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.

4Capital Grille

633 N St Clair St.

5Morton’s

1050 N. State 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.

18Fulton’s On The River

315 N. LaSalle St.

19Wildfire

159 W. Erie St.

20Mike Ditka’s

100 E Chestnut St.

 

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comments
6 months ago
Posted by cdavid

not sure who has the job of making these recs, but for my money and without question, masto's is the best steak house in town! period. paragraph.

6 months ago
Posted by Jason Anciulis

Good looking list. Would have thought Chicago Cut would be higher up....

6 months ago
Posted by gkooz

Benny's Chop House has GREAT burgers. After my daughter's graduation from Columbia College, we walked there from the Chicago Theatre for late lunch. I ordered a medium burger topped with a sunny side up egg. It was cooked perfectly, flavorful, and is the best burger I have ever eaten!

6 months ago
Posted by George Luce

What — nothing south of Randolph? I guess we Sox fans are chopped liver.

6 months ago
Posted by joji

No Del Frisco's surprising but not really . Like the place a lot but recently going to eat elsewhere and then stopping at DF for the great bars. They opened with I think better food and management. Things have changed. They need to get back to the basics and really step it up on better food, steak, and top notch service.
The potential is there. Time for sure, for management re-structure.

6 months ago
Posted by NMo

In my 20 years of going to Chicago Steakhouses, I have found David Burke's to be terrible food. I am amazed that it has been given the top billing on your list. I would also like to know how Joe's Prime Steak was overlooked. Mastro's at 13 is way to low and Gene and Georgetti's, The Palm, Flemmings and Ruth's Chris belong at the bottom. Were the writers paid to formulate this list? Maybe you should have some true Chicagoan's help you out. And yes, Bavette's I agree with and should be number 1.

6 months ago
Posted by Steve D

Wondering if there was a control item to judge equally? Did you order strip, filet, porterhouse, rib eye at each location, all requested med rare? Story doesn't indicate.

6 months ago
Posted by chitrainer

This is list is flawed is soooo many ways. Just a few:
Mastros is #1 without a doubt.
Chicago cut should be top 5.
Jordans shouldn't be on ANY top list.

6 months ago
Posted by RAK

David Burke's is surely one of the best steaks in Chicago. Every Steakhouse on the list has wonderful Prime Steak, and puts out a great meal. All well and good if your eating alone, but with other people you need to be able to talk. Chicago Cut, Del Frisco's, Mastro's, and Gibson's are very loud. In that order, the first three are off my list because you can't even talk to the person next to you. Del Frisco's adds terrible service to the extremely noisy list, good food served poorly is not worth it.
David Burke's was a great food experience, the 55 day dry aged was memorable, but the service, and being able to hear and talk, were even better.

6 months ago
Posted by Deemarie

Mastro's definitely should have been #1! Outstanding service also.

6 months ago
Posted by Jonnynonos

Having dined at many of the top-tier contestants multiple times, I concur with the other posters that, while outrageously expensive, there is little doubt that Mastro's is number-one. Everything was done to absolute perfection. After that I would say Cut.

Overall, frankly, I find this list bizarre.

6 months ago
Posted by enginist

Mike should be embarrassed by putting the "Tomahawk" on the menu, charging $60 for a 30-ounce steak that is 50% bone. He must think that we're all suckers here, because he wouldn't get away with that in Aliquippa, PA.

6 months ago
Posted by Felipeospina

Where is Roka Akor? This place offers cuts and varieties from USA all the way to Japan, New Zeland and Australia. It was also in Crains top 10 steakhouses a few days ago.

5 months ago
Posted by Casbah

Flawed list indeed. Their is obviously some bias here.

I'm Surprised Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab and III Forks isn't on the list and that David Burke's, Erie Cafe, and Gene and Georgetti is on the list. Ate at G&G on Friday and it was garbage.

5 months ago
Posted by whitehouse

Mastro's service changed when someone in our party needed a light to read the menu because of an eye disease and a dark atmosphere (the light seemed to upset someone) . We were served in approximately 30-35 minutes with our complete meal, and were never even asked if we wanted something to drink, however they did give us a glass of water. I would never recommend this restaurant because of this treatment. When I mentioned this before leaving they said we could order a drink in the bar. Not one party who were present when we entered the restaurant had even gotten their main course when they were finished serving our party.

