Latest Chicago restaurant reviews

Which Chicago restaurant should you dine at tonight? Read through our most recent Chicago restaurant reviews.

Juno

Critics' pick

Juno is back, with some of the best sushi in town

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Lincoln Park

Time Out loves

Bavette's

A couple of weeks after Brendan Sodikoff opened Bavette’s, I started hearing reports. “It’s just like all his other spots,” a friend told me. “It’s exactly the same,” another said. Having now made a few visits to Bavette’s, I’m guessing these reports were based purely on conjecture. Which isn’t fair, except that, well, Sodikoff does have something of a track record. His first three restaurants act something like triplets, all with similar looks and personalities and food, but slightly different interests. Gilt Bar’s the clubby one. Maude’s is the aesthete. Au Cheval’s the hipster. Throw Doughnut Vault in there as the (pudgy) black sheep and you have a strong, if somewhat predictable, family of restaurants. Bavette’s messes with this metaphor. Contrary to the reports I heard, it’s a deviation, or, to put it in terms closer to my opinion, an evolution. The room is lit differently; golden light bounces between tufted red-leather booths and the mirrored bar. Like his other spots, the place is highly conceptual, but the concept—jazz-era steakhouse with light French touches—is more sophisticated. Sodikoff’s other spots are taste-specific; the loveliness of this one is, I believe, close to universal. You don’t even have to like steak. In fact, I had better luck with the chicken. The fried chicken is crazy good, the juicy wings encased in a flaky and crunchy crust; the roast chicken is otherworldly, with skin a very dark amber, delicate and moist flesh and a thickjus on the plate.

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River North

Doughnut Vault

Critics' pick

“Excuse me, do you know what this line is for?” “It’s for doughnuts,” I said, humiliated. I was waiting in a line 50 deep for a food most often preceded by the word Dunkin’. “Are they that good?” Before I could answer, the lady in front of me brushed aside her long blond hair and turned to face us with a look of exasperation: “They are.” This was Doughnut Vault: the minuscule, chandeliered vestibule (capacity: approximately four) from which doughnuts appear Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30am, only to disappear just as ephemerally approximately 12 tweets and 90 minutes later. Currently, 750 are made each day, 900 on the weekend. There is no question the rounds of fried dough that emerge from this shoebox—the creation of the restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar)—are as good as any doughnut being made in Chicago. The problem is they’re better. “Stupid!” The Dance editor of Time Out Chicago is not one to raise his voice. “Stupidly good. The über–Krispy Kreme.” He held a chestnut-glazed doughnut, as fresh as one has ever come. I waited exactly 56 minutes for it. After the first 15 of those minutes, the couple behind me left for Sprinkles. The rest of us read novels. We played with dogs. We pretended we knew this was worth it. I, for one, did not know. Not until I took my box of doughnuts to a bench and let my hands and face fall prey to the sticky, airy perfection that is a Doughnut Vault glazed doughnut. Do I wish the glazed doughnuts were less grotes

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River North

Table Fifty-Two

Two women—corn-yellow hair, light pink lipstick—sat at the bar at Table Fifty-Two the other night. They were lucky to get the seats, not just because they didn’t have reservations (the bar’s five seats are reserved for those who don’t) but also because it gave them ample face time with chef Art Smith, who poured their wine, asked them questions and encouraged them to eat dessert. The ladies nibbled on organic green salads and pistachio-encrusted chicken breasts, and at the end of the meal, after taking two bites of dessert and then pushing it away, they took out the cookbooks. “Will you sign these?” they asked. And, of course, Smith obliged. It was, after all, the reason they had come. Unfortunately, these women missed the point. Smith may be the draw, particularly for the Oprah set, who’ll do anything to get one step closer to the woman herself. But to really get to the heart of this restaurant, you have to dive headfirst into the butter, the cheese and the dense carbohydrates that make this Southernish, home-style menu sing. Start by asking for extra goat cheese biscuits: Tapped out of miniature cast-iron skillets, they were devilishly good—nutty butter and tangy goat cheese (and a little flour) mingling in one warm, decadent package. But this is just where the decadence began. The filet was thick and juicy, exhibiting the oomph of manlier cuts while still playing up the filet’s lean, sumptuous texture. A pizza sported fresh figs, caramelized onions and rosemary, each ingr

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Gold Coast

42 Grams

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh Jake Bickelhaupt is one ballsy chef. Bickelhaupt opened 42 Grams on January 10, in Uptown, far away from Restaurant Row. It’s BYOB. It uses a ticketing system and each ticket costs $203.68*. That includes taxes and service, but it’s pricey, especially when you consider that our two seats at 42 Grams cost $17 less than the two-top we had at Next two nights earlier and we had to go to Binny’s armed with detailed instructions for what kinds of wine to bring. And, while Bickelhaupt has worked at Alinea, Schwa and Charlie Trotter’s, he hasn’t been a household name. That’s about to change. Prior to opening 42 Grams, Bickelhaupt was running Sous Rising, a dinner series in his apartment, with his wife, Alexa, who handles service and front of house. When the Chester's Chicken underneath their apartment closed, they took over the space and turned it into an 18-seat restaurant, with a table for ten and eight seats at the chef’s counter. The table and counter are seated together at separate times, so when we recently went in for dinner at the counter, my date and I were joined by three other couples, one from St. Louis and one from Iowa, who regularly come to dine in Chicago and who heard 42 Grams was worth a visit. It is. Every single one of the 15 courses, from the “crispy snacks” like salmon skin chicharrons dusted with malt vinegar powder to the coffee and chicory pudding that ends the night, is delicious and exciting. It’s also homey-feeling—th

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Uptown

The Bristol

Critics' pick

By the time I made my first visit to the Bristol, I’d gone online and read its menu, reread its menu and then read it again. To say it had a pull on me would not be accurate; it was more that it seemed to know me, as if the simple language of it was making an appeal to my specific weaknesses for fat, cheese, pickles and bread. I don’t think I was the only one who felt this way. When I watched the dining room fill up and saw people lining the walls, impatiently sucking down ginger-spiked cava sangria as they waited for my seat to be vacant, I got the feeling a lot of people have been waiting to get their hands on this food. It should be noted that at least some of the people I saw waiting were shunning seats at one of the two communal tables and holding out for a table of their own. Me, I scanned the room and saw that the individual tables were arranged in such proximity to each other that the communal tables actually seemed roomier. And as I soon learned, there’s an added benefit to a communal table: It’s easier to scope out dishes before committing to ordering them. I couldn’t help but notice that, one night, after my companion and I swooned over the combination of crisp, acidic fruit and creamy Manchego in the heirloom apple salad, the couple across the communal table from us ordered it, too. Same thing with the fried sardines, which they must have overheard us rhapsodize about, and for the crispy chicken thigh (pictured), which that night came with warm strands of shredde

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Bucktown

Balena

Critics' pick

The Bristol opened in September 2008, just as the economy bottomed out. It was a month before the Publican, a year before the Purple Pig. The Bucktown restaurant wasn’t the first to embrace fifth-quarter cuts of meat, small plates and communal tables. But in retrospect, its opening heralded the mainstreaming of a certain type of dining: tablecloth-less but chef-driven, scrappy but serious. It also heralded the arrival of a chef few had heard of: Chris Pandel, a protégé of Rick Tramonto. The Bristol was—and remains—a very fine place to eat, but in my experience, it was never an especially easy or comfortable one. It took no reservations, and on weekends, waits could be tremendous. (It’s now on OpenTable.) Much of the menu was made up of specials, and it was a given that most would sell out before the end of the night. And the chairs were the type you would soon start to see everywhere, lightweight and metal. I was thinking about those utilitarian chairs during one of my meals at Balena, Pandel’s second restaurant, which is operated by the Bristol’s owners and co-owned by the BOKA group (i.e., Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz), which now boasts chefs Paul Virant (Perennial Virant), Giuseppe Tentori (GT Fish & Oyster, Boka) and Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat). I was seated on a banquette on the second floor of Balena. It was a quiet Wednesday; the tables on both sides of me were empty. There was a particular leisure to being there. Maybe it was the fact that I felt reprieved after m

