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  • Balena

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Balena Details

  • Dining Style: Casual Dining
  • Website: http://balenachicago.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
Foodspotting photos
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Diner Reviews
  • "Food was great, restaurant was very noisy and our service was disappointing. Waiter was very busy and spent most of his time with a couple next to us who were more interested in drinking expensive wine than eating. We felt seriously neglected."
    Dined on 7/10/2014
  • "My husband and I were visiting Chicago and would definitely go back to Balena on another visit. Delirious food, great service, very friendly and on top of everything. Cool spot! Good wine too"
    Dined on 7/10/2014
  • "Our waitress was great, very attentive, polite, and energetic. The appetizers and entrees were undersized and severely lacking in flavor and presentation at this price point. The desserts were good, and the drink menu is great too. Aside from the strange neon lights along one wall, the interior is quite gorgeous. I think Balena only remains open due to the affluent neighborhood. Stop by for drinks and dessert, but anything else will disappoint you."
    Dined on 7/9/2014
  • "The food seemed too fussy. I wanted a simple fresh tasty meal, and this wasn't the place. The chef is trying too gard to be different. Decor cool, staff very attentive. Food disappointing."
    Dined on 7/8/2014
  • "It's impossible to explain how good Balena is across all characteristics you expect from an amazing restaurant. My friend and I had a great time at Balena this weekend! The food and wine was fantastic, and the service was top-notch. You'll really appreciate your evening if you let the staff pick your meal for you. We did it, and both of us are still talking about the experience! After three unbelievable visits, Balena has secured itself as my new favorite restaurant in Chicago!!"
    Dined on 7/6/2014
  • "The food was delicious, the service was impressive and helpful. The bar selection is unparalleled."
    Dined on 7/3/2014
  • "Food was wonderful and service was fantastic! Linus was an excellent server!"
    Dined on 7/5/2014
  • "This Lincoln Park restaurant was not on our radar when heading to Chicago, but after reading reviews of other diners, we thought we would give it a "try". Great find. Food and service were outstanding, tried the craft cocktails and appetizers...great compliments to the beginning of a great meal."
    Dined on 7/5/2014
  • "I've been meaning to come hear for over a year. I should not have waited, my new favorite restaurant in Chicago."
    Dined on 7/4/2014
  • "Other than one side, the food was terrific. The pasta dish (forget the name but it included crab meat) was among the best that I have ever tasted. The problem was that our server was so inattentive. It was not a busy night, but our meal lasted over 2 hrs in part because of long gaps between her visits to table. As just one example, I ordered a drink. About 15 minutes later, she returned and asked if I would like something to drink. When I ordered the same drink, rather than own her mistake she lamely responded the bar was backed up. The remaining staff was quite good at their jobs. We felt sorry for the young man who worked with our waitress because he was very good and had to be wondering why his and her roles were not reversed."
    Dined on 7/4/2014
  • "This was our first time, and we were blown away. Everything about the restaurant was fantastic!"
    Dined on 6/7/2014
  • "We arrived at 5:40 planning to attend a performance at Steppenwolf, across the street. We are asked whether we were planning to attend Steppenwolf and confirmed. Although a server came to our table shortly after we were seated, our order wasn't taken until 15 minutes later. We ordered three courses, and the first two courses arrived within another 15 minutes or so. However, the third course had not appeared by 60 minutes after we were seated. After calling attention to our server and two floor managers (walking around with tablet computers but not really watching tables), we received profound apologies and after three rushed trips to the kitchen our main courses finally arrived at 6:50. We were comped for dinner."
    Dined on 7/3/2014
  • "Balena has been one of our local favorites since it opened. Great food, friendly service, and a nice wine list make this spot a pleasure to visit. Try the Bisteca, the Burrata Salad, the Halibut, and the Pizza. All good!"
    Dined on 7/1/2014
  • "Service was very good. Good was excellent. We will go back when we can. Great location."
    Dined on 6/30/2014
  • "Great food, great service, great ambiance and cool scene. really good cocktails as well. Definitely recommend."
