Over the past year, we’ve seen a vast number of new Italian restaurants, casual fried chicken spots and glorious new patios. Here are your choices for the top restaurants and bars of the year.
RECOMMENDED: 2014 Food & Drink Awards
In a year filled with Italian openings, one stood out: Cicchetti, a thoughtful, comfortable restaurant helmed by Mike Sheerin (Trenchermen), sous chef Phil Rubino (Acadia, Moderno) and sous and pastry chef Sarah Jordan (the Boka Group). The trio turns out dishes like a gorgeous seafood stew, ethereal pork cracklins and terrific pastas. With a brand new brunch and a huge forthcoming patio, there are now even more reasons to dine at Cicchetti.
Mike Sheerin, Cicchetti
In 2013, Mike Sheerin left Trenchermen, which he was running with his brother Pat, to consult at Parson’s Chicken & Fish and to open Cicchetti. A Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2010, Sheerin has hit his stride at Cicchetti, where he devises innovative flavor combinations while keeping plates accessible and delicious.
When Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp opened Honey Butter Fried Chicken last fall, Chicago went nuts for their salty-sweet pieces of fried chicken, which are available with a side of corn muffins, tucked into a buttery bun as a sandwich and served with grits at brunch. Add a great patio and must-order side dishes and desserts, and there’s a reason we head here when we want dinner for less than $15.
Avec turned 10 last year, and the restaurant keeps evolving. Last summer, a new chef, Perry Hendrix, took over and added a killer Sunday brunch. The constantly evolving line-up of dishes has included breakfast pizza, topped with potato, pancetta and eggs; poached eggs with Nduja; and breakfast paella. They’re all proof that Avec is still killing it.
With a bar and cozy couches, the rooftop patio at Little Goat is worlds away from the bustling diner downstairs. While you can’t order the full menu, you can order a beer or cocktail plus a round of snacks, like ceviche and olives, from the special rooftop menu and take in a view of Willis Tower.
The barbecue joint, which has locations in Naperville and LaGrange, opened a Lakeview outpost this winter. The menu is huge, but standouts include the spicy sausage, meaty chicken wings and pulled pork, all of which are available as platters with hush puppies or as a taste for just $1.99.
It wasn’t until Three Dots and a Dash opened last summer that we realized how much we needed a tiki bar in Chicago. The drinks, by bartender Paul McGee, are transportive—boozy and beautiful, they’re served in tiki mugs (many custom-made for Three Dots) with flower garnishes—and delicious. The island snacks, like spicy nuggets of Thai fried chicken, and the lush décor, all add up to the best new addition to Chicago’s drinking scene.
Although bartender Annemarie Sagoi recently departed the Dawson, taking her elevated Jell-O shots with her, the bar at the Dawson still rocks. General manager Clint Rogers runs the beverage program, which includes a daily shot of infused Old Forester, plus cocktails like the Traveling Mercies, a rum and rye drink that’s sweetened with sherry-brown sugar syrup, and a monthly Zodiac cobbler, an icy sherry concoction inspired by the current Zodiac sign that’ll be perfect to sip this summer on the huge new patio.
Other nominees: Off Color Brewing, Only Child Brewing, Temperance Beer Company, Une Annee Brewery
The Lakeview brewery, which opened last summer, is always bustling, and for good reason. The available beers, brewed by Brant Dubovick, are constantly changing but usually include a collaboration with another local brewery or restaurant, like BuckleDown and Intelligentsia. Shark Meets Hipster, a wheat ale with tones of passionfruit, is always available, as is Batch 001, DryHop’s flagship beer, which it calls “Chicago Common.” DryHop can call its beers what it wants, but there’s nothing common about DryHop.
This winter, we all wanted to leave Chicago (temporarily), and Three Dots provided that escape. First, head down a River North alley until you find the blue light. Then, walk down a staircase lined with skulls before entering the main room, which has a raffia-lined bar, glowing colored lights, round booths and wooden tiki heads, which were sourced from the late Trader Vic’s, an erstwhile Loop tiki bar. The ambiance couldn’t be better for sipping Paul McGee’s terrific drinks, and it’s where we’ll go when we need relief from Chicago winter’s brutal cousin, stifling humidity.