Matthew Gilson

Andrew Brochu

Roister

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Perhaps we should start judging chefs by their ability to fry chicken. Given that scale, Andrew Brochu is off the charts. He’s the mastermind behind chamomile-scented fried chicken served with what can only be described as magical sunchoke hot sauce. That’s not all that put this chef on our radar this year. The A-5 wagyu with uni butter and hearth-baked lasagna also helped. Brochu’s also a veteran of the game, cooking at such notable establishments as Graham Elliot and The Aviary, but he really found his stride this year with the opening of Alinea Group’s casual-ish Roister.

JIM VONDRUSKA/THRILLIST

Brian Fisher

Entente

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Aside from a little spot called Alinea, Lakeview has never been much of a dining destination for those in the market for chicken liver mousse that tastes like a PB&J sandwich or fettuccine with maitake mushroom and white truffles. That all changed thanks to former Schwa chef de cuisine, and reluctant hero of 2016, Brian Fisher. “He’s a free spirit, very driven, super-creative -- kind of like a savant, silent-genius type of guy -- things just organically come about and you don’t really know where they come from, but they are so brilliant and perfect,” says his pastry chef and counterpart in the kitchen, Mari Katsumura.

Anthony Tahlier

Mari Katsumura

Entente

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The daughter of Yoshi Katsumura is keeping her father’s legacy alive by dazzling Lakeview -- the home of the late Katsumura’s 34-year-old restaurant Yoshi’s Café -- with sour cherry and sassafras profiteroles or hojicha (Japanese green tea) and pumpkin tres leches cake. The seasoned pastry chef, who also spent time in the kitchen of Acadia and Blackbird, runs the kitchen at Entente alongside Brian Fisher. “All of us were so involved in every aspect of building this establishment from the ground up,” Katsumura says about the DIY, collaborative nature that helped one of Chicago’s most unique restaurants come to be.

Tim Flores

Genie Kwon

Oriole

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Mother of croissants, breaker of glass ceilings, and queen of the kitchen at Oriole, Genie Kwon broke out of the pastry chef box when she took the role of partner in this West Loop restaurant. Here, she helped the team ascend to two-Michelin-stardom with her cardamom croissants and pistachio gelato. “People treat you differently when you are a partner and investor,” Kwon says. “As far as the food is concerned, I am lucky that the tasting menu format highlights the importance that a pastry program can bring to a restaurant rather than being a financial burden.”

Galdones Photography

David and Anna Posey

Elske

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Two years: That is how long David Posey spent out of a professional kitchen, before opening Elske. His last role was chef de cuisine of Blackbird. His wife, Anna Posey departed her most recent cooking job of pastry chef at The Publican, over a year ago. That leaves a lot of time to ponder the new Nordic cuisine that inspired their first joint venture. The result is an elegant eight-course tasting room served in the comfortable West Loop restaurant, plus a la carte options and an extensive wine list. Creamy duck liver mousse tart and ribbons of grilled carrots with mussel cream are served with views of the roaring outdoor fireplace. It’s cozy AF.

Tim Flores

Noah Sandoval

Oriole

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Don’t leave your phone unattended around this two-Michelin-starred trickster. He has a tendency to prank his fellow chef as well as his wife/general manager by putting poop-related statuses on their Facebook pages. This playful nature translates to his restaurant in both the food and service. Exposed brick walls and a semi-open kitchen mimic the feeling of dining at your cool friend’s apartment, which happens to serve puffed beef tendon with wagyu tartare and shaved matsutake mushrooms. “The overwhelming success Oriole has had blows my fucking mind,” Noah Sandoval says. “Striving to stay focused and allowing an organic evolution of the restaurant as a whole is the foundation of our success.”

Galdones Photography

John and Karen Shields

Smyth + The Loyalist

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"It's been unbelievably thrilling, challenging, and nerve-wracking but at the same time totally comfortable. We feel like we've come back home,” chef John Shields says about his returns to Chicago alongside his wife and pastry chef Karen Shields. “It was difficult to readjust after four years out of the kitchen, but I feel like I'm just beginning to hit my stride and climb the hill." No one else noticed the bumpy start. The fine-dining component of their two-story restaurant, Smyth, earned a Michelin star within its first two months. Meanwhile, downstairs, The Loyalist has been lauded with serving one of the best burgers in Chicago. 

James Pope

Michael Simmons

Café Marie-Jeanne

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Sometimes you just want “fancy meats,” “fancy cheeses,” a few oysters, and half of a smoked chicken in a no-frills café, which happens to have one of the most skillfully curated wine list in this city. For all those times, we present Michael Simmons. The former Rootstock chef took his talents across the street to open Café Marie-Jeanne earlier this year. Here, simple yet skillfully executed American fare with a few French twists -- think duck frites with wild mushrooms in smoked oyster sabayon and then start drooling -- is served all day.

Courtesy of Alinea Group

Jenner Tomaska

Next

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“A concept such as Next’s can be exhausting and at times daunting, but the educational aspect has changed how I function and create as a chef,” says Jenner Tomaska, who recently took the reigns at ever-evolving Next. If you think cheffing is difficult, then imagine working at a restaurant that completely changes concept every four months. In the past year alone, Tomaska was responsible for understanding the food of The Alps, offering an edible tour of South America, and then paying homage to The French Laundry circa 1996. “Research is everything and learning never stops, this is something that will stay with me from here on out.”

Chloe List

A.J. Walker

Publican Anker

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One Off Hospitality is a magnet for talent. It attracts and then molds some of the best food-and-drink slingers in the city. A.J. Walker, the latest protégé takes second-in-command at brand-spankin’-new Publican Anker, where he comes into his own with delicata squash sprinkled with pistachios and classic roasted chicken with not-so-classic hash browns. “I've worked with Paul and Cosmo for a long time, including four years as Sous Chef at The Publican while Cosmo was the Chef de Cuisine,” Walker says. “Even though we have our working rhythm down to a science at this point, it's still amazing to know how much support I have here."

Jim Vondruska/Thrillist

Jason Vincent

Giant

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Chicagoans who were left feeling empty with a Jason Vincent-sized hole in their bellies following his departure from the much beloved Nightwood in 2014 (Nightwood would close the following year) found themselves filled with joy this year when he returned with co-collaborater Ben Lustbader to open Giant in Logan Square. But beyond the joy, Chicagoans were also filled with Jonah crab salad paired with incomparable waffle fries, addictive sweet-and-sour eggplant with pancetta, and fry bottom apple pie with sour cream sorbet. Which in turn brought more joy. It was a beautiful thing, and a big part of why Thrillist chose him as our national Chef of the Year.

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1. Roister 951 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

From the team responsible for three-Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning Alinea, this West Loop restaurant delivers the same world-class eats in a decidedly more casual space. The New American menu is served in three formats: à la carte in the dining room, family-style chef's tasting at the kitchen counter; or the fully-immersive chef's tasting in the basement prep kitchen. The large dining room, bustling open kitchen, and slightly-louder-than-normal music makes Roister feel extra lively and energetic.

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2. Entente 3056 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Located in a kind of dead zone between bustling Belmont and a vibrant block of Lincoln in Lakeview, Entente brings fine dining to an area sorely in need of it, serving both an à la carte and a reservation-only tasting menu inside a casual, industrial-chic space. Chef Brian Fisher (formerly of Michelin-starred Schwa) is at the helm, using gourmet techniques to spice up basic dishes, like in his grown-up take on a PB&J that features chicken liver mousse and concord grape jam on house-made bread. There's plenty in the way of drinks here, too, including inventive cocktails and a variety of Chicago-brewed beers.

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3. Oriole 661 W. Walnut St., Chicago, IL 60661 (West Loop)

Helmed by award-winning chefs Noah Sandoval and Genie Kwon, this intimate fine dining spot is as much about the food as the experience. Guests are invited to partake in the extended format tasting menu, which involves some 16 courses packed with unusual ingredients, surprising flavor profile, and interactive components. Unlike most restaurants, a menu isn’t provided at the beginning of the meal, making Oriole a prime destination for adventurous eaters (and dare we say, foodies). Sample dishes include rye capellini with yeast butter, black truffle, and tangerine lace, and chicory custard with whiskey, cinnamon, and Tahitian vanilla.

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4. Elske 1350 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

From Blackbird alums -- husband-wife team David and Anna Posey -- is Elske, the Danish-inspired, self-proclaimed “laid-back fine-dining” restaurant on Randolph. Its aesthetic is strikingly Scandinavian: the two story restaurant is a modern, white-washed space with an open kitchen, a fireplace, reclaimed wood tables, and an outdoor garden. It’s welcoming, clean, and bright, as you’d expect from a restaurant operating on a “laid back” ethos. The eight-course tasting menu (wine pairings optional) is rife with innovative flavor combinations and modern techniques, but in an approachable way uncharacteristic of fine dining. Also uncharacteristic of a fine dining restaurant is Elske’s a la carte option for the prix fixe-averse. The seasonally-changing, minimalist menus feature comforting New American fare with Nordic accents, like a duck liver tart with buckwheat and salted ramps, or the slow-roasted brisket with creamed Brussels sprouts. The word elske means “love” in Danish -- which is exactly what the Poseys bring to every detail of their restaurant.

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5. Smyth & The Loyalist 175 N Ada St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This twofer in West Loop is made up of the upscale, tasting menu-driven Smythe and the more quaint and casual Loyalist. Husband-and-wife team John Shields and Karen Urie Shields unite the two restaurants with locally-sourced, market-driven menus, but while the Smythe revolves around innovative plated courses, The Loyalist emphasizes more approachable comfort foods like a house cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun and crispy fried chicken.

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6. Café Marie Jeanne 1001 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Humboldt Park)

While the name Café Marie Jeanne may lead you to believe this Humboldt Park restaurant is of the standard, stuffy French sort, remember that Café Marie Jeanne really just means Mary Jane Cafe. This is to say, Café Marie Jeanne is an unpretentious, semi-Parisian, Montreal-inspired, all-day cafe and wine bar on the corner of California and Augusta. The menu is full of simple, comfortable, nourishing American plates with hints of its French inspiration here and there, with dishes like oysters, “Fancy Cheese,” smoked and pickled fishes, and duck frites on offer. The beverage lists are present on every menu -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- encouraging you to start your day with an amaro, and finish it with The Day After Amaro (cocktail).

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7. Next Restaurant 953 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

The brainchild of Alinea’s Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, Next is an experience in culinary exploration via 12-course tasting menus, in an atmosphere that evolves along with the menus themselves. Every four months, a new menu is released exploring a regional cuisine, genre, culinary concept, or a tribute to some of the world’s best restaurants, and they open with a note from Achatz and Kokonas describing the inspiration and what they hope to achieve and portray through each dish. Past menus have included Paris in 1906, The Hunt, elBulli, Vegan, The French Laundry, and Modern Chinese. The menus are groundbreaking, like the restaurant’s concept itself, with innovative, adventurous dishes adhering to the theme (like a course served in a colorful, plastic lunchbox replete with a tupperware and thermos -- some of its contents including parsnip “pudding,” Wagyu jerky, and a truffled Oreo -- for the Childhood menu). Next is theatrical, which is appropriate, as an evening at Next is a ticketed event. And as with Achatz’s first prix fixe establishment -- if you can score a ticket -- deep pockets required.

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8. Publican Anker 1576 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

The Wicker Park iteration of The Publican is modeled after the 20th century saloons that once stood in the neighborhood. Similar to its meat-centric sibling, Publican Anker is fueled by craft beer, oysters, and a burger that ranks among Chicago's best (probably because of the melted American cheese and dashi-spiked special sauce). The menu is overall lighter (read: more vegetables, slightly less pork), but a meal here wouldn't be complete without the white cheddar and malt vinegar pork rinds served to nearly every table.

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