    Dined on 6/27/2014
  • "The food was terrific and the atmosphere was great, but the service was poor. Our server was AWOL for much of the night, relying on a team of seemingly unaccountable and disorganized staff members handling discreet services like refilling waters or dropping off food. As a result, the 3 course dinner was poorly paced and lasted 4 hours (8pm to midnight), and it would have lasted longer if we had not been aggressive in hailing a staff member to expedite the bill. During that time, hours went by without any interaction with our server. Ironically, the server requested that we provide the full order upfront, which we did, so that he could manage the pacing of the meal."
    Dined on 6/28/2014
  • "We really enjoyed dining at Balena. Service was very attentive but not overbearing and the food was generally very good. We were attending a show at 7:30 and our server really kept us on track with ordering, etc. to make sure we'd make it on time."
    Dined on 6/27/2014
  • "My husband and I ate there last weekend (late June) before a concert. The food was amazing! The menu is relatively small but neither of us had trouble finding something that sounded good. We had the salami plate and olives for an appetizer and they were both fantastic. I had the gnocchi and it was incredible - unlike anything I'd ever had! My husband is not quite as adventurous and ordered the roasted chicken. He loved it! The service was perfect and I LOVE the decor - wish they could come do my house! Although the restaurant was a little further out than I expected (20 min. cab ride from hotel on Michigan), it was worth it and we still arrived at concert with time to spare. Hint: upstairs dining was a tad quieter than downstairs."
    Dined on 6/27/2014
  • "Received a tablespoon of lentils with my fish entree for $28. Obscene"
    Dined on 6/28/2014
  • "Dining at Balena is always excellent - top notch food and service, with special attention to the wine program."
    Dined on 6/28/2014
  • "My sister and I shared the yellow snapper for two - done to perfection!"
    Dined on 6/28/2014
  • "Had a fantastic experience with the food, drink, service, and feel of the space. Highly recommended and we will be back again without a doubt."
    Dined on 6/27/2014
  • "The blend of flavors was wonderful. The pasta were perfect. Our waitress, Jamie, was very knowledgable and helped guide us through the menu well. We will definitely be back."
    Dined on 6/27/2014
  • "All of the food at Balena is flavorful, without being complex or forced. There's a rustic beauty to most plating. Be ready to enjoy three or four courses, each sized moderately, which is a great way to spend an evening if you aren't in a hurry or on a budget. The atmosphere balances raw elements and refined details--exposed brick, sophisticated lighting. Attention is paid to little details: from delicious breadsticks to craft cocktails. And the service is warm, professional, thorough. There was a small flaw in my cheese course, and it was handled perfectly by the staff. Overall, the people, appointments, and bright flavors blend to create an inviting get-away, a consistent level of excellence, a reminder of the hospitality of Italy."
    Dined on 6/27/2014
  • "We had been here before to a private party in the awesome wine cellar. I was eager to come back and order off the menu. I had the arugula salad and pasta pomodoro. My husband had the ceasar and gnocchi. This was plenty of food. He had the donuts for dessert and I had the chocolate hazelnut dessert which was amazing! Love the decor and the service was very good. Will definitely return."
    Dined on 6/22/2014
  • "Balena was delicious!! We were a group of 7 and everybody loved every dish they had. Plus, the service was very friendly and attentive. Would definitely go back."
    Dined on 6/21/2014
  • "Large, well-laid out restaurant with a variety of seating options. Cool bar. Great design. Food is inventive and delicious. Pasta is a highlight. Orecchiette and rotini excellent. Excellent Italian wine list. Casual but attentive service. A winner."
    Dined on 6/20/2014
  • "Chose this based on location, I was returning to Chicago for the first time in 10 years and wanted to visit a restaurant in my old neighborhood. After seeing Balena come up on Open Table, I was very pleasantly surprised by my dining experience there. Great wine list, some "alternative" appetizers such as my Kale Caesar salad, and great entrees. People watching and ambiance were also great, overall a very enjoyable dining experience. Also conveniently located across the street from Steppenwolf, would make a great pre-theater destination."
    Dined on 6/19/2014
  • "I loved the rustic Italian farmhouse feel of the physical space and the menu. We shared burrata, mushroom pizza, polenta, and a homemade pasta. All were really good, and it was just the right amount of food. It is one of the better Italian restaurant dining experiences I have had, and it is affordably priced."
