Readers and friends of The Infatuation often ask for one very specific request: they want to know about the city’s best new restaurants before we review them. We get it, it’s the age of instant information. But that wasn’t information we gave you, until now. We’re happy to present The Infatuation Hit List, a regularly updated guide to the new Chicago restaurants we think are worth your time.
On this list, you’ll find new places we’ve recently reviewed and places we’ve enjoyed and will likely have good things to say about in the future.
One thing you can always rely on: we’ll only put places on this list that we have genuinely vetted. That means every brand-new opening doesn’t automatically make a restaurant worthy, nor does a team of ten publicists and an army of Instagrammers who insist it’s good. We don’t care if Oprah endorses it, we’ll only add it to the list if we think it’s actually a place you should spend your time and money in search of new favorite things.
New to The Hit List (as of 7/2019): The Momo World, Chef Xiong Taste of Szechuan, Bad Hunter, The Whale
All restaurants featured on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. The Hit List is presented by the American Express ® Gold Card. Click here to learn more about the benefits and rewards you get from paying with the Amex Gold Card while dining out.
If you haven’t had them before, momos are Nepalese steamed dumplings, and it probably won’t shock you to find out that a place named “The Momo World” makes them very well. There are a lot of varieties here, including the classic chicken or vegetable, jhol (served in a spicy soup), and some creative options like Tandoori, which are steamed then fried. They’re all delicious, and each order is under $10.
The biggest issue with this new spot in Chinatown is whether to shorten the name to “Chef Xiong” or “Taste of Szechuan” when we inevitably tell people to come here. Whatever you decide to call it, the important thing is that this upscale BYOB spot has really good food. The menu is long enough to satisfy James Joyce, but here are the Cliff’s Notes: we’re big fans of the cold jelly noodles in a perfectly spicy black bean sauce, the grilled pork ribs, and the wontons in chili sauce.
Bad Hunter has been around for a few years, so you might wonder what it’s doing on our Hit List. Well, it recently reopened after a fire that happened back in November of 2018, and the vegetable-focused food is still excellent. You’ll find things like butter dumplings with corn and spicy peanuts, whole roasted cauliflower, and - if you need a meat safety blanket - plenty of chicken, steak, and lamb on the menu, too. But whatever you do, don’t leave without getting the delicious sunflower butter ice cream sandwich. It’s vegan and gluten-free, but we’re not holding that against it.
The Whale in Logan Square is allegedly a casino-themed restaurant. But other than the name (a term used for the highest high rollers), a vintage slot machine you can’t play, and some staged dice on a felt table, this place feels like any other big restaurant you’d find in Chicago. That being said, the food here makes it worth a visit. The menu offers everything from lobster tacos to fried chicken to Korean short ribs to roasted carrots. Yes, it’s all over the place, but everything is well prepared and tasty. And it’s a good Logan Square option for a group dinner.
Chicago is a hot dog city, and we take eating them seriously. We have strong feelings about what goes on them at each of the million stands around the city. Occasionally a new spot pops up that reminds us why we like them so damn much. This the case with Doggone’s, a brand-new hot dog place in Logan Square. The menu ranges from the usual suspects (like a fantastic classic Chicago dog and a bratwurst with mustard and sauerkraut) to creative rotating specials made with alligator or duck. Whatever you get, you’ll find flavorful meat made in house with well-balanced toppings (like chili con carne or a sweet blueberry sauce). Everything is delicious, and this spot belongs in your encased-meat rotation.
This is a new spot in Wicker Park from the same owners as The Publican and Avec. The menu at Cafe Cancale is French-inspired with a seafood focus, and like Avec and The Publican, the food here is across-the-board delicious. We love the charred leeks with mussels and the well-balanced shared plate of clams, boudin blanc, and escargot in a buttery sauce. They also serve a fantastic lobster bialy, their take on a lobster roll. The space is light and bright, nice enough for a date but also good for a casual night of oysters and wine at the bar.
Bayan Ko is a small and popular Filipino and Cuban restaurant in Ravenswood, and getting a reservation there is hard. Clave is a Cuban restaurant inside Politan Row (a new food hall in the West Loop) from the same team, and you won’t have to worry about getting a seat here. This place has some of the best Cuban dishes from the original, including a flavorful ropa vieja and a cubano made with magical bread that is both perfectly crunchy and fluffy.
Galit is a Middle Eastern small plates restaurant in Lincoln Park, and you should make a reservation here immediately (maybe even before reading the rest of this caption). The food is across-the-board great - from the creamy hummuses (the one topped with brisket is a standout), to the light and crispy falafel, to a rich and spicy shakshuka. The space is large, and works well for groups, dates, and even dining solo at the long chef’s counter. In fact, the only problem with this spot so far is that you’re going to be tempted to try everything on the menu, and the costs can add up. But it’s worth it.
Cebu is a new Filipino restaurant in Wicker Park. The menu is short - with dishes like kinilaw, sisig, and chicken adobo, which are all delicious, and some fantastic housemade pandesal bread that you need to make sure is on the table. The small dining room is good for date night, or grabbing cocktails and a bite at the bar. Plus, there’s a back patio that we’ll be able to use at some point... eventually, when it’s warmer.
You can always count on two things in Chicago. One, there will be a snowstorm in April. Two, people will lose their sh*t whenever the Girl & The Goat group opens a restaurant. Cabra is the newest restaurant from that same team, on the roof of the Hoxton Hotel in the West Loop, and as expected, it’s already incredibly busy. It also serves some very good Peruvian-inspired food, and has a great view. The menu is mainly small plates, and the best things here are the ceviches (the bass with leche de tigre and the duck are stand-outs), a tender and spicy skewered beef heart, and the shrimp tacu tacu which comes on a delicious crispy rice cake. It’s a great spot for a fun date night, or a group dinner outside (as long as there’s no surprise snowstorm to deal with).
