12 special occasion-worthy restaurants in Chicago

Italian American supper club Fioretta’s celebratory dishes include a decadent shellfish tower. | Credit: Fioretta

Chicagoans know that special-occasion meals come in all shapes and sizes. And even though many celebrations in this Midwestern sports town are centered around home team victories, championships aren’t the only reasons to party here.

These Windy City restaurants transform a regular Saturday (or Monday or Tuesday) night into an unforgettable evening. Read on for a guide to the 12 best places in Chicago for celebrating special occasions right now.

Boka (Old Town) 

A server presents a whole roasted dry-aged duck wreathed by leaves and purple flowers at Boka in Chicago.

Boka’s stylish occasion-worthy dishes include whole roasted dry-aged duck with apricot, endive, and mustard. | Credit: Boka

This American hotspot is helmed by executive chef Lee Wolen and earned 10 consecutive MICHELIN stars since opening in 2003. Not one to rest on its accolades, Boka keeps you on your toes with a seven-course dinner tasting menu that changes daily, alongside a seasonal a la carte selection driven by locally farmed ingredients. Dishes fit for a celebration include whole-roasted dry-aged duck and slow-cooked halibut. Toast with creative cocktails such as the Tropical Itch (bourbon, rum, and passionfruit) and round off the night with the caramelized hazelnut and banana dessert. Boka’s central dining room, complete with a plant-lined wall and whimsical portraits, is primed for one stylish party.

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BLVD Steakhouse (West Loop) 

BLVD shimmers with Old Hollywood glam and is especially well-suited for bachelorette parties or popping the question. The West Loop steakhouse features one of the city’s most extensive chandelier collections and a newly added full-season patio for an enchanted garden ambiance with greenery and romantic string lights. There’s even more to celebrate with chef Joe Flamm (winner of Top Chef season 15 and owner of nearby Rose Mary) coming on board as culinary director in 2022. Start with a decadent seafood tower or caviar service before graduating to celebration-friendly mains such as bone-in ribeye and dayboat scallops with brown butter vinaigrette.

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Q Sushi Bar and Omakase (Lincoln Square)

Chefs Noppon “Oni” Aeton and Stephen Park unveil one after another premium nigiri and sashimi courses at this easygoing omakase bar (a few tables are available for a la carte sushi, but then you’ll miss out on the banter between the friendly chefs). Come for an intimate celebration and savor pieces of melt-in-your-mouth chutoro, hotaru ika (firefly squid), and flounder topped with monkfish. Q’s cozy but casual setting, with vibrant sushi murals, has all the trappings of a just-because celebration dinner. 

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Elske (West Loop)

The light-filled dining room and outdoor fireplace at Elske in Chicago

A sophisticated Scandinavian sensibility runs through Elske’s decor and menu. | Credit: Anthony Tahlier Photography

MICHELIN-starred Elske is a go-to for a transportive celebration thanks to a sophisticated Scandinavian sensibility that runs through its decor and menu. The outdoor fireplace and drop lights make you feel like you’re dining in Copenhagen—where chefs David and Anna Posey were engaged. On the a la carte menu, you’ll find a grilled pork collar with carrots, chopped pickles, and coriander, while the duck liver tart with salted ramp and toasted buckwheat is the star of the set menu. If you’re here for a birthday, don’t skip superb seasonal desserts (Anna Posey’s speciality) such as sunflower seed parfait with sour honey, licorice, and bee pollen, which was made for topping with candles.

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Basant Modern Indian (North Center)

Traditional Indian flavors meet local ingredients at Basant, a modern Indian restaurant in North Center. The elegant interior and dim lighting make it a sought-after place for romantic milestones. Named after the Punjabi festival of Basant—a traditional kite-flying occasion that marks the first day of spring—the restaurant is known for inventive riffs on South Asian standbys. Signature dishes include salmon in coconut milk and spicy tomato sauce and fall-off-the-bone lamb shank braised in spices, best paired with lachha paratha, a buttery layered flatbread. Vegans can get in on the celebrations too with top-notch dairy-free staples like a mushroom medley with jackfruit in a thick porridge of lentils and cracked wheat.

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Shanghai Terrace (River North)

Burgundy umbrellas line the urban garden at Shanghai Terrace in Chicago.

