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The Unsung Majesty of the Magnificent Mile

Everyone knows about the sheer magnificence of the Magnificent Mile — especially during the holiday season, when travelers from near and far descend on one of the world’s most iconic retail thoroughfares for festive events, celebratory dinners, fireworks spectacles, and of course, shopping.

But what some may not realize is that Michigan Avenue doesn’t lose its luster in the off season, in fact, the Mag Mile is just as destination-worthy year-round, thanks in large part to its lauded restaurants. For locals, the lull in tourist traffic during months like January, February, and March offers an opportunity to snag a seat at perennially popular hotspots. Sure, the weather may be brisk (to put it mildly), but it’s well worth the extra layers to experience restaurants that rank among the world’s most exquisite.

Want an inside peek at the best eats on the Mag Mile? Here’s where to head:

Althea {700 North Michigan Avenue; 312.525.3400}

Chicago is no longer stereotyped as a meat-and-potatoes town. Sure, the city still boasts the best steakhouses in the country, but proof of its culinary evolution can be seen—and tasted—at plant-based restaurants like Althea. And the mesmerizing views of the Magnificent Mile are just icing on the (vegan) cake.

“There’s no place else in Chicago where you can get a vibrant, creative, healthy, 100% plant-based meal while enjoying a finer dining atmosphere and outstanding views of the Magnificent Mile,” says General Manager Liz Fergus, adding that off season is an optimal time to visit since the views are always great and servers and bartenders have more time to engage with guests. Plus, many dishes at Althea change seasonally, keeping things dynamic and exciting. Some examples include the “Crab” Cakes made with hearts of palm, artichokes, and nori; and the winter-ready Spicy Udon —“It’ll warm you with a dash of togarashi, rich cashew-hoisin broth, and savory seared tempeh,” adds Fergus.

Torali Italian-Steak, The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago {160 East Pearson Street; 312.573.5160}

At Torali Italian-Steak, a contemporary stunner inside The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, it’s all about letting seasonal ingredients shine, and the off season is high time for Roasted Butternut Squash Agnolotti, King Crab with white wine butter, roasted Parsnip Bisque, and Brussels Sprouts flecked with crispy pancetta, orange, and pickled chile.

“These seasonal dishes are warming and a perfect way to spend a cold Chicago evening,” notes Fadi Takouz, director of food and beverage for The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago. As for the hotel itself, the off season offers great value on rooms, making it an excellent staycation option while the tourists are away. “The city is yours!” says Takouz. “It’s the most serene time of year on the Magnificent Mile. Whether it’s shopping, entertainment, or great dining, you can find it all right here in an elegant setting.”

The Signature Room at the 95th® {875 North Michigan Avenue; 312.787.9596}

During the holidays, The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the iconic 875 North Michigan Avenue Tower is one of the most popular restaurants for celebratory meals with unparalleled views. Subsequent months see the tourist lines winnowed, allowing locals to enjoy the restaurant and vistas. This time of year, the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Chicago’s skyline pair nicely with menu options like Lobster Bisque, Lobster Cobb Salad, and Roasted Rack of Lamb with Bolognese and fried kale.

As Assistant Marketing Manager Anna Cervantes highlights, not only is this a great time of year for Chicagoans to enjoy themselves in an iconic setting, but to marvel at the wonders all around them as well. “The Mag Mile has such a great, rich history,” she notes. “The off season is the perfect time to truly appreciate the history and architecture while shopping or taking a stroll.”

Labriola Chicago {535 North Michigan Avenue; 312.955.3100}

Chicago is undoubtedly a pizza town, and it takes a special place to stand out in the pie-producing crowd. Labriola Chicago is such a place, with all kinds of doughy comfort foods perfectly befitting a blustery day downtown. Steps off Michigan Avenue, the cozy Italian restaurant is a haven for locals and visitors alike, both of whom flock here for soulful ‘za, available in three styles: deep-dish, artisan, and thin-crust. For Labriola Chicago’s impassioned owners, it’s all about providing comfort, which is echoed in the restaurant’s ambience. “The warm wood finishes, comfortable booths, and classic Italian tile create a very welcoming atmosphere,” says Scott Berry, general manager.

Le Colonial {57 East Oak Street; 312.255.0088}

When the Gold Coast’s acclaimed French-Vietnamese restaurant Le Colonial moved around the corner to Oak Street, it included some exciting upgrades and additions. As Owner Joe King notes, the new space sports a 55-foot porch with windows providing sweeping views of the retail-lined thoroughfare, plus a snug fireplace in the lounge.

“The design of the dining room has been lightened up with windows to the outside, adding light to the room,” explains King. “We have also used lighter colors instead of the heavy browns and maroons from the old Le Colonial.” Such a setting is an aptly warm and inviting locale for cozying up in colder months with crispy Spring Rolls, Chicken Dumplings with ginger-soy glaze, and Tuna Tartare — the latter a new menu addition that King says has become quite the fan-favorite.

Fig & Olive {104 East Oak Street; 312.445.0060}

At a restaurant as lush as Fig & Olive, the joyful vibes don’t stop on January 1.

“Here, we invite our guests to experience joie de vivre regardless of the time of year,” proclaims Senior Events Sales Manager Lindsay Uyeda. “We embody the life of luxury, but present it in a way that is both accessible and effortless.”

It’s the kind of restaurant that feels like an exotic escape, especially in the light-soaked third-floor atrium, cocktails in tow. The ingredients — like the paper-thin carpaccios and blood orange-infused oils — are just as bright and fresh as the space itself. Pair it all with skyline views that Uyeda describes as “must-see” no matter the season.

Truluck’s {41 East Chestnut Street; 312.982.0050}

Winter in Chicago may seem endless, but there’s plenty to look forward to at restaurants like Truluck’s. For instance: It’s the season for Florida stone crab (the restaurant’s signature dish, flown in fresh from the waters off the Miami coast and never frozen), private dining rooms suddenly have a lot more availability, and there’s nightly live music in the lounge, providing plenty of entertainment in the off season. “Without the rush and the crowds, you can really take some time and soak in the countless things to do in a small stretch of the city,” says Todd Alley, Truluck’s director of marketing.

CDA {20 East Chestnut Street; 312.324.4063}

If you can’t swing a trip to Paris this winter, a visit to Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile and its restaurant, CDA, may be the next best thing.

“Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile presents an opportunity for guests to experience the best of the Windy City through our French lens,” says Chef Cliff Crawford. “The building itself was designed by Jean Paul Viguir, who was inspired by the nearby 875 North Michigan Avenue Tower. If you look at it from a distance, the all-white glass prism that is the Sofitel looks as though it’s leaning into the dark, steel-derived 875 North Michigan Avenue Tower as if they were a bride and groom atop a wedding cake.”

Another appealing aspect is the property’s open and airy motif, unlike anything else in the neighborhood. Bask in the light whilst feasting on shareable Mediterranean fare like Seafood Paella and Grilled Branzino. After dinner (or a staycation), Crawford recommends visiting the Lakefront Trail. “We’re close to remarkable Lake Michigan, which is still active even in the colder months.”

Café Spiaggia & Spiaggia {980 North Michigan Avenue; 312.280.2750}

Gnocchi, beach views, and wine are all great remedies for a Chicago winter, which makes Spiaggia and Café Spaiggia the perfect destination-worthy restaurants this time of year.

“The views are stunning, the pasta is made fresh every day, our wine list is unbelievable, and we have two dining rooms that are completely different,” says Executive Chef Eric Lees. “A major design goal was to lay out the space so that, no matter where diners sit, everyone is looking out at the park and beach through 40-foot windows.”

Considering beach views are a rarity this time of year in Chicago, it’s a unique and welcome respite. And Lees’ food is as comforting as the views, thanks to seasonal Italian-inspired offerings like Porterhouse Steak with truffle hollandaise and beef fat potatoes, not to mention Gnocchi with wild boar ragù and basil. One fun fact the chef points out is the restaurant’s proximity to the 875 North Michigan Avenue Tower, which hosts sunrise yoga on weekend mornings on the observation deck. “Fill up on pasta and delicious Italian fare and then head over in the morning to work it off with sunrise yoga.”

The Peninsula Chicago {108 East Superior Street; 312.337.2888}

“There really is no ‘off season’ for the Magnificent Mile,” says Martin Rahn, executive assistant manager of food and beverage at The Peninsula Chicago.

“There’s always something happening here. You’ll find special offers at amazing high-end retail shops and hotels during the winter months, and there are also a number of activities taking place on the Magnificent Mile through May.” As one of the most beautiful hotels in Chicago, The Peninsula—and onsite restaurants like The Lobby, Z Bar, and Pierrot Gourmet—is regarded as a magical and transportive must-see during the holidays and beyond.

