III Forks; an aerial shot of Lakeshore East Park; dogs greeting each other at Lakeshore East Park; a customer at Mariano’s Fresh Market
Clockwise from top left: III Forks; an aerial shot of Lakeshore East Park; dogs greeting each other at Lakeshore East Park; a customer at Mariano’s Fresh Market. For more photos, launch the gallery »

Never heard of Lakeshore East, the 28-acre enclave just south of the river and north of Millennium Park, tucked between the Mag Mile and the lake? You’re not alone. “People don’t realize it exists,” says Brian Gordon of the Magellan Development Group, which began transforming the area a decade ago. Planned or not, locales that spring up fully formed are unusual—especially ones that come with all the hallmarks of a go-to restaurant row. Get to know the former rail yard with our picks for food and more.

[1] Steak houses abound in Chicago, but how many deliver filets with a side of breathtaking? The rooftop lounge of the restaurant, which opened in October, offers views of the skyline, the lake, and the river. A happy hour hit for its 30 by-the-glass wines, the place also knows its steak. We like the 28-day wet-aged bone-in rib eye. 333 E. Benton Pl.; 312-938-4303, 3forks.com

[2] Lakeshore East’s architectural pièce de résistance, Jeanne Gang’s 82-story Aqua, is home to the opulent Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, which in turn houses this Italian restaurant and lounge. Open since November, the bi-level space sets the stage for rustic dishes (try the braised oxtail gnocchi), and well-heeled professional types pack the downstairs bar. Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, 221 N. Columbus Dr.; 312-565-5258, filinichicago.com

Small Lakeshore East map
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[3] Also in the Radisson, this no-nonsense spa—a sauna, showers, two treatment rooms—is ideal for type A’s from surrounding office buildings in need of an orange-blossom body polish and massage ($145 for 60 minutes). Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, 221 N. Columbus Dr.; 312-565-5258, radissonblu.com

[4] At the center of doughnut-shaped Lakeshore East is this pristine six-acre public space. Ample foliage and lighted fountains provide a dose of tranquility among the cranes and jackhammers, and a designated off-leash area gives dogs room to romp. With free Wi-Fi, it’s a good option for working picnic lunches. 450 E. Benton Pl.; 312-742-7649, chicagoparkdistrict.com

[5] Opened in October, this 55,000-square-footer is not your typical corner market but a veritable food fun house, complete with an olive bar, a sweets counter stocked with handmade fudge, and a pizzeria churning out Roman-style pies. The vibe is frenzied weekdays at lunchtime, but a park-facing patio offers a reprieve. 333 E. Benton Pl.; 312-228-1349, marianosfreshmarket.com

[6] Named not for the brunch staple but for a childhood friend of one of Lakeshore East’s developers, this café was slated to open in April, courtesy of Custom House Tavern’s Peter Drohomyrecky and his wife, Sue. Slinging diner-style breakfast and lunch fare all day, Eggy’s plans to resurrect the blue-plate special with dishes like fried chicken; family-style meals will make this a stroller-friendly zone. 333 E. Benton Pl.; eggysdiner.com

[7] Scheduled to launch upstairs from Eggy’s this month, Maison will be the Drohomyreckys’ take on a French brasserie. In addition to the usual suspects (onion soup), the menu will include a charcuterie and raw bar, as well as keg wine. And what would a Lakeshore East address be without a park view? At presstime, a spacious outdoor area was in the works. 333 E. Benton Pl.; maisonbrasserie.com

Bonus! Pritzker Pavilion [8] is just across Randolph Street. Here, early notice on free summer shows:
Downtown Sound, Mondays from May 28 to July 30, showcases top indie, pop, and rock acts, our favorite cure for the back-to-work blahs. . . . New this year, an electronica series slides into the mix Thursdays from June 7 to July 12 (except June 21). . . . The city’s best jazz acts take the stage Thursdays from July 19 to August 30 (except August 9). . . . The Gospel Music Festival kicks off on June 21 with a spirited fete in the park. 201 E. Randolph St.; 312-742-1168, explorechicago.org

The Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K, on May 12, features a lakeside route and a postrace picnic in Lakeshore East Park. Entry is $60 for the half marathon and $45 for the 10K; for info, chicagospringhalf.com.


Photography: (Lakeshore East aerial shot) Courtesy of Magellan Development Group by VHT Photography; (all others) Travis Roozée