Sorry if your list of “insanely good new restaurants to visit” is already too long, but with all the noteworthy places that popped up this year in Chicago, it’s a nice problem to have. If it helps, we’ve whittled down the best of the best in these 12 must-try restaurants. From an innovative fine-dining concept in Lincoln Park to a casual seafood shack in West Rogers Park, these are the best new spots that opened their doors in 2015.
Upscale French fare shines at this elegant space on the western edge of the park. Owned by chef/owner Jason Paskewitz (formerly of Gemini Bistro), The Blanchard is a Parisian escape by way of classic French courses like escargots a la bourguignonne, steak frites, and duck a l’orange splashed with a Grand Marnier glaze. Should you have a soft spot for foie gras, the four outstanding preparations of the rich delicacy -- including seared two ways, torchon, and ganache -- will bring you gluttonous glee.
From its rooftop bar with panoramic views to its intricate mosaic floors, the restoration and resurrection of the grand Chicago Athletic Association has been a welcome architectural and culinary feat. The Cherry Circle Room, which is accessible through the hotel’s Game Room, harkens back to the building’s heyday with a fully restored wooden bar and leather-banquetted seating. Both the menu from chef Peter Coenen and beverage program from Paul McGee (of Lost Lake, one of Chicago’s best new bars) flaunt reimagined classics, such as the “Crescent” cocktail (rye whiskey, amaro, sweet vermouth, bitters), beef tartare, roasted branzino, and roasted leg of lamb for two.
Amidst Chicago’s unmistakable ramen boom, Furious Spoon is the noodle shop that stands above the rest. The sleek, narrow digs fit well within the context of the trendy neighborhood, balancing an aesthetic that is equal parts minimalist and artsy, and make for a cozy escape -- especially in cold-weather months -- for noodle-slurping. Settle in for the shop’s signature ramen, a tongue-tingling blend of tonkotsu broth, spicy miso, chashu pork belly, white pepper chicken, poached egg, marinated mushrooms, garlic relish, and Fury sauce, and cool down your palate with a Surly Furious beer.
From start to finish, 2015 marked a restaurant renaissance in the West Loop, including the mid-January opening of this old-meets-new Italian joint from chef Tony Quartaro and the B. Hospitality (The Bristol, Balena, Swift & Sons) team. Score hangover-curing eggs in purgatory and bomboloni for weekend brunch, a can’t-miss pimento cheeseburger for lunch, and a swath of pastas for dinner. Whatever you do, save room for the seductive chocolate layer cake, one of the sweetest new bites in Chicago.
West Rogers Park
Plain and simple, your server is going to drop a plastic bag of seafood on your table and you’re going to love it. This casual BYOB spot serves seafood by the pound tossed with your choice of Cajun-inspired seasonings that vary in heat level. Get down and dirty as you crack into king crab legs, Dungeness crab, crawfish, shrimp, and clams. Be sure to spring for sides of corn, andouille sausage, and garlic fries (the Cajun juices in the bag make for premium dipping).
Tiny though it may be, this 34-seat meat-focused French and German brasserie is just the ballsy departure from the Downtown steakhouse cliché the Windy City has needed. The interior is noticeably devoid of opulent, high-end accents common to steakhouses and the location is far removed from glossy River North. With the exception of a few outliers, lunch is stacked with offerings that hover around the $10 mark, like the truly exceptional Reuben sandwich and short-rib beignets. Dinner also excels with its perfectly cooked-to-order steaks and attentive service.
While first and foremost a beer-centric watering hole, this playful concept from Heisler Hospitality (Trenchermen, Sportsman’s Club, Lone Wolf) is also home to some of the most eclectic bar fare in the city. Ranging from affordable snacks like samosas, garlic naan, and even a chai dolce de leche donut, to heartier dishes like India hot chicken and cider-braised rabbit pie, the menu reads like a delicious, Indian-informed lesson in the culinary history of post-colonial London. The pub’s thick, boozy mango lassi made a big splash during the warmer months, but we predict that the highly Instagrammable “Dressed Hamm’s” and the traditional English wassail will be where it’s at this winter.
