- Chicago’s Aba has enough plants hanging from the ceiling to be an indoor jungle or feel like a private garden, but that’s not the only reason it was named one of the most romantic restaurants in the US for 2020 by OpenTable.
- Reviewers have praised the soft lighting, wood floors, airy dining room, large indoor trees, and stunning outdoor terrace overlooking the Chicago skyline.
- Diners also rave about the drinks and Mediterranean food, with many calling the gooey, spicy hummus especially delicious.
- Here’s what it’s like to eat at one of the most romantic restaurants in the US.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
With soft natural lighting, wood floors, cosy nooks and crannies, a stunning outdoor terrace overlooking the Chicago skyline, and so many plants it looks like an indoor jungle, it’s no wonder Chicago’s Aba has been named one of the most romantic restaurants in the US for 2020 by OpenTable.
Based on an analysis of more than 80 million verified reviews on OpenTable for more than 30,000 restaurants across the United States, the restaurant featured first on the alphabetical list of 100 eateries thanks largely to its ambiance, with diners calling the outdoor terrace particularly romantic.
Reviews on Yelp suggest the lush greenery and lighting help make the restaurant a “romantic oasis,” while the Mediterranean food also receives glowing reviews on TripAdvisor – especially the mouthwatering, spicy hummus.
Here’s what it’s like to visit one of the most romantic restaurants in the US.
Aba’s name means “father” in Hebrew — and diners say they feel more like they’re “in a Mediterranean forest” than a restaurant.
Aba is the sister restaurant of Chicago eatery Ema (Hebrew for “mother”) according to Chicago Magazine, and the brainchild of chef CJ Jacobson, who wanted to create a “fresher, cleaner, and brighter” restaurant strongly influenced by his California upbringing. Wood floors dominate the main dining room, and there are enough plants climbing up the walls and across the ceiling to be an indoor jungle. In fact, according to one Yelp reviewer, “the dining room makes you feel like you are a Mediterranean forest.”
The abundance of trees and indoor plants make the restaurant a “feast for the eyes.”
“During the day it feels like a spring garden, and at night, it transforms into the most romantic setting,” according to one Yelp review.
A Facebook reviewer adds: “The atmosphere is ridiculous – olive trees inside, vines overhead and a focal lighting piece using street lamps from Paris. Aba is truly a feast for the eyes AND the tastebuds.”
It probably comes as no surprise, then, that Aba’s dining room is a popular spot for dates, engagement dinners, and more. “We have had a handful of proposals take place at our restaurant,” an employee told Insider.
Next to the main dining area is the bar, which also has lots of trees, and apparently some of the best drinks in Chicago.
The intimate bar has Middle Eastern-style lamps overhead – and yes, there’s an indoor tree next to it, too. The drinks themselves are crafted by a sommelier and mixologist, and inspired by the Mediterranean and Middle East, particularly the extensive list of eastern Mediterranean wines and cocktail list.
One TripAdvisor reviewer calls it the best cocktail bar in Chicago’s West Loop, both because of the quality of the drinks and the unique atmosphere. Conde Nast Traveller says the scenery makes it “a prime spot for drinks with a view.”
The bar also serves “Groupies,” cocktails that are designed to be shared by six to eight people. In other words: you don’t necessarily have to be on a date to visit.
Although there are lots of lamps, both the bar and dining area also get lots of natural light thanks to the large skylights.
The Chicago Reader raves about how the skylights and lamps combine with the plants to help make the inside of Aba look like an outdoor terrace. The skylights also mean you can dine under the stars at night – but still stay warm, which can be important during the brutally cold Chicago winters.
With a stunning view of the Chicago skyline, Aba’s rooftop terrace is especially beloved by visitors.
As reviewer Michael Nagrant writes on his blog, the open terrace overlooking the Windy City’s glimmering skyscrapers captures the “very essence of Chicago summer.”
OpenTable reviewers add that the terrace, with its wood overhang and as many plants as there are indoors, is just as romantic as the dining room – and thankfully, there are plenty of space heaters for chilly evenings, or umbrellas for when the sun is blazing down.
The word “stunning” features in many reviews of the terrace. Just be quick in sitting down: reviews note it fills up quickly, especially during the warmer months – but the restaurant does take reservations.
Aba’s crowd tends to be fashionable, but the dress code is casual.
A number of TripAdvisor and OpenTable reviews note how sharply-dressed and fashionable other diners can be, while the word “upscale” features often in others. However, the restaurant’s dress code is casual – so you don’t have to dress to the nines if you don’t want to.
The food is mostly Mediterranean, and diners especially love starters like the spicy hummus.
A TripAdvisor review calls the spicy hummus, $US8.95, “to die for,” while others rave about how creamy and moist it is. One Yelp review calls it a “creamy delight” that’s “the belle of the ball” among Aba’s starters, which also include dishes like lamb ragu, whipped feta, and zaatar bread.
To up the romance, main courses include several items known to be aphrodisiacs.
Conde Nast Traveller’s review says “no place in Chicago has mastered the style” of Mediterranean cuisine like Aba.
“Garlic-rubbed lamb chops arrive at the table next to falafel that’s been swathed in avocado tzatziki,” it states when describing the mains. “No one leaves hungry.”
The Chicago Reader adds: “‘The grilled lamb chops are both tender and beautifully caramelised, and excellent for gnawing. The falafel are crispy and spicy, without the mushiness and overspicing of lesser specimens.”
“Favourite dishes include muhammara, skirt steak shawarma, kanpachi, and creme brulee pie,” an employee said of the main courses and desserts. The restaurant also serves salmon – which is thought by some to be an aphrodisiac. To finish off a meal, a lot of the desserts also feature chocolate and dates – both of which are also thought to be good for setting the mood.
To wash down the food, there’s a pretty big wine list.
The Chicago Tribune’s review calls the wine list “a treat, keeping the less-adventurous bases covered while offering a trove of bottles from Lebanon, Greece, Israel and Morocco.” Ranging from $US13 for a glass of Prosecco to $US480 for a bottle of 2008 Dom Pérignon, there’s something for every price range, too – meaning a date doesn’t have to break the bank.
Aba also does brunch, which you can have indoors or out on the terrace as the sun climbs over the Chicago skyline.
Order something like the smoked salmon spread and Jerusalem bagel with heirloom tomatoes, red onion, capers, and labneh ($US18.95), and it might be served on a wooden cutting board instead of on a plate or in a bowl. Diners don’t seem to mind, however. “What a great deal for the brunch and lunch menu!” gushes a Yelp review. “The muhammara was so good. It’s very flavorful and delicious. Their homemade pita is baked fresh and so addicting.”
As busy as staff can be, the service has won high praise from diners.
“Servers and runners and bussers swarm through the dining room, some wired with earpieces,” states Chicago Reader’s glowing review. Several TripAdvisor users also praise how attentive the staff are despite how busy it can get.
One Yelp reviewer said the service was so good that it’s a big reason why she’ll “definitely” come back.
With its mouthwatering food and stunning scenery in the middle of the big city, it’s easy to see why Aba is among America’s most romantic restaurants.
It’s not only OpenTable that has given Aba high praise for its romantic atmosphere – it was also Eater Chicago’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year Readers’ Choice winner.
A Yelp review says: “The restaurant is beautiful, and the experience matches the atmosphere.”
Another adds: “It felt like you were in a garden with natural lighting from the ceiling.
“You forget that you are in Chicago.”