10 Chicago Restaurants That Got Us Through 2020
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
You might notice that the phrase “Best New Restaurant” is conspicuously absent from this guide. That’s because this year has been too f*cked up to make that kind of judgment call. But if we got sent a restaurant version of Spotify’s “Your 2020 Wrapped,” this is what ours would look like. From over-the-top coffee table spreads to DM-only Chinese food to a favorite new pizza place, these are the Chicago spots we put on repeat. Most are new, some are not, but they all gave us a new appreciation for restaurants.
We said we’re not designating any place as a “Best New Restaurant” and that’s true. But Kasama, a Filipino restaurant in West Town, is our overall favorite new spot. From pastries like the ham and cheese danish or creme fraiche cheesecake to their crispy lumpia to the BBQ platter or chicken adobo, everything here is delicious. Immediately add this spot to your self-care rotation.
Pizza Friendly Pizza is neither tavern-style nor deep dish, the two iconic pizzas that every Chicagoan must choose between when they register to vote. Instead, this new takeout window in Ukrainian Village makes Sicilian pan-style, which you can get by the slice or pre-order as a full pie. The thick crust manages to be light and airy, and has a slight sourdough-y flavor we can’t get enough of. Each pie is topped with a spicy tomato sauce that complements the toppings perfectly, like the little charred grease cup pepperonis or the sausage with housemade giardiniera. Those, coupled with interesting weekly specials like the “Tracksuit On A Farm” (roasted corn with soppressata and pickled peppers) are why we order from this place all the time.
We decided to stay home and order Indian food from Vajra for New Year’s Eve. That proved to be a “fun” bit of foreshadowing, because we ended up spending the first year of a new decade eating Vajra on our couch a lot. And just like during the early days of the pandemic, we still find ourselves turning to the rich shrimp korma, spicy biryani, and fluffy garlic naan whenever we need a comforting reminder that things will be OK.
Daisies was exactly the kind of small, neighborhood restaurant that we worried about when the pandemic hit and indoor dining shut down. But it turned out that this place was an example of just how resilient restaurants were this year. It did close briefly but then popped back up offering delicious meal kits featuring their fresh pasta. Then they opened an all-day market in the front dining room with things like local produce, meat, dairy, specialty items from other local restaurants, and handmade pastas like their handmade truffle ricotta ravioli. And when they allowed outdoor dining again, Daisies created a heated, socially-distanced back patio that made us feel like things were briefly back to normal.
Chicago has a lot of great sushi spots, but Sushi-san has been our go-to for carryout this year. Their takeout and delivery is always impeccable, whether we want a few pieces of nigiri for a low-key dinner or a sh*t ton of everything. The fish is always delicious, the order is always correct, and everything is carefully wrapped and labeled. And now that the fluffy Japanese pancakes are back on the menu, we’ll be ordering from this place even more often.
Considering that 2020 has lasted 45 months, it was inevitable that we’d encounter an occasion that needed to be celebrated. So when we wanted something special this year for an anniversary, graduation, or just to celebrate our only surviving plant’s birthday, Ciccio Mio always impressed us. It turns out that eating their decadent lasagna bolognese rotolo, truffle bucatini, and spicy vodka rigatoni is just as special (and delicious) at home as in their dining room. OK, not exactly, but close enough.
This is the Year Of The Pop-Up. In fact, all of the new pop-ups are one of the few bright spots to come out of the tedium-filled highway to Hell we call 2020. And one of our favorites is Chinese restaurant 3 Little Pigs, operating out of Bridgeport. You order by DM’ing their IG account, then find out day-of the pick-up location for your food. We got our first order of sticky BBQ pork ribs, fried rice, and pork-filled egg rolls on a side street in Chinatown behind an auto body shop. We picked up our second at [REDACTED]. So if you want some delicious Chinese food, we suggest sliding into a stranger’s DMs.
Another thing that came out of this year is a plethora of carryout and delivery-only restaurants - a.k.a. virtual restaurants - including this Japanese place in Avondale. This takeout-only spot specializes in curry - there’s tonkatsu kare, shaved beef udon curry, and waffle fries (also topped with curry) - and Bokuchan is everything you want when it’s gross outside. This place also understands the importance of careful packaging - every component of the tonkatsu kare is packaged separately, keeping the pork crispy and rice fluffy.
A state-wide Stay At Home Advisory and CDC recommendation (wow, what a way to start this caption) meant that a lot of us decided to stay put for Thanksgiving, with our small kitchens and lack of cooking skills. Luckily, this Southern restaurant in Hyde Park offered a takeout Thanksgiving spread with things like turkey, candied yams, silky mashed potatoes, and a pecan pie that was good enough to carry the entire meal. It was way better than what we could have cooked ourselves, and reminded us why we should order from this place more often.
We realize an open fridge filled with leftover pizza, pasta, fried rice, and cornbread stuffing isn’t exactly a restaurant. But we spent a lot of time stress eating in front of it, bathed in the warmth of the open door’s glow. It played a valuable role in getting us through this year, and earned its spot on this list.