolia sace was terrible. If I ever was forced to go back, I'd stick with their drinks--not the food.
    Special Features:
    romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Balena
    OpenTable Diner Since 2013
    Dined on 9/27/2014
    Pasta was quite salty. ( had the lamb pancetta) number one complaint is we must of had 4 different people serving us, so it was difficult to decide what/who to tip! Waitress changed from the beginning to another one, who was good at first, but then became MIA then we had the bartender, manager, and another server coming around. They need to figure this out, as it's confusing and not personal. Other than that, ambiance is great, pizza we had was good, and my friends meal was wonderful they said.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Excellent
    Ksheri1011
    Dined on 9/25/2014
    The food was incredible. The wine exquisite. Our waiter was personable and helpful. Great night!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, notable wine list, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Great food and perfect service
    Chicago
    Dined on 9/25/2014
    everything about the restaurant was great. Servers were always very atentative. We had food from each menu course. Favorite was the fresh rigatoni, beats were also great. The steak was done a bit rare for me, we ordered med but was rare. Desert was delicious. Great place.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • 5th time in
    OpenTable Diner Since 2010
    Dined on 9/25/2014
    This is by far one of my favorite spots in the city, I like to come in at least once a month and get my pasta and pizza craving fixed. There service is always great, we were here on a Thursday night and the place wasn't too buy so it was perfect for a quick drink and a small meal with a friend. We didn't feel rush, the server was attentive. Can't wait to return.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great Evening
    Eggs
    Dined on 9/21/2014
    Although I have been here numerous times,I have never been disappointed.Very consistant.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, great for outdoor dining, hot spot, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Hidden gem.
    KatieMarie1488VIP
    Dined on 9/21/2014
    Balena, despite its unimpressive outer facade, is beautiful inside and houses quite the ambiance. Highly recommend the pizza; underwhelmed by some of the other food. But excellent wine list and terrific atmosphere nonetheless. I was pleasantly surprised.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Location, Location, Location
    WrigleyFielder
    Dined on 9/21/2014
    Since this is right across from the Steppenwolf Theatre and a quick stroll from the North/Clybourne Red Line 'L' station, the convenience can't be beat. Great service allowed us to have an appetizer, main course, wine and dessert in < 75 mins. Tables designed for couples and groups of friends or family so it's all good. Disappointed with the brushetta selections being too experimental (tripe!) and no bread and olive oil opener, but thats just my taste. Trout was outstanding and fabulous extensive wine list with pictures of Italian wine regions will keep you wanting to try more. No patio seating or wine flights, but otherwise a winner.
    Special Features:
    neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • cjbacp
    Dined on 9/20/2014
    Overall very good food. No complaints in that department, and some dishes were top-notch. The smoked mackerel appetizer is a must, and both of our pastas were a must. I wouldn't recommend the pork dish, which came with a rather unimpressive sausage and pork-belly. The pork belly was expertly cooked, but the proportion of fat to actual meat was very disappointing. The pickled vegetables underneath were alright but nothing to salvage the price tag of the dish. Fantastic desserts and cocktails. As for service, our waitress was absolutely terrific. I deducted a star because we waited for maybe thirty-five minutes between our first dish and our main courses (for which our waitress was very apologetic and comped us dessert).
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, late-night find, notable wine list, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Poor service, mediocre food
    Hello3VIP
    Dined on 9/20/2014
    I went to his restaurant when it first opened and the service was horrible. I decided to give it another try since it had been opened for a while now. Not only was the service still bad, but the food was mediocre. The beet salad was awful and the pasta with kale was salty. It was also so noisy. I'm definitely not going back.
    Special Features:
    vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelCannot Recall
  • Good food / Okay service
    FromTheBurbs84
    Dined on 9/20/2014
    Food was great but our waiter seemed to forget about us halfway through the meal, which resulted in us not having time to get dessert (which we were really looking forward to) before we had to leave and make our theatre timeline. Even though we told the waiter specifically what time we had to leave by. Overall, would go back again when we are able to take our time and commit a full 2 hours to dining.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • normally love Balena but meh
    lovegoodfoodVIP
    Dined on 9/19/2014
    The menu is this fall is boring. not sure of it is a new chef but wound love to see some better dishes. the shrimp dish was terrible and all the sides just meager.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Yummy, but too noisy!