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Lincoln Park

Next

Critics' pick

Thirty-five days ago, I was seated nearly in the lap of TOC’s IT systems coordinator, whose computer for some reason loaded Next’s then-kinda-buggy website when mine would not. I bought a ticket, for four, under my name, to Next. Within days of that purchase I realized I had grossly underestimated how challenging it would be to trade my ticket for someone else’s—an attempt to conceal my identity. Days before my reservation, negotiations collapsed when the trading party decided that the sacrifice of taking my 6pm reservation was not worth the possibility (proffered with shame, but proffered nonetheless, by Yours Truly) that a sort of entry-level VIP treatment might be extended. And so, 14 days ago, I ate at Next as myself. “Next is Alinea.” “Next is not Alinea.” This seems to me a pretty useless and static framework for analyzing two dynamic restaurants. And either way, the assumption is that Alinea is something perfect, a restaurant where each course is earth-shatteringly creative and tastes better than even the best Edzo’s burger. Alinea is an exceptional and memorable restaurant, but it’s not untouchable. Except, as far as I’m concerned, for the servers, whose unstuffiness is probably the only thing that could make the critical weight the food is burdened with bearable. In this sense, Next is Alinea: Done. In every other sense, what “is” Next? Let’s begin with a story. As my meal was winding down, I spotted a friend across the room. I meandered over as his group was begin

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West Loop

avec

Critics' pick

There are rules when eating at avec. One of them is “No talking about Israel.” A few weeks ago I was eating dinner and my friend—not I—was breaking that rule. Loudly. The man sitting next to me, whom I did not know but whom I spent the evening less than one inch from, leaned into our space and said, “What nation are you talking about?” This is why you don’t talk about Israel at avec. I shut down the conversation by slicing an X in the air with my hands and saying one word: “no.” But the man—his name was Brandon, I learned later—was undeterred from talking to us. He changed the subject. “Have you guys ever had these dates?” he asked. He pointed to the hot casserole in front of him with only one date left. “They’re so good.” The bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates are, of course, another rule of avec. You must order them, every time, until you’ve had them so often that you no longer need to be at avec to taste them—you close your eyes, access your taste memory, slip into a bliss coma…. “Are you guys tourists?” I asked Brandon. He and his companions looked wounded. “We live up the street,” they said. The idea that a Chicagoan exists who has not yet eaten the avec dates was inconceivable to me. But here were three people who had lived in Chicago for years and were just now at avec for the first time. Rules dictate this situation, too. “You must eat the focaccia,” I said. “And probably the brandade.” They nodded and smiled. But I knew they weren’t listening. They’d alr

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West Loop

The Publican

After my third visit, I left the warm glow of the Publican in a daze. Having obsessively anticipated the “pork-and-beer” project from restaurateurs Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander and Eduard Seitan and chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston, it felt almost surreal to have fallen so quickly into the restaurant’s grasp. I was sucked in by the effortless elegance; the beerhall-like communal tables; the old-world flatware; the gingham platters; the bulbous lights; and, of course, the food. The Publican follows a simple logic: (1) find the highest-quality oysters, fish and pork and (2) stay out of the ingredients’ way. That third meal, a comforting Sunday-only, family-style supper had a lot going for it: The season’s first snow was falling, and the restaurant was unusually mellow. It was the food, though, that left me swooning. Succulent, whole, pan-seared loup-de-mer flaked easily off the bone to reveal a stuffing of mildly bitter turnip greens, pine nuts and sweet golden raisins and sprinkled with stray pea shoots. Four cuts of lamb were perfectly tender (collapse-at-the-mere-sight-of-a-fork–tender ribs and ground-kidney–stuffed loin among them), each bite brightened with tiny chiffonades of mint. The restaurant’s ambiance might be European and its flavor profile Mediterranean, but when the Publican hits all the right notes, as it did that night, its heart feels unmistakably Midwestern. During an economic shitstorm when luxury can’t help but feel tacky, there’s not a garish or overdon

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West Loop

Maude’s Liquor Bar

Critics' pick

It’s harder than it looks to nail it, the look and the feel of “effortless cool.” It’s even harder to straddle the fence between bar and restaurant, so that everyone eating gets drunk and everyone drinking ends up feeding their face. But that’s what’s happening at Maude’s Liquor Bar, the latest from Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Curio). The two-hour weekend wait signals restaurant. But ramble up the stairs late night and it’s a whiskey-fueled roundtable of postwork line cooks, serving themselves from a community bottle then paying by the honor system at the end of the night. That industry crowd rarely makes it to Maude’s before midnight, when the kitchen closes, so they miss the food their brother-in-arms Jeff Pikus is putting out, a menu as indulgent and classic as his past work at Trio and Alinea was groundbreaking. But nothing is lost on the deep-pocketed scenesters who arrive before them, who gulp down delicious whiskey smashes and stab at $70 shellfish towers. These are the folks paying for those gleaming subway tiles (which don’t come cheap, not even the randomly chipped ones), the mismatched crystal chandeliers and that Victorianesque sofa. But in return they’re getting butter-smooth chicken liver slathered on toast with fig marmalade, ideal with a gin and crème de violette concoction dubbed “Smokey Violet.” And still-quivering oysters from both coasts. And big fat mussels, smartly steamed in a broth studded with punchy picholine olives but inexplicably, annoyingly left

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West Loop

Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh I've eaten many bowls of oatmeal in my life, starting with the Oatmeal Swirlers I was obsessed with when I was six until today, when it’s one of my go-to breakfasts (except now with significantly less sugar and much less fun). But I've never had a bowl of oatmeal quite like the one at Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse, where the oats are cooked until they still have some bite. They’re served with a moat of milk and twin dollops of cultured cream and jam (on my visit, cherry), then sprinkled with raw sugar and pecans. Tangy from the cream and sweet from the jam, with perfectly cooked oats, this oatmeal is a revelation. But it’s not quite surprising, given how the oats are rolled right in the shop, and the pair behind the new venture, Dave and Megan Miller (formerly of Bang Bang Pie Shop), who are changing the idea of what a bakery is. They’re milling all of their own heritage grains on site and if you walk past the butter and jam toast bar, you’ll see mills, a mill/sifter and a flaker, which are used to prepare all the grains. These range from oats, found in the oatmeal, to the whole wheat pastry flour used in the chocolate chip cookies. There are numerous benefits to using these housemade grains. First off, they’re better for you than plain white flour. Second, they actually taste like they’re supposed to. Take the grits, which are easily the best in the city. Made with three types of corn—yellow, red and blue—the grits are a mix of fine an

