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 2/11/19): Landbirds, Althea
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. Brothers And Sisters 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 lamb meatballs, 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.
Chicago loves putting restaurants in alleys. Maybe because (unlike New York, where garbage is proudly displayed on the street) we just have so many of them. Bar Sotano is a cocktail bar in the alley behind Frontera Grill, and it’s owned by the same team. So it’s not surprising that the Mexican food here is great. The menu has a mix of bar snacks (like habanero-glazed fried chicken bites), plus entrees like a burger and a wagyu steak with pureed sunchoke. Which is probably one of the best steaks you’ll have the chance to eat in an alley.
It’s not quite clear at what point we decided to charge more money for food courts and call them “food halls,” but it probably doesn’t matter, since generally speaking, food halls seem to have better food. That’s definitely the case at Aster Hall, a new food hall inside the 900 N. Michigan building. It’s from the same group that owns Au Cheval, and it has 16 different places to eat and drink, including outposts of 3 Greens Market, Green Street Smoked Meats, and Small Cheval. The food is high-quality and reasonably priced - which is useful, because if you’re in this neighborhood, you’re probably spending a lot of money on something already. As a bonus, the upstairs area has a very nice view and is great for getting some work done.
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.
Omakase Takeya is a very small, very quiet sushi bar in the basement of Ramen Takeya, a very busy, very loud ramen shop in the West Loop. Coming here is something you’ll definitely need to plan for - there are only seven seats, with two seatings a night, and the omakase is not cheap ($130 for 16 courses). But you won’t regret your decision. The constantly-changing menu of nigiri and Japanese small plates is fantastic, to the point that after the omakase is finished, you’ll probably want to order more sushi a la carte, even though you’ll be full.
This is the most understated of Chicago’s three new omakase-only sushi spots, but it’s still very much worth visiting. The space is simple, the atmosphere is quiet, and while there’s nothing too unusual on the menu, all of the sushi is expertly prepared. For $130 you get around 16 courses, and you probably won’t be full by the end, so plan to make use of the a la carte menu after that. Dinner here will be enjoyable, and watching the chef expertly slice fish will remind you why you never bothered trying out for Masterchef last year.
This Wicker Park cocktail spot is hidden behind a little record shop - and while you can actually buy records there if you want, you should go in and tell them you’re looking for Dorian’s. They’ll let you into the bar at the back, which is loud (in a good way) and full of people who seem like they’ve already been there for hours. There are plenty of tables and comfy seats, and the short food menu has a collection of great Asian and Indian small plates, like a short rib banh mi and a delicious pork belly larb. This is the kind of place where you can easily end up spending your entire night, whether you meant to or not.
Wicker Park doesn’t have that many places where you can bring everyone from a toddler to a group of coworkers, and also eat some really good food. But now there’s Etta. This place serves delicious housemade pastas and pizzas, plus other dishes (like vegetables and pork shoulder) made in a wood-fired hearth. Inside, there are lots of booths and round tables that are perfect for groups, and overall it’s great for a special weeknight dinner - even one that happens to involve a high chair.
Good Measure feels different from all the big, tourist-filled spots in River North where DJs blast music all night - it’s a kind-of-divey bar with rockabilly skeletons and neon red lights instead of disco balls. But the atmosphere isn’t the only thing that makes this place stand out. There’s also an interesting menu of great bar food, ranging from Nashville hot fried duck livers to sunflower hummus to a fantastic cheeseburger with foie gras sauteed onions. This is the kind of spot that will make you immediately forget about the five bachelorette parties you passed by on your way here.