Best new restaurants in Chicago
West Town has catapulted itself into one of the city’s finest dining neighborhoods, thanks in no small part to this Korean-American kitchen. You may already know chef Dave Park and co-owner/fiancé Jennifer Tran from Hanbun, their now-defunct Korean food stall in a suburban strip mall that also served after-hours tasting menus. At the roomier, full-service Jeong (pronounced “chung”) Tran oversees front of house as GM while Park helms the focused tasting (seven courses for $87) and a la carte menus, suffusing childhood taste memories with joyful modernity.
Hummus, falafel, shakshuka, labneh—hell, even pita. You will have no doubt already experienced many of the dishes on Galit’s broad-spectrum Middle Eastern menu. But this Lincoln Park newcomer from James Beard award-winning chef Zachary Engel (Shaya, Zahav) is where you go to revise the standard for how they should taste. Everyone who dines here should begin with salatim (an array of dips and pickles) and hummus, each served with fluffy, charred pita balloons. Or forego the hard work of choosing with The Other Menu, a tighter series of shareables for $65.
Named for a mythical weapon used by the Hindu God of Thunder, Vajra illuminates the diminutive yet diverse destination of Nepal through adaptations of the dishes co-owner Dipesh Kakshapaty grew up eating in bustling Butwal, from tandoori-roasted game to soothing root-veg curries. Service her flows effortlessly like a quiet, steady stream of attention and care from the ever-roving waitstaff, all of whom are fluent in the expansive food and drink menu, without a hint of preach.
Have you ever been on a vacation so inspiring that you wanted to bring a piece of the trip home with you? That's exactly what celebrated chef Paul Kahan did after traveling to a tiny French town called Cancale for his 50th birthday. Of course, he didn't just bring back a souvenir; he and his One Off Hospitality partners opened a restaurant dedicated to the easy-going French fare he experienced there. Situated in the heart of Wicker Park, Café Cancale slings East and West Coast oysters by the dozen, delicate starters and seafood-heavy mains. Greg Wade and Erika Chan beg you to save room for dessert with tempting chocolate-coffee eclairs and buckwheat crepes drizzled with goat's milk caramel.
Cebu is one of a small handful of restaurants around the country specializing in the food of its namesake Filipino island province, known for sugar-white beaches and lechon (crisp-skinned roasted pork). This easy-going Wicker Park café’s generous, meaty comfort dishes have a transportive quality that takes you somewhere warmer but also familiar. Cebu’s focused, affordable menu is one for carnivores: Cigar-shaped lumpia egg rolls crackled beneath your teeth to reveal juicy-sweet bits of marinated pork and shiitakes. The skin of the three-hour roasted lechon belly crunches like hard candy; the succulent, lightly smoky meat beneath whispers of spicy star anise and sweet lemongrass.
Julia Momose’s elegant West Loop bar pairs Japanese omakase with bespoke cocktails—and the results are sublime. Guests can go a la carte in the main dining room or reserve a seat the intimate eight-seat omakase counter for $130. No matter where you sit, the carefully crafted cocktails are the main attraction, using ingredients like Japanese whiskey, lemongrass shochu, plum brandy and orange-saffron bitters. Balance the booze with king salmon nigiri, A5 wagyu with black garlic molasses and Japanese milk toast with fermented honey ice cream and truffle.
There’s no denying that the quality of coffee and tea across Chicago—not least of all in coffee shops—has never been better. So how come coffee-shop food, on the whole, still sucks? This quandary so irritated Rafael Esparza and Daniel Speer that they decided to open a café of their own. Finom’s tight, affordable food menu draws on the meaty, paprika-tinged cooking of Speer’s wife’s native Hungary. Relying on little more than a toaster oven and an induction burner, Esparza and Speer Macgyver everything from veal-brain pate on toast to custardy scrambled eggs to sausage-and-pepper ragout. It’s delicate yet sustaining—like the dainty, mismatched china it sits on—and, frankly, the sort of food we should expect alongside a $3.50 cup of coffee.
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 steals the show. Its mildly sweet flesh wears 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.
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.
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.