MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY, IN LIGHT OF SOME UPDATES AND INFORMATIVE COMMENTS--MORE WELCOME
MOVING TO FRONT FROM 2016, WHEN THE APA CENTRAL WAS LAST IN CHICAGO
With the APA Central coming up in in a couple of weeks here in Chicago, this overview of Chicago dining options may be helpful to some readers--and, of course, I hope it is useful to non-philosophy readers as well. As with my opinions about philosophers, I pull no punches; unlike my opinions about philosophers, the subjectivity of these judgments is probably a lot greater!
I break the restaurants into two categories, those that will run you at least $50/person (depending on how much alcohol), and maybe higher; and those where it is realistic to get away for less, and yet still have a very enjoyable meal.
EXPENSIVE (easily $50/person or more, some closer to $100/person)
Allium Chicago, located in the Four Seasons Hotel about a mile or two north of the Palmer House, has an eclectic menu, but everything is excellent. The dining area itself is very pleasant, spacious and comfortable. It's overtaken Naha in my book, but tastes may vary! (Be forewarned: the ceasar salad with the "crispy egg" is a meal unto itself!)
The Gage serves "rustic American fare," but check out the menu to see for yourself. It's an eclectic menu and fun, and the quality of the dishes is almost always very high. One can get away for less than $50/person here depending on one's choices. It is also the only restaurant noted here that is just a couple of blocks from the Palmer House Hilton, the usual locus of the meetings of the Central Division of the APA. Do make reservations, it is a popular place and can be quite noisy as well.
Katsu is not conveniently located to anything, except the far north side of Chicago! Longtimers say it is the best sushi in Chicago, and having now been there, I concur. The prices are a bit eye-popping, but the pieces of fish served are quite generous. The hot dishes are more of a mixed bag: shrimp tempura was mediocre, but the beef & asparagus appetizer was quite appealing. But basically you come here for the sushi or sashimi. The restaurant itself is comfortable, and street parking is easy. (Be aware that another Japanese restaurant sometimes turns up if you search "Katsu Chicago"! Katsu needs to get their lawyer on that one! The preceding link gives the actual address as well as a sample menu.) (A reader points out in comments that Katsu closed in November, alas. See Naoki Sushi, below!)
Naha is s one of those nouveau American places, or something like that; check out the menu. The food is always very good, often excellent. Its near northside location is reachable by a fairly short taxi ride from the Palmer House. But it ain't cheap, esp. if you order a bottle of wine.
Naoki Sushi is a newer, high-end sushi place, not as expensive as Katsu, but arguably as good. It's north, in Lincoln Park, probably a 15-minute car ride from the Palmer House, depending on the time of day (possibly less if off peak).
NoMI Kitchen is probably the priciest one on this list, and it even offers sushi/sashimi, as well as many dishes you might have found at MK or Naha, but other more unusual offerings. Fabulous dining room overlooking Michigan Avenue and the old "water tower" landmark. Food is always outstanding.
MODERATE ($25-50/person, including some alcohol)
A10 is a recent addition to the generally dreadful dining scene here in Hyde Park/Kenwood, where the University of Chicago is. It is part of a university effort to increase the number of amenities in our part of town, and has been quite successful. The food is good, sometimes excellent; it is sort of Italian, though an eclectic Italian. The alcohol is overpriced, so one could exceed $50/person depending on one's choices! One probably wouldn't make a trip to the south side just to eat here, but if you're in this part of Chicago, this is the place to go. (Some oldtimers would say the same for La Petite Folie, a solid French restaurant [and more staid and quiet than A10], though I think there are plainly better French places in the city.)
Cumin offers Indian and "modern Nepalese" cuisine, in a slightly off-the-beaten-track location, but the food is very good to excellent and the prices can't be beat. It's the best Indian we've had in Chicago (and compares favorably with the best Indian I've had in New York), but I should admit to not having been to the far North in the city where many good Indian restaurants are purported to be. (India House downtown is a fancier restaurant, in a pleasant setting, and the food is good, but not nearly as good as Cumin)
Davanti is in Chicago's Little Italy. The menu is eclectic Italian, but with lots of enjoyable options and small dishes for sharing. The dining room gets very loud when the place is full, which it often is.
Han 202 may be the best-kept secret in Chicago dining. Chinese food in Chicago is generally remarkably bad, even in Chinatown--the exception is Lao Sze Chuan, below, which is good. Han 202 combines Chinese and other culinary styles on a fixed price menu ($35/person at dinner, 3 courses, plus dessert, very filling), and produces dishes of exceptional quality every time we have been there. And they are BYOB! They are off the beaten path, in Bridgeport, which is on the south side roughly between Hyde Park and downtown (31st street exit off of Lake Shore Drive). Street parking is easy and it's a reasonably peaceful neighborhood, though if you're not driving, take a taxi/Uber/Lyft from the Palmer House Hilton.)
Lao Sze Chuan has three locations, the one in Chinatown (about a ten-minute cab ride from downtown, but also near an "elevated" stop) being the only one I've been to. Putting aside Han 202, it's clearly the best Chinese food in Chicago, though it wouldn't be a notable restaurant in New York or San Francisco. But the food is good, sometimes truly excellent. The restaurant itself is, shall we say, "not fancy" and the service, while well-intentioned, ranges from the barely competent to the comical, though main dishes coming before appetizers doesn't happen as much as it used to. They do not take reservations, except for larger groups (six or more, I think).
Spacca Napoli is the best pizza place in Chicago and, no, it's not that strange deep dish pizza for which Chicago is (in)famous. This is Naples-style pizza, done really well. Just fabulous. Another remote location in north Chicago--the Ravenswood neighborhood. Easy street parking. A close runner-up is Nella's in Hyde Park.
Umai on Clark is now the best choice for reasonably priced high quality sushi and hot Japanese fare; there's a north side location, but the one on Clark is the only one I've been to. Another short car ride from the Palmer House.
Finally, here are some pricey places to avoid, they aren't worth it: Les Nomades is an overpriced French restaurant run by amateurs, who don't know how to manage their dining room; Mercat a la Planxa is an overpriced Spanish place, and the food (and the portions) are not nearly adequate enough to justify it. (I haven't been to Mercat in several years, the first time was so profoundly disappointing, so maybe it's improved.) If you really want tapas, try Emilio's, another short cab ride from the Palmer House--good food and more reasonably priced.
Comments are open for other recommendations from readers or comments on the preceding.
UPDATE: This list of 38 "essential" Chicago restaurants (which includes some of the above) is also useful. You can map where they are, and many are reachable easily from Palmer House.