There were a lot of new restaurants that opened this year. Like, a lot, a lot. It feels like half of them opened within the last few weeks, so we’re going to let some settle in before we consider them for best new 2016 accolades. Randolph Street got a slew of new restaurants, which is no surprise, but there were also some hidden gems that popped up in neighborhoods you wouldn’t expect them to.
From casual ramen, to new-age steakhouses, to the sexiest cafe ever in a 54,000 square foot furniture store that we’re still coming to terms with, 2015 was a good year. But like everything in life, some are better than others, and a few in particular deserve the highest praise.
These are the best new Chicago restaurants of 2015. Either you had a good year eating, or you know where to start in 2016.
Watch out Randolph St., because the new West Loop hotness is a couple blocks south on Madison. Monteverde is just starting to hit its stride, but you’re already missing out if you haven’t found your way there yet. The pastas are all homemade and second to none, and the ragu entree with pasta, sausage, soppressata meatballs, and a pork shank for $34 is a steal. Seriously, we feel like we’re stealing. Stay tuned for the full review tomorrow where we’ll break it down in detail.
Fact #1: Chicago is not known for its crab boils. Fact #2: The stretch of Lincoln Ave. near Bryn Mawr Ave. isn’t known for much of anything. But that all changed when The Angry Crab decided to open its doors with a concept as electrifying as Hulk Hogan entering the ring to the tune of “I Am A Real American.” This style of eating may be common in other parts of the country, but nowhere else in Chicago can you get a sh*t ton of seafood that’s heavily seasoned, sauced, and buttered in a plastic bag. It’s messy, delicious, and we love it.
We want more cool restaurants in unsuspecting neighborhoods on unsuspecting streets, and Boeufhaus is leading the way. You don’t expect to see a high-end restaurant like this on Western in Ukrainian Village, but that’s why it works so well. It’s partially a steakhouse, in the sense that the menu is highlighted by a “boeuf” section, but it’s also much more than that. The space is small, dark, and unassuming, with brick walls and loud music all night long. At least one steak should be required, but experiment with the rest of the menu from there. Short rib beignets? Yes, please.
Speaking of steakhouses, 2015 has been the year of the new Chicago steakhouse. We didn’t expect it, but suddenly there are a whole slew of them. We’re also not complaining, because Prime & Provisions is proof of how a modern yet traditional-styled Chicago steakhouse can be excellent in its own right. The Loop space just off the river has a welcoming feel that attracts businessman, friends, families, and people on dates alike.
The Duck Inn put Bridgeport on the map for destination dining. You can come hang in the front bar area with cocktails and elevated bar snacks, but what makes this place great is the more intimate dining room in the back. The space is small, but it’s a lively and cool place to hang that’s all capped off by impressive food. The rotisserie duck is a must.
Perhaps no restaurant caught us more off-guard this year than Pub Royale. And unless this is your first introduction to The Infatuation, you’ve probably heard that more than once. But we’re here to spread the gospel of this Anglo-Indian restaurant that combines English bar culture with Indian-inspired food. You won’t find the Holy Grail here, but we imagine the six different variations of Pimm’s Cup cocktails are as exciting as the real thing.
In reality, Intro has the potential to be one of the best new restaurants every year. That’s because this concept from the Lettuce Entertain You team revolves around a constantly changing chef and menu. It’s basically musical chairs, restaurant edition – a visiting chef comes in to do their thing for a couple months before getting kicked out for a new face. Despite the turnover, you can always count on Intro being good no matter who is in the kitchen.
Looking for the next cool sandwich joint you need to hit? Wyler Road is it. This isn’t just a grab-and-go spot, either – during the day, it has quality cafe vibes with plenty of free wifi and space to spread out. At night, trade the wifi for a couple of beers. The sandwiches are complex, ranging from light-ish, like the smoked salmon on rye with old bay cream cheese and onion jam, to heavy-duty, like the rib eye with onion rings and chimichurri on challah brioche. All around, Wyler Road is a low-key but excellent Logan Square hang.
On the quieter, western side of River North, Bernie’s dubs itself an upscale Mediterranean restaurant. We’re not sure we buy the Mediterranean description, but we don’t really care, because the lamb hashwi, pork confit, seafood paella, and cheeseburger highlight an overall great menu. Mediterranean? Debatable. But there’s no doubt you’ll like what you eat.
We want to hate ourselves for loving the 3 Arts Cafe inside the new five-story Restoration Hardware store, but there’s nothing we can do but completely embrace it. The space alone is impressive – it’s a giant atrium with a glass ceiling, couches, and a water fountain underneath a giant crystal chandelier. But the space isn’t just a show piece, because the food is the real deal. 3 Arts is best utilized for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, but you can hit it for an early dinner and drinks too.
We know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct – the Chicago Athletic Association is not a restaurant. But hear us out. The revamped hotel houses a great new restaurant, Cherry Circle Room, with an old-school dining room and Mad Men vibes thanks to all the dark wood and whisky. Alone, this could be considered one of the best new restaurants of 2015. But it’s really a package deal with Cindy’s, the hotel’s rooftop bar with beautiful views over Michigan Avenue, Lake Michigan, and Millennium Park. The combination of the two spots is one of the best new things that happened to Chicago in 2015, and if you’re not convinced, there’s a Shake Shack on the ground level for good measure.