The Best Restaurants in Chicago Right Now
Here are your must-hit new restaurants. Make a reservation ASAP.
Late-winter in Chicago is fickle. With polar vortexes in the rearview mirror (knock on wood) and the worst of winter behind us, this is that beautiful, bizarre time of year when 40-degrees feels like tank-top weather. And after months of blanket-clad delivery food and sunsets at 4 pm, this is a time of year to emerge from hibernation and a renewed interest in socializing with people IRL. This also means, of course, an invigorated craving for restaurants, tasting menus, and wine pairings. Thankfully, Chicago is teeming with all of the above, ready to beckon you back into society with food and drink that’s far better than anything in your fridge. These past few months have also seen a spate of new openings, re-openings, and expansions, along with timeless classics that we can’t wait to revisit.
From decadent French fare that feels like dining in Paris to a downtown “cookout” and the Michelin-starred late-night haunt of your dreams, here are Chicago’s best places to drink, dine, and delight in this year.
The gist: When two titans of the restaurant industry join forces, would you expect anything less than cherry heering-glazed bone marrow and gilded eclairs the size of an Italian beef sandwich? Of course you wouldn’t. Le Select is the kind of swanky, terrazzo-clad brasserie that looks like New York’s Pastis in its glory days, replete with antique mirrors, arches, and glass from Maison de Verre. It’s all courtesy of the spare-no-expense Boka Restaurant Group, a winning team with more James Beard Awards than Adele has Grammys, and Daniel Rose of New York City’s perpetually buzzy Le Coucou.
The food: A sultry love letter to Parisian brasseries, Rose’s menu is so buttery and extravagant you can practically feel your belt buckle snap just reading it. But it’s well worth the splurge for Le Select’s smattering of classic-meets-contemporary French fare. Start with Eggs Mimosa (soft-boiled eggs with caviar) and Fish Terrine with sea urchin vinaigrette, before migrating to Les Plats like Saint-Jacques au Curry (seared scallops in French curry with celeriac puree) or a masterful Steak Au Poivre swimming in Cognac-spiked peppercorn sauce. For dessert, finish with ice cream-filled profiteroles enrobed in warm chocolate sauce or the Eclair XL with coffee cream. The drink list follows suit with a French-leaning wine list and cocktails that highlight French spirits. For extra sips, head upstairs to Bar 504, a second-floor lounge designed as a pre- or post-dinner nook.
The gist: Most late-night snacks involve regrettable fast-food and post-booze stops at the Wiener Circle, but if you’re a night owl with your wits about you (and some cash to burn), it doesn’t get much better than After, an after-dinner bar that far exceeds the call of digestif duty. Created as a late-night counterpart to tasting menu sister restaurant Ever, this posh parlor is a project from chef Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser, who have put together a space that’s dark, sultry, and romantic, with intricate bites and drinks that are well worth the second wind.
The food: Most of the eating to be done in this corner of Fulton Market involves hours-long degustations at seasonally driven Ever, but for those who want a taste of Duffy’s cuisine without the budgetary blowout, After scratches the itch with snacks like sticky-sweet Vietnamese Duck Wings, paprika-spiced Lamb Ribs, and Purple Sweet Potatoes with pecorino, brown butter, and mascarpone. There’s also Caviar Service, with roe so ritzy that it costs upwards of $2,000. The drink list shares top billing, with classic riffs like Fig Sazeracs, coconut Daiquiris, and truffle-infused 24K Espresso Martinis.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.
The gist: At this point, it should be well known that The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group is far more than wings. Sure, the bar and restaurant group is behind arguably the best chicken wings in town, but its portfolio of chef-driven concepts continues its steady march towards city-wide fame. Case in point: The group partnered with celebrated celebrity chef Jonathon Sawyer for its latest effort, a fun and eclectic contemporary American venture in the Willis Tower. Easily the best restaurant at the skyscraping tourist attraction, Kindling | Downtown Cookout & Cocktails lives up to its name with a showy live-fire kitchen and a funky, plant-filled bi-level space that feels like attending a summery cookout party that just so happens to be hosted by a James Beard Award-winner
The food: A roaring wood-fired oven reigns over much of the menu at this cookout-inspired restaurant, where Sawyer gets playful and whimsical. Confit Chicken Wings are a requisite starter, along with Twice-Cooked Sweet Potatoes slathered in BBQ butter and Charcoal-Toasted Quesadillas filled with rotisserie chicken. That same rotisserie churns out heartier fare like Horseradish-Crusted Celery Root Steaks, while must-eat entrees include Pastrami-Spiced Short Rib and BBQ Grilled Scallops.
The gist: Any restaurant bold enough to step into the former Elizabeth space has chef clogs to fill. Fortunately, Atelier looks up to the challenge, thanks to dexterous chef Christian Hunter and his seasonally driven tasting menus, served with style and panache, inside this storied and homey Lincoln Square space.
The food: We’ve got four words for you: foie gras crème brûlée. And that’s just dessert. There’s a whole slew of similarly stunning and inventive courses that precede. Hunter’s ever-changing menus are divided into categories like Larder (think cheeses, vegetables, Lamb Berbere, etc.), and rotating farm-fresh plates like Rutabaga Pappardelle Caesar, clam chorizo Pozole, and a 72-Hour Short Rib with root vegetable giardiniera. Along with the aforementioned—and clearly mandatory—crème brûlée, fellow Pantry desserts include a furikake-seasoned Ice Cream Sandwich and horchata-flavored Biscotti.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.
The gist: Any time seasoned chef Michael Lachowicz unveils a new restaurant, it’s an automatic big deal; a culinary star on the North Shore, he’s like the Rihanna of chefs, with a beloved portfolio of restaurants (e.g. Aboyer and George Trois in Winnetka) and eager anticipation for what’s new. The latest is Lachowicz’s first Mexican venture, FONDA Cantina, a heartfelt collaboration with the chef’s veteran team members, including Carlos Cahue who mans the menus, and Miguel Escobar and Sergio Angel as managing partners. Together, they preside over a downtown Evanston restaurant, at once homey and vibrant, that takes design cues from natural materials and textures inspired by the homes, monuments, and rustic tiles of colonial Mexico.
The food: Billed as a “Memoir of Mexico,” Lachowicz cedes the spotlight to his team of Mexican natives to cook up a menu of modern snacks, tacos, entrees, and desserts as lustrous as the decor. Plates include beef-filled Chile Relleno with peach picadillo and green mole, Carne Asada with charred spring onions and salsa martajada, and pitch-perfect Tacos Al Pastor. Finish with a dessert tamale flavored with tropical fruits and goat’s milk caramel. To drink, the cantina slings all manner of lustrous cocktails, mocktails, and crisp cervezas.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.
The gist: Whereas many restaurants pivoted during the pandemic from full-service to takeout, or from fine dining to casual, the folks behind Second Generation did the opposite, transforming burger-centric Mini Mott into an intimate, familial restaurant rooted in the owners’ upbringings as second-generation Asian Americans. And if their fan-favorite sister restaurant, Mott St, is any indication, this is the kind of sentimental hospitality that they excel at. That beloved burger remains, molten miso butter onions and all, but the vibe and menu are decidedly more elevated, personal, and captivating—the kind of contemporary American restaurant, influenced by stories of immigration and legacy, that endures for generations to come.
The food: Courtesy of chef Edward Kim, Second Generation’s offerings delve far deeper than burgers. In its new full-service format, the chef is able to flex his culinary muscles with an expanded menu of veggies, meats, and seafood dishes, plus signature dishes like Kalbi Steak Frites and Pork Belly with ginger congee. Try the sourdough tartine laced with Misoyaki Eggplant, the Charred Octopus with fermented black soybeans, and the Everything Wings, another holdover from those Mini Mott days, with fish sauce and tzatziki.
The gist: Some of the most talented bakers in Chicago are constantly evolving, constantly raising the bar, and constantly impressing. Founding alums of Bang Bang Pie Shop, Dave and Megan Miller branched out on their own with Lincoln Square’s instant-hit Baker Miller, earning rave reviews and consistent queues for everything from pies and biscuits to oatmeal and grits. Their latest plot twist, though, is a refined focus on bagels, bagel sandwiches, and deli-style sides—all served in the same quaint and colorful cafe space that’s long felt like home for Lincoln Square loyalists.
The food: While much of the previous Baker Miller menus have been retired, a few treasured holdovers remain, like Doughboys (basically epic donuts stuffed and/or frosted with all manner of custards and glazes), muffins, and cookies. But the bagels are the star nowadays, available in flavors like poppy, everything, and cinnamon sugar, with schmears such as giardiniera, gochujang-chive, and vegan dill. Even better? Opt for a bagel sandwich, like the Pho (pho-spiced beef, chive cream cheese, basil, onion), the Philly Roll (cold-smoked salmon, cucumber, nori, soy sauce, cream cheese), or the FIG (fig-strawberry jam, toasted walnuts, cream cheese, prosciutto).
How to book: Walk-in or order delivery and takeout.
The gist: Chef Erick Williams won a James Beard Award last year for his work at this Southern American restaurant, located in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Enter and feel instantly welcomed—warm lighting, inviting banquettes, and local artwork beckon guests to linger inside, while a patio does the trick in warmer months. As if you needed any more reason to visit, chef de cuisine Damarr Brown was a finalist on the most recent season of Top Chef, only adding to the creativity coming out of this kitchen.
The food: Elevated takes on Southern comfort cooking populate the menu here, including green tomatoes with Gulf shrimp, chicken liver toast, and catfish with blackened “Carolina Gold” rice. The lamb t-bone, with asparagus, sorghum grain, and chermoula, is a favorite—as are the kitchen-inspired house cocktails.
How to book: Reserve via SevenRooms
Publican Quality Bread
The gist: The One Off Hospitality team’s wholesale bakery has been supplying Chicago’s culinary landscape with choice loaves, baguettes, and beyond for upwards of a decade—and now they have a brick and mortar to accompany their efforts. Managing partner and head baker Greg Wade (James Beard Award “Outstanding Baker” winner) offers a daily menu that reflects the team’s small-production and local-sourcing philosophies (working with family-owned farms across the Midwest to grow rare heritage grains for their flours). Experience them to-go or onsite—if the latter, take advantage of the patio during summer months, and inside, peruse the retail space (which features carb-centric items from Wade and team, along with other local finds).
The food: On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, opt for indulgent weekend-exclusive orders like lemon meringue croissants or pistachio and amarena cherry-filled maritozzi, alongside a daily retail menu of rotating bread offerings including toasted sesame sourdough and malted rye loaves. Other musts: the Tiramisu Cruffin, Mushroom and Manchego Tartine, and, of course, The Big Sandwich, a pay-by-weight behemoth of cured meats, cheeses, artichoke hearts, caper mayo, and red wine vinaigrette.
How to book: Walk-ins only.
The gist: Eric Williams and Cecilia Cuff popped the cork on something glistening and new in Bronzeville: a wine bar and restaurant with a verdant, spacious patio and a vino-friendly menu of shareable upmarket snacks. As alluring as that patio is in the warmer months, don’t miss the action inside, where a state-of-the-art sound system (plus curated DJ residency) and eye-catching, local artwork await. A rotating wine list features selections from around the world and spotlights women-, minority-, and African American-owned labels, which pair with a frequently changing menu of locally sourced plates. Through it all, the team hopes to honor the hospitality of this community, serving as an incubator for those eager to enter the culinary landscape.
The food: Kick things off with a healthy heaping of Spanish cod fritters or adobe chili fries, then enter into heartier orders: savory watermelon steak with honeydew vinaigrette and vegan feta, King salmon with king trumpet mushrooms and sweet onion soubise, or coconut red curry snapper with fried kale and grilled citrus.
