Chicago Wait List Hacks

Some of Chicago's best restaurants have the LONGEST waits. Go figure. 

This city is full of tiny, delicious restaurants that don't take reservations -- or where the reservations fill up months in advance. 

Enter, my list of Chicago Wait List Hacks -- tips I've uncovered to game the system or make the best of a wait on any given night. 

Chicago Wait List Hacks by 312food

I hope you find these helpful, and that they help you better make your way into Chicago's favorite spots.

As always, if you like this list, please pin & share it. Thank you! -Erin

Chicago Wait List Hacks, by 312food

Author's Note: ironically, some of these might stop working if you ALL start doing them. But let's give it a shot. 🙂

1. Girl & The Goat

Girl & the Goat is famous and relatively affordable -- so, of course the wait is super long. It can take MONTHS to get a prime-time dinner reservation. 

However, there are 2 things most people don't know:

  1. Bar seating is first-come-first-served all night
  2. They take a select # of walk-ins for tables each night. Stop by, put your name in, and expect to wait 1.5-2 hours for a table if there's space available

I've found that Girl & the Goat is on EVERY Chicago visitor's "must try" list -- but they usually think they won't be able to get in. Here's how to do it:

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT: 
For walk-ins, try to go at the very beginning or end of dinner

OR, BUILD YOUR NIGHT AROUND IT: Get a cocktail nearby, keeping an eye on the time! I personally like to walk to CH Distillery (~10 minutes away), order a cocktail & an app or two, then walk back. 

PLAN C: 
Check out Little Goat Diner, one of Chef Stephanie Izard's other restaurants, right across the street. It's a more casual vibe -- and while there is likely still a wait, you'll be able to get a table & enjoy some yummy food.

2. Au Cheval

Au Cheval has a super-long wait, and with good reason: it's TINY, and the burgers are fantastic. The wait can be up to 5 hours on the weekend!

That's insane.

And yet Au Cheval is one of my our favorite spots to take out-of-town guests -- so here's how we do it:

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
Show up on a weekday right before they open (11am) and sit at the bar. 

OR, BUILD YOUR NIGHT AROUND IT: 

  • If you go for dinner, plan to spend the whole evening in the West Loop. Put your name in at the very beginning of your night, ideally before 5pm. They'll take your name & number and send you text alerts that also show your spot in line -- so it's easy to track as the time passes.
  • While you wait, hit up any of these nearby spots to pass the time: Lone Wolf, Haymarket Pub & Brewery, The Backdoor Saloon (the speakeasy above Grange Hall), Bad Hunter, CH Distillery
  • If you'd like your dessert before dinner, you can also check out the epic, gram-worthy hot chocolates at Bombo Bar down the street (thanks @miss.sara.jlp for this suggestion!). With 5+ hours to wait, you'll certainly be hungry again by the time you get to dinner.

PLAN C: 

  • Hit up their sister spot Small Cheval -- a much more accessible, everyday option -- in Wicker Park location or within 3 Greens Market. It's a great option (though it's not quiiiite the same as the real thing)

3. The Purple Pig

The Purple Pig is another favorite of visitors and locals alike -- and another spot known for having a bit of a wait due to that demand.

It's also another one of my absolute favorite spot to take both friends & visitors.

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
Arrive right before they open for lunch (just before 11:30am to be part of the first seating), between lunch and dinner on weekdays (like around 2-3:30pm), or late-night almost any night (their kitchen is open til 11pm!)

OR, BUILD YOUR NIGHT AROUND IT: 
They'll take your name and number and contact you when your table is ready. While you wait, you can enjoy house-made cocktails on their promenade (summertime) or in their heated outdoor area (wintertime), or visit any nearby spots on Michigan Avenue until they give you a call.

PLAN C:

4. High Five Ramen

High Five Ramen is a tiny, cozy, secret spot nestled in the basement below Green Street Smoked Meats --with very few seats and a 1-man kitchen serving ramen only.

You might remember it from my list of 14 Hidden Restaurants in Chicago.

Given its tiny size, it's not really surprising that the wait is super long -- often up to 2 hours. Fortunately, there's a full bar upstairs to entertain you while you wait.

WHEN TO GO:
Plan to wait. Show up before you're hungry and put your name in a the beginning of the night. They'll take your number and will text you 10 minutes before your table is ready

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT: 
Hang out at the bar upstairs. It's really the perfect design, especially in the cold winter since you don't have to go outside. It's the perfect plan as long as you don't show up too hungry!

PLAN C: If the wait's too long, or if you get really hungry -- just eat upstairs at Green Street Smoked Meats! YUM.

RECOMMENDATIONS & TIPS BY: @k_mels, @lcempell, and me!

 

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5. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder

Confession -- I forgot this spot at first, and you guys sure let me know. Total miss on my part!!

Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder has one of THE longest waits that I know of. Every time I try to go, it's 2.5+ hours. Their pizza pies are SOOOO delicious.

But 2.5 hours is too long for me to wait for pizza -- even when it's THIS good -- so you really have to game the system to make it there.

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
You must show up BEFORE they open on a weekday. According to @_emadair, they often open up a little bit early, so you won't end up waiting as long as you think. Other than that, there's a steady long wait ALL NIGHT.

OR, BUILD YOUR NIGHT AROUND IT: 
If you go later, you have to stay nearby since they don't call/text. Make sure you go way before you're hungry. Put your name in and head to a nearby bar on Clark Street -- just keep an eye on the time so you can head back before your name is called!

PLAN C: 
Rumor has it, you can order carry-out and take it home. I haven't personally tried this, but I imagine it's not quite the same as the full restaurant experience.

I think this is THE most suggested spot on my list.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND TIPS BY: @kmehta92@crobbins8@kimberlyl85@mamph20, @r.j.m.36@meghangroenhagen, @_emadair@laurengoes28, @jtannous23, @ktrue32, @cgiannini13, and more. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, guys. <3 

6. Pequod's

While not technically deep-dish pizza, Pequod's still takes a long time to make -- and it sits atop many lists of the best pizza in the city.

For those reasons, combined with the fact that it's yet another small spot, the wait can be pretty long.

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
I've always waited about an hour here, and haven't found a time that was consistently shorter than others.

OR, BUILD YOUR DAY/NIGHT AROUND IT: 
They'll give you a buzzer with a little bit of a range.

  • At dinnertime, you can take it next door to one of two spots: the Whale Tale Bar (Pequods' "holding tank"), or The Drinkingbird.
  • At lunch time, you'll need to go a bit farther since the above spots won't be open. Your buzzer does reach a hybrid bar/bookstore across the street called Kibbitznest -- which was a pretty awesome find. You can order coffee/beer and play boardgames while you wait for your table!

PLAN C: 
Order pizza for delivery (be sure to ask for it uncut and cut it at home using a pizza roller or scissors so the cheese doesn't wilt!). While delivery is not quiiiite as good as getting it in the restaurant, it certainly beats not having it at all. 

THANK YOU to @whatsfancyeating for the input on Whale Take & Drinkingbird!

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7. Lou Malnati's (or any Deep Dish)

Deep dish pizza takes a looooong time to make, and they know it.

For that reason, most places will let you order your pizza when you put your name in -- which reduces your ultimate waiting time by about ~20 minutes since you don't have to wait for the full cooking duration after sitting. When you visit any deep dish spot, be sure to ask for a menu when you put your name in!

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
Weekdays > weekends; afternoons > lunch or dinner

OR, PLAN YOUR DAY/NIGHT AROUND IT: 
Give them your name & place your pizza order, and find a spot to get a drink nearby.

PLAN C: 
Delivery! Reminder to order it uncut & cut at home so the cheese doesn't wilt!

A post shared by Rosio Delarosa (@rosiodelarosa) on

8. 3 Arts Club Cafe

3 Arts Club Cafe always has a wait, and yet I never seem to mind -- in fact, this might be the one spot where I PREFER a wait.

It's not so bad when your wait is spent perusing 5 floors of interior design #goals while sipping rosé bubbles.

The cafe is just stunning and flooded with natural light -- with a huge chandelier and gorgeous fountain in the middle of the room.

The food is great, too -- they even have one of my favorite smoked salmon dishes in the city!

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
Before the lunch rush (~11am), or between lunch and dinner on a weekday to avoid the rush 

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT: 
Waiting is kind of the point here. Spend your time wandering the store with champagne or coffee in hand, and head back downstairs when they text you.

PLAN C:
If the wait is too long, you can still grab a glass of bubbles or coffee from the bar in the back and wander around for a bit. So much fun!

RECOMMENDED BY: @nicoledarian, @alannaconda@marcelina09, and @njzimmer

A post shared by Ali Gann (@alijgann) on

9. Gibson's

Gibson's and Hugo's are two of my favorite spots out of all of the Viagra Triangle steakhouses. They share a kitchen, so you're getting something similar at each of them. Hugo's is known for its seafood, and both are known for their epic desserts.

Although it's great to dine in at either restaurant, of course, I much more frequently eat and drink at the walk-in bar at the front of either spot -- these spots are first-come-first-served, and there is often live music from the piano.

HOW TO EAT HERE:
My preferred way to eat at either of these spots is at their cocktails bars in the front -- cocktails and apps all day! 

  • My go-to order at the Gibson's bar is a martini & the steak tartare
  • At Hugo's, I prefer their raw bar happy hour (from 3-6pm).
  • Either of these is a great way to be kinda fancy ($$) without being toooo fancy ($$$$)

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT FOR A TABLE:
Make a reservation if you can; if it's full, try checking for spots on Open Table.

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT FOR TABLE: 
People watch; order a cocktail at the bar.

10. Bavette's

This isn't a spot for last-minute reservations -- they're always taken WAY in advance.

But like several other fancy spots on this list, the bar at Bavette's is first-come-first served. Your best bet without a reservation is to walk in for dinner before ~6pm, or to plan to sit at the bar.

SKIP THE WAIT:
If you don't have a reservation, go before ~6pm or plan to sit at the bar. They also sometimes have day-of reservations on the very early or late side.

RECOMMENDATIONS & TIPS BY: @alisonjkessler, @erikamescher

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11. Avec

I got soooo many suggestions to add Avec to this list, and you're all totally right. So, here you go!

  • FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
    Weekday lunches have a short (or non-existent!) line, and the same delicious food.
  • For dinner, try going before 6pm or after 9pm
  • For brunch, go early or late!

OR, PLAN YOUR NIGHT AROUND IT:
Put your name in; get cocktails a block away at CH Distillery, wine a block away at BIN 36, or beer a few blocks away at Haymarket.

RECOMMENDATIONS & TIPS BY: @chiraqfoodie, @globally.scrumptious, & Avec!

A post shared by @morethandeepdish on

12. Tango Sur

Tango Sur is another spot that can have a several-hour wait (worth it!).

SKIP THE WAIT:
Like many spots, they tend to be less busy on the weekdays vs. weekend -- so be sure to go then if you don't want to wait.

OR, PLAN YOUR NIGHT AROUND IT:
They'll take your name & number, so put it down before you're hungry and head to nearby bars. They'll give you a call when your table is ready!

RECOMMENDATIONS & TIPS BY: @erikamescher, @tserafin17

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13. Monteverde

Honestly, the best bet for Monteverde is to make a reservation at least month in advance if you want to go for dinner. Really.

But, if you're not a month ahead of the game...

SKIP THE WAIT:

  • Go for BRUNCH!!! Monteverde serves most of their dinner menu (minus a few items) during brunch -- and there's almost never a wait. Thank you to @laurengoes28 for this epic idea!
  • For dinner, try to go on the super early side to get one of those daily walk-in spots -- but expect to still wait a bit!

RECOMMENDATION BY: @feyginfoto, @coy_coquette@rabramo4, @laurengoes28

14. Big Star

You've gotta love the tacos and margaritas at Big Star -- and we all do, which is why the line can get so freaking long sometimes.  

However, there's not usually a wait at lunch on weekdays -- especially in the winter time. Generally, waits for parties under 4 don't typically start until about 5:30-6pm.

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
Have someone in your group get there early if you can; otherwise, try going on a cloudy day; go during the workday (lol... but like if you want to go, I will meet you)

OR, PLAN YOUR DAY/NIGHT AROUND IT: 
Drink cocktails nearby (at The Violet Hour or Cafe Robey) and/or eat donuts from one of several walkable shops.

PLAN C: 

  • Both the bar and the back rail are first-come-first-served
  • You can also order tacos to-go from their counter setup to the left of the restaurant.
  • Or, order delivery or catering!

A post shared by Sadie Hill (@sadiehill) on

15. Doughnut Vault

The line at the original Doughnut Vault is super long in the morning, and there's extra pressure because they're only open until they sell out for the day. Not only that, but the flavors sell out one by one, too.

Talk about creating urgency.

Your best bet is to go early and wait in line -- OR to head to one of several other spots in the city that serves a small selection of Doughnut Vault daily -- including their tiny roaming food truck.

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT (AND BEST SELECTION):
Go early for a shorter line, and so you get the best pick of all doughnut options for the day

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT: 
Take instagram photos in front of the painted menu. Don't forget to tag me! 😜

PLAN C: 

  • Track down their food truck
  • Pick up a doughnut from any other spots that serve them daily -- including Sawada and CC Ferns (smaller selections; available daily until they sell out)

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16. Aloha Poke

If you've ever tried to get Aloha Poke from Revival Food Hall during lunch time, you know why it's on this list.

The line at lunch is sooooooo long.

But the solution to this one -- and actually every spot at Revival -- is quite simple. Just go a little bit before or after lunch time!

FOR THE SHORTEST WAIT:
Before or after lunch (pre-11:45 or after ~1)

IF YOU GO WHEN IT'S BUSY: 
Suck it up and fill out your order slip (but seriously...just go a bit early or late)

PLAN C: 
Hit up their Lakeview location, where the line is typically shorter!

17. Schwa

Good luck with this one.

My husband surprised me with dinner at Schwa for my 30th birthday and it was SO EPIC.

But first, he called them daily for about THREE WEEKS before he finally got them on the phone and was able to secure our reservation.

Schwa takes reservations by phone only, and they rarely answer. The best advice is to call regularly -- and if you get a busy signal (rather than incessant ringing), keep calling back because that means they're actually answering the phone at that time and will take your reservation.

If you really want to go, just keep randomly calling and you'll make it happen. We LOVED our meal.

And don't forget to bring some booze for the kitchen (seriously...google it).

WHEN TO CALL FOR RESERVATIONS: Regularly, at random times of day. If you hear a busy signal, keep calling back!

A post shared by Jenner Tomaska (@jennertomaska) on

Chicago Wait List Hacks by 312food

I hope you find these ideas to be helpful in avoiding some of the longest waits in Chicago. If you did, it would mean the world to me if you shared and/or pinned it!

And as always, please let me know in the comments if there are any great spots I missed. I may add them!

Thanks for reading. 🙂  -Erin

Chicago Wait List Hacks: the best way to eat at Chicago's busiest spots - Girl & The Goat, The Purple Pig, Au Cheval, Schwa, and more!

2 Comments

  1. Liz
    January 7, 2018 / 7:30 pm

    I like the two restaurants near Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder even better than CPOG itself! For people waiting, though, Riccardo Enoteca has a few hidden seats (in addition to its bar) up the ramp right near the kitchen where they could grab a glass of wine to pass some of the time.

    • 312food
      January 7, 2018 / 8:01 pm

      Awesome suggestions — thanks so much!

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