Balena
Balena

Balena

  • 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.
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Balena reviews from OpenTable diners
296 reviews since July 28, 2014
Overall Rating4.2
  • Food4.2
    Service4.2
  • Ambiance4.3
    Noise LevelModerate
87% of reviewers would recommend this restaurant to a friend.
fit for foodies (196)special occasion (131)romantic (113)notable wine list (106)neighborhood gem (105)good for groups (93)hot spot (80)vibrant bar scene (40)late-night find (14)kid-friendly (7)great for outdoor dining (3)scenic view (2)great for brunch (1)great for lunch (1)Show More
  • Great dinner
    OpenTable Diner Since 2011VIP
    Dined on 11/23/2014
    Went recently for a Sunday dinner. Good, service and ambiance were all top notch. A bit pricey...
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • A Great Spot For Good Food and Groups
    OpenTable Diner Since 2014
    Dined on 11/22/2014
    Love the food and atmosphere at Balena! My only issue was I called earlier in the afternoon to change our reservation from 4 people to 6. I was told this wouldn't be a problem, but it would change our reservation from 8:30p to 8:45p. I said, that wasn't a problem. We arrived at 8:45p and were told our table was not ready. We said, it was fine and that we'd have a drink at the bar. We werent' seated until closer to 10p and I was told that it was because 'we made a change to the reservation' which was frustrating to me as I was told it wasn't a problem. If we knew adding two more people would've been an issue, we probably would've made different arrangements. However, our amazing server and the food saved the evening and we had a great time. The smoked mackerel is amazing...I also had cacio y pepe with alba truffle and a fantastic wine pairing. Dessert was also delectable! I'm not even a dessert person.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great Experience
    Braenne
    Dined on 11/22/2014
    I took my sister here for her birthday dinner and we had such a great time. They had a little birthday card ready for her when we sat down at our table, which was a lovely touch. We ordered 3 starters, 2 pastas, a dessert, and a bottle of wine. It was the perfect amount of food and let us try numerous dishes. Service was very timely and everyone was very attentive and friendly. I would definitely come back here.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great food but spotty service
    ChikindVIP
    Dined on 11/19/2014
    All dishes were great, but we would have huge intervals of time between our waitress' visits. Wine list excellent and unique. Beautiful space.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelCannot Recall
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • JandBVIP
    Dined on 11/16/2014
    We enjoyed dining at Balena following a performance at the Royal George next door. We took the suggestion of our server and shared two pasta dishes and a salad. We ordered the massive steak and shared that too. A wonderful meal.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Fresh and fabulous!
    OpenTable Diner Since 2008VIP
    Dined on 11/15/2014
    Pasta dishes seem small but they are so flavorful and filling don't let your eyes fool you -- it's more than enough. I ate the lemony with kale pasta -- amazing but very lemony! The pizza was simple yet full of the most amazing flavors -- we had the fennel sausage. Delightful!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, late-night find, neighborhood gem, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great pasta
    NsideVIP
    Dined on 11/11/2014
    Went here for a quick pre-theater meal. I believe all their pastas (or most) are homemade. Delicious. The orrechiete with kale is a must!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Favorite spot
    PaulMVIP
    Dined on 11/5/2014
    Eat here every time I am in Chicago, sometimes multiple times. The meno offers many choices and satisfies every palette. At least of mine. The service is impeccable and the drinks are mixed to perfection. Even when changing ingredients.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Always excellent
    OpenTable Diner Since 2014
    Dined on 11/4/2014
    Service, food, wine and ambiance are always great here.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, neighborhood gem, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
  • Yummmmmmm
    Lml3800VIP
    Dined on 11/4/2014
    Was recommended here from a local - we were entertaining a guest from Milan. Outstanding food, service was great and focused without being intrusive or overbearing. Had a very enjoyable night and a fabulous experience...we will be back with others the next time we are in Chicago! Also got excellent reviews for authenticity and technique from our Milanese guest - which in my mind just reinforces the right approach!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great for Dinner Before Theatre
    FromCalgary
    Dined on 11/4/2014
    We had dinner at Balena before going to the Steppenwolf Theatre down the street. Service was prompt and attentive, but not intrusive. The lamb liver bruschetta and kale salad were both great appetizers. I enjoyed the fazzoletti pasta with lamb, but my wife found the flap steak retolo tough in places. The waiter recommended the baked polenta as a side, and it was a good accompaniment for our meal. The desserts (croccante and caramel budino) were an excellent end to an excellent meal.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great Service!
    lynn
    Dined on 11/2/2014
    Always a great time here. Our server was delightful! We were a group of 3 ladies, who weren't drinking and had a hard time choosing our dishes...every server's nightmare! There was confusion about what pizza we ordered and we ended up getting the wrong pizza. The server apologized and claimed responsibility for the mistake, pretty sure it was our fault for being so confusing and indecisive. We kept the pizza, enjoyed it completely and when we were presented with the check, the pizza had been removed!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Horrible!