    Love2eatVIP
    Dined on 9/19/2014
    We really enjoyed the food ( leek, fontina cheese and mushroom pizza was awesome!), but it was very difficult to have a conversation, as the acoustics in the main dining area are really loud and amplify everything. I would only return if there were just 2 of us and we could be seated in an out of dining room area, otherwise you cannot hear anyone else at your table without yelling.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, late-night find, neighborhood gem, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • I would return
    Elf13
    Dined on 9/17/2014
    We took a chance on this restaurant on a recent trip to Chicago. We were pleased with our meal - the food was well prepared and service very good. Eating outside was very pleasant and we would definitely go back on a future trip.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, great for outdoor dining, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • great
    Paula
    Dined on 9/13/2014
    this was my second trip to Balena and i thoroughly enjoyed the food, atmosphere and service. it was a little loud.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Good but not great
    Fryan
    Dined on 9/13/2014
    The restaurant had been highly recommended but we were a bit disappointed. The food was good but not fantastic. The ambient noise levels were very high and it was difficult to chat at the table. The wines were very expensive, making the evening a quite expensive dining experience. We had an early booking and felt that they wanted us out quickly to allow turn a quick turnover.
    Special Features:
    hot spot
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelCannot Recall
  • Outstanding Service and Food
    ChristopherS
    Dined on 9/13/2014
    My wife and I dined at Balena on Saturday night to celebrate our wedding anniversary and were thrilled with our meal there. From the welcoming vibe at the front to the proficient but unrushed service and the spot-on food, we had a fantastic dining experience. Thanks for a great memory!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, notable wine list, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • One of my top ten meals of all time
    Mandi
    Dined on 9/12/2014
    I made a reservation at Balena at the suggestion of a friend who lives in Chicago. She said her "foodie" friend really likes it. Her "foodie" friend was correct. We had an outstanding meal! The most notable part of our experience was the outstanding customer service displayed by the management team when our table was not ready for our 8:30 p.m. reservation... The staff went above and beyond to compensate for our 15 minute wait - complimentary glasses of wine and three appetizers on the house. This was a special dinner for my party of four. My sister, from Minneapolis, my mom, from St. Louis, my college friend, from Chicago and myself, from Columbus, OH, were together for the first time in many years. Five star experience!!!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Always a home run
    MylesVIP
    Dined on 9/7/2014
    Never a swing and a miss here. Stopped in for some drinks and a pizza. As always the service and food were of the highest order.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Great every time
    locals
    Dined on 9/6/2014
    This is my third time eating at Balena and it's always so great. We got the pasta dish with sea urchin and crab meat and it was very good, it's a very unique flavor that you never really experience. We also got the pizza that has the pine nut (or pistachio?) pesto with a very thin prosciutto-esque meat on top and that was also outstanding. The duck fat potatoes were unreal, that was a real treat. The only thing that was somewhat forgettable was the chicken thing dish, but it was still very good. Overall, still one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • European night out
    OpenTable Diner Since 2010
    Dined on 9/6/2014
    I came here to celebrate my birthday with my husband and another couple. We had a delicious meal that was spread out over three hours of good conversation, great service and delicious food. Our waiter Linus, was very attentive, provided good recos, and didn't rush us in the least. We called it our "European dinner" because we were able to spreas it out and enjoy ourselves, and end it with a nice cappuccino. Overall, a great night was had by all!
    Special Features:
    good for groups, neighborhood gem, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great night
    OpenTable Diner Since 2008
    Dined on 9/6/2014
    Fantastic evening at the Chef's Table. Great food, fantastic service, and a great conversation with the chef. We will be back!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Crissybaby
    Crissybaby
    Dined on 9/5/2014
    Food was good, service was very good. It was difficult to converse, though, due to noise level
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelCannot Recall
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Overrated
    OpenTable Diner Since 2012
    Dined on 9/5/2014
    Based on the Zagat rating, we expected a great dining experience but were very disappointed. There were 3 of us and we shared the burrata which had some mushrooms on top. It had excellent texture but was tasteless. We have all had burrata before and the pairing with a balsamic, herbs or other flavors would compliment the burrata. But not here. We shared a salad which was ok but needed more lemon. The mushroom pizza was very good although it was heaped with green onions we had to partially remove to get to the other flavors. For dinner, we had prawns, the pork, and the chicken thighs. The consensus was ok, but nothing stood out. Again, the word tasteless came up. BUT, the cinnamon sugar donuts for dessert were outstanding!!
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Balena
    NotAFoodiePgh
    Dined on 9/3/2014
    We ate at 3 of the Top 85/Hot restaurants in Chicago during recent visit, and Balena was far and away the best experience. The food and service were both VERY good. Had the zucchini appetizer...excellent mix of tastes...minty, spicy...very tasty. The fried polenta was outstanding...nicely breaded, light texture (unusual for polenta) and served with robust tomato sauce and Dante cheese. The main course of bavette with pomodoro, olive oil and mozzarella was just slightly too al dente for my taste and, to be honest, nothing special...had a good taste but nothing memorable...would be better served with the sauce used with the polenta. My dining partner had the prawns with fried prawn heads and said they were excellent. Recommend a visit!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Food was top notch
    LeciVIP
    Dined on 8/31/2014
    We really enjoyed our dinner at Balena. The menu is a bit limited but every item on it was delicious. I especially loved the chicken thigh dish. The pizza was outstanding as well.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, romantic, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • SaraK
    Dined on 8/31/2014
    This was our first visit. I was really impressed. Everyone was so friendly, and gracious. The space itself is beautiful. What a nice find! Everything we ate was delicious - can't go wrong. We had a lovely meal with wonderful service. Will certainly be back!!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
  • Overpriced
    Citygal
    Dined on 8/30/2014
    Food was decent. Very accommodating of menu adjustments. Was shocked at the final bill. Shared a pizza and side, a couple cocktails a piece and over $100 for two people. There were several servers for our table - a different one delivered drinks and food, different water server and clearer. Despite all the attendants, we had to flag people down to get what we needed. A little disappointing especially for what we paid.
