Not every Thanksgiving has to involve an impromptu overnight at your packed hometown airport, a fight with your sister at the Des Plaines Oasis, or finally hitting absolute rock-bottom and making a phone call to the Food Network Turkey Hotline.
Chicago has lots of great restaurants that serve Thanksgiving dinner (with varying degrees of traditionalism), and our guide has you covered for a number of different scenarios - particularly the main one, i.e., forcing your family to eat in public so they can’t get into screaming fights about religion, politics, or whether or not you spoiled the latest Netflix show by mentioning a tiny detail from episode 8. Thank us later, after you’ve taken an extra-long nap since you didn’t have to do any dishes.
We’re aware that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in France. But if they did, we imagine it would look a lot like the holiday dinner happening at Bistronomic, a French restaurant in the Gold Coast. It’s a three-course prix fixe meal with turkey breast and stuffed turkey leg, a foie gras terrine, and short ribs. This place is nice but still casual, making it easy to pretend you’re in a quaint French village. And that you’re not getting up at 3am tomorrow to stand in line for a flatscreen TV.
The meal: $65 three-course prix fixe
There’s no need to get on a plane to Vegas for Thanksgiving (provided that’s something you were considering), because you can just go to Hub 51. This upbeat, party-type restaurant in River North is a great place for a celebratory meal with friends. The Thanksgiving buffet here has classic dishes like turkey, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole, but also other things like short ribs and grain salad, so no one in your group should have trouble finding something.
The meal: Buffet, $49.95
Chief O’Neill’s has a serious Thanksgiving operation, complete with timed seatings to keep the waves of buffet-goers under control. This place is a neighborhood pub, but on holidays they roll out an extensive spread with all the classics (including prime rib), a separate dessert table with white and milk chocolate fountains, and all the snack foods you typically miss out on when you go out to eat - like chips and salsa, or pita chips and hummus. It’s like going to your aunt’s out in the suburbs, with the bonus that you won’t need to talk to your cousin who’s creepily obsessed with his pet snakes.
The meal: Buffet, $50
This is a good pick if you’re hoping to spend most of Thanksgiving drinking with your friends. They’re serving turkey dinners with an upscale twist (so expect things like foie gras stuffing and bourbon cranberry sauce). Seatings start at 3pm, and the attached bar, OSB, is doing a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich, too - so pick up one of those on your way out if you anticipate needing some late-night seconds.
The meal: Family-style, $65 prix fixe
RPM in River North can be a scene, but it always delivers on food and service, making it a safe bet if you want a somewhat trendy experience. Count on seeing some expensive prix fixe upgrade options - and go ahead and add truffles and caviar to the coal roasted crab, parmesan risotto, and turkey prepared two ways, as long as you can put it on your corporate card. Charging Thanksgiving to your corporate card is probably not something you should do, but if you’re here, there’s a good chance your boss is making you work over the holiday weekend anyway.
The meal: Four-course, $90 prix fixe
If Willy Wonka catered your Thanksgiving dinner, it would look exactly like this. The Peninsula has a buffet that’s completely over-the-top, very expensive, and pretty f*cking awesome if you’re ready to go all out. You can expect elaborate holiday decorations revolving around a theme - like “apple orchard” or “The Mayflower” - as well as an absurd variety of food stations manned by people good at politely ignoring how much you’ve piled on a single plate. You’ll find everything from lobster to dim sum, a breakfast bar, and a whole room dedicated to different desserts.
The meal: Buffet, $225
You can come here for a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, or you can come here for some delicious crab with a pile of hashbrowns ordered a la carte. It’s a free country, as that annoying kid from homeroom loved to tell you in fifth grade.
The meal: Family-style, $54.95
Another place to come for crab. Sure, they also have a Thanksgiving buffet with turkey and tenderloin. But you should really be focusing your attention on the seafood: crab legs, salmon, crab cakes, and a full-on raw bar. It’s what Shaw’s does best, and you can fit a lot of oysters in your purse.
The meal: Buffet, $75
This fancy BBQ spot has turkey on its prix fixe menu, but for $10 more you can get prime rib instead. There’s also BBQ available a la carte, which means that eating baby back ribs instead of pie for dessert is no longer an impossible dream. (They do have regular dessert, too.)
The meal: $49.95 or $59.95 prix fixe
Come here if you want someplace nice that won’t be full of big groups. It’s a small Italian place in the Gold Coast, and the tables are very close together (almost communal). You can expect Italian starters like turkey bolognese papardelle and a squash tortelloni, but traditional main courses - like turkey or a pork chop with mashed potatoes. It’s the kind of restaurant where you can go with just your parents or significant other, and maybe make friends with whoever’s sitting to your left or right.
The meal: $85 prix fixe
The main design elements of the Cherry Circle Room (in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel) are dark wood, overstuffed leather chairs, and a huge fireplace - so it reminds us of a fancy turn-of-the-century hunting lodge. They clearly think you can never have enough turkey, because they offer it two ways - turkey leg confit or turkey roulade - along with traditional sides like mashed potatoes and green beans. The restaurant is small and located on the second floor, so you won’t even notice you’re eating in a hotel. What you will notice is the strong urge to adopt an English Setter, or at least play a rousing game of Duck Hunt.
The meal: Family-style, $90 prix fixe
Bub City is where you want to be for a Friendsgiving-y Thanksgiving - when you want to get drunk and eat too much, but also not go broke. They specialize in barbecue, so in addition to sweet potatoes and stuffing, you’ll be eating brisket and/or smoked turkey. Their “giddy-up” fries (nachos made with waffle fries) may sound obnoxious, but they still taste really good - and if you make it to late-night, there will be karaoke. You’ve been warned.
The meal Buffet, $34.95