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The 9 best restaurant openings in the first half of 2014

From a bar serving killer Cajun to an amazing bowl of ramen, it's been a delicious start to the year.

Photo: Martha Williams
42 Grams

With 2014 half over, it's time to take stock of the new restaurants that have opened*. And there have been many. The Italian juggernaut shows no sign of slowing. We've added even more fried chicken places, and barbecue joints continue to open. While I've eaten pretty well overall at the 25+ restaurants I've reviewed, there have been a few places that really stood out. These are the spots I unequivocally recommend when people ask what I've liked recently, and I'd happily go back to any of them for dinner tonight.

*This list includes places that opened in December 2013, which were too late to make my 2013 year-end best list.

42 Grams

The tiny Uptown restaurant is easily the most exciting fine dining restaurant to open in Chicago in years. It's BYOB, so load up on wine, and get ready for a masterful series of dishes. While the summer menu is different from the one I had, anything chef Jake Bickelhaupt puts in front of you is going to be delicious.

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Uptown

Analogue

Critics' pick

It took some time for me to warm to Analogue. While I didn't initially love the drinks at Henry Prendergast's and Robert Haynes's bar, the current list has numerous winners, including the Double Vision, a sweetly bitter mix of gin, lemon, Ramazzotti and strawberry black pepper syrup. Eating is required, since chef Alfredo Nogueira is turning out stunning Cajun plates, from a light smoked fish dip to fluffy biscuits served with pepper jelly to a fried chicken sandwich on toast.

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Logan Square

Boka

Boka underwent major changes earlier this year: The interior has been completely revamped (ask to sit in the garden wall room), there's a new bartender (all the drinks are easy and enjoyable), and there's a new chef (Lee Wolen, formerly of the Lobby). The food is impeccable, with a lemon and thyme brioche-stuffed chicken breast, an elegant (and delicious) cheesy roasted broccoli salad and gorgeous desserts from Genie Kwon.

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Lincoln Park

Cicchetti

The sole Italian restaurant to make my list of favorite openings, Cicchetti is the kind of place you want to eat at all the time. There's an excellent brunch, which includes a meatball-garnished bloody mary. There are salads and panini if you want a quick lunch break. And if you want a dinner filled with excellent pastas, inventive bruschetta and a soulful fish stew, look no further.

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Streeterville

High Five Ramen

Brendan Sodikoff does many things well, but ramen is among his best. The new ramen spot, located underneath Green Street Smoked Meats, is serving up just a few bowls of killer ramen, including the namesake High Five, with a Sichuan pepper and Japanese chile-laden broth that's fiery, but deep and luscious.

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West Loop

Parachute

Critics' pick

When I saw that Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark were opening a Korean-American restaurant, I knew it would be good, but not this good. There's inventiveness everywhere, from the mousse-like boudin noir to the tea cocktails, and the menu is filled with hits. Look for my full review later this week.

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Avondale

Red Hot Ranch Lakeview

The new location of the latenight hot dog and fried shrimp joint is a little glitzier (there are televisions and seats) than the original, but the most important difference is that it also offers burgers—thin, griddled patties with crisp edges topped with perfectly melted cheese, LTO and special sauce. The Depression Dogs are just as good as at the original, and fried shrimp dunked in spicy cocktail sauce is just what I want to eat after a night of drinking.

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Lakeview

The Roost

For a city obsessed with fried chicken, there are few (if any) places serving it that I like as much as the Roost. The restaurant started as a food truck (and it still roams the streets), so you've got a couple options for tracking down the gloriously buttery buns, which come with spicy or Nashville hot chicken breasts. Both are wonderful, but I'm partial to the Nashville hot, a super spicy style that comes with a pile of pickles on top.

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Lakeview

Tête Charcuterie

For Father's Day this year, I sent my father a box of treats from Tête Charcuterie, which proves how much I like the sausages and pates they're serving. But I like more than the meats: The seasonal vegetable cocotte is a must order, and shows how seriously chefs Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski take their whole menu.

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West Loop

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