Shanghai Terrace’s terrace makes an especially enchanting backdrop for a milestone meal. | Credit: The Peninsula Hotels

Shanghai Terrace is a swanky Chinese restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel. For an extra-special meal, dine on the terrace in the urban garden under burgundy umbrellas with skyscraper views. Or head to the main dining room, which features a seductive 1930s Shanghai-inspired atmosphere with its gold, ebony, and scarlet color scheme. Dishes are meant for sharing family style—quintessential to large Chinese gatherings—with standouts like a whole Peking duck with mandarin pancakes and plum sauce and Three Treasures fried rice with wagyu beef, chicken, and duck. Level up your celebration by adding dim sum to your order.

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Parachute (Avondale)

A special-occasion meal at this Korean-American gem channels a lively dinner party, courtesy of a communal table that stretches to its bar. The acclaimed Avondale spot is led by wife-and-husband duo Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, who treated their restaurant to an extensive overhaul in 2022. Parachute 2.0. offers a more focused approach to Korean cooking—like haemul pajeon (onion and seafood pancakes) and yukgaejang (spicy beef brisket soup)—served with the same attention to hospitality. That distinct Korean focus also applies to the drinks menu, which includes a selection of made-in-Korea spirits such as soju and takju, ideal for festive toasts. 

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Fioretta (West Loop)

Fioretta’s vintage supper club-accented digs—complete with a stage for live entertainment and handmade crystal chandeliers galore—are decked with many glamorous pockets to celebrate. For the ultimate wow factor, book the chef’s table in an open kitchen with prime views of the wood-burning hearth. Impeccably sourced wet- and dry-aged steaks play starring roles on the menu (no surprise, considering Fioretta comes from the forces behind beloved steakhouse Prime & Provisions) while housemade pastas like macaroni alla vodka and truffle mushroom lasagna are designed to share. Add a roving cart that preps Caesar salads tableside and a throwback cocktail list and you’ve got a winning formula for a classic Italian American evening.

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Aba (West Loop)  

Globe-shaped lights, towering trees, and assorted plants make up the dining room at Aba in Chicago.

Aba’s main dining room is filled with towering trees and lush plants. | Credit: Jeff Marini

No matter where you sit at Aba, whether it’s on the expansive patio with views of the bustling West Loop or in the main dining room filled with towering trees and lush plants, it’s a memorable experience. And that’s even before you try modern Mediterranean dishes from chef CJ Jacobson, who takes cues from his California upbringing and time spent playing professional volleyball in Israel. Start with various kinds of hummus, including crispy short rib and smoky garlic, before moving to larger shareable plates—Aba is especially group-celebration friendly—like Aleppo-roasted halibut. Keep your party going with a reserve cocktail (a cask-strength margarita, perhaps?) made with specialty spirits.

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Kasama (West Town)

Name a culinary award, and odds are Kasama and its husband-and-wife chefs Timothy Flores and Genie Kwon have won it, including a MICHELIN star and a James Beard. The laidback bakery, which is known for one of the city’s best breakfast sandwiches, has also earned plenty of local fans for its dinnertime menu. At night, Kasama switches gears and offers a seasonally inspired 13-course Filipino-inspired tasting menu that screams special occasion—the only of its kind in Chicago. Celebrate a birthday or an anniversary over innovative dishes that could include kare kare (lamb belly with a peanut curry), and an elegant take on halo halo that combines Asian pear granita and pandan ice cream, and prepare for fine-dining finesse, minus any pretentiousness. 

Obelix (North Side)

Come to this swish newcomer for a Gallic-accented celebration. Brothers Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey, whose parents ran beloved Bucktown bistro Le Bouchon, created a restaurant that nods to French classics with plenty of wiggle room for creativity. That means you’ll clink glasses of Champagne and gather over traditional mainstays like escargots Bourguignons along with next-gen dishes including a foie gras-filled taco topped with salsa macha. Service is impeccable but friendly, and an exceptionally well-rounded menu means Obelix is the ultimate North Side crowd pleaser. 

Bar Mar (River North)

Celebrated chef José Andrés is known for going big, whether it’s through his extensive global humanitarian efforts or his award-winning restaurants. That ethos also surfaces at Bar Mar, a theatrical Spanish and Latin American spot that isn’t shy about showing off. With its massive glowing octopus sculpture and towering floor-to-ceiling windows, the see-and-be-seen hotspot makes a playful backdrop for splashy nights out. Kick things off with an effervescent salt air margarita before digging into a seafood-centric menu of small plates like lobster croquetas and caviar cones or heartier dishes including a Galician-style octopus. Should your festive night call for upping the ante, there are also three excellent tasting menus.

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Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Lisa Shames is a writer focused on travel and food culture in Chicago and the US contributor for Sogoodmag. Find her on Instagram.  

Sarah Freeman contributed to this guide.