The 10 best openings of 2014
On my first couple review visits to Analogue, I fell hard for Alfredo Nogueira's Cajun food, like the light smoked fish dip, fluffy biscuits served with pepper jelly and a fried chicken sandwich on toast. But the cocktails were kind of lackluster, and certainly weren't the main draw. And then I went back, and back again, at first for the food, then both the food and drinks. The cocktails have gotten better and better over time, so much so that I'm revising my star rating, from 3 to 4. This is a comfortable, low-key cocktail bar, where you can get an excellent cocktail like a bourbon and sherry cobbler and a terrific plate of food. In the year it's been open, Analogue has already become one of my favorite bars in Chicago.
Wicker Park is not hurting for taco joints, but the latest, Authentaco, has already become my preferred spot in the neighborhood. The thin tortillas are made right in the window, and beckon you to come in if you're passing by—do it, since the huitlacoche quesadilla, packed with cheese and corn smut, is savory and earthy, while tacos, like the poblano and cheese, are so good you'll want to fill a whole tray with them.
Using only grains milled in house, the duo behind Baker Miller, Dave and Megan Miller, are working wonders with oatmeal, grits and baked goods. The charming Lincoln Square restaurant runs through menu standouts like the sourdough cinnamon rolls fast, so set your alarm and wake up early to hit Baker Miller before work or the weekend brunch rush.
An outstanding Czech restaurant isn't something I would have predicted would open in River North, but under chef Jimmy Papadopoulos, Bohemian House has become a restaurant that I recommend to pretty much everyone. It only took one bite from a soulful take on chicken paprikash with potato dumplings and pickled sweet peppers and pork schnitzel brightened up with a squeeze of charred lemon to make me a believer.
With its small menu of simple but elegant seafood dishes, a dinner (or lunch, if you're lucky to work nearby) at mfk. is a welcome break from fancy plates and elaborate combinations of ingredients. Here, there are boquerones piled with peppers and fennel on a grilled baguette; easy vegetable salads; occasional crab feasts. At mfk., chef Nick Lacasse proves that less is more.
Chef Ashlee Aubin (also of Wood) hit on something we were missing in Chicago—elegant Spanish food that's definitely not tapas. At Salero, you order off a menu with appetizers, entrees and desserts, which is refreshing, considering we're dining in the age of shared plates. And I was doubly thrilled, since it meant I received an entree-sized portion of potato confit, topped with a gleaming egg and accompanied by mushrooms and a dreamy slab of melted Spanish cheese. Other items on the menu—perfectly textured grilled octopus tentacles, seafood bathing in a sherry-saffron broth, silky flan capped with blood orange gelee—just further confirmed how good this restaurant is.
Tête absolutely nails charcuterie, like a longanisa sausage with dried shrimp fried rice, a luscious slice of pork blood pate, and all manner of cured meats. But man cannot survive on meat alone (even in Chicago), and chefs Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski also embrace vegetables, like the seasonal cocotte, packed with dozens of raw, pickled and cooked vegetables. Not only is a mix of meat and vegetable dishes the best way to break up a heavy meal, it's how to ensure you're sampling the full array of the chefs' talents.