Chicago’s 20 Best Steak Houses

Visit the city’s finest palaces for prime beef in 2013.

Above: David Burke’s wondrous 35-day dry-aged Kansas City strip Photo: Anna Knott

At Morton’s underneath State Street, perhaps the steakiest 4,800 square feet of the steakiest neighborhood in America, the menu includes something called a Chicago-style bone-in rib eye. When asked what precisely this entails, the veteran waiter shrugs and says, “It’s just a bone-in rib eye.”

That response doesn’t convey ignorance but rather an unflappable brashness that symbolizes the state of red meat in this town: It’s Chicago-style because we say it is.

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No one’s suggesting that the city’s carnivorous culture is a new thing. Just read your history. In the late 19th century, Gustavus Franklin Swift, the Chicago meatpacking baron, became the first person to effectively ship fresh beef in ice-cooled railroad cars all over the country and abroad. Now the meat eaters come here. The Near North Side has possibly the highest concentration of quality beef palaces anywhere—we count 42 steak houses in River North and the Gold Coast alone—and night after night most of them are packed. Local dining titans Lettuce Entertain You and the Boka Restaurant Group (together with B.Hospitality Co. of The Bristol and Balena fame) both plan to open steak houses in 2014. (The Boka-Balena boys are eyeing the West Loop, but they could open on Neptune and people would find a way there.)

A good steak is delicious; it has always been so. But why the boom at this particular time? For one thing, the economy has finally risen from its torpor, allowing tourists and locals alike to feel better about splurging on that most American of proteins. And while steak houses haven’t downscaled in price, they certainly have eased their approach. An undeniable whimsy has seeped into menus (cheese steak egg rolls? Kobe corn dogs?) and service (iPad wine lists). The stuffiness that was part and parcel of the experience is long gone.

More than that, diners today know they can expect a very high level of expertise. Last year Brendan Sodikoff, Chicago’s hottest restaurateur, could have opened any concept he wanted anywhere, and he went with … Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, a steak house, in River North. Why? “It’s the kind of food people would cook at home,” says Sodikoff. “You could go to the butcher and get an amazing piece of prime beef, but the steak house has the equipment you don’t have at home.”

Where’s the Beef?

A narrow swath on the Near North Side contains 42 steak houses—a density that may be unrivaled anywhere. Here’s a map of our Top 20, plus 22 other contenders. Enlarge map
 
Top 20 The Rest

Point taken. You’ll have a hard time replicating David Burke’s Kansas City strip, for example, unless you’ve got your own $250,000 purebred Angus stud bull, a dry-aging room tiled with 800-year-old Himalayan salt, and a 1,000-degree U.S. Range broiler.

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In search of the city’s top beef experience, our dining team spent months eating our way through more than 80 different steaks at 38 different joints. Old-school standbys (Gene & Georgetti, Gibsons). Newer hot spots (David Burke’s, Bavette’s). Sports lovers’ haunts (Ditka’s, Jordan’s). And, yes, chains (Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grille).

While some places thrilled us, others proved surprisingly disappointing. Many high- profile spots, including Smith & Wollensky, Keefer’s, and Del Frisco’s—each of which could be considered the premier steak house in a less competitive town—fell short of our top 20 for reasons ranging from inconsistent beef to amateurish service. (Restaurant Advice 101: Don’t air dirty laundry about customers in front of other customers.)

So here it is: the ultimate list of Chicago’s best steak houses, ranked. If red meat forever defines this swaggering city, these 20 restaurants walk the tallest.

1David Burke’s Primehouse

616 N Rush St.

2Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf

218 W Kinzie St.

3Benny’s Chop House

444 N Wabash Ave.

4Morton’s

1050 N. State St.

5Capital Grille

633 N St Clair St.

6Gene & Georgetti

500 N Franklin St.

7Chicago Chop House

60 W Ontario St.

8Michael Jordan’s

505 N Michigan Ave.

9The Palm

323 E. Wacker Dr.

10Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

25 E Ohio St.

11Ruth’s Chris Steak House

431 N Dearborn St.

12Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

1028 N Rush St.

13Mastro’s Steakhouse

520 N Dearborn St.

14Tavern on Rush

1031 N. Rush St.

15Erie Café

536 W. Erie St.

16Chicago Cut

300 N La Salle St.

17Sullivan’s Steakhouse

415 N Dearborn St.

18River Roast (Formerly Fulton’s on the River)

315 N. LaSalle St.

19Wildfire

159 W. Erie St.

20Mike Ditka’s

100 E Chestnut St.

 

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