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 1/29): Booth One, Maillard Tavern, Mable’s Table, Tempesta Market
Booth One, in the Ambassador hotel, is trying recapture the era of Frank Sinatra (who sat in “Booth One” at the Pump Room, the hotel’s famous former restaurant). There are well-prepared, fancy dishes like lobster cappuccino (basically a lobster bisque), beef wellington, and “Strawberries Zsa Zsa” (a platter of fresh strawberries with creme fraiche, Grand Marnier, and chocolate). This place succeeds in creating an old-school atmosphere, with giant booths and servers in tuxedo jackets, and in general feels mostly like a Gold Coast version of RPM Steak. That’s not too surprising, since it’s from the same team. It’s worth visiting even if you’re not already in the neighborhood - especially if you actually remember the days of the Rat Pack.
Burgers are the focus at Maillard Tavern in River West. There are a number of different versions, and they all work really well. The classic (with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and pickles) tastes like what you might imagine a roadside burger from the 1950s to be, but there are also more creative options, like one with foie gras and truffle that’s delicious, if very rich. The space is small, with wooden booths, tables, and a large bar. Come here with a small group, or even just by yourself for a quick weeknight dinner.
The “Mable” in question here is the chef’s mom, and the food at this place in Bucktown seems like the the kind of thing you wish your mom made when you were little. For instance, there’s a whole section of the menu devoted to delicious mac and cheese dishes, including an upgraded Hamburger Helper with ground beef, jalapenos, and caramelized onions. You can’t go wrong with one of those, or another special, like the prime ribs or the meatballs. The interior, with its A-frame slatted wood roof, exposed brick, and twinkly lights, feels very homey, and overall, Mable’s is a perfect example of a super cute reasonably priced place you’d want to visit with a few friends.
Tempesta is a deli/grocery in the West Loop serving fantastic and interesting gourmet sandwiches. Take the Southside Johnny, for example, which has porchetta, cheese, broccolini, pickled fennel, chimichurri, and a rosemary dipping sauce. As contorted as that might sound, no ingredient ends up seeming unnecessary. Since the owners of this place also run an ’nduja company, there’s a lot of that here, too - including an ’nduja gelato (a.k.a. vanilla gelato with pieces of ’nduja) that’s fun, but only worth ordering if you’re a really big fan of the stuff. Come for a quick lunch when you’re in the neighborhood.
It’s hard to definitively classify the food at S.K.Y. (or to know if it’s pronounced “Sky” or “S” “K” “Y” - we’ve heard staff members refer to it as both), but most of it is Asian-fusion-ish, and everything we’ve tried has been excellent. You can expect things like lobster dumplings in a buttery lemongrass broth, foie gras bibimbap, and a fried chicken dish that comes with hot sauce that’s like the core of a nuclear reactor. In that it’s very hot, not toxic. The space has an industrial feel, with exposed ductwork and brick, and plays the kind of low-key indie rock music you’ll want to discreetly Shazam and listen to later. They’re still waiting on their liquor license, so for now it’s BYOB.
Bellemore is a new restaurant in the West Loop from the same group that runs Boka. The space is large and looks a little like a nice furniture store, in that there are desks and tables scattered around. (There are also a number of stuffed birds, so maybe think of it as a furniture store with a taxidermy popup going on.) The open kitchen and rock music make it feel relaxed, but the service and dishes are fine dining quality. Everything we’ve tried here - from an outstanding sheep’s milk agnolotti to a strikingly plated pork belly dish - has been great, but it is on the pricier side, so be prepared.
A neighborhood sushi spot with low-ish prices and high-quality fish can be hard to find - so we’re excited to say that Raisu fits that description. It’s a small, low-key space in Albany Park, and its fish offerings vary depending on what’s been flown in that day. Order the omakase, which they’ll tailor based on your budget, starting at $50. When we were there they had incredible toro, as well as some of the best scallops we’ve ever eaten. If you’re into rolls, they have a few of those, too (the Omega maki with fried salmon and shrimp tempura is great), but we suggest opting for the nigiri and sashimi.
Pelmeni, or little Russian dumplings, are what you’ll be eating at this place in Lincoln Park. It’s a small counter service operation selling several different dumpling varieties - beef and pork, potato, lamb, and chicken - as well as different dipping sauces to go with them. You can decide if you want your pelmeni boiled, sauteed, or fried, and we recommend opting for the boiled variety. A full order comes with 20+ dumplings in all, so it’s a good thing they’re as delicious and addicting as they are (you can also get two different flavors in the same order, which is a good move). Come here for a quick and cheap lunch, or get takeout and see how many you can fit into your apartment.
Getting dinner in the Gold Coast’s “Viagra Triangle” can feel like being at a speed-dating convention for retired millionaires, so we don’t usually go out of our way to eat around here. But the food at Somerset makes us actually excited to be in the neighborhood. This place serves truly outstanding dishes, like a beet tartare, made of smoked beets with yogurt and gouda cheese, that is so good we were still thinking about it days later. Their housemade pastas, and entrees like venison and halibut, are also 100% worth your time. Spacewise, it definitely has a Gold Coast feel: it’s large, with fancy art deco lighting, nautical touches, and an open kitchen in the back.
Marisol, from the chef/owner of Lula Cafe, just opened in the Museum of Contemporary Art. The menu includes things like sunflower seed hummus, housemade pastas, and a fried quail dish with date honey that tastes like fancy chicken and waffles, and the food is all way better than anything we’re used to eating in a museum cafe. Though the restaurant is located inside the museum, it still feels like it’s a separate thing, and it’s open to the public even when the museum is closed. Come here for dinner with your mom, whether or not either of you is into art.
Bonci is a counter-service pizza spot with a cult following in Rome, and this is their first US location. They serve pizza “al taglio,” or cut when you order and sold by weight. It’s excellent, and there are lots of different topping combinations to try - when we were there, the standouts were potato with rosemary and ’nduja with ricotta. Right now it’s incredibly busy, so go during off-peak hours to avoid the crowds.
Portsmith is a seafood-focused restaurant that just opened in the Dana Hotel, and the food is very good. There’s a lot going on with the menu, which includes fish and chips, a cacio e pepe with uni, and a whole bunch of different breads like Parker House rolls and a nori ciabatta, but it all manages to work together, resulting in a very enjoyable meal. It is worth knowing that the space is a little awkward - it’s small, and full of tables so tiny you have to play Tetris if you want to fit more than one thing on them. You definitely won’t forget you’re in a hotel restaurant, but this place is still worth checking out.
The idea of a casual neighborhood caviar bar is an unusual one, but Heritage somehow works. The Humboldt Park space is laid back, and the caviar menu has a wide range of variety and prices allowing you to try different kinds. They also do some excellent Eastern European food - you’ll find stuff like borscht, as well as pierogi and a fantastic pelmeni filled with ground duck. Check it out for date night, or if you feel like hanging with a group of friends over Russian vodka and platters of caviar.