Now Playing

The 50 Finest

Chicago’s dining scene has always followed the beat of a different drummer, and this year is no exception. From sustainable seafood to the small plates of Venice to a nondescript 18-seater offering some of the most beautiful dishes we’ve seen, there really is something for everyone in the Windy City. Let the dining begin!

Pig Tale 
The cerdo course, one of 13, at Uptown’s 42 Grams

10 MOST EXCITING NEW RESTAURANTS
42 Grams
What 42 Grams—a prix fixe 18-seater from husband-and-wife team chef Jake Bickelhaupt and hostess/server Alexa Welsh—lacks in size, it more than makes up for in all the things we value in a great restaurant. Namely, unforgettable food (13 ubercreative courses to be exact), impeccable service and—here’s the special part—a truly fun night out. Good things really do come in small packages. 4662 N. Broadway St.

Nico Osteria
As if we needed more proof One Off Hospitality can do no wrong (see Blackbird, Avec, The Publican and Big Star), along comes stunner Nico Osteria. With a focus on Italian seafood, chefs Paul Kahan and Erling Wu-Bower wow with delicate plates of crudo and wonderful pastas. Even breakfast thrills with incredible pastries. Or, in other words: We can’t wait to see what One Off does next. 1015 N. Rush St., 312.994.7100

Dusek's Board & Beer
You could call Pilsen’s Dusek’s a gastropub—obscure craft beers serve as the main inspiration for its menu—but that would be selling it short. Besides, how many gastropubs serve an amuse-bouche? Chef Jared Wentworth has created a vibrant, seasonal menu that ranges from Kentucky fried quail to ramp risotto. But, for us, it’s his delicate hand with seafood—he did grow up in New England after all—that has us totally hooked. 1227 W. 18th St., 312.526.3851

Cicchetti
With a résumé that includes Blackbird, Trenchermen and uberprogressive wd~50, chef Michael Sheerin’s move to Italian-focused Cicchetti left more than a few diners shaking their heads (us included). But it all made sense once we tried his inventive takes on the small plates of Venice, including meatballs tricked out with pancetta and cinnamon, steak carpaccio with hints of molecular gastronomy and some of the tastiest salads in town. 671 N. St. Clair St., 312.642.1800

Counter Intelligence
Consider yourself lucky if you manage to snag one of the four seats at Girl & the Goat that offer a front-row view to the action in the kitchen.

Mott St.
Remember when “fusion” was considered the f-word among diners? Funny, we can’t either, and we think Mott St., the quirky spot from chef Edward Kim, of the equally intriguing Ruxbin, has plenty to do with it. Kim effortlessly weaves flavors and ingredients of Korea, Italy, Japan, India, Greece and Mexico into dishes such as crab-brain fried rice. His version of stuffed cabbage is nothing like our Jewish grandma’s, but we know she’d approve. 1401 N. Ashland Ave., 773.687.9977

The Radler
Pancakes aren’t typically described as savory and light, but they are at The Radler—and darn delicious too. At this rustic spot, former Vie chef Nathan Sears skillfully riffs on German food with plenty of pickling, smoking and fermenting along the way. Sure, housemade sausages are on the menu (a wurst salad with pea puree and clam vinaigrette, perhaps?), but Sears isn’t afraid to take German food way beyond its borders. 2375 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773.276.0270

Travelle
With its location in a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper, a chic midcentury modern design and lovely city views, Travelle has plenty to offer. And so does the menu from chef Tim Graham with Mediterranean-inspired dishes ranging from snapper carpaccio to chickpea panisse. Breakfast means poached eggs with savory biscotti and some of the city’s best morning vistas. Rise and shine, indeed. 330 N. Wabash Ave., 312.923.7705

Kinmont
While opting to feature only sustainable seafood is a noble endeavor, the effort would be lost if the food didn’t measure up. Not a problem at Kinmont, where chef Duncan Biddulph creates plate after delicious plate of fresh-from-the-sea dishes, including roasted sardines and salmon tartare. Eating good and doing good? We feel better already. 419 W. Superior St., 312.915.0011

A10
He’s successfully tackled Asian street food (Yusho) and craft cocktails (Billy Sunday). Now Charlie Trotter’s vet Matthias Merges takes us on a tasty trip through the back roads of Italy and France at Hyde Park’s A10 with dishes such as bucatini carbonara and trout bruschetta. Diners, fasten your seat belts! 1462 E. 53rd St., 773.288.1010

