How the Chicago Restaurant Scene Has Evolved, 1940-2020 [TIMELINE]

When people think of Chicago, they think of food.

Whether it’s deep dish, Italian beef, mouth-watering steaks, or even fine dining in the Loop, Chicago is one of North America’s culinary capitals. Many incredible chefs and visionary restaurateurs have staked their claims in the Windy City and driven forward bold visions about how guests should dine and enjoy their meals in this Midwestern metropolis.

Named the Best Restaurant City in 2017 by Bon Appetit and Conde Nast Traveler, Chicago has become a serious foodie city and a launching pad for young chefs with bold ideas for restaurant concepts.

To understand how Chicago has reached such culinary heights, it’s important to understand where it all began. Here we take an in-depth look at the food, people, and trends that have shaped Chicago’s restaurant scene for over the last half-century.

From the influx of soul food after the Great Migration of Blacks to the city to Mexican immigrants putting their mark on the city’s particular palette, Chicago restaurant scene has been influenced by so many varied cultures and unique innovations.

Take a look (and get hungry in the process).

How to Chciago food scene has evolved in the last 80 years infographic


Edna’s sign photo by Amy C Evans, SFA oral historian

Garrett’s Popcorn via

Gibby’s via

Weber Grill ad via FOOD exhibition, National Museum of American History

El Milagro Tortillas by Christopher Dilts via Eater

The Bakery photo via Jan Whitaker

Park View Restaurant photo

Lou Malnati’s photo via Lou Malnati’s

RJ Grunts photo via Chicago Food Magazine

Jean Banchet in 1977, in the kitchen at Le Francais via Chicago Sun-Times

Maxwell street (circa 1979) via Chicago Tribune historical photo

1980 Taste of Chicago via Eli's Cheesecake

Twinkie advertisement via

Charlie Trotter photo via

Borinquen Restaurant photo via Eat Yo Sandwich Blog

Green City Market photo via Green City Market

Hot Doug’s photo via Peter Bella via Chicago Now

Alinea photo via Flickr

Foie gras ban photo by Michael Gebert via Chicago Reader

Big Star photo by Chris Walker via Chicago Tribune

Young chef’s photo by Larry Rand via Fooditor

2017 Bon Appetit magazine cover via

Brittany Peterson Headshot
Brittany Peterson
Account Executive