Food & Drink

The Thrillist Awards: Chicago's Best New Food & Drink of 2015

Published On 12/21/2015 Published On 12/21/2015
Courtesy of Nonna’s

Best new sandwich

Nonna’s

Address and Info

West Loop

The counter-service sibling to Formento’s (one of the best new restaurants of 2015), Nonna’s has quickly become Randolph Row’s go-to for made-to-order hot and cold sandwiches, and while we can’t say a bad thing about anything in the lineup, the signature meatball sub is the real stunner here. The jaw-unhinging handheld contains colossal house-made meatballs blanketed in marinara, velvety mozzarella, and giardiniera with a supremely crusty baguette.

Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Best new BYOB

The Angry Crab

Address and Info

West Rogers Park

Grab some pals, a six-pack of your favorite local suds, and head to this chill seafood emporium for a good time and Cajun-inspired shellfish by the pound. Each bag (yes, bag) is tossed to order, which means that you get to dictate the heat level; team your crustaceans with sides like corn, andouille sausage, and garlic fries for a balanced feast.

Anthony Tahlier/Corridor Brewery & Provisions

Best new brewpub

Corridor Brewery & Provisions

Address and Info

Lakeview

New from the crew at DryHop, this twofer sports a full-fledged brewery setup on one side and a dining space -- complete with rustic wood, exposed brick, and a wall-mounted bicycle -- on the other. Go for the Lyonnaise pizza (pancetta, caramelized onion, frisee, runny egg) to accompany a pint of Wizard Fight, a creamy nitro lactose IPA.

Eric Kleinberg

Best new brunch

Balena

Address and Info

Lincoln Park

After a few incredibly successful years in the biz as a dinner destination, Lincoln Park’s sought-after modern Italian spot finally launched a weekend brunch program. The playful menu crafted by Chef Chris Pandel (The Bristol, Swift & Sons) errs on the savory side, with dishes like an everything bagel-inspired pizza stacked with smoked salmon and crème fraiche and a giardiniera-infused frittata, while the sweet crespelle with mascarpone and roasted grapes will satisfy a sweet tooth.

Galdones Photography/Courtesy of Green River

Best new cocktail bar

GreenRiver

Address and Info

Streeterville

With Instagram-worthy skyline views, simple yet sophisticated bar fare, and a cocktail menu that's organized by key ingredient (think agave, corn, and juniper) and inspired by Chicago with hints of the Irish, this cocktail oasis promises a next-level drinking experience -- literally, it sits 18 stories high. Raise a "Lincoln Park" -- Glenlivet, Laphroaig, Cappelletti Aperitivo, jasmine, Coco Lopez, and pineapple --  to that.

Sean Cooley/Thrillist

Best new burger

Johnny’s Grill

Address and Info

Logan Square

Forget exotic cheeses and other gourmet accoutrements, 2015 was the year of back-to-basic burgers in Chicago, and the simple, expertly executed number at Johnny’s led the pack. Two juicy patties provide just enough meaty resistance with each bite, while melted sharp cheddar, tangy Dijonnaise, pickles, and onion amp up the flavor factor.

Dane Tashima

Best new lunch spot

Wyler Road

Address and Info

Logan Square

From "Fernet Cows" (Letherbee fernet, mint, house-made fernet ice cream, and Coke) and a predominantly Midwestern draft beer list to the Sunbutter Sandwich (sunflower seed butter, honey jam, and toasted sunflower seeds on whole wheat) and a veal heart Philly  with Cheez Whiz mayo and sautéed onions, this hipster-approved concept has the answer to all your lunchtime needs.

Oak + Char

Best new wings

Oak + Char

Address and Info

River North

Don’t let its eyebrow-raising name fool you, Oak + Char’s highly addictive "MSG Wings" actually take their name from the major ingredients in their lip-smacking glaze (maple, sherry, and gochujang chili). A smoked-cilantro yogurt sauce served beneath the wings imparts a cooling effect that tempers the sweet heat of the wings, and proves that sometimes, the key to superior wings is synergy.

Bar Siena

Best new pizza

Bar Siena

Address and Info

West Loop

Siena Tavern's casual and decidedly more trendy bi-level spinoff has been consistently packing the house since day one, and given the caliber of its wood-fired pizzas and glorious early-morning-to-late-night BomboBar, you probably shouldn't expect the hype to fade any time soon. Don't miss the prosciutto fig pie with taleggio, spiced pistachio, and local honey.

Kailley Lindman/Thrillist

Best new donut

Pub Royale

Address and Info

Wicker Park

There are many donuts in Chicago, but none like Pub Royale’s unusual take. The sweet and spicy creation is made with twisted bits of deep-fried naan dough, and comes drenched in chai spice-infused dulce de leche glaze.

Intro

Best new concept

Intro

Address and Info

Lincoln Park

Little did we know that when we lost Michelin-rated L2O last year, we would gain something even greater. That “something” is Lettuce Entertain You’s Intro, an outside-the-box concept that centers on the idea that the only constant is change. Every few months, the restaurant introduces a new “chef-in-residence” who completely transforms the dining experience. Recent chefs include inaugural chef CJ Jacobson and current chef Stephen Gillanders.