Tanta
With some 33 restaurants around the world, Gastón Acurio is a high-profile chef. The cuisine of his native Peru, however, is far less known. Tanta is quickly changing that in Chicago, one pristine plate of fluke cebiche, beef heart skewer, empanada and, yes, pisco sour at a time. It’s a small world after all. 118 W. Grand Ave., 312.222.9700

5 DISHES TO SAVOR
There have been a lot of changes at Michigan Avenue’s Spiaggia recently, including a new laid-back look. But it’s the addition of a separate lounge and bar menu from chef Chris Marchino that’s got us most excited. More specifically, the spaghetti carbonara. Offered in 50-, 100- and 150-gram portions, this classic Roman dish sounds simple in theory—a mix of eggs, cream, bacon, cheese, black pepper and pasta—but is much more here. Duck eggs, crispy bits of guanciale and pecorino imported from Italy up its status, while the small ridges in the spaghetti ensure all that creamy goodness sticks to the pasta and not the plate. You’re not getting older, Spiaggia, you’re getting, well, you know... 980 N. Michigan Ave., 312.280.2750

Brindille
As far as steak tartare goes, it doesn’t get much prettier than the one at this River North spot, a perfectly formed square of raw meat sits topped with microherbs, squiggles of citrusy sorrel emulsion and an adorable poached quail egg perched on rye toast. This dish doesn’t just rely on its good looks though; rather the simple dish here has become elevated in a totally delicious way. 534 N. Clark St., 312.595.1616

Eataly
It can get a bit confusing at this huge, two-story ode to all things Italian. So we’ll make it easy: Head upstairs to the rosticceria and order the prime rib sandwich. Nestled inside a crunchy roll, layer upon layer of the flavorful, tender 100 percent Black Angus beef rests, topped with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper. You’re welcome. 43 E. Ohio St., 312.521.8700

Cocello
Decisions, decisions. Do you get the wonderful crispy polenta topped with an oozy poached egg and a hint of truffle? Or the equally good agrodolce eggplant, which perfectly walks the fine line between sweet and sour, with pine nuts, golden raisins and bits of fresh basil? Our suggestions: Do as we do and opt for both at this new gem from Brendan Sodikoff. 354 W. Hubbard St., 312.888.9195

Fat Rice
The first time we ordered the pot stickers at this charming Logan Square spot specializing in the under-the-radar cuisine of Macau, we thought the server dropped off the wrong dish. Topped with a doily-like crust of batter, which offers a crispy contrast to the tender pork and shrimp filling, they look nothing like ones we’ve had in the past—and we’re totally OK with that. 2957 W. Diversey Ave., 773.661.9170

5 PLACES WE LOVE FOR COCKTAILS… AND A GREAT MEAL
Celeste
Attention to detail abounds at this gorgeous multistory River North newcomer—from its Louis Sullivan-inspired metalwork to its gold-leaf ceiling. That same mentality applies to the drink menu (check out the cool stemware) and food, including our favorite dish, baby octopus with crispy chickpeas and blood orange romesco. 111 W. Hubbard St., 312.828.9000

Billy Sunday
Who would’ve thought fine-dining vet Matthias Merges would know the ins and outs of running a bar. But when you think about it, there’s a reason this pint-size Logan Square spot never fails to impress with its perfectly balanced cocktails and concise but mighty menu of small plates, including the terrific bread and butter pickles. 3143 W. Logan Blvd., 773.661.2485

Three Dots and a Dash
With an extensive menu full of potent and meticulously made tiki drinks from cocktail master Paul McGee, it’s hard to stop at just one (go ahead, we dare you). Thankfully, with the equally creative food offerings (we’re partial to the coconut shrimp and Polynesian spare ribs), we don’t have to. 435 N. Clark St., 312.610.4220

CH Distillery
It couldn’t have been easy to become Chicago’s first (and only!) distillery/cocktail bar, but we’re glad the founders of this West Loop spot did. Grab a seat at the bar and pay your respects to the stills behind the window with any one of its terrific cocktails coupled with booze-friendly fare from chef JP Doiron, including pillowy gnocchi with mushrooms. 564 W. Randolph St., 312.707.8780

The Berkshire Room
Just beyond the doors of the Mag Mile's Acme Hotel, you’ll find one of the city’s most progressive cocktail lists (thanks Benjamin Schiller!), an Old World vibe and a “snacks” menu that’s more than its name indicates. Order the Double Barrel Manhattan and the foie gras torchon and you'll see what we mean. 15 E. Ohio St., 312.894.0945

5 CHEFS TO WATCH
Jimmy Bannos Jr., THE PURPLE PIG
His story has the makings of a great movie: worked as a kid at his father’s restaurant (Heaven on Seven), stints at Mario Batali spots in NYC and a return home to open The Purple Pig, which has been packed since day one. A happy Hollywood ending comes with this year’s James Beard Rising Star Chef Award. Thankfully, though, Bannos Jr.’s story is just getting started. 500 N. Michigan Ave., 312.464.1744

Noah Sandoval, SENZA
Gluten-free food is not something we dream about. Unless, that is, we’re thinking about the prix fixe experience Sandoval creates at Senza, including a terrific gluten-free agnolotti stuffed with crimini mushrooms. In the hands of the talented Sandoval, less really is more. 2873 N. Broadway St., 773.770.3527

Tom Van Lente, TWO
Having a small kitchen with limited storage plays a role in the superfresh ingredients you’ll find at this West Town spot. But lack of space or not, Van Lente’s commitment to sourcing of-the-moment local products as well as using those to make almost everything from scratch (bacon, sausages, cheese, pasta, ice cream) comes from a much deeper place. 1132 W. Grand Ave., 312.624.8363

Nicole Pederson, FOUND
While this restaurant is a bit of a trek, that hasn’t stopped us—or plenty of other Chicagoans—from making the journey to Evanston, where we’re rewarded with the globally inspired, local ingredient-driven cuisine of Pederson. It took owner Amy Morton a long time to find the perfect chef for Found (hence its name), but the wait was totally worth it. 1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847.868.8945

John Hogan, RIVER ROAST
Having worked at Everest, Kiki’s Bistro, Savarin and, most recently, Keefer’s, Hogan’s no new kid on the block. But it’s all that experience, plus his collaboration with another of our favorite chefs, Tony Mantuano (the two have been BFs for 25 years), that has us excited about Hogan’s next endeavor at this soon-to-open riverside spot. 315 N. LaSalle St., 312.822.0100

5 GREATEST CHEF'S TABLES
There’s nothing like seeing a star in action! Enjoy an enviable perch from which to observe celebrity chef Stephanie Izard and chef Aaron Thebault working their magic at one of Girl & the Goat’s two highly coveted chef’s tables. Located on either end of the expo line, the tables provide a near-comprehensive view of the kitchen: All of the stations that work on each dish are visible from either location. Those whose interest is piqued can call and ask to be seated at one of the two-tops, but the request cannot be guaranteed due to space limitations. So, you may have to keep returning to this Chicago gem to try and try again! 809 W. Randolph St., 312.492.6262

The Aviary
Grant Achatz’s and Nick Kokonas’ world-famous lounge is already a rarefied experience; thus its kitchen table is impossibly cool. Tickets, which cost $165 per person, plus tax and service charge, include a seven-course tasting menu featuring some items that are exclusive to the table. Its location inside the restaurant’s “cage” means that guests have a front-row seat for cocktail and food preparation, and are served in part by chefs. 955 W. Fulton Market, 312.226.0868

Balena
For a celebratory night of rustic Italian cuisine, you can’t beat Balena—except perhaps with its own chef’s table. The table not only provides an unparalleled view of the kitchen, but also enables diners to request that chef Joe Frillman cook for them off-menu, preparing seasonal, market-bought items such as soft-shell crab. Just make sure to let the kitchen know three days in advance, and it’s mangia, mangia, mangia! 1633 N. Halsted St., 312.867.3888

Boka
Dying to try the revamped Boka under new chef Lee Wolen? Gather a group of friends and go green at one of the two six-tops on the renovated patio. Its walls are lined with herbs, and the tables themselves feature built-in planters. The greenery is far more than mere decor, though, as diners enjoy the herbs in Wolen’s stellar creations. 1729 N. Halsted St., 312.337.6070

The Dawson
The Dawson is among the hottest restaurants of the summer, which means its 12-seat chef’s counter is one of the most coveted tables in town. It faces the kitchen, providing not only a great observation post, but also interaction with chef Anthony DiRienzo. Don’t be surprised to receive an amuse-bouche or off-menu plate of housemade charcuterie. 730 W. Grand Ave., 312.243.8955

5 OVER-THE-TOP EXPERIENCES
Grace

From its serenely chic dining room (a recent James Beard Award winner for restaurant design) to its progressive yet playful ingredient-driven cuisine, the year-and-a-half-old Grace lives up to its name and them some. At a time when many chefs opted to open laid-back spots, Curtis Duffy went in the opposite direction and, in the process, reminded us why haute cuisine with all its trimmings still matters. 652 W. Randolph St., 312.234.9494

Alinea
Talk about Chicago’s dining scene anywhere in the world and it’s inevitable the name of chef Grant Achatz will dominate the discussion. While his newer projects, Next Restaurant and cocktail lounge The Aviary, might be trendier, Alinea, and its unique style of cutting-edge cuisine, is the one that started it all. Some 11 years later, it continues to be the toughest reservation in town and the only Chicago restaurant to presently hold three Michelin stars. 1723 N. Halsted St., 312.867.0110

Tru
Don’t let his baby face fool you. Chef Anthony Martin has spent time in some of the country’s best kitchens, including Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas. But while the modern French cuisine he creates at Tru is rooted in classic culinary technique, he’s not afraid to tap into his passion for playful presentations—his study in caviar is as delicious as it is beautiful. Who says youth is wasted on the young? 676 N. St. Clair St., 312.202.0001

Sixteen
Rolling carts topped with mini charcoal grills and a tabletop snack-filled Ferris wheel may not sound like traditional fine dining, but in the hands of talented chef Thomas Lents they rise to the occasion. Not content to only incorporate seasonal ingredients into his menus, Lents wants his intricate multicourse meals to tell a story—and it’s always one we’re happy to follow from beginning to end. 401 N. Wabash Ave., 312.588.8030

L2O
Sure, seafood-focused menus are all the rage now, but this elegant Lincoln Park restaurant has been featuring just that since it opened in 2008. Chef Matthew Kirkley’s respect for the pristine products he works with can be found on the beautiful plates he creates—and in the two saltwater aquariums in the kitchen that he had custom-built for the restaurant. 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, 773.868.0002

5 MOST AMAZING DESSERTS
Cinnamon Concha, BLACKBIRD

The cinnamon concha is Blackbird Pastry Chef Dana Cree’s interpretation of a Mexican panaderia classic. The cinnamon-dusted shell is served atop strawberries Cree roasts for condensed, jam-y flavor. Okinawan black sugar delivers deep sweetness set against the vegetable delicacy of shiso leaves and gentle tartness of goat milk sorbet. 619 W. Randolph St., 312.715.0708

You’re Killing Me, S’Mores, MK
In the hands of MK Pastry Chef Lisa Bonjour, the iconic campfire treat gets deconstructed into marshmallow wisps, graham cracker crumbles, bits of peanuts and chocolate ganache. “It’s an approachable flavor profile packaged in a new way,” says Bonjour. Big advantage: No need to sleep in a tent after eating. 868 N. Franklin St., 312.482.9179

Matcha Custard, ACADIA
Pastry Chef Thomas Raquel’s beautiful composition of dense matcha (Japanese green tea) custard and crunchy passion fruit granita, sprinkled with teeny-tiny kernels of puffed rice and edible twigs, reawakens the taste buds after a big dinner, with a range of textures, slight bitterness, subtle sourness and a dialed-down sweetness. 1639 S. Wabash Ave., 312.360.9500

Strawberry Mousse, CAFE DES ARCHITECTES
With its silver dollar-size disks of strawberry mousse sprayed with red cocoa butter, brioche soaked in lemon syrup topped with almonds, and aloe sorbet on the side, this inventive dessert from Pastry Chef Leigh Omilinsky offers a different flavor with each bite and keeps you coming back for more. 20 E. Chestnut St., 312.324.4063

Grapefruit Pavlova, NOMI KITCHEN
This signature dessert has “a little something for everyone,” says Pastry Chef Meg Galus. To wit: crispy meringue with a marshmallow center, honey-poached grapefruit, ginger, Greek yogurt, and chocolate cremeux and ganache. While there are nine components in this dessert, it’s well-balanced, much like its namesake, the Russian ballerina. 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312.239.4030

5 TRENDS DEFINING CHICAGO
GARDEN PARTY

You know something’s afoot when at restaurants with names like The Purple Pig, Pecking Order and Girl & the Goat, it’s the veggie dishes hogging all the attention. On a recent evening at Travelle, the cumin beet salad had the biggest carnivore at our table scraping his plate. Whether vegetables are the new bacon remains to be seen, one thing’s for sure: Moms all over Chicago are singing a happier tune.

FISH TALE
Need more proof Chicagoans have become more adventurous diners beyond those now ubiquitous pig tails, beef hearts and kale-laden plates? Whole fish, once an adventure limited to ethnic restaurants, now has attracted a much wider audience. You’ll find schools of em at River North’s Kinmont, the recently revamped Japonais by Morimoto, Ceres’ Table and at Fulton Market Kitchen, where the Goldfish for Two, actually whole fried snapper, has earned signature status. Gill-to-fin eating, anyone?

GETTING THE BOOT
The opening of 63,000-square-foot Eataly may have been the tip-off—or perhaps just a tipping point. This year’s “it” cuisine is Italian. With Joe Fish and Cocello in River North, Streeterville’s Cicchetti and the West Loop’s soon-to-open Formento’s, a modern riff on those beloved classic red sauce joints from The Bristol team, terrific Italian food from Florence to Rome to Venice is available all over the Windy City. Grazie!

SHERRY, BABY
If you think sherry-lovers are limited to grandmas who like a tipple before dinner, you haven’t been paying attention to Chicago’s cocktail scene. The fortified wine from Andalusia, Spain, has been finding its way into cocktails all over town, adding its unique flavor profile—ranging from nutty to briny to sweet—to some of our favorite drinks, including Bottlefork’s Big Salty Tears and the Rehab Doll at Sable. At Vera, Beverage Director Liz Mendez takes advantage of sherry’s food-friendly qualities for the restaurant’s Spanish-inspired small plates. Looks like grandma was onto something.

SHELL GAME
No, it’s not your imagination: Oysters are everywhere, thanks to oyster farms popping up on both coasts cultivating this delicacy and making it a year-round treat. Shaw’s Crab House has been our go-to for years, and now we have other spots to satisfy our half-shell cravings, including GT Fish & Oyster, Pearl Tavern and Bow & Stern. Even cooler? One Off Hospitality chef Paul Kahan is working with Island Creek Oyster Farm in Massachusetts to cultivate an oyster specifically for his restaurants from seed to delicious briny bivalve.

5 RESTAURANTS TO SEE AND BE SEEN
Chicago Cut Steakhouse

The riverfront views aren’t the only thing turning heads at this classic steakhouse. Everyone from Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and President Barack Obama have been seen slicing into generous portions of dry-aged USDA prime. 300 N. LaSalle St., 312.329.1800

Fulton Market Kitchen
And speaking of head-turning, Fulton Market Kitchen’s wall-to-wall collection of cutting-edge artwork is sparking plenty of lively dinner banter and, rumor has it, attracting an impressive roster of local and international artists. Table for two, Mr. Hirst? 311 N. Sangamon St., 312.733.6900

RL Restaurant
Ralph Lauren’s clubhouse-themed restaurant is known to draw a celebrity or two (Oprah famously declared it one of her favorites), but here people-watching takes the form of spotting Chicago’s biggest power brokers and society doyennes who make RL their regular lunch spot. 115 E. Chicago Ave., 312.475.1100

RPM Italian
When not negotiating a multimillion-dollar real estate deal or ruling the E! airwaves, Bill and Giuliana Rancic can be found at their Chicago restaurant, which remains so in-demand that even celebs like Cindy Crawford have to call in a favor to get a table. 52 W. Illinois St., 312.222.1888

Sunda
Owner Billy Dec is something of a celebrity in his own right, which goes a long way in explaining why stars flock to his restaurants: He knows how they want to be treated. Just ask Grammy-winner Macy Gray, who recently was spotted dining on Sunda’s new Asian cuisine. 110 W. Illinois St., 312.644.0500