A lot of restaurants have opened in Chicago over the past year, and despite the buzz and press surrounding so many of them, most are mediocre. Not the seven listed here. These are the kind of places that make all our hard research (i.e., eating approximately one million small plates) worth it - they’re the new favorites we’re always hoping to find.
Our 2017 list includes two pizza places (one brand new, one a reopened classic), an Indian restaurant with an incredibly friendly atmosphere, and a Mexican small plates spot we’d go to any day of the week. There’s a Scandinavian tasting menu you should try, some downtown-quality food in an unpretentious Edgewater wine bar, and, last but definitely not least, a Gold Coast restaurant that’s already one of our all-time favorites in Chicago, period. Needless to say, we think you should try them all.
Somerset, in the Gold Coast, isn’t just one of Chicago’s best new restaurants. It is the best new restaurant of 2017. Everything on the menu here is outstanding, and consistently so. The beet tartare, for instance, made of smoked beets with yogurt and gouda cheese, is so good it rivals any tartare (of any kind) you’ll eat. The squid ink chitarra pasta is one of the best things we ate all year, and entrees like venison and halibut are also 100% worth your time. This place is large, with fancy art deco lighting, nautical touches, and an open kitchen in the back, and it feels like a spot for a special occasion - but as far as we’re concerned, a meal here is a special occasion in itself.
You can come to Elske in the West Loop and order a la carte, but we endorse the eight-course tasting menu option. At $85, it’s less expensive than some other well-known tasting menus in the city, and it’s the best way to try a variety of the kitchen’s excellent Scandinavian dishes. Without it, you might never discover that a “tea of lightly smoked fruits and vegetables” is a great way to start a meal, or that chicken thighs and scrambled eggs are something you should eat for dinner. The indoor space is bright and airy, and the outdoor area with a fireplace is perfect for drinks before or after dinner. It’s a great new upscale option when you don’t want a pull-out-every-single-stop spot like Next or Alinea, but still want to eat a special meal.
Bebu is already our favorite thin crust pizza place in the city. We like both the classic pies (one is actually named “Ode to Rubirosa” after the excellent NYC spot) and the more creative ones (the littleneck clam and meatball pies are standouts), and fortunately, you can order your pizzas half and half. The crust is the real star here, and it’s the right balance of crispy and chewy - a perfect vehicle for toppings of all kinds. Bebu is in an area of Lincoln Park that’s full of chain stores and often overlooked, but it’s definitely worth braving the Forever 21/Apple Store masses to get there. In a city overflowing with pizza choices, this place fills a void we didn’t even know existed.
Every time we eat at this small-plates Mexican spot in Logan Square, we like it more. You can get tacos or a burrito here, but it would be a waste - not because they’re bad (far from it), but because there are so many more interesting things to try. Like guisado de nopalitos (a cactus stew), or a fideo pasta dish with crab and egg we consider one of the year’s food highlights. You’ll want to stay in the lively, welcoming space for as long as possible - and in the summer, if you get a seat on the patio, you’ll have an even harder time leaving. Luckily, the servers here are so nice, they’d probably never kick you out.
The people behind this place in Edgewater are clearly very passionate about their food, and want to make you love it as much as they do. They succeed. Come to Mango Pickle for “contemporary Indian” in a fun, brightly-decorated environment. Classic dishes are made modern with seasonal ingredients (preparations of menu staples like the samosa change regularly, but are consistently good), and the chana masala is one of the best we’ve had anywhere. You should put this place in your rotation immediately - but make sure you only come with people you really like, because it would be almost criminal to eat here and not enjoy yourself.
This is technically one of the best re-openings of 2017, since the original Burt’s opened in 1989 and closed in 2014, not long before owner Burt Katz passed away. It’s under new management, but still serves the same cult favorite pan-style deep dish pizza with a caramelized crust - just like Pequod’s, but with a sweeter sauce. We couldn’t be happier to say that it’s actually better than ever, with a full bar, a huge patio, and the same outstanding pies.
When you first try the European small plates from Income Tax - like the flammenkuchen (a savory German tart), or carrot agnolotti - you might forget that you’re in Edgewater, not at a fancy restaurant downtown. If this place were in a trendier area, you’d definitely have to pay at least twice as much for the excellent food (not to mention the parking), but since it’s not, it’s one of the best flavor-for-value deals in town. It’s the ideal neighborhood spot: one with excellent food, but a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere that’s just as good for a solo bar meal as it is for a date.