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Lincoln Square

GT Fish & Oyster

Critics' pick

I couldn’t get into the lobster roll at GT Fish—the bread was too sweet, the lobster too wet. And when it came to the stuffed squid, I found myself digging out the chorizo, shrimp and rice—the squid itself had been overcooked, and I wanted to avoid having to gnaw on it. Desserts—I’ll get to those in a minute. But let’s just say they did not provide happy endings. Everything else at GT Fish I loved. I loved the cocktails, which was no surprise given these expert Dark & Stormys were designed by Benjamin Schiller. And I loved the room, which ever since the Boka Group (those guys behind Girl & the Goat and Perennial, among others) announced would become GT Fish I’ve mistakenly referred to, in conversation and in print, as a “fish shack.” Clearly, I did not know of what I spoke. Fish Bar in Lincoln Park—that’s a fish shack. GT Fish is a restaurant. And in contrast to Fish Bar, here the nautical details lend the room a sleekness. The aura is cool, salty. Not unlike the wind in Cape Cod. The Cape is not the only thing this place is selling, though. With every order of oysters—cool and plump and ocean-kissed—comes two bottles of GT-branded hot sauce, in packaging that leads me to believe we’ll soon see the stuff at Jewel. The sauce itself is neither remarkable nor un, but it’s indicative of this restaurant’s secondary ambitions: to raise the profile of chef Giuseppe Tentori, perhaps even to the level of the other star chefs in this company, Paul Virant and (especially) Stephanie I

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River North

Dusek's Board and Beer

Critics' pick

On the door of Dusek's Board and Beer, the opening date (2013) is laid out in gold letters. Next to it is an unexpected word: "re-established." Rather than bring an overpriced, newfangled hipster paradise to East Pilsen, the folks behind Dusek's have done something unexpected: tried to bring a little bit of the neighborhood back to its 19th-century roots. Dusek's is only one part of the ambitious Thalia Hall project that includes a bar, a restaurant and a performance venue. Thalia Hall was originally the creation of John Dusek, who opened the building in 1892, when the neighborhood was Czech. The hall itself isn't quite refurbished yet (though I peeked inside and the space is incredible) but the bar and restaurant are ready to go. The restaurant itself is cozy and warm, with a tin ceiling, tons of Edison bulbs, and reclaimed wood–and–wrought iron tables that, while beautiful, can be a bit unstable. One corner of the front dinner room looks like a movie set of a 1940s dining room, completely with books, tchotchkes and a table set on a platform a few inches off of the ground. The owners wanted to re-establish Dusek's idea of a multipurpose community hall, which had me seriously anxious—concert venues traditionally serve pretty mediocre food. With chef Jared Wentworth (Longman & Eagle) at the helm, I shouldn't have worried. In fact, my visit to Dusek's was the first time in months that I've looked at a menu and been totally unable to pick what to order; everything looked too

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Pilsen

Taxim

It’s easy to be seduced by even a quick glance at Taxim’s menu. After all, Wicker Park has nothing like it. In fact, Chicago has nothing like it. It’s Greek, but it’s not—not if your idea of Greek is flaming cheese, hefty piles of gyro meat and four-finger-thick moussaka. The vision of David Schneider—who spent summers with his maternal family in Greece’s Aegean Islands—Taxim’s menu is executed by chef de cuisine Jan Rickerl, Stephanie Izard’s right-hand man at defunct seafood stunner Scylla. Schneider and Rickerl’s collaborative effort is dotted with dishes like rampopita, described as “ramps, green garlic, fresh dill, goat feta, house-made phyllo”; koukia me kavourma, “fresh shelled fava beans, lamb confit, house-made yogurt”; and arnaki me kapnisto pligouri, or “lamb shank braised in white wine, smoked green wheat, toasted almonds, fennel salad.” It’s seasonal, it’s enticing and it’s one hell of a buildup. So maybe that’s why the actual experience brings one back down to earth a bit. After three visits, I realized the thing to keep in mind is that while Taxim’s menu descriptions sound incredible, they do so because they’re uncommon. Knowing that each dish is exactly as described, composed of no more but no less, is key to fully enjoying the food. (It takes much less thought to enjoy the atmosphere, a setting that encourages diners to sink into ornate pillows, have that second bottle of wine and marvel at just how hot their date looks under the low glow of Byzantine-style

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Wicker Park

Antique Taco

Any taco shop that opens within a mile of the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen will be subject to the Big Star question: Is it as good as Big Star? Is it as cheap? Most important, is it worth potentially missing out on a seat on Big Star’s patio? To maximize the pleasure Antique Taco is capable of providing, ignore all these questions. It’s not that Antique can’t compete with Big Star—it can. But why pit the two against each other? Wicker Park, it turns out, is big enough for both. So on nights that call for shots of whiskey and boys with mustaches, keep going to Big Star. And on the quieter, reflective nights of summer, head to Antique. The vibe is cute and vintage (and some of those vintage items are for sale), but the space is uncluttered enough that you can relax. And the tacos, more composed than most, feel like meals in miniature: Light and crispy battered fish is topped with smoky cabbage; sumptuous carnitas carry a considerable kick from an adobo rub. A corn salad is a decadent mixture of kernels, onions, beans and mayonnaise—it is probably one of the only mayo-based salads you’ll eat and yet still find sophisticated. And the hefty meatball slider is given a proper sauce: a smooth mole poblano. Could you sit on the sidewalk patio with a glass jug of the rosemary margaritas (good, but hard to find the rosemary) in an attempt to re-create the other taco joint in the ’hood? You could. But Antique works best inside, with the happy staff, the adorable interior

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Wicker Park

Fat Rice

Critics' pick

Let’s knock this out right away: You’re getting the arroz gordo. It’s a spectacle to behold, a paella-like thicket in which sausage, pork, clams and prawns are piled on a bed of rice—a dish worthy of sharing its name (which translates to fat rice) with the restaurant itself. Tackle the prawns first: Crack their shells and disengage their plump insides. Now the clams. There might be a stray sandy one in there, but the rest have integrity. Next, a tea egg (boiled, then cracked and steeped in tea and soy sauce, such that the liquid seeps in, marbling the exterior): It’s fragrant and saturated with seasoning. And now the unsightly hunks of pork, a disappointing mass of tough and chewy meat. Just when the arroz gordo becomes almost senseless, there’s an olive: an acidic reprieve. And then there’s the soul of the dish, crisped black at the pot’s edges, packed with nuggets of Chinese sausage and pickled raisins that burst with sweet, tangy juices. I’m talking about the rice. There’s something about big, conglomerate dishes like this—the fat rice, the low-country boil at Carriage House, the moqueca at La Sirena Clandestina—that makes them immensely pleasurable to eat. They’re the opposite of faddish: They’re dishes with long histories, things you don’t have to think about to enjoy. This sense of history and of place is what makes Fat Rice’s approach so successful: Owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo (formerly the duo behind the supper club X-Marx) are cooking the food of Macau,

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Logan Square

Dove's Luncheonette

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh The morning after attending a rather boozy party, two friends and I slumped over the counter at Dove’s Luncheonette, hoping that a hefty serving of diner food would cure us. Dove’s isn’t your typical diner, though, so we wouldn’t be getting a greasy plate of overcooked bacon and rubbery eggs. No, we’d be eating blood sausage and drinking Bloody Marys, as Dove’s is the latest entrant into the nouveau diner landscape, which is already populated by Little Goat Diner and Au Cheval. But neither of them really feels like an old-school diner—Au Cheval is dark and glamorous, like all Brendan Sodikoff restaurants, and Little Goat is a loud family restaurant serving foot-tall goat burgers. But Dove’s has the spirit of one. The latest spot from One Off Hospitality (Publican, Avec and others), Dove’s is located next door to One Off’s Big Star and it shares a building with the relocated taco take-out window. The only seating option is padded stools placed along steel counters, which line the perimeter of the cozy restaurant. It’s open from 9 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night. There’s a black and white board listing breakfast and dessert specials and a record player spinning in the corner, with a jukebox to come. There are big windows overlooking the CTA construction on Damen Avenue, retro photos on the walls and counters set with paper placemats printed with pictures of mountains. The menu, which features Norteño cuisine (that's food from northern Me