Good Stuff Eatery

Best new cool treat

Good Stuff Eatery

Address and Info

Loop

It’s no secret that celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn’s sustainability driven burgers are great, but when it comes to milkshakes, let’s just say his burger joint’s toasted marshmallow confection is bringing everyone to the yard (sorry, we had to). The hand-spun shake is a veritable campfire in a cup, and is one of the best drinkable treats we’ve ever had in Chicago, let alone this year.

Furious Spoon

Best new ramen

Furious Spoon

Address and Info

Wicker Park

Chicago’s ramen boom struck in 2014 and steamrolled on through to 2015, bringing with it Chef Shin Thompson’s scratch-made noodle-slurping shop and his signature blazing hot “Furious Ramen.” The fiery bowl of tonkotsu broth-based comfort gets its kick from spicy miso, white pepper chicken, and house Fury sauce, and is rounded out with chashu pork belly, a poached egg, marinated mushrooms, and garlic relish.

El Carrito Tacos

Best new taco

El Carrito

Address and Info

West Rogers Park

Eat great on the cheap at this Mexican street food purveyor on the Northwest side, where the taco offerings range from al pastor with onions, cilantro, and grilled pineapple to a surprisingly satisfying veggie number bursting with fresh herbs, squash, zucchini, carrots, and more. And no outside-sourced tortillas here: each taco comes swaddled in a fresh tortilla made in-house.

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1. Nonna's Sandwiches and Sundries 925 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Formento's grab-and-go adjacent counterpart serves casual Italian-American dishes like a hearty signature meatball sub. The made-to-order sandwich features gargantuan, house-made meatballs covered in marinara, mozzarella, and giardiniera nestled inside a crusty baguette.

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2. The Angry Crab 5665 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (West Rogers Park)

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.

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3. Corridor Brewery & Provisions 3446 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

This part-brewery, part-kitchen concept is flush with beer offerings, chorizo Brussels sprouts with aged Manchego and caramelized onions, beer-steamed Belgian-style mussels and more.

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4. Balena 1633 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

The menu at this acclaimed collaborative effort between Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality Co. showcases executive chef/partner Chris Pandel's modern-yet-homey interpretation of Italian cuisine, and spans from hearth-fired pizzas and burrata di panna to far-from-ordinary house-made pastas, including tagliolini nero tossed with crab, sea urchin, and mint, and walnut pesto-coated Sardinian gnocchi. The concept also offers an exceptional brunch program packed with sweet and savory dishes.

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5. GreenRiver 259 E Erie St Fl 18, Chicago, IL 60611

Between its stunning views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan, an Irish American-informed cocktail menu, and inventive dishes like white fish tartine with egg, radish, and celery, and sturgeon with bean ragout, turnip, and kale, there’s much to love about this swanky Streeterville spot. The space is streamlined, airy, and modern, boasting an attached terrace complete with plush seating prime for lounging over whiskey-infused cocktails.

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6. Johnny's Grill 2545 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

The original Johnny's Grill was a greasy spoon fixture for years before its lease ended in 2014. A year later, chef/owner Sarah Jordan (Boka, Blackbird, Cicchetti) opened a same-but-different Johnny's in the exact location that's both an homage to the original and a total upgrade. The space and menu is still very much a diner with all formica everything, but there's now a bar, patio, and creative comfort dishes like house-made pop tarts, extra crispy fish & chips, and a sharp double cheeseburger that joins the ranks of the best in Chicago.

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7. Wyler Road 3581 W Belden, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

This Logan Square spot's got scrumptious sandwiches a plenty, plus craft beer, sumptuous salads and housemade rootbeer, orange, and black cherry floats-- yum!

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8. Oak + Char 217 W Huron St, Chicago, IL 60654 (River North)

Staying true to its name, the space sports plenty of oak, as well as billowy light fixtures that look like plumes of smoke. Feast on ultra-flavorful "M.S.G." wings (trust us, it’s not what you think) and a smoky double-patty burger, or go big with a market price 32oz bone-in ribeye served with bone marrow and sauce Perigueux on a badass wooden board.

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9. Bar Siena 832 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

This casual but incredibly hip bar and restaurant takes Italian cues from sister restaurant Siena Tavern for its menu, complete with mortadella pizza topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella, meats, and veggies along with American twists like duck mac & cheese and the BomboBurger. While there's a decent selection of draft, bottled, and canned beer, Siena's Italian roots means this bar is always fully stocked with, you guessed it, wine -- there are a handful of sparkling, tens of whites, and dozens (upon dozens) of reds.

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10. Pub Royale 2049 W Division, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

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.

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11. Intro 2300 N Lincoln Park W, Chicago, IL 60614 (Lincoln Park)

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.

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12. Good Stuff Eatery 22 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60603 (Loop)

Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn opened this Chicago outpost of his popular East Coast-based burger and shake shop, and it's loaded with favorites from menus at other locations, as well as some new items made with Chicago in mind.

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13. Furious Spoon 1571 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

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.

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14. El Carrito 6019 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60659 (West Rogers Park)

This restaurant serves up no-frills, made-to-order Mexican street food. The menu includes carne asada tacos, chicken flautas, elotes in a cup, and you-gotta’-try-‘em thick-cut mole fries.

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