    SimhaiVIP
    Dined on 10/28/2014
    I wish I could leave 1/2 a star just because we actually got served food. Where to start! Some highlights: -steak was inedible, sent back and still inedible -we were served our bottle of wine 20 mins after ordering it -no adjustment made on bill for steak, like ZERO! -the waiter actually told us that he a chilled shot of tequlia was not possible and could only be served neat. With all the great reviews, I am at a loss for words. This was truly one of the poorest meals with some the poorest service I have ever experienced. I don't like to leave bad reviews, but this place truly deserves it. Horrible!
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Delicious
    carrie
    Dined on 10/26/2014
    I'm still thinking about this meal. The duck fat potatoes are the best potatoes I've ever had. The server made great recommendations and I have no complaints whatsoever. The lamb pasta was to. die. for.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Great Atmosphere - Delicious Food
    marciathematchmakerVIP
    Dined on 10/26/2014
    We had a wonderful pizza and some tasty beverages and wine. Service and staff very friendly and attentive. We will be back!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • OpenTable Diner Since 2012
    Dined on 10/26/2014
    Food was fantastic, our server (Rachel) was one of the best we have ever had!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Disappointing
    LuvfreshandlightVIP
    Dined on 10/26/2014
    May have been an off night.....restaurant knew we were going to theatre...nonetheless the entrees arrived at different times.....2 of us were finished before a third received his entrée. Noone came by to check. Also the menu is extremely limited for those who don't want pizza or pasta. Other good alternatives close to Steppenwolf Theatre.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Exceeded expectations
    adeutsch
    Dined on 10/26/2014
    I heard that Balena was good, but it definitely exceeded my expectations. Great food, great service, I will definitely be going back.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Sophisticated Dining
    drummer5
    Dined on 10/26/2014
    Just the kale salad with citrus vinagrette was outstanding. Lamb pasta dish and pear/apple tart were fantastic too!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot, neighborhood gem, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • best pasta dish
    summahouz
    Dined on 10/25/2014
    We come to Balena mostly for the lemon/kale/chili orrechiette pasta dish! They have good pizzas as well. The atmosphere is trendy and it's not too expensive but not cheap.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, hot spot, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Yummy!
    LuvGudFood
    Dined on 10/23/2014
    Divine atmosphere, wonderful drinks and mocktails for those who don't. Excellent pasta- love how everything is made in house!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Big disappointment
    DhanaVIP
    Dined on 10/23/2014
    Food descriptions are over the top & ostentatious.Overpriced menu. Sewage stench throughout restaurant.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Never disappoints!
    Vicki
    Dined on 10/21/2014
    Good food and wine list and moderate noise level make for a good experience.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Nice pre-theater option
    banditaVIP
    Dined on 10/21/2014
    A civilized place to have a drink, an appetizer or, if carefully chosen, a pre-theater dinner. Good service and nice ambience; striking decor that is still warm-feeling. The blistered peppers appetizer we tried was excellent, and my husband enjoyed his chicken and greens entrée. My pork entrée was a miss; unexceptional sausage and pork cheeks that were fried into a tasteless fishstick-like square.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
  • invisableVIP
    Dined on 10/18/2014
    Again, service is fine until you order, then the waiters drift off. We were clear we had theater tickets, which the waiter acknowledged - but with 30 minutes to go to the curtain, he was no where to be found and continued to be AWOL until left one person behind to pay the bill while the others went to the theater with 5 minutes to spare. Food fab, a bit noisy downstairs but then the experience is always in peril at the end.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Perfectly paired.
    bourdeaux
    Dined on 10/18/2014
    Fantastic service. My boyfriend and I had reservations and I was a little disappointed with the table given. It was a two top in the middle of the main dining area and seriously lacked privacy. I voiced this to the hostess and she was extremely professional, went back to the hostess table to find a more romantic spot for two. When she came back she guided us to a table upstairs along the wall, perfectly intimate and paired with our expectations. Given the exceptional customer service, we were eager to enjoy our bottle of wine, cheese assortment, pasta dishes and dessert. I knocked off one star because the Tiramisu was more of a cake rather than a spongey, layered piece of goodness that my palate is used to.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Different and delicious
    Toscanadiner
    Dined on 10/17/2014
    The mortadella pizza was fantastic. So good! Interesting pasta dishes with unique ingredients. Chef has been written about highly in many articles and for good reason!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Disappointing
    rivadivaVIP
    Dined on 10/16/2014
    I have eaten in Italy many, many times, and the food at Balena does not taste like any authentic Italian food I have tasted. The tiramisu was good, but the entrees were just fair.