How to book: Reserve via the website or Tock.
The gist: Chicago’s dining fanatics rejoiced at the news of this Avondale reopening, signaling the long-awaited return of this team’s prized take on Korean-American fare. Wife-and-husband duo Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark come together with a notable history of cooking (Kim: Prairie Grass, Aria, and Top Chef finalist; Clark: La Cote Basque, Pigalle, Town). They’ve incorporated all of it into their work here and at sister restaurant Wherewithall, where a multi-course meal changes on the weekly.
The food: Don’t miss orders like the haemul pajun (seafood and scallion pancake), yukgaejang (spicy beef brisket soup), and pork bossam (a kimchi-centric dish of pork belly, pork collar, and oysters).
The gist: Kumiko, the Japanese-inspired drinking den from award-winners Julia Momose and Noah Sandoval, continues to dazzle longtime and newfound fans alike with artful cocktail flights and food pairings.
The food: Those yearning for a taste of Sandoval’s fare without the Oriole sticker shock can enjoy Michelin-grade handiwork for wallet-friendly prices in the form of expressions like Karaage with Kanzuri-spiked mayo and charred pickled shishitos, Cod Wings with charred lemon, house ponzu, and yuzu zest, A5 Miyazaki Wagyū Katsu Sandos, and Truffle Milk Toast for a fancy-ass dessert. Elsewhere, Thrillist 2020 Local Hero Momose makes her cocktail prowess known through expertly crafted concoctions (both boozy and non) as well as a world-class lineup of specialty spirits and sake.
The gist: Fun French-American pastries and contemporary Filipino fare from Genie Kwon and Tim Flores—two Chicago chefs with an impressive culinary CV and exciting accolades as of late (including a James Beard Award nomination for “Best New Restaurant”). The space—formerly occupied by the late-great Winchester—is both sleek and inviting with an open kitchen, custom tilework, and spacious twin patios for al fresco snacking (when weather permits).
The food: Expect big flavors in every direction, from a house-made Lumpia Shanghai and soy-braised Mushroom Adobo to killer Breakfast Sandwiches heaped with Longanisa sausage, egg, and cheese. Top it off with one of Kwon’s game-changing sweets—namely the ube and huckleberry Basque cake or the custardy Boston Crème Brioche.
The gist: After building his culinary career at the likes of Pump Room, Napa’s Bouchon, and Bangkok’s Gaggan, chef Zubair Mohajir returned to Chicago for Wazwan, a culinary ode to Southeast Asia. Two different dining experiences exist: More casual street fare at Wazwan or a multi-course tasting menu at The Coach House, situated within one of the only coach houses to withstand the Chicago Fire.
The food: At the Coach House, feast your way through an ever-changing seasonal spree with an eight-course tasting menu inspired by fond food memories from Mohajir’s time growing up in Chennai. At Wazwan, opt for the house signature Tandoori Honey Chicken Sando. After marinating Halal chicken thighs in tandoori spices overnight, the team batters and fries them before stuffing them into a toasted brioche bun with gochujang aioli, house-made Achaari, and spicy honey butter. Pair it all with a bottle of your choosing (for a $5 per person corkage fee), as the spot is BYOB for now.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.
Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar
The gist: Chef and philanthropist José Andrés, ThinkFoodGroup, and Gibsons Restaurant Group joined forces for these two eagerly anticipated restaurants within the Bank of America Tower. They are the latest debuts from the team, following Café By The River (Andrés’s take on sandwiches, sweets, and coffee), Jaleo (Andrés’s original Spanish outpost), and Pigtail (Jaleo’s subterranean cocktail lounge).
