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Because food is the best gift of all—12 great restaurant gift certificates in Chicago

By Nicole Schnitzler

There’s no better time than now to start thinking about finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, and what better gift is there for your food-loving friends than a visit to one of Chicago’s best restaurants? Easy to purchase, easier to enjoy, and versatile as all get-out, the gift certificate was made for the dining experience—so long as you choose wisely. To ensure you do just that, we’ve put together a delicious dozen options to check out from among the Second City’s essential eateries.

Break the bank for modern-day Italian at Spiaggia
Impress your friends big time with a visit to Spiaggia, Tony Manutano’s iconic destination for fine dining Italian. Fun fact? It’s a favorite of the Obamas.
Neighborhood: Mag Mile MAP

A prix fixe kind of present at Smyth
The West Loop has another media darling as of this fall, brought to you by a husband-and-wife team who know a thing or two about high-end dining (he spent time at Alinea and Charlie Trotter’s; she at Trotter’s and Tru). Expect a tasting menu of exceptional bites served in a comfortable, home-away-from-home atmosphere.
Neighborhood: West Loop MAP


The Dearborn

Crowd-pleasing New American plates at The Dearborn
This Loop-situated spot is bound to please everyone in your party, thanks to a local approach to familiar dishes, such as the Midwest fried chicken with maple-mustard glaze and hot sauce, and local burrata with beets and heirloom tomatoes.
Neighborhood: The Loop MAP

Go veggie-forward at Bad Hunter
This West Loop newcomer takes its vegetables seriously, but that doesn’t mean meat lovers are left hanging. House-cured bacon and sirloin skewers are still on offer, as are several meat-inspired plates, such as beet tartare and a not-to-be-missed veggie burger on brioche.
Neighborhood: West Loop MAP

Cocktails with a twist at Presidio
If you were expecting a ho-hum selection of fries and deviled eggs, forget it—there’s a full list of menu items to choose from at this Bucktown bar, from pork belly pappardelle to pork Milanese. Make sure you cushion in enough change for your guests to enjoy at least two rounds of cocktails, which are this hangout’s true forte.
Neighborhood: Bucktown MAP


Mercat a la Planxa

Take a trip to Spain at Mercat a la Planxa
Just footsteps from Grant Park, this South Loop restaurant is the perfect place to take in the cityscape, while gin and tonics, bacon wrapped dates, and paella help jet-set you straight to Spain.
Neighborhood: South Loop MAP

Unwind with upmarket Japanese at Arami
Sushi and ramen lovers alike flock to this West Town staple, where chefs Ajay Popli and Nelson Vinansaca serve up favorites like Arami ramen, with pork belly, grilled enoki, and house tsukemono, or the hamachi carpaccio, a decadent display of torched yellowtail, ponzu, and sesame oil.
Neighborhood: West Town MAP


Boleo

Explore Peruvian and Argentinean-style street fare at Boleo
If it’s not the likes of flavorful ceviches, hand-folded empanadas, and seafood-focused tiraditos drawing crowds to this recently opened Loop restaurant, it’s the rooftop, which is open year round. Once you’ve found the perfect view, head bartender Jess Lambert has you covered with an array of South American–inspired cocktails.
Neighborhood: The Loop MAP

Enjoy seasonal fare and cozy environs at Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
Chef Art Smith does it again with this Gold Coast restaurant, where a hyper-seasonal and sustainable menu is as delicious as the décor is charming. While the food impresses year round, a summer visit to the garden and courtyard is a must.
Neighborhood: Gold Coast MAP

Splurge on whimsy at Elizabeth
If it’s wow factor you’re going for, look no further than this Lincoln Square hole in the wall, where chef Iliana Regan focuses on all things fruit and vegetable for her seasonal tasting menus. Each installment is nothing short of incredible fun—the focus for the menu this fall: Downton Abbey.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Square MAP


Sepia

Travel the world with Sepia’s globally-inspired menu
Chef Andrew Zimmerman helms the kitchen at this West Loop restaurant, where his internationally-inspired American fare has helped the restaurant to earn a Michelin star on the yearly since 2011. Go for the roasted rabbit with house bacon and tea soaked prune, or the coconut braised beets with curry leaf and cocoa nibs.
Neighborhood: West Loop MAP

Discover a melting pot of flavors at Vermilion
The adventurous eater on your list is bound to enjoy an evening at Vermilion, where the upscale menu features a melding of Indian and Latin flavors, as evidenced by tandoori skirt steak and blackened tamarind ribs with tomatillo “pachadi.”
Neighborhood: River North MAP

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