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 12/10/18): Bar Sotano, Aster Hall, Luella’s Gospel Bird
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.
If you live near Portage Park, you’re lucky, because you’re that much closer to Frunchroom - a small, counter-service spot serving a variety of different types of comfort food. The menu has everything from pasta to matzo ball soup to smoked chicken to hummus with housemade pita bread, and it all tastes like it was put together by a friend who really loves to cook and also happens to be very good at it. So it’s the perfect place to catch up with that other friend who is a terrible cook but still likes to eat delicious food. And FYI, it’s BYOB.
Bakeries don’t often appear on our Hit List, but Lost Larson in Andersonville more than deserves this spot. The bread here (made with house-milled grain) is fantastic, as are the pastries, and you can also sit down for a quick meal - we particularly like the toasts, including avocado and one with turkey and havarti. It’s a counter-service operation, so place your order and get a seat on their fenced-in patio, which feels like someone’s backyard. Come here for breakfast or lunch, and buy a loaf of bread to take home - or eat in the car.
3 Squares is an upscale diner in Uptown with comfortable booths and a long counter that’s perfect for dining solo. You can get dishes like omelettes, chicken and waffles, and a Chicago pastrami “dog” (a pastrami sandwich dressed like a classic Chicago hot dog). Breakfast is served all day, so if you’re a breakfast-for-dinner person, you’ll be particularly happy here.
Passerotto is a very likeable Korean restaurant in Andersonville from a former chef at Snaggletooth (which closed last year). The space is charming - small, and decorated with cute prints of French bulldogs and cats - and the service is friendly. The short menu features some small plates of raw fish, a few types of noodles, and two larger-format share dishes (kalbi and clams with tofu), both of which come with banchan. Everything is fresh, delicious, and thoughtfully prepared. In fact, we’re glad the menu is so short, because it makes it easy to order basically all of it and avoid any FOMO.
Wrigleyville is certainly having a moment when it comes to new restaurants. This is mainly because of the Zachary Hotel, and the roughly 76 new spots attached to it. Dutch & Docs, an all-day brasserie from the same people who own the steakhouse Swift & Sons, is one of those spots, and this place serves the same high-quality, well-prepared steaks as its sister restaurant. There are also housemade pastas (like pappardelle with beef and pork ragu) and bar snacks like fried giardiniera. It’s basically an upscale sports bar, and even has a view of the stadium. Come here on game days with a group, or for a casual weeknight dinner in Wrigleyville - something that until recently didn’t seem like a very good idea.
Pacific Standard Time is a Big Chicago Opening - in other words, it’s from a well-known chef (who used to work at Avec and Nico Osteria), it’s in River North, the space is massive, and it’s hard to get a reservation unless you want to eat on a Monday at 5pm. That being said, it’s a good restaurant. There’s a range of broadly “California-inspired” dishes, from salads to wood-fired pizzas to entrees like pork shoulder in a ramen broth. Everything tastes good and is well prepared, and the whole place is enjoyably upbeat. Just know that it can get pretty loud and crowded - so if that doesn’t appeal to you, consider booking that 5pm Monday reservation after all.
On the weekend and on weeknights, The Loop can feel like a deserted scene from I Am Legend, in part because there aren’t a lot of destination restaurants worth sticking around for after work. But Fisk & Co, a new spot in the Hotel Monaco, is changing that. Their specialty is mussels, and you can get them served in a variety of different broths (like white wine or green curry). The rest of their menu is seafood-focused as well, with raw bar selections and entrees like a prosciutto-wrapped bass. It’s a great option for a casual dinner with friends, or a meal by yourself at the bar.
A Lincoln Square spot from the same people who own Gather. The food here is new American with some Asian influences, and across the board, everything we’ve tried has been good. You’ll find a lot of vegetable dishes (like a ponzu glazed crispy cauliflower), housemade pastas (their whole wheat cacio e pepe in particular is worth ordering), and traditional entrees like roasted chicken and a cheeseburger. Plus, they have a skillet cookie that’s worth a trip on its own, not to mention a large bar area that’s perfect for eating it.
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.
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.