Best New Restaurants in Chicago 2011

22 great places to eat right now

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PRICE KEY: ¢ $10 to $19  $ $20 to $29   $$ $30 to $39  $$$ $40 to $49   $$$$ $50-plus
[Cost per person for dinner, excluding wine, tax, or tip]

RUXBIN KITCHEN (American)
[$$]
Apart from the awkward name, there’s not much to criticize about this little Noble Square BYO. The space, which cleverly repurposes old church pews, leather jackets, and seat belts, has so much going for it, it can barely contain all the good vibes that emanate within. First there’s that magnificent aroma, which turns out to be terrific house-cut garlic french fries with chipotle aïoli. Then there are the imaginative dishes, like a delicate dill-toned eggplant with an irresistible medley of roasted beets, chunky cucumber strips, and a honey-cardamom yogurt. Heck, customers went so nuts last fall for Edward Kim’s roasted chicken and cumin-Cheddar waffles that the entire staff got sick of poultry and 86ed it from the menu forever. I hope the dazzling panna cotta with litchi, lime zest, and toasted coconut doesn’t suffer the same fate. 851 N. Ashland Ave.; 312-624-8509 

[BEST NEW BARTENDER]
SABLE KITCHEN & BAR (American)
[$]
“We think you should have a shareable plate in one hand and a cocktail in the other,” gushes our waiter at Sable. Yeah, you and every other joint in town, pal. Sable may not look special, but it is, partially because Heather Terhune (Atwood Cafe) understands American comfort food enough to experiment without ruining the classics. She enlivens her braised bison short-rib sliders with a root-beer glaze and tops each deviled egg with a black trumpet mushroom crisp. The menu is packed with accessible, affordable little treats, such as nibbles of corned beef Reuben strudel with homemade Thousand Island dressing—you get the familiar flavor without gorging yourself on a whole Reuben. Sable’s space is a mysterious cross between cozy-hearthy and hotel-corporate, but one Sazerac, custom-made with rare skill by Mike Ryan, and you’re a lot more forgiving. Hotel Palomar, 505 N. State St.; 312-755-9704 

[BEST NEW DESSERT]
SAIGON SISTERS (Vietnamese)
[$]
 “We grew up watching my mom,” says Mary Nguyen Aregoni, one of the Saigon sisters. “She was an entrepreneur back in Vietnam. She and my grandmother were always selling in the market. They were food distributors. They were bankers. They were fishmongers.” Perhaps that explains how Aregoni and her sister, Theresa Nguyen, had the smarts and the moxie to leave corporate America, hire Matt Eversman (May Street Market, Charlie Trotter’s) as their chef, and launch a funky urban café under the el tracks on Lake Street. From the perky banh bao (steamed buns) to the chichi sashimi-style Arctic char, Saigon Sisters has it down. Red quinoa on caramelized fennel is a revelation, and che—a warm custard made with butternut squash and coconut milk—is the year’s best new dessert. It all costs a bit more than you might expect, but we doubt you’ll mind. 567 W. Lake St.; 312-496-0090 

SILOM12 (Thai)
[$$]
Beyond Arun’s, not many Thai restaurants in Chicago exhibit much ambition beyond replicating the noodles their owners recall from the streets of Bangkok. Silom12, the sharp BYO (for now) in the longtime Cafe Matou space, has bigger ideas. (Just try to find another osso buco with green curry and young chili peppers in this town.) Changing up the typical som tam papaya salad, Silom deep-fries papaya threads and serves them over blanched green beans, dried shrimp, and other fun stuff. Addictive. The goofily named Thai-Coon is a Technicolor coup of cooked shrimp, soft crabmeat, and fried eggplant on jasmine rice, with an outstanding spicy garlic-basil sauce. The kitchen knows when to leave well enough alone, as with the ideal tom kar gai broth swimming with chicken and fresh lemongrass slivers. Even desserts, Thai food’s usual Achilles’ heel, are pretty good. 1846–48 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-489-1212 

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