Chicago’s downtown Loop has an abundance of great dining choices. And while there’s plenty of new and trending spots to choose from there’s also a wealth of classic Chicago establishments with fascinating histories. From the first-ever department store restaurant to a German tavern that opened in the 1800s, these long-time local legends serve up a piece of Chicago history.
The Berghoff Restaurant
The Berghoff was established by German immigrant Herman Joseph Berghoff in 1898. He opened the tavern to showcase his family’s beer (which was sold for a nickel), with sandwiches given away for free. The Berghoff eventually expanded into a full-service restaurant, serving its own brewed root beer during Prohibition, and has been family-run ever since.
Today, the Berghoff proudly displays its Chicago Liquor License No. 1 behind its original historic bar, the first license issued after the end of Prohibition. You can still order a frosty Berghoff beer, as well as classic German dishes like the wiener schnitzel with the restaurant’s famed creamed spinach and spätzle. 17 W. Adams St.
Have lunch or dinner in the Walnut Room, the first-ever department store restaurant when it opened in 1907. It was housed inside the original Marshall Field’s, which at the time was the largest store in the world.
Today, Macy’s on State Street has taken over the historic building, including the Walnut Room. The gorgeous space still retains its dark walnut paneling (imported from Russia) and elegant Austrian chandeliers. Be sure to order Mrs. Hering’s Chicken Pot Pie, named for a store clerk who inspired the restaurant’s opening, and save room for their signature Key lime pie for dessert. During the holidays, request a spot beneath the breathtaking Great Tree that becomes the sparkling centerpiece of The Walnut Room. 111 N. State St.
Lou Mitchell’s has been a favorite breakfast spot for locals and Route 66 travelers since 1923. This family-run diner prides itself on its warm hospitality, which includes free mini boxes of Milk Duds candies for women and children (handed out since 1958), and complimentary donut holes for all.
The specialty of the house is fluffy jumbo omelets made with farm-fresh eggs and a huge selection of ingredients (try the version with sweet Michigan apples and Old English cheddar cheese) that are cooked and served in a skillet, sided with hash browns and toast meant to be slathered with Lou’s homemade orange marmalade. 565 W. Jackson Blvd.
Owned by the Capitanini family since 1927, the downtown Italian Village is Chicago’s oldest Italian restaurant. During the course of its 90 years in business, Italian Village has dished out some nine million meals and employed more than 40,000 Chicagoans. Four current employees have been with the restaurant for over 50 years!
For dinner, choose from one of the three restaurants housed within the Italian Village: the wine cellar-like La Cantina, contemporary Vivere or The Village, a whimsically recreated Tuscan village complete with a twinkling night sky. Dig into a traditional Northern Italian dish like the chicken cacciatore served with grilled polenta and order a glass of wine from Italian Village’s award-winning collection of more than 35,000 bottles, making it the home of the largest on-site wine cellar in the Midwest. 71 W. Monroe St.
Tucked under the rumbling ‘L’ trains that travel overhead along Wabash Avenue, Miller’s Pub has been a Loop fixture since 1935. The restaurant was bought from the Millers in 1950 by the Gallios brothers, but short on money they decided not to replace the sign, leaving the Miller’s Pub name intact.
Over the years, Miller’s became a late-night celebrity haunt, as evidenced by the signed black-and-white photos of stars like singers Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett that line the walls. The atmosphere has changed little, and the interior is still accented with dark woods, vintage paintings, and stained glass. Order the barbecued Canadian baby-back ribs or the Greek-style lamb chops prepared with lemon, garlic, and olive oil. 134 S. Wabash Ave.
More historic Chicago restaurants
Check out these Chicago restaurants outside the Loop that have become part of local history: