The best new restaurants in Chicago
Erick Williams’ ambitious solo venture captures the depth and scope of Southern cooking with soul-satisfying results. The menu’s boiled-down dish descriptions (pork chop, salmon, shrimp) all but hide the intense attention to detail that he devotes to techniques and sourcing methods. Fatty, crisp-edged brisket arrived perfectly braised and wading in savory pan gravy alongside creamed spinach and smashed potatoes. But the catfish stole the show. Its mildly sweet flesh wore a burnished coating of blackening spice that harmonized with a helping of tangy-sweet barbecue carrots and a pile of Carolina gold rice.
Bayan Ko—which translates to “my country”—is a culinary representation of the real-life partnership between husband-and-wife team Lawrence Letrero and Raquel Quadreny, who trace their roots to the Philippines and Cuba, respectively. The flavors play together beautifully and occasionally collide on a single plate, as is the case with the Bayan lechon, with hunks of crisp fried pork belly, garlicky mojo and a tangle of sweet Filipino papaya slaw. Bayan Ko represents soulful second-generation cooking at its finest, and we're eager to return.
"Wine, stein, dine" is the motto at this German-influenced newbie in West Town, where guests can choose from French onion spaetzle, garlicky pretzel knots, ricotta dumplings and confit pork shoulder. The concept is inspired by chef Mark Steuer's German roots and upbringing in Charleston, South Carolina. Expect lighter touches on traditional German fare, an awesome wine list and funky tunes on rotation.
Give yourself ample time to drink in the butter-bathed Provencal fare and compulsory charm of Roscoe Village newbie Le Sud. This likeable boite from Sandy Chen (Koi Fine Asian Cuisine in Evanston) exudes southern French charm across two roomy floors and a modern essentialist Provencal menu. Housemade breads and oft-changing charcuterie (from rillettes to smoked scallops) are ideal starters. Escargot fiends will appreciate the deconstructed, wood-grilled version, and purists will revel in flavorful bistro staples like duck and bouillabaisse.
Pioneer Tavern Group executive chef Brian Jupiter, a New Orleans native, occasionally references Bayou flavors at his whole-beast mainstay Frontier. But at breezy younger sibling Ina Mae Tavern (named after Jupiter’s great-grandmother), he dives headfirst into the home cooking of his childhood. The results are joyful, indulgent and refreshingly relaxed.
Be forewarned: You'll need a reservation if you want to snag a table at this red-hot Wicker Park newcomer—and for good reason. The vibe is electric, the menu loveable and the drinks flowing. A smattering of small plates, one pizza and an order of pasta should satisfy a hungry duo. We're particularly fond of the bubbling shrimp, fire-baked focaccia, wild mushroom 'za and bucatini cacio e pepe.
Over the summer, Aba emerged as the hottest rooftop destination in Chicago. No matter the season, the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant flourishes with a menu of Mediterranean- and California-inspired hits from chef CJ Jacobson. Diners are treated to a parade of lamb ragu hummus, slow-braised leg of lamb wrapped in eggplant, black garlic shrimp scampi and cauliflower kebabs. Liz Pearce assists with excellent cocktails, like the Aloe? It's Me with mezcal, aloe, green juice, lime and jalapeño.
At times, Chicago's restaurant scene feels like a revolving door of New American concepts. Bar Biscay breaks the cycle with its mashup of Basque and French flavors from chef Johnny Anderes. As impressive as the daring menu is the restaurant's funky interior, which is outfitted with floating tube lights, pastel-toned wire chairs and a technicolored booth that lines the length of the space. Pull up a barstool to sip vermouth and snack on pintxos like crunchy, squishy manchego gougeres, ham and cheese skewers, and white bean puree on toast.
Mingling California’s bounty with Asian and Mediterranean influences, Erling Wu-Bower’s sprawling River North restaurant is imaginative and intensely likable. Peak produce shines in dishes like avocado salad with fennel, persimmon and sunflower seeds, and no order is complete without a squishy, wood-fired pizza. Sharing is your best bet with the wide-ranging offerings—and so you can save room for pastry chef Natalie Saben’s inspired desserts.
It’s hard not to be charmed by this diminutive Andersonville eatery, where the menu blends ambrosial Korean flavors and hints of Italian influence with craveable results in an easygoing space. Delineated in both English and Korean, the single-page menu breaks out into composed raw proteins (hwe), little shareables (jom), noodles and rice (gooksoo and bap), and heftier platters for two (du myung). Don’t sleep on the housemade cavatelli or scallop crudo.
Back in 2016, Mott St's burger (which was only available at the restaurant's bar) was recognized as one of the best in the nation. Fast-forward two years later, and that burger has its own spinoff restaurant in Logan Square. Mini Mott serves its patty with American cheese, hoisin aioli, sweet potato frizzles, pickled jalapeños, pickles, miso butter and onions. (Are you drooling yet?) The menu is rounded out with chicken wings, fries, sides, soft serve and brunch tacos. Pair your grub with a cocktail, local draft beers or a boozy Belgian chocolate milkshake.
With some three dozen rotating custard and plant-based ice cream novelties, this colorful Logan Square shop deliciously melds imagination and nostalgia on a stick. Starring cream from Lamers Dairy in Wisconsin and an ever-shifting cast of fruits sourced via Local Foods, the pops stand out most for their beautiful density and texture. Our go-to favorites are the tangy, chewy buttermilk bars and the Smurf-hued blue moon, a vegan homage to the Midwestern ice cream flavor.
Boka Restaurant Group closed out 2017 with a splashy opening in the West Loop. Like its familial properties, Bellemore lives up to the hype with richly layered seasonal cooking and smart cocktails. There’s an unmistakable luxury-furniture-store vibe to the soaring space, where plush crescent booths, a marble bar and hulking chevron pillars are illuminated by arching floor lamps and brass chandeliers. Start with an order of buttery Hawaiian rolls before diving into chef Jimmy Papadopoulos's wildly imaginative menu.
The entire pan-Asian menu at chef/owner Stephen Gillanders’s first solo venture—named for his wife’s initials—reverberates with a similar alchemy of meticulous skill, humor and heart. Aromatic, nuanced cocktails and craveable desserts make this striking Pilsen newcomer a must. Day-one favorites include the buttery cornbread madeleines, luscious Maine lobster dumplings and organic fried chicken with fermented hot sauce and creamed corn.