Acquired Taste: Blood Rice Cakes With Timothy DeLaGhetto and Justina Valentine
A Mediterranean menu from a locally lauded chef
Carrie Nahabedian received a James Beard Award and seven consecutive Michelin stars
with her opening of Naha in 2000 -- a strong Chicago debut that was followed by French-focused Brindille, the second restaurant she opened with her cousin Michael. For Kostali, the duo’s most recent project housed in the Gwen Hotel, they looked to the coastal cuisines of the Mediterranean to inform the menu. Plates like braised lamb shank, baby chicken tagine, and Puglia burrata speak to Nahabedian’s ability to traverse lands and their accompanying flavors -- a skill she executes in honoring her own Armenian and Greek heritage, as well (e.g., hummus with spiced lamb; feta turnovers with za’atar). Leave it to Michael for suggestions on the wine list, which is focused on smaller producers throughout the region.
A Serbian-meets-Midwestern meal uptown
Inspired to bring to Chicago the food of his homeland, owner Bojan opened this Lincoln Square restaurant serving a menu of Serbian dishes with an emphasis on Midwestern ingredients. Experience them in options like chevapi (charcoal-grilled beef sausages with flatbread and Kajmak cheese spread) and Leskovachka Muchkalitza (a sourdough bread bowl of pork stew and braised vegetables), or opt for something lighter with the pastrmka (rainbow trout in garlic vinaigrette). If it’s familiarity you’re craving, they’ve got you covered, too: The 016 Burger is a house-made beef patty with smoked bacon, cheese, and spices, served atop a Serbian-style bun. Try it on Tuesdays alongside a beer, when the combo clocks in at just $10.
A seafood-centric celebration of Spain and Portugal
The same team behind Beatnik, Bordel, and Black Bull recently opened this West Town restaurant, an ode to the fishing villages and farmsteads along the Atlantic Coast of Portugal and Spain. As such, expect an emphasis on fresh, wild-caught fish, which the team prepares in a multitude of ways, from smoking and curing to cooking via wood-burning ovens and grills. Experience it via two different tasting menus (a five- or 10-course), or opt for the a la carte option, an opportunity to sample through plates like uni toast, brandade dumplings, charcoal-grilled octopus, and Galician seaweed spaghetti (complete with mussel “carbonara”). Guests can take in much of the culinary action from the Chef’s Island, the dining room’s focal point, while also sipping on any of the team’s wine picks -- especially natural and organic Iberian finds.
A vibrant homage to Barcelona’s tapas bars
After much success at its New York and D.C. locations, the team from this tapas restaurant touched down in Chicago’s Fulton Market, bringing with it the same buzzy atmosphere as its East Coast counterparts. Chef Marc Vidal helms a menu of small plates with big flavor, from grilled octopus with fennel and smoked pimento to white anchovy boquerones with orange and olive oil. Pair those bites with any of the venue’s signature sangrias, available by the glass or pitcher and changing by the season (with options like blood orange or sparkling cava). Those serve as the perfect accompaniment while you wait for heartier mains to arrive -- namely the paella de mariscos, a medley of monkfish, squid, and shrimp that is large enough to help diners stay put for a while (a nod to Barcelona’s late-night dining styles). Still, feel free to get things started early here -- a happy hour happens Monday through Friday and features deals on an array of tapas and tipples.
Committed to locally sourced ingredients since the '90s
This OG Logan Square favorite was embracing the farm-to-table philosophy long before it was cool, and has remained one of the North Side’s most in-demand weekend brunch destinations since opening in 1999. The menu is subject to change depending on the seasonal availability of certain ingredients, but "The Royale" breakfast sandwich, which is currently made with turkey leg confit, Gruyere cheese, braised bacon, parsley salad, and a sunny-side egg on sourdough, is a sure bet.
