The Bristol (photo: Vincent Hung)

7 Chicago restaurants where sexy meets sustainable

By Anthony Todd

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and we’ve got a secret for you: You don’t have to only go out for a fancy date on February 14. Sure, it can be super fun to arrange a swanky Valentine’s Day date, but sometimes your sweetie is much more swept off their feet by an unexpected bit of fabulousness on a random evening. Just be sure to do it right—here are seven spots that care about their food, have amazing ambiance, and are guaranteed to provide the perfect date night experience whenever you go.

The Bristol
Here’s the secret to hacking The Bristol, one of the most locavore-friendly restaurants in Chicago: Go during the week. The intimate, dimly lit spot gets a little too loud for romance on the weekend, but during the week, there’s no place better to share a plate of their famous house-made pasta and make like Lady and the Tramp. Plus, the staff is super well-informed about exactly what the restaurant serves.
Neighborhood: Bucktown MAP

Your date will be impressed by how trend-conscious you are when you take them to this new spot from Boka group and chef Lee Wolen. Wolen is known for his creative use of seasonal, well-sourced ingredients, especially proteins, and the meat dishes here (get the venison, trust us) are particularly out-of-this-world good. The space, with its upscale country club theme, has plenty of quiet date night nooks, and the soaring, two-story room makes any day of the week feel like an occasion.
Neighborhood: Gold Coast MAP

Your sourcing can’t get any more local than Smyth’s—they have their own farm! Photos of the farm are gathered in books scattered around the restaurant, and chef John Shields is happy to chat about the provenance of literally anything in the place. The Asian-inspired tasting menu shows off an endless array of unique flavors, like egg yolk soaked in salted licorice, or foie gras with miso, but none of it shocks the palate. The dining room, which feels like a giant country house, is the perfect place to cozy up for a few hours and pretend your date is the only thing in the world (aside from the food).
Neighborhood: West Loop MAP

Beets with Miso at Sepia (Paul Strabbing)

While its newer cousin, Proxi, has been getting all the attention lately, if you want a real night of romance, you have to go to the OG, Sepia, and let luxury wash over you. Chef Andrew Zimmerman has an amazing hand for turning seasonal, local foods into something special—especially in the winter, which is why you shouldn’t hesitate to go when the menu is filled with leeks, beets, and watermelon radishes. Settle into a plush banquette for a long, perfect meal.
Neighborhood: West Loop MAP

Chef Rick Bayless is one of the nation’s most passionate advocates for local foods (he’s got a whole foundation working on it) and the best place to see this showcased is at Topolobampo, his upscale tasting menu spot. Behind a sliding door that cuts diners off from the touristy bustle of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo is quiet, romantic, and wins every award for best service out there. Between the celebrity cred and an actual good time, you are guaranteed to impress any date.
Neighborhood: River North MAP

It’s rare that we’ll even put two restaurants from the same group, let alone the same chef, on one list, but you can’t do a list of great romantic, locally sourced restaurants in Chicago without mentioning Boka. The space never fails to amaze, complete with a giant, room-sized green wall and dramatic ferns, and a menu that has magic in every bite. The best dish here, the roast chicken, gets a seasonal prep right now with rutabaga, cabbage and banyuls. It’s almost enough to make you happy it’s February.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park MAP

North Pond
North Pond might be the most romantic restaurant in Chicago, and has some of the best food, too. Set away from the bustle of the roads in the middle of Lincoln Park—literally on the shore of North Pond—this prairie-school restaurant is filled with dark wood, vintage charm, a flickering fireplace, and warm candles. It was also one of the first restaurants in Chicago to take local food seriously, and Chef Bruce Sherman has continued that commitment, mostly quietly and without any chalkboard with farmers’ names on the wall, for 20 years.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park MAP

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