The food: After working at Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas, chef Alex Pitts came to Chicago to oversee the menu at both Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar. Meat is the focus at the former (obviously), with special offerings like Vaca Vieja Ribeye, whole Iberian Suckling Pig, and an impressive Japanese Wagyu program. Share plates provide diners ample opportunities to sample an array of clever compositions (not short of Cotton Candy Foie Gras or Bagels and Lox Cones), as do multiple tasting menu experiences inclusive of snacks, carpaccios, and tartares. At Bar Mar, expect just as many surprises: The fish-shaped Everything Bagel Airbread (filled with cream cheese espuma and topped with smoked salmon) or Tuna Tartare Rolls in brioche buns with furikake and ponzu mayo. Snag a bar seat for a bespoke cocktail or post up at the raw bar for oysters or sashimi aplenty.
How to book: Reserve via SevenRooms.
The gist: Expect to be charmed at this Lakeview abode, thanks to warm, welcoming décor and comforting French-Canadian fare from chef Ryan Brosseau. He draws on his Ontario upbringing to inform a menu that is equally rooted in Midwestern sensibilities, made capable through the kitchen team’s close relations with local farmers and purveyors. It goes a long way in the hands of Brosseau, whose previous Chicago posts range from Perennial Virant to Table, Donkey, and Stick.
The food: Prepare for bold, earthy flavors beginning with apps like Fried Smelts cooked in beef tallow, or Spaghetti Squash Carbonara with smoked chestnut mushrooms, and moving onto mains like the Pork Schnitzel or Duck Leg Cassoulet, a carnivorous melee of navy beans, bacon, pork sausage, pickled root veggies, and sourdough breadcrumbs.
How to book: Reserve via Tock.
The gist: Cured meats are central at Lardon, where chef Chris Thompson’s charcuterie program calls upon local farms and a nose-to-tail approach. Housed within a 110-year-old building, the interiors reflect the same patience and dedication modeled everyday here in the kitchen: A two-year buildout reveals exposed brick walls, original wood joists, and antique honeycomb tiled floors in an inviting, sun-washed space.
The food: The spectacle here is the charcuterie cave, a curing room celebrating the likes of Spicy Coppa, Bresaola, Saucisson Sec, Genoa Salame, and ‘Nduja. Guests can build a board of charcuterie or cheese cut to order, then ask the team for drink pairings that would prove apropos (think Aperitivi or Amari). Stop by for lunch to sample a burly sandwich, like hickory-smoked BLTs and banh mis stuffed with grilled chicken thighs.
The gist: This lauded eatery reopened with even more space to spread their wings (get it?). Guests can look forward to a larger dining room, a new bar and lounge area, and a kitchen nearly three times its original size. Version 2.0 reflects owners Cara and Noah Sandoval’s passions (and the rampant popularity of this Michelin-starred sensation), from baseball and art-punk music to interior design and cuisine—expect to catch a glimpse of it all, thanks to a pre-meal tour with bites and sips along the way.
The food: The multi-course prix fixe highlights the best ingredients Sandoval and crew can dig up at any given moment. Though bookings begin at 5 pm daily, night owls can spring for the newly launched “Nightcap Seating,” a chance to swing into the lounge at 10 pm or later for cocktails from Julia Momose and an enticing “Ham Sandoval."
How to book: Reserve via Tock.
The gist: Former Spiaggia executive chef and Top Chef champ Joe Flamm’s first restaurant is an homage to Italian and Croatian coastal cuisine—lovingly dubbed “Adriatic drinking food.” Named after his two grandmothers, Rose Mary’s inviting space sparkles thanks to glossy azure tilework and the bustling open kitchen’s eye-catching charcoal hearth.
The food: The seasonally-driven menu showcases Flamm’s mastery with pasta (think: duck confit lasagna). But that hearth also churns out stunning roasted vegetables like coal roasted beets with smoked beet vinaigrette and pistachio, not to mention show-stopping seafood dishes (grilled clams with lobster butter!). Don’t skip the pillowy gnocchi with beef cheek pašticada or the pork ribs doused in a sweet-sticky chile agrodolce and an earthy cabbage-yogurt relish. Wine director Sarah Traynor knocks it out of the park with her well-curated Mediterranean-heavy wine list featuring a healthy selection of Croatian wines—even an entire section dedicated to pet-nats.