    Dined on 6/8/2014
  • "Great ambiance with menu GF and vegetarian choices. Loved the funky decor too!"
    Dined on 6/19/2014
  • "I had been here several times before, but this time, my sister and I decided to take my mom here for a belated Mother's Day gift. It sure didn't disappoint--we kept it simple with the Bavette Pomodoro (SO GOOD), a margherita pizza, and some wine. Everything was delicious and the ambiance was wonderful and pretty. We will definitely be back."
    Dined on 6/19/2014
  • "Great Hospitality. Amazing Food. Every once in a while we have one of those dining experiences that just makes us smile from start to finish. Not perfect service. Not every dish perfect. But, great passion and professionalism from the staff in dining room and the kitchen. Some amazing menu items: The Fluke Crudi, The Spinach Salad with Sardines, Sardinian Gnocchi, Lamb Pancetta Pizza. The service sequence was really well executed. Our server Will was terrific. Picked the perfect wine for us, made great food recommendations, and knew when to step in and when to stay away. So looking forward to going back. I am sure it will not be this perfect every time, but these folks obviously 'get it'!"
    Dined on 6/19/2014
  • "Many years ago a half-price Wine on Wednesday program hooked us into going to the restaurant previously in this space and we were sorry when it closed. However, Balena consistently knocks it out of the park. The remodeling made it a gorgeous, contemporary space. The pizza is wonderful but so are the other menu items. Do not miss the affogato. Their wine list is predominantly Italian and they are happy to help. On this recent visit we got a visit from the sommelier to guide us to what he thought might be a better choice. And it was a bit less expensive! This place has everything....a great location if you're going to Steppenwolf, thoughtful and caring management, a great wait staff and wonderful food."
    Dined on 6/17/2014
  • "We went to Balena for Father's day dinner. We have been there several times and as always the food was excellent."
    Dined on 6/15/2014
  • "A unique menu that reflects the chefs wonderful influence but not overstatement of the flavors of true Italian food. Single note and understated flavors just like we experienced when we visited Italy, can't wait to return. Will our waiter was excellent and really made the meal an experience."
    Dined on 6/11/2014
  • "This will be our spot after a Steppenwolf matinee! I read about it in the NYT last year and finally tried it. The food is wonderful and the customer service is exceptional. They called me to ask if my party had any food allergies or restrictions. A bartender gave great food recommendations, which we followed. We all agreed this was the best restaurant experience we had in years! Thank you."
    Dined on 6/14/2014
  • "Great service, great aesthetic, great pizza, and the polenta with tomato fondue was very tasty. My fiancee ordered the steak and it was cold and not very good; they warmed it up but it still wasn't up to par, and when our server brought the bill she told us they had comped it, which was really nice and unexpected. I'd definitely go back and just stick more with pizzas and pastas."
    Dined on 6/12/2014
  • "Great food, amazing service. Staff anticipated our every need. Had a mini family reunion, and didn't receive disapproving looks even though our party arrived at staggered times. They were warm and welcoming and of course, the food was fantastic. Started off with the tomato, basil, mozzarella pizza- delicious, pasta dishes are small and flavorful enough to enjoy in addition to a main entree. Loved the rigatoni and although I was hesitant to order the chicken, it did not disappoint."
    Dined on 6/13/2014
  • "The entire staff there was so friendly. What caught my attention was that as my date and I were leaving the restaurant every employee we walked past said "thanks" or "have a great night". I've been to a lot of restaurants with great food, but because of the poor service and staff i refuse to go back. This is the exact opposite with Balena. Great spot!"
    Dined on 6/11/2014
  • "The pasta dishes were wonderful. The portions in the cheese plate appetizer were so absurdly small--three tiny pieces for $17--that the waitress herself was embarrassed and had another plate brought to the table. Because service was so slow--the waitress disappeared for long stretches of time--a meal that should have lasted 2 hours ended up lasting 3 and 1/2 hours. We would have had a second bottle of wine had the waitress not held on to our first bottle for such a long time while our glasses were long empty. So: service is very poor; portion sizes unpredictable (the pasta portions were fine)."
    Dined on 6/10/2014