CHIGuide

The Hit List: New Chicago Restaurants To Try Right Now

We checked out these new restaurants—and loved them.
Black marble plate with artfully plated food that looks like orange sorbet and a lamb chop

photo credit: Sammy Faze

When new restaurants open, we check them out. This means that we subject our stomachs and social lives to the good, the bad, and more often than not, the perfectly fine. And every once in a while, a new spot makes us feel like "Weird Al" Yankovic at an accordion sale. When that happens, we add it here, to The Hit List. 

The Hit List is where you’ll find all of the best new restaurants in Chicago. As long as it opened within the past several months and we’re still talking about it, it’s on this guide. The latest addition might be a buzzy new restaurant with caviar priced by the bump. Or it might be an under-the-radar lunch counter where a few dollars will get something that’ll rattle around in your brain like a loose penny in a dryer.

Keep tabs on the Hit List and you will always know just which new restaurants you should be eating at right now.

New to the Hit List (5/22): Valhalla, Minyoli

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Sammy Faze

American

Wicker Park

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightSpecial OccasionsUnique Dining ExperienceFine Dining
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Valhalla’s $198 tasting menu kicks off when you cut through a wax-sealed menu with a letter opener, revealing a page of scattered dish descriptions with no clear order. But the suspense of not knowing which of the 13 delicious courses is first, last, or next makes this dimly lit Wicker Park restaurant from the SKY team so thrilling. At the 14-seat, spotlighted chef’s counter, you scoop spicy ceviche, drag scotch egg-inspired lamb through tikka masala sauce, and watch chefs shave dinosaur egg-shaped Filipino seasalt onto juicy arrachera with apple kosho. By the time the final dessert shows up in nesting dolls, you’ll be itching to run the perfectly paced two-and-a-half-hour meal back again.

photo credit: John Ringor

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerWalk-InsEating At The Bar

As tempting as it is to instantly finish a plate of Minyoli’s popcorn chicken, don't. Each bite of this Andersonville Taiwanese spot’s chicken—an attention-grabbing trifecta of salty, sweet, and surprisingly tart from sour plum powder—necessitates a few seconds of flavor meditation. Larger dishes like braised beef and rice are equally tasty, and though beef soups and jajangmian with housemade noodles are subtle, the house chili oil gives them a garlicky zip. Minyoli’s bright dining room is very minimalist, but that’s fine—you’re not here to pensively stare at artwork. You’re here to join the neighborhood families, friends who lined up 15 minutes before opening, and everyone else, in experiencing popcorn chicken bliss.

Sushi omakase spots have been popping up on every corner of Chicago, and Pilsen isn’t immune. But Casa Madai stands out because of its Japanese-Mexican takes on nigiri, and the casual environment (which is currently BYOB). Spring for the $150 omakase at the chef’s counter, rather than sticking with a la carte rolls. You'll get 15 courses like hamachi with sautéed jalapeño and brown butter that dissolves in your mouth, or scallops topped with salsa macha hugged in a sheet of nori like a one-bite taco. And while toppings like broiled, yuzu-infused sweet miso often feel like costume jewelry at other places, they’re used with restraint here. Use some restraint yourself and try not to steal the tuna with poblano from your date while they’re chatting with the friendly chefs.

Along with their spot at rooftop bar Tetto, Professor Pizza opened a brick-and-mortar in Old Town. The pizza menu is identical (available in styles such as New York and tavern, in forms like a white pie or pistachio and mortadella) and they have pasta and some new sides. The pies are still some of the best in the city, and now you can eat them in a casual space that doesn't require checking your weather app before making plans. The new additions are solid, like orecchiette with sausage and calabrian chili, and mozzarella rings. But the main reason for coming here is still for the excellent pizza and its yeasty crust. The staff are dressed in tracksuits matching the cartoon "professor" on the menu (some wearing earpieces), navigating families with marching toddlers, small friend groups, and comedians pre-gaming before their Second City show upstairs.

photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

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Tre Dita is the first Chicago restaurant from the much-hyped chef behind Felix, Mother Wolf, and Funke, three LA spots that are impossible to get into. It's on the second floor of the St. Regis Hotel in Lakeshore East and has a gorgeous view of the river, art deco archways, and more people in well-pressed suits than a James Bond casting call. But aside from Tre Dita’s “glam factor,” the Italian food is excellent. Schiacciata topped with olive oil and rosemary can make a steadfast focaccia loyalist fall in love with this fluffier Tuscan cousin. Prawns in salsa verde and a charred rib eye cap are perfectly seasoned. And since the fancy space isn't over-the-top, you don’t have to worry about overstimulation while twirling creamy pici caccio e pepe, even with a room full of chatty dates, B-list celebs, and 30-somethings bragging about some vague-but-seemingly-very-important “deal.”

Brasero seems to specialize in throwing a party every night. This Latin American spot in West Town is great for upbeat get-togethers of all sizes, with a mix of shareable dishes like fried quail and grilled half lobster, and catchy Bossa nova music that practically begs you to show up with the best gossip to match the secluded space and good-times vibe. But Brasero’s food is equally fun, with nearly everything nailing a balance between sweet and spicy. Pork ribs are covered in guava and hot sauce, a combination so good you might show off any rogue stains afterward. The moqueca has the perfect amount of chili to enhance the coconut broth, mahi mahi, and shrimp. Whatever you order, you’ll leave with a light cologne of smoke, thanks to the wood-fire grill in the back and dessert sparklers constantly floating around.

The towering chicharron from Cariño’s Latin-inspired 11-course tasting menu makes you gaze in wonder, like you’re reenacting the first scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey—or Barbie. It comes with a side of smoky esquites, and tells you everything you need to know about this Uptown spot: you’re in for a playful, fun-to-eat meal. Other courses follow suit, like Huitlacoche ravioli that builds a world of corn on a plate or Tajin-topped oysters with a Modelo foam that channels the spicy, refreshing flavors of a michelada. And despite only having a few seats and its not-inexpensive $210 price, Cariño isn’t stuffy or overly formal—you could totally wear a hoodie and jeans to eat a churro with a tiny foie gras hat.

photo credit: Jeff Marini

On the surface, this new spot from the team behind Pacific Standard Time has all the trappings of a clichéd West Loop restaurant. But behind the big windows in a building that reads more “art gallery” than “failed startup headquarters” is a fantastic place with dishes that are hard to classify. A puff of doughy gnocco fritto comes with prosciutto dressed with black currant-pepper jam. Thick, pita-like scallion pancakes pair beautifully with french onion dip. A single, halved Japanese sweet potato that could be mistaken for crème brûlée swims in a nutty Thai curry. Do we know what to call this cuisine? No. Do we know we’re excited to go back and eat clay pot rice in a fun space that looks like a minimalist’s fantasy while listening to Sade on vinyl? Absolutely.

Armed with a tight menu of only four bowls, this Logan Square spot from Reddit-famous chef, Ramen_Lord, is poised for ramen supremacy. Both the busy space and ramen have an elegant simplicity, and each bowl makes us glad that conspiracy theories aren’t the only products of the Redditverse. Rich miso and savory shoyu broths complement pork chashu, wok-fried bean sprouts, and housemade noodles that carry the broths up with each slurp like a gluten-based ski lift. Just know that getting in isn’t easy and reservations instantly vanish once they drop. Come right when they open at 5pm—they accept walk-ins.

Though we were sad to see Wherewithall in Avondale close, we’re thrilled the Parachute team opened Anelya in its place. The Ukrainian food and fun space charmed us so much that we had separation anxiety before we finished dessert. Vibrant fluorescent lamps, low-volume drum and bass, and Ukrainian textiles come together in a space that could be described as “Psychedelic-Ukrainian chic.” Waitstaff push quadruple-decker sparkling zakusky carts. People break into flaky Napoleons while servers hype up dishes like they’re blind dates they want you to go on. With dishes like rich potato and pork jowl varenyky, or kovbasa with apricot and blueberry sauerkraut, you’ll want to have a polyamorous relationship with the entire menu.

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