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Wicker Park

Slurping Turtle

Critics' pick

Things have become messy. Not incidentally messy, in the way of a bulging sushi roll or grease-slicked sandwich, but explicitly. The hair is tied back, desperate appeals have been made to the napkin, and this shirt? It’s a lost cause. No one need be concerned with the table, a glossy white rectangle that stretches the length of this room, a portion of which I’ve haphazardly converted into a child’s mildly repulsive splatter-art masterpiece. But I am concerned, although not convinced, that I have sprayed broth on the stranger kitty-corner from me at the communal table. If you’re reading this, sir, the lady with the tan tan men noodles all over her shirt is sorry. But only a little. I would do it again. I would do most things again in the name of tan tan men, a reddish broth charged with the heat of chilies, pervaded with crumbled ground pork and weighted with herb-packed pork meatballs. In the midst of it all are masses of the crimped egg noodles that turn what would otherwise be merely a great soup into a dish that a certain breed of restaurant patron—more often than not male, more often than not very into David Chang—has elevated to cult status: ramen. But unlike the tan tan men, the tonkotu ramen will not meet these dudes’ somewhat technical standards: It came out lukewarm, which, for the ramenite, is a sin akin to the mainstream gourmand’s irritation at a burger cooked to the wrong temperature. But even non–Lucky Peachers may find, as I did, a lurking dissatisfaction with

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River North

Takito Kitchen

Critics' pick

I have observed weekend lines to get into a bar called Fatpour, where I once shared something called a Fish Bowl with a man whose politics were as repulsive as the Sprite-based beverage. I have imagined—but never been brave enough to ascertain—what sort of things take place at the Shambles, that rare venue whose name appears to be an honest reflection of its ambitions. I have stood by idly as Crust gave way to Pizano's. I have learned what it looks like when the absolute minimum amount of effort is put into opening a bar, and the name for that is Paradise Cantina. (It closed.) I'm perfectly comfortable acknowledging that the gelato at that Caffe Gelato place is not very good, and that occasionally I go there anyway. What I'm saying is that I live here, just up the street from the strip of Division between Damen and Hoyne, and if I'm not at Rainbo or Small Bar, it can be a very dark place. Rarely does one encounter such a dense concentration of restaurants and bars, so few of which demonstrate even the minimum of aspiration. And then, the powers that be gave us Takito. I can't help myself from mentioning that they gave it to us in a long, narrow room where I once had a meal I would rank among my ten worst in Chicago, at the questionable-at-best Sabor Saveur. But that only heightens the contrast between Takito and so many of its neighbors. In fact, if I have one bone to pick with this newcomer, it's that certain of its features (the faux-graffiti logo, the predominance of taco

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Wicker Park

Carriage House

There is no denying the technical skill behind the low-country boil: Surely someone had to make the slices of pullman bread; the rustic, spicy rabbit chaurice sausage. There must have been diligent sourcing of clean-flavored clams and sweet, fulsome shrimp, both of which burst with the juices of Old Bay broth. But to eat it, to make a mess of yourself while digging corn on the cob out of the cast-iron Dutch oven, is to think of none of these things, to never for a minute consider someone fussing over it. Instead, you merely—and thoroughly—enjoy it. That is the magic of Carriage House and of its chef, Mark Steuer. Steuer earned local cred as the savory chef at Mindy Segal’s HotChocolate. Yet when he broke out with the first place of his own, the Bedford (where he’s still the chef), something was amiss. With the opening of Carriage House, it’s clear what the problem was: His heart was buried deep along the shores of South Carolina. You can see it in the picnic board, my second-favorite thing on the menu (after the low-country boil), a sampler of the South: distinctive country ham, a giant quenelle of pimento cheese, pickled eggs, bread-and-butter pickles, shrimp remoulade and a mini skillet of corn bread. You can see it in the roasted oysters, the lush crab soup, the ham-hock-and-succotash hash. These dishes prove you can retain a rustic, heartfelt, bold understanding of regional Southern cooking—in fact, you can bolster that tradition—while applying a chef’s understanding of

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Wicker Park

Salero

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh I popped into Salero around 1pm this week and grabbed a seat at the bar. “I heard you have a new lunch menu,” I told the bartender, who brought me over a menu. “Yeah, we started it quietly, like dinner,” he said. “So we can get the hang of it.” If my meals at Salero are any indication, this restaurant already has the hang of it—and people aren’t going to be quiet about it much longer. Salero is from the team behind Wood in Boystown, and, until last weekend, owner Franco Gianni also owned Lincoln Square’s Laughing Bird, a Filipino-American spot that closed after just five months. But things are working much more smoothly at Salero—Ashlee Aubin is the chef for both Salero and Wood, and here he’s executing a terrific Basque-inspired menu. It’s easy to miss Salero, as it’s located next to Avec and Blackbird. When I went for dinner, there were plenty of people waiting outside for tables at those two restaurants. Here’s some advice, people waiting for at a table at Avec: Go have a drink at Salero’s bar, where the list is packed with Spanish favorites, like Basque ciders (a drier, acidic style), an edited, excellent list of sherries, and cocktails, like a bright and tart sangria, served with a fresh orange juice ice cube. You also won’t go wrong with easy-drinking Spanish-style gin and tonics, which are heavier on the tonic and served in a big goblet. If your wait is a long one, order a few nibbles off the pintxo menu, which is only available a

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West Loop

Schwa

Critics' pick

At some point during a recent meal at Schwa—between the pad thai and the arctic char roe, I believe—a chef came out of the kitchen with two small plates. As he explained that each plate held a lone quail-egg ravioli, I’m pretty sure I had the same reaction as everybody else who got the gratis course: relief that Schwa’s quail-egg ravioli days were not yet gone; relief that I could still indulge in Michael Carlson’s greatest hits. I wish I could resist calling them that, or ignore the fact that the Schwa chefs look like they just stumbled out of a van straight from South by Southwest. But Schwa’s plight has too much in common with the quintessential rock & roll story to not talk about it in musical terms. There’s the almost instantaneous celebrity the restaurant acquired when it opened in 2005, the fanatic crowds that clamored for Carlson’s food, the awards that were quickly bestowed (a Food & Wine Best New Chef Award), the “breaking up” of the original team, the rumored excessive partying, the sudden collapse of the restaurant five months ago and, now, the return—the second album, if you will. Happily, this is where the analogies to music start to weaken. Everybody knows sophomore efforts seldom hold up to debuts. But Schwa appears to have returned from its hiatus unscathed. The first dish of the progression, a plate that combined Jonah crab with roasted banana, celery and coriander, set the tone for the entire evening: The dish’s seemingly incongruous elements melded toget

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Wicker Park

Longman & Eagle

Critics' pick

At Longman & Eagle, there are old fashioneds, stirred slowly and carefully behind a dark, gorgeous bar. There are dozens of whiskeys for three bucks; the house favorite, Cabin Still, is mellow and gentle. And there are flannel shirts, and mustaches, and Grandma sweaters. A lot of them. But if you’ve gotten it into your head that eating at a restaurant owned in part by the Empty Bottle guys means that you’ll be systematically ignored by a waitstaff of smelly, aloof, strategically scruffed dudes and the waifish, Lycra-clad women who dig them, then you have seriously underestimated the genre. Truth is, the folks working here are some of the friendliest and most professional hipsters you’ll ever meet, and their graciousness isn’t lost on the neighborhood. Why else would I have been seated next to couples with babies and families with tweens? Yet, however welcoming and well-informed my server was, T.G.I. Friday’s this is not, and it was hard not to notice that those groups were ordering their fair share of burgers. And, not to start things off on the wrong foot, but the Kobe burger, like most Kobe burgers I’ve had, is nothing to get excited about. The meat’s mushy, the bun’s too big for the patty, and mine reeked of smoke from the bacon, despite the fact that the strips were scarcely cooked. (If those tweens were ordering it simply for the awesome beef fat–fried fries, though, bless their hearts.) To do this restaurant right, you’ve got to allow yourself organ meats. Get the bee

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Logan Square

The Aviary

Critics' pick

If there is a such a thing as an Aviary VIP, it exists mostly in the line outside. Perhaps VIPs get to jump that line (which, for the record, has been relatively short between 7 and 9pm on weeknights). But once inside, they become just like the rest of us. They grin like idiots and snap photos of their cocktails with their cell phones. Because no matter where a VIP has been before, he’s never had a drink like the Blueberry. Who has? Plenty have seen a photo of the drink, in these pages and many others. The Martin Kastner–designed pitcher, a circle of glass with flowers, herbs and zest on the inside, may be the prettiest cocktail the world has seen, especially when positioned in front of a tea candle, which is exactly where the servers at the Aviary put it, maximizing the stained-glass effect. But seeing the drink, while striking, is one thing; tasting it over the course of 30 minutes is another. As the whiskey cocktail macerates in the botanicals, it changes from something floral and light in color to a dark amber elixir with pronounced tannins. It’s a splendid drink both ways. But taste is secondary to the experience of looking at it, pouring it, watching and tasting it change. This is the question Aviary poses (though probably not intentionally): When a cocktail is an intellectual exercise, how much does it matter how it tastes? The Ginger is a deconstructed Moscow mule. A lowball glass is filled with ginger-flavored ice, dotted with slices of pepper and herbs, and served

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West Loop

Nightwood

There are exactly four bad seats at Nightwood. Anyone seated in the front dining room, along the open-kitchen countertop or at the intimate downstairs communal tables might never notice this pair of two-tops. But it was from the awkward vantage point of one of those tables, placed along a (reasonably broad) hallway, that I ate my first meal at this much-anticipated east Pilsen haunt from Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds, the owners of Logan Square’s Lula Cafe. And while I’ve never been “recognized” as a critic, my unfortunate seat at least confirmed my anonymity, a minor solace as I glanced at the welcoming assemblage of antique fixtures and modern furniture on both sides. But once a brioche bread pudding appetizer showed up in front of me, I didn’t want to look elsewhere anyway. The rich square of baked brioche, flanked by meaty slices of ham and stray pieces of crunchy snap peas, was homey and inspired. On a subsequent visit (at a much nicer table), the room again took a backseat, this time to a trout “BLT”: a fried egg and smoked trout layered over thick slabs of bacon on a slice of that same sweet, light brioche. And after the desserts—an angelically delicate blueberry-studded cake, a perfectly smooth chocolate crema hiding buttery hazelnuts—I realized it was no coincidence that the standout savory dishes had featured pastry. However memorable these dishes were, I’m hesitant to go on too much about them since the menu, executed by Lula vet Jason Vincent, changes almost n

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Pilsen

Most popular Chicago restaurants

1

The Duck Inn

After visiting the Duck Inn’s bar, I’m convinced chef Kevin Hickey is someone I want to go drinking with. After all, when I go drinking I want to eat, and Hickey clearly knows what people want with a drink in hand. The fried cheese curds are like little clouds placed atop aquavit-laced Bloody Mary ketchup. The hamburger sandwich, served on rye bread with grilled onions and a thick slab of Brun-uusto cheese, is a greasy but worthy update of a patty melt. And the duck fat dog, a duck and beef link with a snappy casing and a garden of toppings, is a magnificent specimen. Bartender Brandon Phillips also knows what people want to drink. Cocktails range from $7–$14 (most are $10), and they’re pretty good—the Don is a Manhattan riff with walnut liqueur, while other drinks are more global, like the lychee chuhai, a Japanese shochu and soda cocktail. The Duck Inn marks Hickey’s return to Bridgeport, the neighborhood he grew up in, after years of working around the world and around Chicago. He’s also the chef at Bottlefork, also part of Billy Dec’s clubby Rockit Ranch Productions, but Duck Inn has little in common with your typical Dec restaurant. Instead, it’s the restaurant Hickey has wanted to open for years. It’s named after a place his great-grandmother owned in Bridgeport in the 1930s, and the bar menu offers modernized versions of some of the same dishes she sold—a hamburger sandwich, tamale and hot dog were just 5 cents each, and not, I’d assume, nearly as good as Hickey’s ver

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Bridgeport
2

Bavette's

A couple of weeks after Brendan Sodikoff opened Bavette’s, I started hearing reports. “It’s just like all his other spots,” a friend told me. “It’s exactly the same,” another said. Having now made a few visits to Bavette’s, I’m guessing these reports were based purely on conjecture. Which isn’t fair, except that, well, Sodikoff does have something of a track record. His first three restaurants act something like triplets, all with similar looks and personalities and food, but slightly different interests. Gilt Bar’s the clubby one. Maude’s is the aesthete. Au Cheval’s the hipster. Throw Doughnut Vault in there as the (pudgy) black sheep and you have a strong, if somewhat predictable, family of restaurants. Bavette’s messes with this metaphor. Contrary to the reports I heard, it’s a deviation, or, to put it in terms closer to my opinion, an evolution. The room is lit differently; golden light bounces between tufted red-leather booths and the mirrored bar. Like his other spots, the place is highly conceptual, but the concept—jazz-era steakhouse with light French touches—is more sophisticated. Sodikoff’s other spots are taste-specific; the loveliness of this one is, I believe, close to universal. You don’t even have to like steak. In fact, I had better luck with the chicken. The fried chicken is crazy good, the juicy wings encased in a flaky and crunchy crust; the roast chicken is otherworldly, with skin a very dark amber, delicate and moist flesh and a thickjus on the plate.

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River North
3

Au Cheval

Critics' pick

If Au Cheval weren’t such a bizarre and, frankly, difficult restaurant at which to eat, you’d find me there every Friday night for the matzo ball soup. Pre-Cheval, the most I ever wanted from a matzo ball soup was glistening pools of schmaltz. Post-Cheval, I demand it not only glisten but also be stocked with roasted carrots and cippolini onions, sophisticated complements to an enormous matzo ball that is more accurately described as a matzo souffle. This soup is a rarity on Cheval’s menu, but not because of how it tastes. Perfectly executed, endlessly cravable food is in every corner of this place. The chopped chicken liver—another great Jewish dish Brendan Sodikoff’s “diner” is elevating—goes on thick challah with soft salted butter, a combination that is (sorry, but I’ve got to be a drama queen here) so delicious it’s devastating. And the beef stew is exemplary for both its supple texture and silky sauce. Where the soup stands out is its lightness: You can actually start a meal with it (it shares this distinction only with two salads). It’s also a dish you can eat in its entirety without feeling as if you’ve taken a shower in hot beef fat. This cannot be said for much of the rest of the menu. The omelette boasts a smooth, puffy, unblemished surface that looks like butter, but also literally tastes like butter, so much so that it’s hard to take more than one bite. A ham “sandwich” with cheese fondue is not a sandwich at all, but rather a crock of melted cheese dotted with

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West Loop
4

Ada St.

Critics' pick

Michael Kornick and David Morton (DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar) teamed with chef Zoe Schor (L.A.’s Bouchon and Craft) for this hybrid cocktail bar–restaurant. The room is lovely, and so is the food. Schor’s deep-fried black-eyed peas are the perfect drinking snack, and her light touch with steak (dressed in nothing more than brown butter), salads and even doughnuts makes sense with the food-friendly cocktails coming from behind the bar.

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West Town
5

Table Fifty-Two

Two women—corn-yellow hair, light pink lipstick—sat at the bar at Table Fifty-Two the other night. They were lucky to get the seats, not just because they didn’t have reservations (the bar’s five seats are reserved for those who don’t) but also because it gave them ample face time with chef Art Smith, who poured their wine, asked them questions and encouraged them to eat dessert. The ladies nibbled on organic green salads and pistachio-encrusted chicken breasts, and at the end of the meal, after taking two bites of dessert and then pushing it away, they took out the cookbooks. “Will you sign these?” they asked. And, of course, Smith obliged. It was, after all, the reason they had come. Unfortunately, these women missed the point. Smith may be the draw, particularly for the Oprah set, who’ll do anything to get one step closer to the woman herself. But to really get to the heart of this restaurant, you have to dive headfirst into the butter, the cheese and the dense carbohydrates that make this Southernish, home-style menu sing. Start by asking for extra goat cheese biscuits: Tapped out of miniature cast-iron skillets, they were devilishly good—nutty butter and tangy goat cheese (and a little flour) mingling in one warm, decadent package. But this is just where the decadence began. The filet was thick and juicy, exhibiting the oomph of manlier cuts while still playing up the filet’s lean, sumptuous texture. A pizza sported fresh figs, caramelized onions and rosemary, each ingr

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Gold Coast
6

The Bristol

Critics' pick

By the time I made my first visit to the Bristol, I’d gone online and read its menu, reread its menu and then read it again. To say it had a pull on me would not be accurate; it was more that it seemed to know me, as if the simple language of it was making an appeal to my specific weaknesses for fat, cheese, pickles and bread. I don’t think I was the only one who felt this way. When I watched the dining room fill up and saw people lining the walls, impatiently sucking down ginger-spiked cava sangria as they waited for my seat to be vacant, I got the feeling a lot of people have been waiting to get their hands on this food. It should be noted that at least some of the people I saw waiting were shunning seats at one of the two communal tables and holding out for a table of their own. Me, I scanned the room and saw that the individual tables were arranged in such proximity to each other that the communal tables actually seemed roomier. And as I soon learned, there’s an added benefit to a communal table: It’s easier to scope out dishes before committing to ordering them. I couldn’t help but notice that, one night, after my companion and I swooned over the combination of crisp, acidic fruit and creamy Manchego in the heirloom apple salad, the couple across the communal table from us ordered it, too. Same thing with the fried sardines, which they must have overheard us rhapsodize about, and for the crispy chicken thigh (pictured), which that night came with warm strands of shredde

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Bucktown
7

Balena

Critics' pick

The Bristol opened in September 2008, just as the economy bottomed out. It was a month before the Publican, a year before the Purple Pig. The Bucktown restaurant wasn’t the first to embrace fifth-quarter cuts of meat, small plates and communal tables. But in retrospect, its opening heralded the mainstreaming of a certain type of dining: tablecloth-less but chef-driven, scrappy but serious. It also heralded the arrival of a chef few had heard of: Chris Pandel, a protégé of Rick Tramonto. The Bristol was—and remains—a very fine place to eat, but in my experience, it was never an especially easy or comfortable one. It took no reservations, and on weekends, waits could be tremendous. (It’s now on OpenTable.) Much of the menu was made up of specials, and it was a given that most would sell out before the end of the night. And the chairs were the type you would soon start to see everywhere, lightweight and metal. I was thinking about those utilitarian chairs during one of my meals at Balena, Pandel’s second restaurant, which is operated by the Bristol’s owners and co-owned by the BOKA group (i.e., Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz), which now boasts chefs Paul Virant (Perennial Virant), Giuseppe Tentori (GT Fish & Oyster, Boka) and Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat). I was seated on a banquette on the second floor of Balena. It was a quiet Wednesday; the tables on both sides of me were empty. There was a particular leisure to being there. Maybe it was the fact that I felt reprieved after m

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Lincoln Park
8

avec

Critics' pick

There are rules when eating at avec. One of them is “No talking about Israel.” A few weeks ago I was eating dinner and my friend—not I—was breaking that rule. Loudly. The man sitting next to me, whom I did not know but whom I spent the evening less than one inch from, leaned into our space and said, “What nation are you talking about?” This is why you don’t talk about Israel at avec. I shut down the conversation by slicing an X in the air with my hands and saying one word: “no.” But the man—his name was Brandon, I learned later—was undeterred from talking to us. He changed the subject. “Have you guys ever had these dates?” he asked. He pointed to the hot casserole in front of him with only one date left. “They’re so good.” The bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates are, of course, another rule of avec. You must order them, every time, until you’ve had them so often that you no longer need to be at avec to taste them—you close your eyes, access your taste memory, slip into a bliss coma…. “Are you guys tourists?” I asked Brandon. He and his companions looked wounded. “We live up the street,” they said. The idea that a Chicagoan exists who has not yet eaten the avec dates was inconceivable to me. But here were three people who had lived in Chicago for years and were just now at avec for the first time. Rules dictate this situation, too. “You must eat the focaccia,” I said. “And probably the brandade.” They nodded and smiled. But I knew they weren’t listening. They’d alr

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West Loop
9

The Betty

Rachel Dow, former sous chef at avec, is at the helm of this cocktail bar/small plates spot. The drink menu will focus on bourbon, and the interior is going to be an “opulent take on the neighborhood bar.” More details on the food aren’t available yet.

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West Loop
10

Big Jones

The server at Big Jones opened her eyes wide with surprise. “Oh wow,” she said, shaking her head and laughing nervously. Ten seconds earlier, when we had ordered a mint julep, she was relaxed and jovial. “Oh! That’s fun!” she had said, as if we were the first people to start a meal with a cocktail. But now that we had also ordered a hurricane, she seemed almost scared. “Really?” she asked. Well, yes, really. This is supposed to be New Orleans, isn’t it? I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never been to the Big Easy. But I can’t say that the dining room here fits my perception of the place. The interior is the opposite of festive: The cream-colored walls are subdued and almost bare, save some out-of-place art (like that slightly abstract triptych of Babs). There’s a touch of Southernness to the curved style of the chairs and the elaborate, old-school logo. But there are no plastic cups full of beer here. And there certainly aren’t throngs of people willing to do anything for a string of beads. There are those cocktails, though. The julep was sweet and nicely balanced, with an herbal finish—not bad even though it wasn’t served in a julep cup or over crushed ice. That hurricane? I can’t imagine it’s anything like the ones sipped on Bourbon Street. It was certainly boozy but also severely dry and, ultimately, not very fun. But I don’t really care how true (or not) Big Jones is to the “coastal South” it takes as its inspiration. When a plate of impeccably cooked shrimp doused in a da

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Andersonville
11

Mindy's HotChocolate

Critics' pick

Mindy Segal rehabbed her Bucktown restaurant in 2012, making it sunnier and adding a huge garage door that opens to let in warm weather. Segal—first and foremost a pastry chef—recently appointed Amanda Barnes to head up the savory kitchen, and the menu now includes lobster spaghetti and roasted chicken with a soy glaze.

