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 1/2020): Time Out Market, Lao Peng You
Lao Peng You is a small, BYOB Chinese spot in West Town with a short chalkboard menu of primarily handmade noodles and dumplings. They don’t take reservations, you order at the counter, and you should expect a wait - this place is already popular, and people tend to hang out while they finish their booze. But the food is really good, and you’ll probably want to linger in the relaxed space for a while, too. We’ve liked everything we’ve tried, but our favorites are the cold noodles, beef noodle soup, and the excellent xi’an bing (lamb and cumin bread). The food isn’t very spicy, so make sure you take advantage of the housemade chili oil and vinegar they bring you.
Some food halls are worth knowing about because of a specific restaurant (i.e Italianette in the now-closed Fulton Galley). And others are great because of the sum of their parts, like Time Out Market in Fulton Market. It has 19 restaurants and we’ve yet to find a bad one, which isn’t surprising because they’re all new locations of successful places that already exist - like Mini Mott, the Duck Inn, Fat Rice, Lost Larson, and Pretty Cool Ice Cream. The industrial-feeling space is huge, with two levels (including three separate bars) and lots of communal tables. Basically, when the human race has to flee to outer space, this is what we want our spaceship’s food court to be like.
Ciccio Mio is a new Italian spot from the same team as Bavette’s and Gilt. It’s located right in between those two spots in River North and has the same kind of dimly-lit atmosphere and across-the-board excellent food. The menu has antipasti, pasta, and mains, and everything - from melty cheese wrapped in phyllo to the crispy chicken parmesan - is delicious. Since this place is incredibly popular, don’t expect to walk in and get a table right away unless you like eating at 5pm.
Gaijin is a new Japanese restaurant in the West Loop specializing in okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) that you’ll be thinking about for weeks after you eat them. Even though there are flat tops on the tables here, it’s not a cook-your-own experience - the griddles exist to keep the pancakes warm as you eat. Our favorites are ones topped with chicken and schmaltz, and octopus with a honey gastrique. As far as the non-okonomiyaki options on the menu, both the pork belly yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) and kakigori (shaved ice with sweetened condensed milk) need to be on the table. Gaijin’s also open for lunch, so you can come back the next day when you can’t get your mind off the fried shrimp pancake you ate for dinner.
When a restaurant has an all-over-the-place menu full of dishes like empanadas with blueberry salsa, lingonberry-glazed beef heart, and Japanese seafood pancakes, it seems unlikely that everything on it will work. But at Gadabout in Andersonville, it somehow does. Everything we’ve eaten here makes sense - even the roasted corn with black pepper mascarpone, bacon, sweet pepper vinaigrette, lima beans, and spicy cornflakes. If that combination sounds weird and complicated, that’s because it is - but it all comes together. And the space is decorated with furniture from the Brown Elephant, so it feels like you’re hanging out at a friend’s who really likes old bookcases and vintage Parcheesi boards.
This fun Latin American restaurant in Wicker Park has great food with complex flavors. We’re big fans of the chicken skewers served in a spicy huancaina, the tender roasted octopus in poblano sauce, and the yuca gnocchi with rabbit bolognese. It’s a great neighborhood spot for grabbing dinner during the week, or for a reasonably priced date night when you want to have dinner, drinks, and an argument over who gets the last tentacle.
At first glance, the menu at Good Fortune in Logan Square isn’t very exciting. It looks a little like it was created from a 2019 New American Restaurant starter kit - you’ll find ceviche, salads, roasted vegetables, some pastas, and both meat and seafood entrees. But most of it is very good (like the perfectly cooked ribeye with short rib croquettes and the black garlic rigatoni), and even when dishes fall short (like the slightly rubbery halloumi or the delicate char that’s overwhelmed by soupy carrot ponzu), the enjoyable atmosphere makes up for them. The dark space has two levels: the main level feels like a neighborhood bar, while the second floor is smaller and gives you a view of the open kitchen and its wood fired oven. It’s the kind of place where you’ll find yourself ordering an extra cocktail or a dessert just to hang out a little while longer.
Perilla took over a space that used to be a Korean BBQ restaurant, and you can still get BBQ here if you want. But we like coming to this West Loop spot for the other Korean items on the menu. The best dishes here are the rich and tender fire chicken, the cheese corn with caramelized kernels under salty cotija, and the kimchi pancake, which is one of the best we’ve eaten in Chicago. This place is ideal for date night in the neighborhood, or a casual group dinner if you do decide to go the Korean BBQ route.
The main reason to come to this Chinese restaurant in Lincoln Park is for dim sum, which they serve all day. D Cuisine has a limited selection compared to the other dim sum spots in the city, but what they have is fresh and delicious. You’ll find excellent pork buns, smooth and creamy steamed egg buns, shrimp dumplings, and sesame balls that are crispy on the outside and perfectly chewy inside. There’s a long menu of other Chinese dishes that run the gamut from noodle soups to General Tso chicken, and those are all worth having on the table, too. The space is sleek and on the smaller side (you won’t find any giant lazy Susan tables here), but it works for any small group that’s serious about its shu mai.
Superkhana is an upbeat and fun new spot in Logan Square that does fusion-y takes on Indian street food. This means you’ll find dishes like a butter-chicken-filled calzone, French fry Manchurian, and a naan pizza made with mozzarella, spinach, and garam masala. Everything tastes really good, which keeps it from coming across as unnecessary or gimmicky. Plus, there’s a cute outdoor courtyard you should definitely take advantage of.
This restaurant is from the team behind Parachute, one of our favorite restaurants in the city. Wherewithall is right down the street and has a similarly cute space and friendly atmosphere, but the style of food is way different. It’s a $65 four-course tasting menu that changes daily, with some surprise snacks in between courses. Dishes here have a variety of influences and range from cornmeal beignets to seared tuna to duck breast with cauliflower and currants. Like its sister restaurant, Wherewithall’s food is expertly prepared and delicious.
Memoir is a stall in the Richland Center food court in Chinatown featuring a build-your-own dry hot pot situation. “Build-your-own” anything might not be a likely candidate for our Hit List, but we promise the Szechuan flavors are incredible. They’ll hand you a bucket to pick what you want in your stir fry (with things like rice cakes, noodles, meat, seafood, and veggies), and whatever you hand them will come back as a delicious and perfectly cooked platter of food. You can let them know the level of heat you want, and they’ll give you some rice to balance it 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.
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. 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.