This year, Chicago’s food and drink landscape has balanced finely tuned simplicity with innovation and creativity, and that medium proved to be exactly what hungry Chicagoans were looking for. Whether you needed to stuff your face with a meatball sandwich reminiscent of your grandmother's cooking, seek solace in a pillowy naan donut, or wow your significant other with a uniquely romantic meal, 2015's plentiful crop of new restaurants and bars were here for you. We're awarding honors across a variety of vital categories like best new brewpub, best new taco, and more.
The Thrillist Awards: Chicago's Best New Food & Drink of 2015
Best new sandwich
Nonna’sAddress and Info
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.
Best new BYOB
The Angry CrabAddress 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.
Best new brewpub
Corridor Brewery & ProvisionsAddress and Info
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.
Best new brunch
BalenaAddress and Info
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.
Best new cocktail bar
GreenRiverAddress and Info
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.
Best new burger
Johnny’s GrillAddress and Info
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.
Best new lunch spot
Wyler RoadAddress and Info
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.
Best new wings
Oak + CharAddress and Info
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.
Best new pizza
Bar SienaAddress and Info
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.
Best new donut
Pub RoyaleAddress and Info
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.
Best new concept
IntroAddress and Info
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.
Best new cool treat
Good Stuff EateryAddress and Info
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.
Best new ramen
Furious SpoonAddress and Info
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.
Best new taco
El CarritoAddress 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 Sundries925 W Randolph St, Chicago
2. The Angry Crab5665 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
3. Corridor Brewery & Provisions3446 N Southport Ave, Chicago
4. Balena1633 N Halsted St, Chicago
5. GreenRiver259 E Erie St Fl 18, Chicago
6. Johnny's Grill2545 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago
7. Wyler Road3581 W Belden, Chicago
8. Oak + Char217 W Huron St, Chicago
9. Bar Siena832 W Randolph St, Chicago
10. Pub Royale2049 W Division, Chicago
11. Intro2300 N Lincoln Park W, Chicago
12. Good Stuff Eatery22 S Wabash Ave, Chicago
13. Furious Spoon1571 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
14. El Carrito6019 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
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.
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 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.
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.
Between its stunning views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan, an Irish American-informed cocktail menu, and familiar eats like a white fish tartine with egg, radish, and celery, frites with malt and cheddar dust, 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, and boasts an attached terrace complete with plush seating prime for lounging over whiskey-infused sips.
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.
This Logan Square spot's got scrumptious sandwiches a plenty, plus craft beer, sumptuous salads and housemade rootbeer, orange, and black cherry floats-- yum!
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.
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.
This beer-driven bar from the good people at Heisler Hospitality (Bar DeVille, Nightwood, Sportsmans Club) has plenty of Indian-inspired eats, like lamb dumplings, salt cod samosas, a chicken tikka kati roll, and buttered paneer, a dash of taxidermied decorations, and a curated beer list.
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.
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.
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.
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.