After closing Michelin-starred L2O at the end of 2014, the folks at Lettuce Entertain You proved they had even bigger plans in store when they opened the innovative and ever-evolving Intro. Every few months, the fine-dining concept welcomes a new “chef-in-residence” to craft a menu that reflects his or her culinary philosophies, techniques, and interests, as well as have a hand in décor changes, creating a playlist, and tending to other experiential details. Recent talents include inaugural chef CJ Jacobson, chef Aaron Martinez, and current chef Stephen Gillanders, who has introduced the restaurant’s first a la carte menu.
Master sommelier Alpana Singh’s follow-up to James Beard-recognized The Boarding House gives you a reason to venture down to the Loop come mealtime. The sweeping space, which stands in stark contrast to the area’s myriad fast-casual joints, sports sophisticated finishes and a weather-permitting patio, and sits steps from Downtown attractions like the Art Institute, making it a prime dining destination for everyone from tourists to local power-lunchers. Executive Chef Chris Curren’s 7L burger is worthy of the hype, while dishes like Brussels sprout and burrata toast and soy-ginger-lacquered hanger steak with blistered long beans, onion confit, marble potatoes, Sriracha aioli, and toasted hazelnuts speak to Curren’s undeniable creativity.
Positioned as one of the most highly anticipated openings of the year, Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality’s colossal steakhouse hit the Fulton Market District scene with a bang this fall. The restaurant churns out an impressive mix of delicate offerings, like celery root agnolotti and leeks vinaigrette, and jaw-dropping cuts of beef ranging from the $28 steak frites to the $105 36oz dry-aged long-bone rib chop. The note-perfect dessert lineup features a gold leaf-flecked sundae and a playful “S&S Cracker Jack” (peanut butter mousse, salted caramel, caramel corn, popcorn sherbet).
Outfitted with rustic wood, a lounge area punctuated with a fireplace and plush seating, and plenty of dim, warm light, Taus Authentic is the sort of place that draws you in and begs you to sit and stay awhile. Chef Michael Taus’ menu exudes a similarly inviting vibe, with comforting dishes like Aunt Reba’s fried chicken, cavatelli tossed with asparagus, trumpet mushrooms, and a truffle brown butter vinaigrette, and braised duck flatbread serving as its anchor. As for the drinks, take your pick from a curated wine list flush with options designed to pair well with the eats, or take advantage of the outstanding beer roster.
Live out the classic steakhouse fantasy at this 12,000sqft spot on LaSalle, where the royal treatment extends far beyond the marble bars and cigar patio. Begin your meal with a stiff cocktail, a shellfish tower, and house-flared thick-cut bacon cooked with black pepper, Michigan maple syrup, and dark chocolate for a flavor experience that spans from fresh and briny to bold, smoky, and luxurious. After some thorough taste-bud indulgence, it’s time to treat yourself to what you really came here for: USDA Prime Creekstone Farms beef just about any way you could ever want it.
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1. The Blanchard1935 N Lincoln Park W, Chicago
2. Cherry Circle Room12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
3. Furious Spoon1571 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
4. Formento's925 W Randolph St, Chicago
5. The Angry Crab5665 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
6. Boeufhaus1012 N Western Ave, Chicago
7. Pub Royale2049 W Division, Chicago
8. Intro2300 N Lincoln Park W, Chicago
9. Seven Lions130 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago
10. Swift & Sons1000 W. Fulton, Chicago
11. Taus Authentic1846 W Division St, Chicago
12. Prime & Provisions222 N La Salle St, Chicago
13. Sportsman's Club948 N Western Ave, Chicago
This dining destination in Lincoln Park serves French classics with just enough whimsy to keep things interesting and just enough elegance to make it feel like an occasion. The menu features classics like escargots, steak frites, and mussels, but the highlight is by far the section dedicated to foie gras. The 100-seat space feels more modern than the typical Parisian brasserie with white tablecloths, leather chairs, and abstract art finishes.
Only accessible though the Chicago Athletic Association's game room, this sophisticated restaurant boasts a full-restored wooden bar, leather seating, and reimagined classic cocktails. It serves up some of Chicago's best brunch dishes, like the roasted crab cake, smoked nova salmon, or corned beef & duck hash, but lunch and dinner menus, also inspired by historical recipes, are equally worth your attention.