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
  • OpenTable Diner Since 2014
    Dined on 10/14/2014
    Great pasta -perfectly al dente. The pizza was fine, but I wouldn't come back for it.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Above and Beyond
    willbeback
    Dined on 10/11/2014
    I made a note in our reservation that we would be celebrating our 1 year wedding anniversary. The staff went above and beyond to acknowledge our special day. They even signed a happy anniversary card and provided dessert with a candle. Very thoughtful!
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, special occasion, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • OpenTable Diner Since 2005VIP
    Dined on 10/11/2014
    I think this was my 5th visit to Balena. I brought 3 out of town guests for a pre-Steppenwolf dinner. They all loved the restaurant. We returned after the play for dessert.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, hot spot
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Anniversary dinner
    De123
    Dined on 10/11/2014
    The pizza and pasta were 10/10. The restaurant was so pretty and the server was super nice. We even got a card that said Happy Anniversary and it was signed by the staff. It was such a great experience
    Special Features:
    good for groups, neighborhood gem, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • The New Balena
    CityGirlVIP
    Dined on 10/11/2014
    We had not been to Balena for a while and were pleasantly surprised by it's new look. We actually liked the previous look, but this one is an improvement. The upstairs is especially attractive. Our hostess said it would be quieter upstairs, but it was quite noisy. Otherwise, a very pleasant experience.
    Special Features:
    hot spot, neighborhood gem, notable wine list, special occasion, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Great service and delicious food
    OpenTable Diner Since 2007
    Dined on 10/9/2014
    We had a wonderful dining experience mid week. My dining companion was very particular and the staff did everything to make our experience perfect. The food was excellent! I will be back often
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate
  • Balena
    Bob46VIP
    Dined on 10/7/2014
    Very good Italian food, with excellent service and a very pleasant decor
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, neighborhood gem, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Delicious food. Great service.
    kkpie
    Dined on 10/3/2014
    We had play tix at Steppenwolf and wanted a nice place for dinner before the show. Balena was perfecto. Delicious eclectic food. Great drinks. Excellent ambience.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, neighborhood gem
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Delicious
    Lisa4
    Dined on 10/2/2014
    I've eaten here twice in the past 2 months and I think it is fantastic. Menu was completely different, but equally as good.
    Special Features:
    good for groups, hot spot, neighborhood gem, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Best experience this year
    JPayks
    Dined on 9/30/2014
    All in all, this was one of the best nights I've had all year. My guest, the birthday girl, and I sat at the new Chef's Table. She said this was the best food she's ever eaten. I cannot thank the staff enough for giving her that experience. I look forward to my next experience at Balena. It's really Chicago's best restaurant.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, notable wine list, romantic, special occasion
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelQuiet
    I would recommend this to a friend.
  • Loosing Lustre?
    KrugieVIP
    Dined on 9/30/2014
    I've always enjoyed Balena,the dishes,the service,the ambiance,everything.This year went with a friend to celebrate our birthdays and it wasn't the Balena I remembered.The service was abrupt and rushed,although the place was not crowded.The Burrata w Eggplant for $18 adorned 3 tiny pieces of eggplant,perhaps 4 leaves of mustard green and 2 toast points.Ridiculous.For our entree we ordered the Trout,which again was a very small portion,overcooked,and lentils that looked as though they had been in the pot for days.To close,our server ran our bill thru 4 times!And it was still a problem.So much so,that my credit card was put on hold for possible fraudulent activity.Not fun.The best part of the meal was the birthday card they made.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, good for groups, neighborhood gem, notable wine list
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelEnergetic
  • Friendly, Fast and Fun
    OpenTable Diner Since 2010
    Dined on 9/30/2014
    Great service coupled with intriguing and varied food choices served artfully in an interesting and entertaining environment.
    Special Features:
    fit for foodies, vibrant bar scene
    • Food
    • Ambiance
    • Service
    • Noise LevelModerate