A hearth-centered haven with California looks
One Off Hospitality (Publican, Blackbird), former Nico Osteria chef Erling Wu-Bower, and partner Joshua Tolden have teamed up to open this hotly anticipated spot. The sleek, Midcentury modern digs emanate West Coast cool, while an ever-changing, ingredient-driven menu keeps things fresh and seasonal. Try the in-season ramp and ham pizza, dungeness crab chitarra, wood roasted baby carrots with onion-tahini puree, zhoug, almond, and dill, and more.
If you've never had duck heart, try it here
Former Bohemian House chef Jimmy Papadopoulos is back in the restaurant game and has teamed up with Boka Restaurant Group to resurrect the long-vacant Embeya space. While BoHo showcased Papadopoulos' penchant for Eastern European flavors and cooking techniques, the menu here proves his versatility: a savory oyster custard flirts with Osetra caviar, creme fraiche, lemon dressed apple, and dill in the inventive oyster pie, dry-aged duck is glazed with raspberry vinegar and teamed with duck heart en crepinette, and venison tartare balances earthy grilled mushrooms with pumpernickel and lime. In addition, the restaurant also offers a six-course tasting menu for those who want to take the guesswork out of their meal.
You might actually end up eating the crust first
While classic deep dish is undeniably "Chicago," it’s worth noting that some of the best pies in the city don't necessarily conform to expectations. Case in point: the dreamy pan pizza with signature caramelized cheese crust at this Clybourn Ave mainstay, which scored a place on our Chicago Bucket List for good reason.
Equal parts romance and practical culinary magic
Romantic enough for a date night and inventive enough to surprise even the most jaded of palates, this time-tested favorite promises a great atmosphere (including a breathtaking “living wall” punctuated with anthropomorphized animal paintings) and even greater food. Crafted by visionary Lee Wolen, the Michelin-starred menu is an exercise in mixing complementary flavors and textures; no dish better exemplifies this than Wolen’s heirloom carrots, which come to life with pistachio crumbles, bulgur, and smoked goat cheese. And by all means, save room for one of pastry chef Meg Galus’ equally whimsical desserts.
Gimmick-free yet highly Instagrammable breakfast hash
With its hippie spirit and namesake hash lineup, this whimsical diner is one of West Town’s coolest hidden gems. Pull up a seat at one of the mosaic-topped tables and revel in the porcine magic that is the bacon fat hash with pork shoulder, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts laden with rich mustard cream sauce.
The dry-rubbed smoked meats King of the North
This Texas-style barbecue joint has been slingin’ its signature brisket and ribs for the better part of a decade, and remains steadfast as the North Side’s top dog for smoked meats. It’s BYOB, so arrive hungry and with a frosty six-pack of your favorite local brew in tow to fend off the inevitable meat sweats.
The only donuts in town worth fighting lines and crowds
Brendan Sodikoff's award-winning donut shop sets the bar unattainably high with its supremely dense, moist old-fashioned-style donuts. The crave-worthy dough rings come in flavors like toasted almond, classic buttermilk glazed, and lemon-poppy seed, and in limited production daily, which means, once they sell out, they're gone 'til the next morning. Pro tip: If you're lucky, you can also score them at some of Sodikoff's other concepts, including 3 Arts Club Cafe, Sawada Coffee, and C. C. Ferns.
Alinea's approachable little sister with a penchant for fried chicken
New from Grant Achatz and his team behind three-Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning Alinea, this decidedly-more-casual concept balances world-class eats with a sleek, streamlined aesthetic and lively energy. Music plays through the speakers at a slightly-above-normal volume, constant commotion flows through the open kitchen outfitted with a roaring hearth, and vibrant dishes like scallop crudo with mustard, charred daikon, and passion fruit and soy-dusted Yukon fries flecked with bonito flake, splashed with rice vinegar, and paired with tofu mayo prove that "casual" doesn't mean "sacrificed creativity."
A legendary fish shack on the South Side
Get all the smoked seafood you can handle at this legendary fish shack. The small but mighty institution has been in the biz for over half a century, and is one of very few Illinois smokehouses still in operation. Stop in to score smoked black cod, catfish, sturgeon, and more by the pound.
The restaurant's name is also your go-to order
You can (and should!) come to this Asian fusion mainstay for dishes other than just the eponymous arroz gordo ("Fat Rice"), but first-timers shouldn't leave without at least a taste of the shareable Macanese entree. The massive dish is served in a cast iron bowl, and features a base layer of jasmine rice laced with sofrito, chorizo, and salted duck that's topped with everything from curried chicken thighs and linguica sausage to prawns and tea eggs.
Go for the burger, stay for the late-night pub fare
This British gastropub makes a mean fish & chips, but it's the Slagel Farm beef burger that keeps people coming back for more. The elite burger boasts a monstrous patty blended with locally sourced ground brisket, short rib, and chuck, a pile of subtly sweet caramelized onions, and a house-made potato bap, and is best washed down with a selection or two from the exhaustive beer list.
South Loop's gift to Chicago's fine dining culture
With two hard-earned Michelin stars in tow, this contemporary American spot helmed by Chef Ryan McCaskey effortlessly toes the line been upscale and approachable cuisine. Guests may choose between five- and 10-course seasonally driven tasting menus or an a la carte bar menu flush with elevated bites like fried Jidori chicken, a Maine lobster roll, and a burger loaded with bacon jam and taleggio mornay.
Near North Side
The steaks are big, and the desserts require mountain climbing gear
With nearly three decades under its belt, this old-school steak giant is a Chicago bucket list must for locals, tourists, and everyone in between. In addition to a bevy of steaks certified under the restaurant's house USDA Angus Beef program, the Viagra Triangle destination is also known for mammoth desserts, like macadamia turtle pie and carrot cake, that will handily leave a family of four in its wake of sugar coma-inducing destruction. Pro tip: Gibsons is also a favorite among celebs and high rollers; if you're lucky, you just might rub elbows with someone famous.
Pasta is the name of the game
Spearheaded by Spiaggia alum chef Sarah Grueneberg and outfitted with a pastificio, it's hardly a stretch to assume that this noodle-centric concept would focus on classic Italian preparations. While the menu isn't without hand-rolled gnocchetti sardi with fresh-grated tomato, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, basil, and ricotta, there's so much more to it than that. Surprising highlights including skate wing schnitzel with caper salsa verde, grilled summer squash, local greens, cherry tomatoes, and parsley new potatoes, wok fried strangozze with head-on gulf shrimp, tomato, garlic, and hot pepper oil, and prosciutto butter toast.
A twofer with a kickass burger downstairs and a fanciful tasting menu upstairs
Husband-and-wife team John Shields and Karen Urie Shields have successfully bridged the gap between casual bar fare and cheffy tasting menu with their separate-but-synergistic duo. The Loyalist leans casual and approachable, with a burger that handily upstages the neighborhood's long-reigning champ, bar seating and cozy booths, and a sophisticated lemongrass sundae topped with molasses and blueberries, while Smyth leans upscale with a seasonally driven tasting menu packed with locally sourced ingredients.
A new school steakhouse with amazing non-steak offerings
Boka Restaurant Group's fresh take on the steakhouse experience is exactly what Chicago has been waiting for: hulking cuts replaced with a shareable selection of prime beef, game meat, and more, a moody atmosphere inspired by a cabin-in-the-woods fairytale, and a variety of small plates and desserts, like mortadella arancini, veal cheek with lemon grits, escarole, and miso, and coffee and stout donuts with creme anglaise and brown sugar streusel, that share the stage with the meat.
Exceptional sushi best enjoyed omakase-style
Reopening after a fire temporarily shuttered its doors, Arami is back and newly remodeled. What this cozy, no-frills Japanese concept lacks in ambiance and aesthetic it makes up for with elegantly composed dishes and simple yet sophisticated maki and nigiri. The one-bite toro tartare is a harmonious blend of minced fatty bluefin tuna, Asian pear, chive, caviar, and house soy sauce, Hotate-Su featuring Hokkaido scallops balanced with Hawaiian hot pepper water, coconut-lime sauce, hearts of palm, Thai basil, and passionfruit,, and sushi offerings range from maguro spicy sake maki with jalapeño, cilantro, avocado, ikura, fried shallots, and yuzu to yellowtail with mushroom and aromatic truffle oil.
A clandestine Michelin-starred spot devoid of pretension
Inconspicuously tucked away on an alley-like road, this 28-seat literal hidden gem has remained one of Chicago's best-kept secrets since it opened this past spring. That is, until Michelin spilled the beans by awarding it not one, but two coveted stars. Chefs/partners Noah Sandoval and Genie Kwon prove that teamwork does, in fact, make the dream work through an ever-evolving tasting menu comprised of explosively flavorful bites, like Beausoleil oyster with Iberico consomme and finger lime, capellini with Burgundy truffle, rye berry, and yeast, and lemon tea sorbet with hibiscus, Asian pear, and bitter greens.
The hearty, traditional cuisine of Northern Italy in one spot
This acclaimed spot in Logan Square has matured into Chicago's preeminent destination for both Northern Italian eats and an outstanding selection of Italian wines. Menu standouts include Chef Cameron Grant's handmade plin tossed with la tur, parmesan, thyme, and butter, tajarin with Northern meat ragu and grana padano, panna cotta.
Geek-out-worthy molecular gastronomy for the adventurous
This progressive fine-dining destination flies a bit under the radar given its location in Douglas Park, but it should be on every self-respecting food enthusiast's bucket list, if for no other reason than the always-on-menu "French fries and ice cream." One of over a dozen courses, the nostalgic dish evokes the sweet-meets-savory magic of fries dunked in a Wendy's Frosty, featuring potato-leek soup topped with liquid nitrogen-chilled vanilla ice cream. An expansive open kitchen and pretension-free atmosphere punctuated with graffiti-style art complete the unique experience.
Beautifully plated dishes that taste even better than they look
This charming spot offers artfully plated fare and a no-frills, minimalistic atmosphere. Explore Executive Chef Brian Fisher's inventive approach to cooking by way of an extraordinarily photogenic wedge salad topped with Benton's bacon, cambozola, tomato, and house Green Goddess and the Slagel Farms shortrib with bulgogi and one marrow butterscotch.
Some of the best cheffy yet authentic Mexican food around
The chef-driven Mexican fare at Diana Davila's vibrant concept is as thoughtfully crafted as it is satisfying. You can score a heaping basket of chips and salsa, but the other offerings are anything but basic. Team an aromatic elderflower margarita with a caldo de res made with short rib and bone marrow, or smoked beer-can chicken tacos with xoconostle, and don’t miss out on the mouthwatering tres leches.
Vegetable-forward dishes so good, you won't need to think about meat
This veggie-centric spot highlights a "root to leaf" approach, with inventive dishes a crudite platter that changes on the daily and comes packed with raw and pickled veggies, cultured butter, tomato jam, and more, roasted carrot dumplings with lemongrass aioli, and zucchini and gold bar squash with monkey bread, as well as some non-veggie items like sockeye salmon and pork belly bao for those looking for a protein fix. There are also garden-to-glass cocktails including a carrot margarita made with Piedra Azul Reposado and booze-free "cottontails" like a cranberry ginger fizz.
Minimalist design with fancy AF eats
With a mere 20 seats and a sleek, modern aesthetic, this fine-dining hideaway promises an intimate meal with creative flavor pairings. The $145 tasting menu changes often, but always includes hyper-local ingredients grown in the restaurant's hydroponic garden. Courses range from king crab with saffron, satsuma, and steelhead roe to foie gras with passion fruit and sauternes, black sesame, and a canele.