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Wicker Park
12

Geja’s Café

This dimly lit fondue spot is a reliably romantic date destination. The four-course Prince Geja Combination, while pricey, allows couples a chance to get cozy while experimenting with various dips. A salad starter is followed by the cheese fondue appetizer with bread, grapes and apples. Then, beef tenderloin, chicken breast, lobster tail, jumbo shrimp and sea scallops are brought out to be cooked in the tableside hot oil pot. Be sure to save room for the flaming chocolate fondue dessert.

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Lincoln Park
13

Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh I've eaten many bowls of oatmeal in my life, starting with the Oatmeal Swirlers I was obsessed with when I was six until today, when it’s one of my go-to breakfasts (except now with significantly less sugar and much less fun). But I've never had a bowl of oatmeal quite like the one at Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse, where the oats are cooked until they still have some bite. They’re served with a moat of milk and twin dollops of cultured cream and jam (on my visit, cherry), then sprinkled with raw sugar and pecans. Tangy from the cream and sweet from the jam, with perfectly cooked oats, this oatmeal is a revelation. But it’s not quite surprising, given how the oats are rolled right in the shop, and the pair behind the new venture, Dave and Megan Miller (formerly of Bang Bang Pie Shop), who are changing the idea of what a bakery is. They’re milling all of their own heritage grains on site and if you walk past the butter and jam toast bar, you’ll see mills, a mill/sifter and a flaker, which are used to prepare all the grains. These range from oats, found in the oatmeal, to the whole wheat pastry flour used in the chocolate chip cookies. There are numerous benefits to using these housemade grains. First off, they’re better for you than plain white flour. Second, they actually taste like they’re supposed to. Take the grits, which are easily the best in the city. Made with three types of corn—yellow, red and blue—the grits are a mix of fine an

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Lincoln Square
14

Gather

One Wednesday night I walked into Gather at 9:45 and asked if the restaurant was still serving. “We’re open until 11pm no matter what,” the host said. On this and subsequent evenings, this guy proved to be one of the more gracious front-of-house folks working today. But I wish he had dissuaded me, because I took a seat at the bar and ate a meal that lasted until 11pm, and it was terribly awkward—before I could even finish my soup, the restaurant cleared out, leaving me as the only patron. So, yes, it was nice of the staff to let me sit there, but Gather should really just close at 10pm. This is not a late-night spot; instead, it’s been built from top to bottom as a place to bring the parents, go on a third date or celebrate whatever upwardly mobile milestone Lincoln Square residents celebrate—kid got on the cheerleading squad, sister got into Harvard. If you’re with a group, great—Gather is built for this, and has a section on the menu (“gather and share”) dedicated to feeding you. It’s made up of dishes like charcuterie boards, a shareable short rib chili (you spread it on corn cakes), steak tartare served with housemade brioche. These are satisfying enough but will likely be consumed without comment. Hey, at least the food’s not getting in the way of conversation, right? Chef Ken Carter’s talents are more easily accessed when you’re ordering for yourself. Not with the squash soup necessarily (it’s got all the ambitious trappings of a fine-dining soup, but the myriad garn

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Ravenswood
15

The Publican

After my third visit, I left the warm glow of the Publican in a daze. Having obsessively anticipated the “pork-and-beer” project from restaurateurs Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander and Eduard Seitan and chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston, it felt almost surreal to have fallen so quickly into the restaurant’s grasp. I was sucked in by the effortless elegance; the beerhall-like communal tables; the old-world flatware; the gingham platters; the bulbous lights; and, of course, the food. The Publican follows a simple logic: (1) find the highest-quality oysters, fish and pork and (2) stay out of the ingredients’ way. That third meal, a comforting Sunday-only, family-style supper had a lot going for it: The season’s first snow was falling, and the restaurant was unusually mellow. It was the food, though, that left me swooning. Succulent, whole, pan-seared loup-de-mer flaked easily off the bone to reveal a stuffing of mildly bitter turnip greens, pine nuts and sweet golden raisins and sprinkled with stray pea shoots. Four cuts of lamb were perfectly tender (collapse-at-the-mere-sight-of-a-fork–tender ribs and ground-kidney–stuffed loin among them), each bite brightened with tiny chiffonades of mint. The restaurant’s ambiance might be European and its flavor profile Mediterranean, but when the Publican hits all the right notes, as it did that night, its heart feels unmistakably Midwestern. During an economic shitstorm when luxury can’t help but feel tacky, there’s not a garish or overdon

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West Loop
16

Bang Bang Pie Shop

Critics' pick

You could say this place is a coffee shop: It roasts its own beans to create bold, serious cups of hot and iced coffee. Besides, back when this business was a food truck, it was called Bang Bang Pie and Coffee. But now, the coffee has been lopped off, and it’s mainly a pie shop. There’s a particular charm to that—a place where you can just meet someone for a slice of pie. I’ve done it three times now: The crust on two visits was flaky and crumbly; in one case, it was chewy and soggy. The fillings have been similarly all over the board: deep, rich chocolate in the French silk on one trip; flavor-lacking strawberries on another. On two of three visits, I ate the biscuits. They are, in a word, necessary. Have you spent any considerable time thinking about how amazing it is that there exists a socially accepted vehicle for consuming this much butter? Think about it. Then start thinking of Bang Bang as a weekend breakfast spot, because there are only two days of the week these things get topped with a peppery gravy. 2051 N California Ave (773-276-8888).

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Logan Square
17

Kingsbury Street Cafe

Critics' pick

Seasoned catering and baking company Work of Art has moved its operations—and opened a daytime café—to this new location, which, no joke, is perhaps the loveliest breakfast spot in Chicago. As sunlight pours through the windows, you’ll dig into tender whole wheat–carrot pancakes, hearty omelettes and tall glasses of cool melon-ginger juice. All that may fill you up, but if there’s one rule at Kingsbury, it’s to never leave empty-handed: Pick up seasonal baked goods from the pastry case on the way out, especially the pumpkin whoopie pies, which kick cupcakes to the curb.

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Lincoln Park
18

North Pond

Critics' pick

Okay, so technically you’re not eating outside, but when you’re only a few feet from a pond in the middle of Lincoln Park, you’re as close to nature as it gets in the city. Even more so when you sample chef Bruce Sherman’s latest creations, concocted with as much locally grown organic food as he can get his hands on. Sherman’s ever-changing offerings have included Gulf Shrimp and Manila Clam with black olive Capellini, snap peas, and carrot-shrimp broth topped with pecorino and crumbs, and Alaskan Halibut served with red and white quinoa, cucumbers, bing cherries, mint, and cucumber broth—perfectly lovely reminders of the time of year in case you can’t get a window table.