    Special Features:
    good for groups, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Disaster
    GJ12VIP
    Dined on 8/30/2014
    I ordered the pork dish, never dreaming that it would be served in shisk-ka-bob style with SARDINES between the pork cubes! As a result, the pork tasted very fishy! Sardines were never identified as an ingredient on the menu which is baffling since that's an ingredient most people would want to know about. Certainly, I would have ordered something else had it been identified. Zucchini salad was overbearing with garlic. Garlic should be used as a flavor enhancer, not as the basis of the meal. Unfortunately, the entire meal was a mess...however the server was kind and attentive, removing the bad pork entree from the check. Too many great Italian restaurants in Chicago who know how to cook Italian, wish I had avoided this one!
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Outstanding Service
    OpenTable Diner Since 2011
    Dined on 8/28/2014
    Great ambiance, terrific food, however the service is what really put them over the top. They were incredibly accommodating when there was an issue in the kitchen and the grill was no longer working - they were open and up front about the issue, helpful in trying to choose alternative options, then they comped our entire meal due to the inconvenience.
    Special Features:
    neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • OpenTable Diner Since 2010
    Dined on 8/28/2014
    Intended as a private note to restaurant: We live in Michigan and frequent Balena when we are in Chicago (3-4) times a year. We make a reservation, however, we either still wait to be seated or are seated at a table in an undesirable location (i.e., right next to the bar by the service station) even when other tables are available for the duration of our stay. This often makes us feel less than. You need to review your reservation policy. Thanks.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • SteveVIP
    Dined on 8/27/2014
    Good food in a nice atmosphere. Service was so so. Trout was excellent as was the Pizza.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, neighborhood gem, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Superlative Italian
    glenspeed
    Dined on 8/26/2014
    outstanding, eclectic menu, diverse wine list with excellent regional representations and price ranges. fantastic! on my list of must dine for Chicago.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, kid-friendly, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Great service, good food and noisy.
    TeddyVIP
    Dined on 8/26/2014
    You can hear each other across the table, but you have to speak up. The food is quite good and very interesting. Our waitress was excellent.
    Special Features:
    good for groups, hot spot, late-night find, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Best Italian in Lincoln Park
    Kristin
    Dined on 8/26/2014
    I lived in Lincoln Park for 10 years before recently relocating to Evanston. We miss the food so much we make special trips downtown just for Balena...cannot get enough of the cocktails, wine list and orecchiette pasta. We will be back again and again!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, late-night find, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Solid Italian
    ddhfVIP
    Dined on 8/23/2014
    We have been here twice, and the overall experience at Balena is very dependent on your server. The first time, our server was fantastic - he had great recommendations for dinner and was very attentive. On our second visit, the service was not as good. We waited a very long time after we ordered our wine, and had all but finished our first course before it arrived to our table. The management made up for it by sending a complimentary dish to our table and also comping our first bottle of wine. They were good about accommodating to food allergies. Overall, Balena has great food, but the service has room for improvement.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Great food
    luluchicagoVIP
    Dined on 8/23/2014
    We loved every dish we tried at Balena and had a hard time deciding what to order. The pastas were out of this world, and our main dishes (trout and chicken) were also fantastic. Our service was top notch, with the exception of one issue. We ordered a side dish to go with our entrees, but it never arrived. We were home for the evening before we remembered that we never got it, but were billed for it. Not the end of the world, but something to look out for.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Excellent Food & Service
    luv2dinewmykids
    Dined on 8/23/2014
    The service and food was excellent. Staff was top of there game. Best part it was child friendly.
    Special Features:
    kid-friendly, romantic, special occasion, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great food, service is slipping...
    Jeff0616VIP
    Dined on 8/22/2014
    I have been several times prior, the food is always phenomenal. We experienced consistent service issues from the time we walked into the door. Reservation was 830pm, we were told the table was finishing and to make ourselves comfortable at the bar. Finally seated at 9, table was right next to the kitchen and very warm upstairs, so we asked to be re-seated downstairs. Our waiter took awhile to great us, and was scattered from the beginning through to the end. Drinks were ordered and it took a craft cocktail 10 mins to arrive and our $100 bottle of wine 20 mins.... This continues throughout the meal. 3 hours for a 3 course dinner.... disappointing.
    Special Features:
    romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate