Launch Map
CHI

The Cool List: 12 Restaurants That Aren’t “Hot” But Are Definitely Still Cool

PHOTO: Christina Slaton

We regularly get asked about the best brand new restaurants in Chicago, as well as the all-time classics – and those categories are covered in our Hit List and Greatest Hits List.

But what about the places that get blown up for six months, until everyone decides to move on to the next shiny new thing? A lot of those places are still absolutely excellent. Let’s not allow them to become the N64 you stashed in your drawer when Playstation came out. We all remember how that went – the N64s never went away because they’re still great, particularly Mario Kart.

With that in mind, we present an updated version of The Cool List, featuring still-excellent restaurants that are no longer “hot,” but definitely still cool.

The spots

8.3
MAP

Too many people overlook this place. Maybe because it’s been around a while, maybe because it doesn’t take reservations, but most likely because it’s located on the Magnificent Mile and walking over there always seems like such a terrible idea. It’s a very good place for out-of-towners to visit while they’re in the neighborhood, but it’s also more than that - it deserves to be thought of as a destination spot, too. The Mediterranean small plates are great, and the space is lively enough that it’s always a good time. Especially when you come for dinner and sit at the bar. Which is what you should do.

Vincent

Andersonville
1475 W Balmoral Ave
8.2
MAP

It’s impossible to have a bad night at Vincent. This Andersonville spot is consistently busy, but you can still go there and feel like it’s “your” discovery - it feels casual and approachable rather than overly trendy. Go for dinner, order a bottle of wine, and share some small plates and mussels. Then be glad you aren’t paying $35 for parking, like you’d have to do downtown.

8.1
MAP

You know how sometimes a movie trailer shows so much of the film that you feel like you don’t need to go see it? That’s kind of what happened with Momotaro. The hype machine went into overdrive with this place before it even opened, but it wasn’t long before nobody seemed to care it existed anymore. So we’re here to remind you about it: this Fulton Market Japanese restaurant is a fun, sceney place with excellent sushi, plus small plates like a tomato tartare that tastes exactly like steak. Don’t let it turn into your The Last Jedi.

Gilt Bar

River North
230 W Kinzie St
7.9
MAP

There’s Au Cheval, where people can wait several hours for a burger, Bavette’s, where you need a reservation months in advance, and now Radio Anago, a no-reservations spot from the same team. But before them all, there was Gilt Bar. It opened in 2010, and is the template for the dark, speakeasy-like environment all these restaurants have in common. It’s also the first home for a few of their signature dishes, like the tenderloin steak tartare and bone marrow. Unlike the group’s newer spots, though, Gilt Bar is easy to get into - you can often just walk in. Which makes it a convenient backup, since it’s right next door to Bavette’s and Radio Anago. Skip the wait, and just plan on coming here for a change.

7.8
MAP

When it comes to new restaurants, the West Loop is like a Pez dispenser, so it’s easy to forget about the places that have been around for a few years. Don’t do that to La Sirena Clandestina. The South American food (like empanadas and moqueca) here is always good, and the small space is perfect for date night, but also upbeat enough for dinner with a few friends.

8.4
MAP

We all know that everything Rick Bayless touches is as hot as 1,000 suns, but we still want to remind you of Frontera. It’s his flagship restaurant in River North - a neighborhood second only to the West Loop when it comes to chronic new openings. Frontera still has some of Chicago’s best Mexican food, with outstanding guacamole, tacos, and moles. So next time you’re in River North and thinking of trying that new place with an eight-year-old prodigy DJ spinning during dinner, consider coming here instead.

8.0
MAP

Kitsune does Japanese cuisine using local Midwestern ingredients as much as possible. This North Center spot was incredibly popular when it opened at the beginning of 2017, but fell off the radar when other new places popped onto the scene. But the food, like the ramen with housemade ramp noodles, gyoza in a duck broth, and yuzu cheesecake, is still fantastic. Come for date night or dinner with a friend.

8.2
MAP

Many of the upscale spots in River North are steakhouses, making them easy default choices when we want to go somewhere nice for dinner in the neighborhood. But there’s also Shaw’s Crab House, which is basically a steakhouse for seafood. It has big red booths, white tablecloths, and servers in jackets. You can’t go wrong with any of the oyster, fish, or crab dishes here, and if you want something less fancy, hit up the oyster bar section next to the main dining room, where you’ll find bar seating and high-top tables - perfect for drinks and a casual dinner.

Nico Osteria

Gold Coast
1015 N Rush St
8.0
MAP

When Nico Osteria opened up in the Gold Coast, it was accepted right away. It’s from the same group that owns The Publican and Avec, so it was basically treated like the restaurant version of a Princeton legacy admission. We weren’t that impressed with the original version of Nico, but since opening it has only gotten better - same owners, but with a new chef and menu. We’ve rediscovered it, and you should, too.

Photo: Sandy Noto

Boka

Lincoln Park
1729 N Halsted St

Boka is owned by the same people who run Girl & the Goat, Bellemore, and Somerset. All of which have had their moments in the spotlight. But Boka was here first, and shouldn’t be passed over for the more recent spots. This Lincoln Park restaurant is perfect for special occasions. It feels fancy, but not in an old-school way - the best way we can describe it is to say that you kind of feel like you’re eating in a hedge maze, or a rabbit patch. The food is modern American, and always impressive. Even something as awful-sounding as turnip soup is memorable here.

8.5
MAP

When Boeufhaus appeared in West Town, everyone was excited, since it was different from a typical Chicago steakhouse. It’s more of a neighborhood tavern, but with steaks as good as anything you’d eat downtown - and it’s the kind of place you’d visit with a small group of friends or a date, not your corporate card. It’s a worthwhile destination that needs to stay in your rotation if you’re looking for steak but don’t want the usual suspects.

7.8
MAP

When’s the last time you ate here? It’s understandable if it’s been a while - after all, River North does have about 58 new restaurant openings a week. But you shouldn’t forget about GT Fish & Oyster. This seafood-small-plates spot is casual enough for a weeknight date, but nice enough for a work lunch, too. The menu changes often, but they always have their oyster po’boy sliders (a must order), clam chowder (another must order) and some kind of fish taco (again - order it).

More CHI... Find Restaurants
You'll need a better browser for that!
Upgrade to Chrome and start finding Restaurants.