Balena This collaboration between the Bristol and the BOKA Restaurant Group took over the space previously occupied by Landmark. Gone are the animal prints, and in is chef Chris Pandel, who’s going full-out Italian with pizzas, handmade pastas and entrées such as roasted duck leg. Bookending meals here are bartender Debbi Peek’s Italian cocktails and pastry chef Amanda Rockman’s gelato sundaes. 1633 N Halsted St (312-867-3888). Average main course: $17.
Butcher & the Burger Allen Sternweiler’s adorable new project is a burger joint that doubles as a butcher shop. It’s a DIY affair: Customers pick their meat, their bun, their spice rub and their toppings before the burger is made to order. It’s possible to make mistakes, but if you stick to beef, go with “Grandma’s onion soup” rub and flank your burger with an order of the sensational fries, you’ll be happy. Tack on a scoop of the housemade custard, and you’ll be even happier. 1021 W Armitage Ave (773-697-3757). Average main course: $10.
Charlie Trotter’s The clock is ticking: Charlie Trotter has announced that after 25 years, he’ll close his landmark restaurant in August. While it’s true that in recent years this place has been overshadowed by newer, shinier spots, it’s impossible to overstate the influence both the chef and the restaurant have had on the food scene, in Chicago and also the world. Note to any Chicago food lover who’s never eaten dinner here: Time to pick up the phone. 816 W Armitage Ave (773-248-6228). Average degustation: $195.
Del Seoul This taco shop’s similarities to Kogi—the L.A. food truck that spawned the Korean taco craze—may not work in Del Seoul’s favor when the two are inevitably compared. But judged on their own merit, these Mexico-by-way-of-Korea tacos are pretty tasty: soft corn tortillas piled with soy-marinated beef short rib, grilled pork carrying the earthy flavors of gochujang or plump shrimp rolled in panko and fried. Solid bibimbap ($8) is a vibrant value, and the kimchi fries (cheese fries topped with pork belly and kimchi “salsa”) are one thing on the menu truly charting new territory. 2568 N Clark St (773-248-4227). Average main course: $6.
KC Chocolatier If life is like a box of chocolates, the life of a KC chocolate is a tad corporate, a touch elegant and very big on hazelnut. This small, new confection shop is a licensee of an international company; its truffles and bars are shipped from Belgium. If you’re looking for a sweet fix in the neighborhood, we like the dense, creamy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup–shaped gianduja flavor. 545 W Diversey Pkwy (773-525-7775). Average chocolate: $1.75.
Perennial Virant PV lives and dies by chef Paul Virant’s dedication to seasonal ingredients. The seasonal urgency with which he creates some of his dishes may explain why they sometimes disappoint. But make no mistake: For every miss, there’s a phenomenal success, such as a perfect rib eye, pillowy gnocchi, robust housemade sausages and basically every cocktail on the list. 1800 N Lincoln Ave (312-981-7070). Average main course: $19
Taco Joint Duck carnitas tacos and tall margaritas. Does the human race need anything more? Actually, yes: We need the birria taco, too, the lamb-and-pork filling offset by a cascabel chili sauce. And come to think of it, the cochinita (pork paired with pickled onions and habanero salsa) and barbacoa (savory braised beef) tacos are pretty necessary, too. The owners of Zocalo pared down their ambitions for this relatively small restaurant in Lincoln Park. In doing so, they greatly enhanced the experience of eating there. 1969 N Halsted St (312-951-2457). Average taco: $3.
Tandoor Char House Lincoln Parkers mourned the loss of Fattoush, the Lebanese stalwart that held court at this address for years. But they recovered quickly, because the new tenant, this Indian/Pakistani spot, fills just as worthy a food gap. Plus, Tandoor kindly still serves Fattoush’s kefta kebab. 2652 N Halsted St (773-327-2652). Average main course: $13.