(Bloomberg) -- Call it the Bear boom: Chicago’s dining scene has never been more compelling—or under a brighter spotlight. The Hulu series, whose third season will launch in June, put real-life eateries such as Filipino bakery and restaurant Kasama and deep-dish pizzeria Pequod’s on the screen. It also ignited a national obsession with the Italian beef sandwich.

Unsurprisingly, the city that was once called “the slaughterhouse to the world” has a preternatural way with beef—and not just on bread. The best way to experience it is in one of Chicago’s steakhouses. The format has gone beyond simple meat and potatoes: Once you’ve decided on steak, you’ll need to figure out if it should take cues from Argentina, Spain, Italy, Korea, Japan or the US, to name a few options.

Beyond borders, one truth is self-evident: Slinging prime beef is a good business to be in. Three of the top 10 spots on Restaurant Industry’s 2023 ranking of the top 100 independent restaurants in the US are held by Chicago steakhouses. Maple & Ash, ranked at No. 4, served an estimated 253,793 meals with an average check size of $225 and annual sales of $32 million. Meanwhile, Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse, located on Chicago’s Gold Coast, turned out 322,352 meals for sales of almost $29 million, putting it at No. 7.

Part of what helps the bottom lines of such restaurants is that prime steak remains expensive, even though the proportion of steers and heifers graded prime has doubled, from 5% to 10%, over the last decade, says Glynn Tonsor, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University. 

This means you’ve got choices. Here’s what $500 can get you in seven of Chicago’s top steakhouses, listed in order of expense. The estimated price for all recommendations includes tax and tip but excludes beverages, unless otherwise stated.


$500 Gets You: Beef omakase for one, add wine pairing and you’re a little over budget  

If your definition of a steakhouse begins and ends with gigantic portions, Bonyeon might not be for you. But if sheer bovine obsession is the key, this 12-seat, tasting menu-only restaurant is your place. The $255 menu gets you 13 courses at its quartzite counter featuring seven different cuts of Australian and Japanese wagyu. Dishes include honeycomb-cut galbi with sweet, spicy ssamjang sauce, beef tenderloin with bone marrow miso sauce, and outside skirt steak, grilled and served on top of a bed of thinly sliced onions in a soy sauce blend—a favorite of chef Sangtae Park. The $155 “standard” beverage pairing includes seven wines and a sake.   

RPM Steak

$500 Gets You: Six ounces of Chateau Uenae rib-eye steak and a glass of water

Wagyu beef is now a fixture on steakhouse menus. Chef Bob Broskey makes his River North wagyu program stand out from the herd by developing relationships with ranchers in Japan and bringing in beef nobody else is offering. Among the more precious features you’ll find only at RPM Steak are the $62-per-ounce rib-eye, from Chateau Uenae in Hokkaido, and a strip loin, from Kaneko Farms in Aomori Prefecture, for $55 an ounce. More traditional meat-and-potatoes fare is also available, including the $72, 16-oz Bernie Miller chop, and the $21 twice-baked Millionaire's Potato with fontina and black truffle.

Tre Dita

$500 Gets You: Bistecca Fiorentina and handmade pasta for three

Chef Evan Funke built his reputation getting carb-wary Los Angeles locals to feast on pasta and pizza. His latest restaurant is a Tuscan steakhouse in Chicago’s 101-story St. Regis Hotel and Residences. Tre Dita translates as “three fingers,” the measure of how thick a proper Bistecca Fiorentina should be. The one here, a 48-oz slab of 60-day, dry-aged Black Angus, comes in at $290. Additional steaks on the menu include a $59, 8-oz filet mignon and a $69 12-oz rib-eye. Not surprisingly, carbs are a further highlight. You might see the noodles for the $26 Cacio e Pepe being produced in the glassed-in “pasta lab” on the way to the dining room. 

Maple & Ash

$500 Gets You:  Steak-and-egg brunch for three, plus “endless pours of house Champagne” for two

This trilevel Gold Coast steak house stands out with brash, over-the-top luxury. A recurring menu motif is its “I Don’t Give a F*@k” offerings. At brunch, this means chateaubriand, unlimited Champagne, caviar, eggs and potatoes, a fire-roasted seafood tower, and all the trimmings for $175 per person. Alternatives include the 22-oz T-bone and bone marrow, served with soft scrambled eggs and truffle jus for $120, and the $59 Steak & Eggs, a rib-eye filet with an egg sunny-side up, shoestring potatoes and bordelaise sauce. Add bottomless pours of Champagne for $75. 

Asador Bastian

$500 Gets You: Dinner for four, with a Galiciana txuleton and burnt Basque cheesecake

Choosing your cut of beef at Asador Bastian is easy: Txuleton, a Basque-style rib steak grilled over charcoal, is the sole option. The tougher decision is what kind of cow you want it to come from. Rich, tender Akaushi wagyu goes for $105 per pound. At $83 per pound, there’s a choice of deeply flavored Galiciana beef from cows raised for five to seven years, as they are in Spain, or steak from Holstein cows, a dairy breed whose marigold yellow fat is redolent of buttered popcorn. Order a Sanmiguel, a slightly smaller version of the txuleton, for $69, so you can compare breeds. Save room, though, for the $15 burnt Basque cheesecake. 

Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse

$500 Gets You: Dinner for five, including a four-pound slice of carrot cake

Since it opened in 1989, Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse has become the institution against which all other Windy City steakhouses are measured. Its flagship steak is the $87 W.R.’s Chicago Cut, a 22-oz, wet-aged, bone-in rib-eye named for former Chicago Tribune restaurant critic William Rice. Other choices range from a 7-oz filet mignon, for $55, to the “Big Porterhouse,” which weighs in at 48 ozs and costs $165. The Big Porterhouse might not even be the biggest thing to hit your table. That honor goes to the $23.25 “slice” of carrot cake, which comes in at 68 ozs— or just over four pounds. 

El Che

$500 Gets You: Happy Hour rib-eye steak frites for eight

John Manion, a born Midwesterner, spent his formative years in South America, where his father worked for Ford Motor Co. Accordingly, El Che, Manion’s West Loop steakhouse, features tranches of American beef cooked on an Argentine-style parrilla. That 12-foot-long grill gets fed about 250 pounds of white oak per day, perfuming the air with wood smoke. The steak frites, with a 10-oz, center-cut Creekstone rib-eye and a mountain of shoestring fries cooked in beef tallow, is a good value at $58. During happy hour, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on every day but Saturday, it costs just $43. The rib-eye’s marbled, flavorsome cap—a butcher’s favorite cut—is offered as the $195, 32-oz “Party Steak,” served with grilled onions and a selection of sauces. 

Because this is Chicago, don’t forget to snag a $7 empanada ($5 during happy hour) stuffed with Bear-worthy Italian beef and served with a giardiniera aioli. 

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