The Lobby in particular keeps the celebratory vibes going with its popular Sunday brunches, afternoon tea, family-style Sunday suppers, and “Chocolate Bar” buffet on Fridays and Saturdays. One new addition is the restaurant’s monthly Chef Dinner Series, helmed by new Chef de Cuisine Brandon Veitch, along with different guest chefs from Chicago. True to Rahn’s claim, there’s always something happening here.

Mariposa {737 North Michigan Avenue; 312.694.4050}

Nestled on the fourth floor of Neiman Marcus, Mariposa is a hidden gem worth seeking out this time of year, especially after holiday shopping has calmed. According to Frank Zack, director of beverage and operations for Neiman Marcus Corporate Food Service, the restaurant’s elegant ambience with views of the historic Water Tower, along with colorful mosaics by renowned artist Alexander Calder, make it a stunner.

There’s a bit of pomp and circumstance here, too, which makes Mariposa feel like a special treat year-round. For instance, meals start with complimentary Hot Popovers and a demitasse of chicken broth, and occasionally, models will stroll through the restaurant showcasing the latest fashions. It’s these above-and-beyond amenities that make Mariposa feel like a special occasion with accessible prices, along with plenty of eye candy.

“The Neiman Marcus window displays showcase luxurious merchandise and fashion trends,” says Zack, highlighting the public art displays at the front of the store. He also points to the culinary art, too, including crowd-pleasers like the Mandarin Orange Soufflé and Salmon Tacos that are sure to lure Chicagoans out of the house, no matter the forecast.

Eno {505 North Michigan Avenue; 312.321.8738}

Just because the Champagne-splashed holidays are over doesn’t mean wine goes into hibernation. The off season is a great time to explore the wine wonders at Eno, which Bar Manager Meghan McCarthy describes as a one-of-a-kind experience.

“Our team loves to take each guest on a journey,” she says. “We guide them through our wine list to help them find the perfect fit for their palate.” And in case you can’t pick just one, Eno offers wine flight options to explore multiple varietals.

“Eno has one of the largest flight menus in Chicago,” says McCarthy, pointing to options like the Garden of France flight, which journeys through the Loire Valley. When you’re done, step outside and bask in the glory of downtown Chicago, which always has something to gawk at. “The great thing about the Magnificent Mile is there never really is an off season,” explains McCarthy. “From historical buildings to world-renowned shopping and dining, there is always something to see and do.”

Aster Hall {900 North Michigan Avenue}

One of the most unique additions to the Magnificent Mile is Aster Hall, Michigan Avenue’s first food hall. This adventurous new culinary conclave is courtesy of the folks behind some of the city’s most popular restaurants and bars, like Au Cheval, High Five Ramen, and Doughnut Vault, and it features 14 meticulously curated food stalls across two floors within the 900 North Michigan Shops. Considering how frigid the winter months can get around here, such a concept makes it easy to restaurant-hop without having to brave the outdoors. Look for drool-worthy outposts like Green Street Smoked Meats and Small Cheval, plus original concepts like Aster Sushi, Chicago Char Dogs, Grateful Grains & Greens, and dumpling-slinging Lost Lily’s. To top it all off, guests can grab a cocktail and take in spectacular views of the Mag Mile at one of Aster Hall’s original non-food concepts, Bar & Study, which stands alone on the 6th floor.

NoMI {800 North Michigan Avenue; 312.239.4030}

A restaurant like NoMI and a hotel like Park Hyatt — both Chicago institutions in their own right — provide plenty of ways to stay cozy in the off season. The restaurant serves exciting renditions of seasonal ingredients with French influences inspired by Chef Eric Damidot’s upbringing in southern France. This includes Jordan almond-crusted Rohan Duck, cinnamon-roasted Maine Lobster, and Spinach Ravioli de Royan, an imported pasta topped with butter-poached carrots and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

It’s a great time of year to snag a seat at the chef’s counter for a tasting menu, or get a window-side perch with views overlooking Michigan Avenue. Those same views and accessible comforts can be had at the hotel, which has long been heralded for its Magnificent Mile vistas. “There are many establishments that offer unique views and perspectives of the Mag Mile from the comforts of the indoors,” says Wine Director and Sommelier Jillian Riley, noting NoMI’s unique eastern view of the Water Tower.

By Matt Kirouac