Chicago’s dining landscape shifted this year. We saw good restaurants come, great restaurants go and old standbys hang on for dear life. Along the way, there were a handful of experiences that lingered long after we paid the bill and returned home. The best new restaurants and bars of 2017 offered more than great food and drink—they forever changed Chicago’s culinary scene for the better. We gained a new crop of fantastic Mexican restaurants, learned that museum dining doesn’t have to be a bore and watched Vietnamese food take off in Pilsen. Take a look at the nine spots that made us swoon. Hungry for more? Check out our top picks from 2016—all of which still hold true.
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Proxi had our attention as soon as we walked through the door; the expertly designed space makes an excellent backdrop for a special occasion. But you don’t need an excuse to visit chef-partner Andrew Zimmerman’s massive West Loop restaurant. The menu is designed to share and includes playful plates like tempura elotes, roasted baby potato “carbonara” and Indonesian pork jerky. Those are great ways to start your meal, but you’ll witness the kitchen’s prowess through bigger (though still shareable) dishes like raw tuna in a puddle of coconut milk, a refreshing Thai beef salad and tangy BBQ lamb ribs. It’s one of the most memorable, faultless dining experiences we had in Chicago this year—and we can’t wait to go back.
Embeya vets Thai and Danielle Dang were the underdogs everyone was rooting for this year. Luckily, their success story still has us cheering from the sidelines. Over the summer, the couple debuted HaiSous, their love letter to authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Pilsen. It’s here that the Dangs are churning out fish sauce–lacquered chicken wings, hand-shredded duck salad, Northern-style spare ribs and a delightful yellow curry. In a sea of summer openings, this unabashedly authentic menu shined.
It was a phenomenal year for Mexican cuisine in Chicago, and chef-owner Diana Dávila led the charge. Her cozy Logan Square spot, Mi Tocaya Antojería, offers one of the strongest menus we’ve seen all year. You can truly feel (and taste) Dávila’s contagious passion in every antojo. Now’s the perfect time to go if you haven’t already been; new menu items like espaghetti con crema poblana and pork albondiga en nogada speak to Dávila’s comfort in her year-old space. We’ll continue coming back again and again just to see what else she’s got up her sleeve.
The highly anticipated centerpiece of the MCA’s $16 million renovation, Marisol reimagines what museum dining could—ahem, should—look like. The chefs behind Lula Cafe in Logan Square were tapped for the job, and they brought their seasonal sensibilities to Streeterville for the project. The end result is a lineup of dishes, desserts and drinks so skillful they should be hanging on the walls. If you want to taste the kitchen’s finest work, seek out dishes that feature the freshest market ingredients: winter squash with ’nduja vinaigrette, celery root involtini with anchovy cream and hanger steak with sunchoke and black currant.
The minds behind Lone Wolf, Sportsman’s Club and Estereo are at it again—this time with a Frank Lloyd Wright–influenced cocktail den in the West Loop. (We thought it sounded a bit gimmicky too, but go with us on this one.) With a helping hand from Chicago native Jim Meehan (of New York’s PDT), the bar drums up Midwestern vibes with its food and beverages. Case in point: The Lemon Ice—vodka, sparkling wine and lemon juice poured over shaved ice—is a boozy replica of the beloved Italian ice at Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park. There’s not a bad sip or bite in the bunch.
If you’re looking to try one of Chicago’s best new splurgeworthy restaurants in 2018, look no further than Margeaux Brasserie. Michael Mina’s showy Gold Coast debut is housed inside the Waldorf Astoria and offers an indulgently special experience. You’ll feel like a million bucks sipping pours from the roaming champagne cart and noshing on Maine lobster quenelles, foie gras parfait, filet mignon and warm French crullers. You’ll spend a pretty penny on the bill, but the spread here is worth every cent.
When it was first teased, Quiote seemed like an overly ambitious project: a basement mescal bar, a taco-fueled lunch menu, cheffy dinner and brunch. But to our delight, Dan Salls’s Mexican haven in Logan Square lived up to our wildest expectations and has become one of the brightest additions to Chicago’s culinary scene this year. Everything happening on this menu—from the tacos to the mole to the chorizo—is worthy of your time, whether it be morning, noon or late into the night.
Joe Frillman won hearts and stomachs with his fleeting, pastacentric menu in Logan Square. Unlike some of the fine-dining destinations on this list, Daisies promotes a come-as-you-are mantra in its homey, understated space. It’s the kind of place that’ll cure your woes on an especially dreary day. How? Pasta, of course. House-made tangles of tagliatelle, tajarin and pappardelle are dressed up with thoughtful ingredients like mushroom ragù, pistachio and smoked trout roe. You’ll want to venture back this summer, when the pristine out-back patio reopens for the season and you can enjoy your noods with a side of sunshine.
David and Anna Posey’s Elske opened at the tail end of 2016, making it a fair contender for this list. The couple managed an incredible feat with their first solo venture: They brought fine dining down to earth with an $85 tasting menu (a steal if you consider most go for upwards of $200). If you can get a table at this überromantic restaurant, you’ll be treated to a parade of creative bites that are so carefully constructed you might have a hard time digging in.