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
347 reviews since May 21, 2014
Overall Rating4.3
  • Food4.4
    Service4.3
  • Ambiance4.3
    Noise LevelModerate
91% of reviewers would recommend this restaurant to a friend.
fit for foodies (226)special occasion (175)neighborhood gem (154)romantic (137)notable wine list (124)hot spot (106)good for groups (102)vibrant bar scene (53)late-night find (16)kid-friendly (12)scenic view (9)great for lunch (4)great for brunch (2)great for outdoor dining (1)Show More
  • 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
  • Worth Returning To
    goodfoodie
    Dined on 8/21/2014
    I had an outstanding meal at Balena when I visited Chicago two summers ago and when I came back this time, I was a little unsure about making another reservation here for the simple fact that Chicago has so much to offer and there is always something new to try. But memories of the great meal we had swayed me and I returned. And I was not disppointed! The meal was once again excellent--so flavourful. Next time I'm in Chicago I'll be back without hesitation. Yum!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • 2nd visit, still great!
    skyfxVIP
    Dined on 8/21/2014
    Came here Valentine's Day 2013 and loved it. Our 2nd visit did not disappoint. Service was very friendly & expeditious. Food was great: we had the burrata, paccheri pasta, pork+Panzanella salad, peach pizza, & choc hazelnut croccante. My g/f thought the pasta was a little too al dente & we both felt the pizza was a little overpriced at $21. The dessert we loved, although the gelato was a little bland. Overall, the food was very satisfying! The restaurant knew ahead of time that it was my g/f's b-day, and they had staff members write her a b-day card, which was a really nice, personal touch! However, I was a little disappointed they did not treat her to a little cake/dessert (especially since I mentioned she works in the pastry industry).
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great Service
    Barrington
    Dined on 8/21/2014
    We were delayed due to traffic and needed to eat quckly to get to the theatre. The wait staff helped with selections and served quickly so we were able to get to the theatre on time. the food was excellent
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Fantastic Every Time!
    DBMusicFood
    Dined on 8/18/2014
    Balena is always the perfect place to go when celebrating! The wine is great, the food is amazing, and the service is spot-on! We will continue to be returning customers and enjoy he amazing atmosphere.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, romantic, special occasion, neighborhood gem, hot spot, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Great food, too loud
    Rivzy
    Dined on 8/18/2014
    I took my family here when they visited Chicago and it was a lot louder than we expected it to be. We were a group of five and they sat us at a long table so that we couldn't see everyone. Furthermore, two people in my family are hard of hearing so when we arrived and they sat us in the center of the restaurant, it was problematic. I asked if we could be put in a quieter place, but was told there was nowhere else because the upstairs was closed. Sothe atmosphere was pretty irritating. We couldn't have a good conversation. However, the food was GREAT. I got to try three different pastas, a pizza, prawns, and multiple appetizers, as well as a few drinks, and was impressed with everything. Furthermore, our server was awesome.
    Special Features:
    romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Undeserved pretentiousness
    Namisugar
    Dined on 8/18/2014
    First, the good: most of the food was tasty. My husband's black pepper & cheese spaghetti and flap steak was very good. My beet salad and peach & prosciutto pizza were okay. The onions on the pizza overwhelmed the more delicate prosciutto. The tiramisu for dessert was fantastic. Now, the bad: the service and noise level were terrible. The host attempted to seat us - by ourselves - in the dank, smelly basement. It was a Monday night and the main dining room was not full. We came from work and were wearing nice clothes. We didn't smell. I have no idea why they would attempt such a thing!? They did reseat us upon request. There was an overall pretentiousness that was not justified by the food, the service, or the ambiance.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Waiting....
    Robert
    Dined on 8/14/2014
    One hour between appetizers and main courses. Three children almost fell off their chairs waiting for food. Staff finally brought out pasta with butter and cheese to hold them until food arrived. Food was good, not great, and $99 price tag for rib eye was too much given the smaller than advertised (42 oz.) portion
    Special Features:
    neighborhood gem
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Great Presentation, Great Service
    DASFood
    Dined on 8/14/2014
    The plates were beautiful. The prawns and prawn heads were not good - tasted of raw flour and very little else. However, the maître d asked for another entrée choice and within 5 minutes, replaced the unacceptable prawns with a delicious pancetta pasta dish. The pork Berkshire dish was good - the pork belly - delicious! Panzanella salad was a little too acerbic and the bread too soggy, but still tasty. Incredible service.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Good Experience
    sweetpotato
    Dined on 8/14/2014
    My spouse and I had the Burrata, Orechiette, a pizza, and a dessert for each. We were both very full. I thought the burrata was good, but overrated. I wouldn't pay $18 for it again. The orechiette pasta was very good. Other reviewers claim the portion is very small, but in my opinion this would feed one person well if they ordered an appetizer and/or dessert and weren't interested in trying a lot of different things and didn't want to be too full. The third course we had was the pizza with peaches. This was also quite good and I'd order it again. This is a large portion for two people who are also eating other courses. Finally, we had the blueberry crostata and the croccante. Both were good, but not mind blowing.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelCannot Recall
  • Great Dining Experience
    Nachomama
    Dined on 8/13/2014
    Balena offers a beautiful and lively dining experience. The menu is eclectic Italian which challenges you to sample some of the most inventive and delicious dishes. The wine and cocktail menu are as creative as the dining menu. Service is outstanding. Don't miss this amazing place.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, special occasion, hot spot, vibrant bar scene, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelCannot Recall
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Good Food and Wine
    drummer5
    Dined on 8/10/2014
    The ricotta cherry tarte with pistachio sorbet and crushed pistachios was the star of the meal.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, romantic, special occasion, neighborhood gem
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Bad experience
    ChiTownDinerVIP
    Dined on 8/9/2014
    My wife and I went there for our anniversary and had a bad experience. We had reservations and were given a high table next to the crowded bar, seem more of a bar table than a dining table. Food is overprice and not good at all. I would avoid this place at all costs.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Another great experience
    MKozVIP
    Dined on 8/8/2014
    Caccio et pepe is outstanding. Endless wine list. Had fish of the day which was sold by the pound. The price was actually reasonable at $44 for 2 people (1.8 lbs). Save room for dessert.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Best Italian in the city
    333944rc
    Dined on 8/6/2014
    The pizza's (wood burning oven), and pasta's (hand rolled noodles) are delicious. We also got a chance to meet Chris Pandel (chef/owner) who was super accommodating and a genuinely good guy. Will definitely go back.
    Special Features:
    kid-friendly, fit for foodies, good for groups, special occasion, neighborhood gem, hot spot
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Exactly what we expected.
    NotAFoodie
    Dined on 8/2/2014
    We had our anniversary dinner here. We don't regret it for a moment. We actually loved it. But we're not "foodies" and will not be going back. It was all exactly what we were expecting. From the presentation to the portions and the pricing. The food was excellent... tasting/looking. The staff were excellent. My only complaints are two. I felt we were seated too closely to our neighboring tables. I felt cramped and claustrophobic. We could hear every little thing that was being said at the tables next to us. The portions were exactly what we expected, small. They are meant for multi-course meals. But as I said, we expected that. It's a really nice place that's not meant for big guys that like burgers. I felt very out of place there.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate