10 Chicago restaurants acclaimed chef Erick Williams loves going back to

Photo credit: Galdo Photo
James Beard Award-winning chef Erick Williams

Erick Williams has been on a tear since opening his first solo restaurant, the MICHELIN Bib Gourmand Southern food stunner Virtue, in 2018. He snagged a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes, mentored chef Damarr Brown (who also won his own Beard for Emerging Chef under Williams’s mentorship), opened three other restaurants, and is now gearing up to debut a hotly anticipated new Mexican bar.

But even before all his recent success, the OpenTable advisory board member had been laying the foundation for his culinary stardom in a nearly two-decade-long stint at legendary River North restaurant mk. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: The New York Times named him one of 16 Black chefs changing food in America, and it’s obvious there are few chefs more knowledgeable about Chicago’s restaurant scene than Williams, who was born and raised in the Windy City.

Here, he dishes on all his favorite spots. Read on for his full list of recommendations.

OpenTable Advisory Board members are compensated for their time and expertise, but all the restaurant selections are their own.

Rose Mary (West Loop)

Top Chef winner Joe Flamm describes the food at his award-winning restaurant as “Adriatic drinking food”—which means a menu that nods to his Italian heritage while incorporating parts of Croatian cooking.

Why Erick loves it: “I’m a fan of Rose Mary because I love all things Joe Flamm. I think it’s a fun take on his family’s home cooking that is approachable, delicious, and celebrates both history and his approach to cooking. His gnocchi are phenomenal, as is his octopus.”

Alla Vita (West Loop)

Italian American food in a stylish setting keeps bringing Chicagoans back to Alla Vita. | Credit: Anthony Tahlier

Chicagoans can’t get enough of chef Lee Wolen’s family-style Italian American meals all served in an elegant dining room with wooden arches and a fabric-covered ceiling.

Why Erick loves it: “I love Lee Wolen’s take on Italian American. There’s something there for everybody, from the pizzas to share to his sought-after pastas. The cavatelli is one of my favorites.”

avec (West Loop, River North)

A chorizo-stuffed date dish on an orange bowl with a thick slice of bread next to it at Chicago restaurant avec
Cult-favorite dishes like these chorizo-stuffed dates make this Mediterranean stunner a Chicago go-to. | Credit: avec

This Chicago stalwart has been thrilling locals with its mix of Mediterranean food with Midwestern influences for more than two decades.

Why Erick loves it: “It’s hard to believe avec is still one of the most sought-after tables in the city after 21 years. Their slow-roasted pork and chorizo-stuffed dates are still my favorites when I go to the restaurant.”

Swift & Sons (West Loop)

Sliced steak next to a lobster salad with some sliced radishes on top at Chicago restaurant Swift & Sons
The Boka Group’s Swift & Sons does some of the best steak in Chicago. | Credit: Nick Podraza

This retro-glam steakhouse—from the powerhouse Boka Group and chef Chris Pandel—is among the best in the city.

Why Erick loves it: “I’ve celebrated every one of my anniversaries at Swift & Sons for the past five years. My wife is a steak-and-potatoes gal, and they are a go-to favorite for steaks and great cocktails.”

Elske (West Loop)

Sunflower seed parfait with sour honey, bee pollen, and licorice at Elske in Chicago
The MICHELIN-starred Elske remains one of the most innovative restaurants in Chicago. | Credit: Carolina Mariana Rodriguez

Chefs and owners Anna and David Posey have plenty of fun with Danish food at this MICHELIN-starred restaurant that has the added benefit of an outdoor fireplace.

Why Erick loves it: “Anna and David are one of my favorite chef couples. They make it look easy. I almost always opt for the tasting menu to see what those two are up to, and I admire their innovative spirit.”

Piccolo Sogno (River West)

Rustic Italian dishes from chef and owner Tony Priolo and an impressive Italian wine list set the stage for a restaurant with one of the most enviable outdoor spaces in the city. 

Why Erick loves it: “Piccolo Sogno, hands down, has the best patio in the city. You couldn’t eat dinner from the hands of a nicer, more sincere individual than Tony Priolo. He is the godfather of the culinary industry in our city. The whole fish is a must have.”

El Che Steakhouse & Bar (West Loop)

Live-fire Argentinian restaurant El Che is known for its top-notch seafood dishes. | Credit: El Che

Chef John Manion recreates the feeling of being at an Argentine backyard barbecue at this live-fire restaurant that also has a stellar South American wine list.

Why Erick loves it: “John Manion is a tried-and-true OG and a guy I affectionately consider a big brother. His hearth cooking is some of the best in the city. They figured out how to harness the fire that fuels their hearth right down to the plate, and the clearest example of that is the mar de plata [with head-on shrimp, seared scallops, grilled oysters, charred lobster tails, shellfish butter, and papas fritas]. That dish is pure, delectable fire.”

Ada Street (Bucktown)

Small plates star on the menu at the charming, date-night worthy Ada Street. | Credit: Ada Street

Ada Street screams date night with its exposed brick walls, wooden tables and chairs, New American small plates, and some of the best cocktails in town. 

Why Erick loves it: “Chef Ryan Bair has worked diligently to become a humble force in our industry. He has really worked hard to hone his craft, and it’s on full display at Ada Street. It’s a speakeasy-feeling restaurant that’s dark, warm, intimate, and bustling. Some of my favorite items that he prepares are his carrots with harissa, winter salad, and hamachi collar.”

Miru at the St. Regis Chicago (River North)

Chicagoans know to head to Miru for some of the best lake views and Japanese food in town. | Credit: Allison Gallese

Miru is Japanese for “view,” and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you look outside at Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, as well as the showstopping Japanese dishes on your table.

Why Erick loves it: “Miru happens to be in one of the most beautiful properties in the city. It’s in the largest building in the city built by a woman designer, Jeanne Gang. The restaurant has spectacular views, and the food is as dynamic as the view. The kanpachi and A5 wagyu tartare are dishes I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Eden (Avondale/Irving Park)

This sustainability pioneer gets a lot of its food from an on-site greenhouse. | Credit: Eden

This cutting-edge restaurant near the Chicago River takes New American farm-to-table food to the next level with much of the produce coming from its on-site greenhouse.

Why Erick loves it: “Eden by chef Devon Quinn serves terrific fare throughout the day, but it is my go-to spot for brunch. There’s no question he can cook, seeing as he runs one of the most in-demand catering companies [Paramount] in our city. He and his wife understand hospitality is a love language, and his food is bar-none delicious.”

Tanay Warerkar has spent more than a decade as a journalist, including several years as a food reporter and editor. He’s worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, Eater, and the New York Daily News, among others. He now oversees features content at OpenTable, where he also stays on top of the hottest trends and developments in the restaurant industry.

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