Shin Thompson's small-but-mighty Furious Spoon in Wicker Park stands well above the rest of Chicago's ramen shops for its bowls of handmade noodle soups. The menu features a few kinds of ramen with suggested toppings, like the house apple chili sauce. The signature Furious Ramen, a soul-warming blend of tonkotsu broth and spicy miso, pairs well with a Surly Furious Beer. The restaurant is sleek and narrow with a minimalist, artsy vibe that fits in perfectly with the trendy neighborhood.
Executive Chef Stephen Wambach heads up this bright and expansive Italian restaurant. His menu keeps things classic, offering quality dishes like a four-cheese tortellini and a prosciutto-wrapped veal filet. The white tablecloths add to the traditional feel of the space, and collect crumbs from Formento's must-try chocolate layer cake. No, really, try it -- it comes with chocolate pudding frosting and hazelnut praline.
This BYOB Cajun spot serves up some of the freshest seafood in the city (think giant, spice-encrusted crabs and plump shrimp immersed in garlic butter) ordered by the pound. Your food will be delivered via large plastic bag plopped down on your paper-covered table -- no plates or utensils necessary.
This beef-driven brasserie in Humboldt Park pulls influences from French and German cuisines, creating an unlikely fusion fare that’s comforting, protein-packed, and appropriately indulgent. A towering Rueben with house corned boeuf and sauerkraut on a potato loaf stuns on the lunch menu, while pillowy beignets stuffed with braised short rib, rye spaetzle, and a dry aged ribeye makes for the most satisfyingly carnivorous dinner in the 'hood.
This Anglo-Indian pub in Wicker Park serves Indian-inspired comfort food like salt cod samosas, palak paneer, and coconut curry mussels in an eclectic space decorated with taxidermy and colorful masks. The beer-driven menu features a well-curated mix of American IPAs, German Pilsners, and ciders -- both bottled and on tap. Though spicy, savory plates are the obvious choice at Pub Royale, don't overlook the chai dulce de leche doughnuts -- or the burger.
Intro has a roster of "chefs-in-residence" that rotates every few months, bringing a completely new menu, focus, and experience to the table each rotation.
Elegant yet approachable, this new American clubhouse concept from Master Sommelier Alpana Singh (The Boarding House) is exactly what its Michigan Ave space called for. Chef Chris Curren’s menu is equal parts accessible and inspired, with starters ranging from fried chicken skins and pickles paired with sriracha mustard to Brussels sprout and burrata toast. Entrées run the gamut from comforting short ribs to perfectly flaky black cod with acorn squash, ricotta gnocchi, and Maitake mushrooms. And don't worry, there's alcohol, starting with Singh’s curated list of all-American wines.
From Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality, this massive and chic steakhouse in West Loop features a seafood restaurant within the restaurant, stylish design with Midwestern touches, and a menu that includes classic steaks, chilled king crab legs, gold leaf-flecked sundaes. How regal.
Chef Michael Taus' Wicker Park eatery is the kind of upscale neighborhood place that draws you in and begs you to stay a while. Everything about Taus, from the menu to the rustic dining room, is inviting. The dinner menu features cheese and charcuterie, shareable starters, and standout comfort plates like fried chicken and a burger with havarti cheese. Sunday brunch is equally heavy on comfort food, serving up steak & eggs and fresh-baked pastries.
This luxe steakhouse spares no expense with its marbles bars, cigar patio, shell fish towers, and prime meats. For a truly memorable meal that doesn't stick to the confines of beef, try the thick-cut bacon cooked with black pepper, Michigan maple syrup, and dark chocolate, and the fried chicken appetizer.
Sportman's Club is dedicated to highlighting the best of lesser-known spirits, and to do that, it offers four different cocktails each day, whose ingredients are decided upon by whichever bartenders are manning the bar that night. What you drink one night probably won't be available the next, but that's what makes drinking here such a unique experience. Aside from cocktails, there's a well-curated selection of wine and beer, the latter of which includes Polish varieties that pay homage to the bar that formerly occupied the Ukrainian Village space.