Although the famous stockyards on Chicago’s South Side closed long ago, finding delicious steak in this beautiful city on Lake Michigan is still quite easy. Indeed, one reputable foodie website lists no fewer than 18 “essential” steakhouses in Chicago, 14 of which are within walking distance of one another downtown.
With such a surfeit of choice, finding the best steak in Chicago becomes more about finding the best steak for you. Each steakhouse has its own atmosphere and style, ranging from the casual, almost spartan Boeufhaus to the archly traditional and opulent Lawry’s. My favorites all lie somewhere in between.
I’ve narrowed the options to three top steakhouses. These represent the best of the best in the city, covering a range of styles. Each prepares superlative beef presented in beautiful surroundings.
If you regard steakhouses as bastions of boring traditionalism serving overlarge portions of heavy food, GT Prime is the ideal choice. Less than two years old, this chic, youthful restaurant has a striking art deco-inspired décor with black walls, barrel chairs and a dramatic flying saucer of a crystal chandelier. Staff stride around the space in sharply tailored gray sport coats (no ties), and the clientele hews toward affluent thirty- and forty-somethings, though older guests certainly won’t feel uncomfortable.
Although it seems more sensible to start a steakhouse meal with a salad or some such, we took the recommendation of our waitress and ordered the chicken liver mousse. It was sublime — a gorgeous culinary composition. The disk of rich mousse was so creamy as to verge on fluffiness, and ribbons of celery, radish slices and small cubes of Port wine gelée contrasted the richness perfectly. The gnocchi with pesto, cherry tomatoes, radish slices and fried sweetbreads was also tasty, but it paled in comparison to the mousse.
Unlike most steakhouses, GT Prime encourages sharing beef, and its signature dish is the “Carnivore” platter. The $110 version includes 4 ounces each of strip loin, tenderloin, venison and American wagyu beef, portioned into four slices each. There were no bones, and no slabs of fat. (Traditional larger steaks are also available.) The size was refreshingly reasonable, and all the meats were gorgeously tender and flavorful. I enjoyed the chance to compare the four types with one another in rapid succession. The sumptuous wagyu really shined, though the other cuts held their own admirably. I also enjoyed our sides of well-balanced Brussels sprouts with jamón Ibérico and maple butter, and roasted cauliflower with whipped ricotta and tangy peperonata.
Our young waitress became quite casually familiar with us, a style of service which won’t appeal to everyone. The edgy background music might also be a turnoff for some, but thankfully the volume level allowed comfortable conversation. We may have been a little older than many of the patrons at GT Prime, but the staff made us feel at home. I wouldn’t hesitate to return to indulge in another Carnivore platter and more of that heavenly chicken liver mousse.
707 North Wells Street. Tel. (312) 600-6305
There are times, I admit, when I tire of adventurous dining and yearn for something delicious but straightforward. If you happen to find yourself in such a mood, reserve a table at Chicago Cut Steakhouse. The restaurant, which reportedly draws celebrities on occasion, has an ideal location on the Chicago River, with memorable views of skyscrapers as well as the L train, which crosses a bridge from time to time just to the west. The view is Chicago through and through, as is the hearty, friendly, down-to-earth waitstaff. Larger parties can ensconce themselves in cozy red velvet booths lining the wall, but couples mostly have tables facing the view (opt for the riverside patio in summer).
On the recommendation of our waiter, we started with the “Lobsterscargot,” in which lobster replaces snails in the otherwise classic dish. “Get ready to live,” our waiter said, a catchphrase later repeated verbatim by his colleague as he divided the appetizer onto two plates. The lobster was flawlessly tender, there was no shortage of garlic-parsley butter, and the bubbly-cheese topping added an extra layer of decadence. French and Italian chefs would likely be horrified by the dish, but fortunately, there were none watching us as we enjoyed every bite.
Steaks at Chicago Cut are all USDA Prime, and depending on what you order, the beef may have been wet- or dry-aged. My partner’s tender wet-aged filet mignon was sensational: perfectly medium rare, with a salty, crusty exterior that had just the right amount of char.
The old chestnut that filet mignon is tender but lacking in flavor because it’s lean is simply nonsense. The filet had just as much beefy flavor (if not more) than the bone-in prime rib I foolishly ordered, called the “Holy Grail” of Chicago prime rib by an important local food critic. If you like prime rib, you’ll surely love this massive slab of dry-aged meat, a beautiful rosy pink with plenty of buttery fat. But as a traveler to whom leftovers were useless, I regretted ordering this $74 monster, two-thirds of which I could not finish, rather than the similarly priced bone-in filet mignon.
Like our beef, our sides were delicious and straightforward: crunchy Brussels sprouts with Nueske bacon and shredded Parmesan, and rich scalloped potatoes layered with truffle cream, more Nueske bacon and a bit of Swiss chard (seemingly for color).
The room can get a little loud for my taste — I sometimes had difficulty hearing our waiter. That quibble aside, Chicago Cut has a great sense of place, a glamorous atmosphere, a well-chosen wine list free of risky obscure bottles and, most important, unimpeachable beef. Both couples and executives will feel comfortable here.
Chicago Cut Steakhouse
300 North LaSalle Drive. Tel. (312) 329-1800
Of my favorite steakhouses in Chicago, Bavette’s is likely to appeal to the widest audience, though its dark, candlelit atmosphere is more appropriate for couples than businesspeople. Exposed brick walls, worn wood floors, art deco chandeliers and wood-paneled columns give the space the feel of an old but stylish brasserie.
We had a wonderfully decadent dinner of cognac-infused foie gras with a tart blackberry compote, rich and garlicky shrimp de Jonghe, tender lamb T-bone with rosemary and garlic, and flawless filet mignon with savory roasted tomatoes and spicy watercress. Our side dishes of creamy elote-inspired corn and flavorful roasted butternut squash with sage proved equally delicious.
The exciting wine list had both well-known fine wines and more esoteric choices, including a blend of Cabernet Franc and St. George from Greece and an amphora-aged Ribolla Gialla from Italy.
Other Chicago steakhouses serve comparable or perhaps even slightly better beef, but none is as romantic as Bavette’s. I have recommended this steakhouse since 2015, and it remains among Chicago’s very best.
218 West Kinzie Street. Tel. (312) 624-8154