5 months ago
Posted by peeeko

please explain how Joes stonecrab and steak is not in the top 20. it is top 5 easily, service is excellent as well as the food (sides,desserts et al)

4 months ago
Posted by A Real "Foodie"

While in line at the grocery store, I grabbed and subsequently bought the Chicago magazine that featured the “Chicago’s 20 Best Steakhouses” on the cover. The steak looked delicious. I immediately read the article and found that I have eaten and really enjoyed many of the other top choices suggested by Carly Boers, Penny Pollack, and Jeff Ruby-authors of the Chicago magazine article. Having a stay vacation coming up, I called and made a reservation at David Burke’s which was the BEST in the city. I checked out the website and even made a reservation for an overnight stay at The James Hotel. At The James Hotel’s website there was a special offer called “Chicago Foodies @ David Burke’s Prime House.” It included a three-course tasting menu of the chef’s choosing. It had wine parings and a private tour of the Himalayan salt-tiled dry aging room. Excitedly, I made the hotel reservation and had them upgrade our dinner reservation to the “Foodies.” When I received a call to confirm the reservation, I was told there was required dress attire. My guest and I made sure that we looked the part. When checking in at the hostess stand, the atmosphere was quiet, almost dull. Typically, when walking within the entrance of a restaurant, your mouth starts salivating because of the delicious aromas coming from within. There is usually the comment of, “Oooh, I can’t wait to eat-it smells so good!” Strangely there was no smell at all. There was nothing in that first impression to make us feel that we were about to experience “Chicago’s Best.” After we were seated, I noticed men in ratty sweatshirts and jeans and women wearing gym shoes at the tables near us. This was baffling, as the restaurant clearly informed us that there was a dress code. Overlooking these three negative first impressions, we received delicious pop overs for our bread. Our “bite” appetizer was a cherry tomato, mozzarella ball, a piece of basil with a drizzle of balsamic on a tooth pick. The first two selections set the stage for something really good, but nothing that we hadn’t already experienced at other restaurants. Next, an arugula salad that was oversimplified to the greens, pine nuts, and a goat cheese spread under the salad. We were not impressed. A lamb pot roast followed. It reminded me of a meal from a local Greek restaurant-not spectacular. Our expectations for the steak are growing since the rest of the meal had been just mediocre. The steaks arrive! But wait, we only received one steak. This explained our confusion when the waiter asked how we wanted the steak cooked and were corrected when we both said something different. It was the 55 day ribeye. They cut the steak in front of us. I took one of the strips. I almost choked on the dryness. I decided that I should try another slice from the center of the steak-still inedible dry. Maybe the salt room aging is supposed to make the steak dry and leather tasting. Maybe I’m an amateur/naïve about fine dining. Dry aging is supposed to intensify the meat flavor, according to the research that I did. We finished our meal with a s’more version of a dessert in pie form-average. The wine pairings were just ok. I usually ask for suggestions from the waiter or sommelier. I usually am jotting down what was recommended to purchase later. Not the case at David Burke’s. Also, we were not offered the private tour nor did we ask to go on it after eating such a disastrous meal. I’m not sure what I am most disappointed in: the Chicago Magazine’s referral, the actual restaurant-David Burke’s, the “Foodies” package deal, or the misrepresentation of the experience from the website and from the hostess on the phone. I am disgusted that I spent the money that I did on a dinner whose steak reminded me of a $10 local grocery store cut, which was prepared by forgetting it on a grill. David Burke’s is, in this Chicagoan’s opinion, the WORST steakhouse in Chicago.

4 months ago
Posted by ChiScott

I was excited to pick up this issue of Chicago Magazine at the store because my wife and I enjoy our time at many of Chicago's great Steakhouses. After reading and looking at the rankings we were surprised to see Jordan's Steakhouse ranked at #8. Based solely on this we decided to make a reservation. WHAT were you thinking! This is NOT a steak house! It is a restaurant that serves Steaks that I wouldn't recommend to anyone. When pay $50 for a steak (and $200 plus for a meal) you expect not only great food but a good atmosphere and knowledgable staff. This had NONE of the above. Never again will I trust the advise of this magazine for future dinning decisions!

3 months ago
Posted by Sid V

Burke's is completely undeserving of the top spot. During restaurant week the food was cold, the service abysmal and the steak gristly. I would never return there, it was a complete joke. Ruth's Chris is easily top ten, better than pretty much any of these for less money than most. Benny's is deserving of its lofty ranking, it is outstanding. Mastro's is good, not great, and priced such that there is no quality-to-value there whatsoever.

2 months ago
Posted by Foodwithswagger

Mastro's should be #1. Everything comes together at Mastro's. Service, ambiance, and flavor. I love Mastro's. I went to Berkes on Valentine's Day and was not impressed it lacked in ambiance and flavor but service was great. I'm making my way down the list. And I will let you guys know which steak house has the most swagger.

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