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Lincoln Park
19

Dusek's Board and Beer

Critics' pick

On the door of Dusek's Board and Beer, the opening date (2013) is laid out in gold letters. Next to it is an unexpected word: "re-established." Rather than bring an overpriced, newfangled hipster paradise to East Pilsen, the folks behind Dusek's have done something unexpected: tried to bring a little bit of the neighborhood back to its 19th-century roots. Dusek's is only one part of the ambitious Thalia Hall project that includes a bar, a restaurant and a performance venue. Thalia Hall was originally the creation of John Dusek, who opened the building in 1892, when the neighborhood was Czech. The hall itself isn't quite refurbished yet (though I peeked inside and the space is incredible) but the bar and restaurant are ready to go. The restaurant itself is cozy and warm, with a tin ceiling, tons of Edison bulbs, and reclaimed wood–and–wrought iron tables that, while beautiful, can be a bit unstable. One corner of the front dinner room looks like a movie set of a 1940s dining room, completely with books, tchotchkes and a table set on a platform a few inches off of the ground. The owners wanted to re-establish Dusek's idea of a multipurpose community hall, which had me seriously anxious—concert venues traditionally serve pretty mediocre food. With chef Jared Wentworth (Longman & Eagle) at the helm, I shouldn't have worried. In fact, my visit to Dusek's was the first time in months that I've looked at a menu and been totally unable to pick what to order; everything looked too

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Pilsen
20

42 Grams

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh Jake Bickelhaupt is one ballsy chef. Bickelhaupt opened 42 Grams on January 10, in Uptown, far away from Restaurant Row. It’s BYOB. It uses a ticketing system and each ticket costs $203.68*. That includes taxes and service, but it’s pricey, especially when you consider that our two seats at 42 Grams cost $17 less than the two-top we had at Next two nights earlier and we had to go to Binny’s armed with detailed instructions for what kinds of wine to bring. And, while Bickelhaupt has worked at Alinea, Schwa and Charlie Trotter’s, he hasn’t been a household name. That’s about to change. Prior to opening 42 Grams, Bickelhaupt was running Sous Rising, a dinner series in his apartment, with his wife, Alexa, who handles service and front of house. When the Chester's Chicken underneath their apartment closed, they took over the space and turned it into an 18-seat restaurant, with a table for ten and eight seats at the chef’s counter. The table and counter are seated together at separate times, so when we recently went in for dinner at the counter, my date and I were joined by three other couples, one from St. Louis and one from Iowa, who regularly come to dine in Chicago and who heard 42 Grams was worth a visit. It is. Every single one of the 15 courses, from the “crispy snacks” like salmon skin chicharrons dusted with malt vinegar powder to the coffee and chicory pudding that ends the night, is delicious and exciting. It’s also homey-feeling—th

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Uptown
21

Maude’s Liquor Bar

Critics' pick

It’s harder than it looks to nail it, the look and the feel of “effortless cool.” It’s even harder to straddle the fence between bar and restaurant, so that everyone eating gets drunk and everyone drinking ends up feeding their face. But that’s what’s happening at Maude’s Liquor Bar, the latest from Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Curio). The two-hour weekend wait signals restaurant. But ramble up the stairs late night and it’s a whiskey-fueled roundtable of postwork line cooks, serving themselves from a community bottle then paying by the honor system at the end of the night. That industry crowd rarely makes it to Maude’s before midnight, when the kitchen closes, so they miss the food their brother-in-arms Jeff Pikus is putting out, a menu as indulgent and classic as his past work at Trio and Alinea was groundbreaking. But nothing is lost on the deep-pocketed scenesters who arrive before them, who gulp down delicious whiskey smashes and stab at $70 shellfish towers. These are the folks paying for those gleaming subway tiles (which don’t come cheap, not even the randomly chipped ones), the mismatched crystal chandeliers and that Victorianesque sofa. But in return they’re getting butter-smooth chicken liver slathered on toast with fig marmalade, ideal with a gin and crème de violette concoction dubbed “Smokey Violet.” And still-quivering oysters from both coasts. And big fat mussels, smartly steamed in a broth studded with punchy picholine olives but inexplicably, annoyingly left

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West Loop
22

Antique Taco

Any taco shop that opens within a mile of the intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen will be subject to the Big Star question: Is it as good as Big Star? Is it as cheap? Most important, is it worth potentially missing out on a seat on Big Star’s patio? To maximize the pleasure Antique Taco is capable of providing, ignore all these questions. It’s not that Antique can’t compete with Big Star—it can. But why pit the two against each other? Wicker Park, it turns out, is big enough for both. So on nights that call for shots of whiskey and boys with mustaches, keep going to Big Star. And on the quieter, reflective nights of summer, head to Antique. The vibe is cute and vintage (and some of those vintage items are for sale), but the space is uncluttered enough that you can relax. And the tacos, more composed than most, feel like meals in miniature: Light and crispy battered fish is topped with smoky cabbage; sumptuous carnitas carry a considerable kick from an adobo rub. A corn salad is a decadent mixture of kernels, onions, beans and mayonnaise—it is probably one of the only mayo-based salads you’ll eat and yet still find sophisticated. And the hefty meatball slider is given a proper sauce: a smooth mole poblano. Could you sit on the sidewalk patio with a glass jug of the rosemary margaritas (good, but hard to find the rosemary) in an attempt to re-create the other taco joint in the ’hood? You could. But Antique works best inside, with the happy staff, the adorable interior

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Wicker Park
23

Dove's Luncheonette

Critics' pick

Restaurant review by Amy Cavanaugh The morning after attending a rather boozy party, two friends and I slumped over the counter at Dove’s Luncheonette, hoping that a hefty serving of diner food would cure us. Dove’s isn’t your typical diner, though, so we wouldn’t be getting a greasy plate of overcooked bacon and rubbery eggs. No, we’d be eating blood sausage and drinking Bloody Marys, as Dove’s is the latest entrant into the nouveau diner landscape, which is already populated by Little Goat Diner and Au Cheval. But neither of them really feels like an old-school diner—Au Cheval is dark and glamorous, like all Brendan Sodikoff restaurants, and Little Goat is a loud family restaurant serving foot-tall goat burgers. But Dove’s has the spirit of one. The latest spot from One Off Hospitality (Publican, Avec and others), Dove’s is located next door to One Off’s Big Star and it shares a building with the relocated taco take-out window. The only seating option is padded stools placed along steel counters, which line the perimeter of the cozy restaurant. It’s open from 9 in the morning to 10 or 11 at night. There’s a black and white board listing breakfast and dessert specials and a record player spinning in the corner, with a jukebox to come. There are big windows overlooking the CTA construction on Damen Avenue, retro photos on the walls and counters set with paper placemats printed with pictures of mountains. The menu, which features Norteño cuisine (that's food from northern Me

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Wicker Park
24

Les Nomades

After more than 30 years in business, this is still one of the most regal restaurants in town. Owner Mary Beth Liccioni keeps the grounds (a townhouse built in 1895) decked out like something out of Dynasty: lush fabrics, ornate carpeting, giant arrangements of flowers. But the ever-changing French-American menu, featuring items such as rack of lamb and slow-roasted veal tenderloin with seasonal accompaniments, keeps the food current (if still pretty rich). Guys, make sure you’re wearing a jacket—this is one place where rules actually mean something.

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Magnificent Mile
25

Jam

Critics' pick

Just as at breakfast, which often starts with an amuse-bouche, dinner at the recently relocated Jam is a high-low experience. The soups (a homey vegetable chili on one visit) are poured tableside over intricate garnishes; meanwhile, what would otherwise be a basic kale salad is elevated by savory (that’s the herb, as well as a description) bread pudding croutons. Blue Plate specials read like diner staples, except the meatloaf is really a thick slice of meatloaf sausage, and the stroganoff is paired with pink slices of tender venison (and tossed with an addictive venison ragù). For dessert, there’s pie (tart apples, flaky crust, maple whipped cream). But since this is Jam, there’s also breakfast, and German chocolate pancakes slathered with coconut caramel and topped with a torched marshmallow are probably better at the end of the day than the beginning anyway.

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Logan Square

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Comments

2 comments
Frank S
Frank S

What's the deal with online reviews where you can't screen by ratings or neighborhoods? 

Alan Z
Alan Z

How do you look up restaurants in individual neighborhoods?