The original Carnitas Uruapan is a small counter-service spot in Pilsen that specializes in, yes, carnitas - and this is a (much) bigger location in Gage Park. It’s great for large groups, parties, or just dinner with a few friends who want to eat as much pork as humanly possible. You can order individual tacos, or just get belly, shoulder, or rib meat (our favorite) by weight. Whichever one(s) you choose will be juicy and delicious, and come with some fantastic housemade tortillas.
Mako is the fourth omakase-only sushi spot to open in Chicago over the past few months (and the third one in the West Loop). Instead of wondering why this is all happening at once, we’re just going with it, since these places are really good. Mako is from the same chef as Juno, and charges $175 for around 25 courses of delicious nigiri, sashimi, and small plates (like perfectly seared duck breast with enoki and duck sausage, and buttery sea bass with charred frisee and seaweed). Compared to the other new omakase-only spots, Mako is the largest (it seats 22 people, with 12 at the bar and the rest at tables), and dinner here is long. Plan on a very enjoyable three-hour experience.
This upscale Korean spot is one of the best new restaurants in West Town. You can do an $87, seven-course tasting menu, or go a la carte with options like tteokbokki with a quail egg, and kalbi with confit turnips and a carrot veloute. Either approach is a good one, and this is a great spot for a special occasion dinner (whether it’s date night or something with more of a group). Just don’t expect to walk in - it’s very busy right now, and books up fast.
Sometimes a place makes the Hit List for reasons beyond just the food. That’s what’s going on with Middle Brow Bungalow in Logan Square, which does have good food, but is also a fantastic place to hang. It’s a cute brew pub that’s decorated with tea lights and decorative plants in birdcages, and has long picnic tables are that are perfect for small groups. As far as the food goes, get anything with the housemade bread (like the toasts and spreads), plus the pepperoni pizza, and order plenty of their light and hoppy beers.
Landbirds is a casual counter-service spot in Logan Square that specializes in lollipopped Korean chicken wings and rice. The wings are delicious - twice-fried, crispy, and drizzled in a gingery sauce that’s sweet and not too sticky. There are four heat levels to choose from, but even the spiciest wings manage to keep a lot of flavor besides just “hot.” They also have fantastic masubi rice, made with spam, kimchi, and some of the wing sauce. It’s a meal on its own, but needs to be a part of your order even if you’re getting some chicken. Get dinner to-go, or come with a small group and BYOB.
Althea is an upscale vegan restaurant on the seventh floor of Saks Fifth Avenue downtown - which might not sound like a likely location for your next nice dinner out. But as long as you don’t sit in the front of the restaurant, you’ll have a great view of Michigan Avenue instead of a rack of John Varvatos pullovers. And the food here is creative, interesting, and really good. You can get dishes like a spicy and flavorful kung pao cauliflower, a rich “cacio e pepe” made with kelp noodles and cashew cheese sauce, and a vegan cheese plate with a macadamia nut pepper jack that’s way better than it has any right to be.
Bayan Ko is a small, BYOB Filipino and Cuban restaurant in Ravenswood that you should visit immediately. You’ll be eating things like croqueta tots (delicious crispy fried balls filled with ham hock), luglug noodles with perfectly cooked scallops, and a fantastic ropa vieja - and it’s the kind of place where the chef will probably come to your table and ask you how everything is (luckily your answer will be “great”). If there’s a special (like the rice porridge), don’t ask questions - just get it.
This is a very useful all-day spot in the Ukrainian Village. All Together Now is a restaurant and market, with a bar that works for dining solo and/or getting some work done, and also some tables for small groups. The food is delicious (for example, well-seasoned venison, and a juicy roasted chicken with black garlic bread pudding), and the space works well for everything from a casual weeknight dinner to just picking up some wine and cheese.
Kumiko is an upscale cocktail bar in the West Loop from the owners of Oriole. And this place is kind of like Oriole-lite, in a good way. Meaning it’s fancy, with attentive service, and has two seatings a night for a tasting menu at the bar (involving five courses of cocktails and food for $130). But there’s also an a la carte food and drink menu, which makes things more affordable. And even though the dishes are prettily plated and fancy-looking, it’s all still good drinking food - with small bites like shrimp tempura and a miniature pork belly bao that’s so good you’ll wish it was bigger.
If you’ve been to Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square, Luella’s Gospel Bird will feel familiar. It’s a casual, BYOB counter-service spot from the same owners, and like its sister restaurant, it serves delicious Southern food. The difference is that here, the focus is on buttermilk fried chicken. The menu is short, with just two styles of fried chicken (regular and “gospel,” which is topped with a spicy remoulade), a fried chicken po’ boy, and several sides. The chicken is juicy, with crunchy, crispy skin, and the sides (including greens and a creamy shell mac and cheese) are also very good.
We’re used to spending a good amount of money for quality sushi. But Kyoten, an omakase-only restaurant in Logan Square, is on another level price-wise. It’s $220 for 20 courses, putting it in the same category as the other most expensive tasting menu spots in Chicago. And as with those places, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth it. Our verdict: It definitely is. The omakase here involves a lot of delicious nigiri (made with heavily seasoned large-grained rice) - plus a number of creative small plates, like rendered beef fat poured over rice, or fried tilefish with caviar and creme fraiche. You’ll leave full, happy, and trying to figure out how soon you can justify your next visit.