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]

MASTRO’S STEAKHOUSE (American, Steaks)
[$$$$]
At this dark multistory beef orgy, you can hear Tom Linsk’s ivory-tinkling everywhere from the martini-drenched piano bar to the bathrooms. Regardless of what song is playing, the message is clear: The good times roll at Mastro’s. I have my issues with the willfully hedonistic slant. (Live six-pound Maine lobsters? Bathroom attendant? Shoestring-fry mountain overflowing all the way to the next table? Check, check, and check, please.) But there’s a lot to recommend here, like a surprisingly good tuna tartare drizzled with togarashi sauce on crushed won ton crisps, a damn fine rack of lamb, and an absurdly large “chef cut” rib-eye chop sporting a respectable char on a 400-degree plate sizzling with clarified butter. One bite of wonderful, crumbly homemade pecan pie and Linsk’s version of “New York State of Mind” starts to sound pretty good. 520 N. Dearborn St.; 312-521-5100 

MAUDE’S LIQUOR BAR (French)
[$$]
“We are not looking to reinvent the wheel,” Jeff Pikus, the chef at Maude’s, told the blog Eater Chicago before the place opened. “What we are concerned with is how to make a really good wheel.” The wheel in question—the French bistro—has plenty of miles on it, and Maude’s appears to stick to the formula with its subway tiles and weathered farmhouse tables. But Pikus (Alinea) does fresh, affordable takes on bouchot mussels, buttery escargot, and pommes frites cooked in pork fat, and he knows how to deliver a knockout steak, as in the charred-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside boneless rib eye sprinkled with garlic salt. This being 2011, the proceedings include promising craft beers and throwback cocktails, but also surprises, like a victorious table-size crème brûlée done the traditional way, using a hot iron rather than a blowtorch. The wheel keeps rolling. 840 W. Randolph St.; 312-243-9712 

THE PORTAGE (American)
[$]
If I were a member of that curious breed masochistic enough to open a restaurant right now, I’d follow The Portage’s formula. Pick a neighborhood yearning for good food. Find a space with a back patio and make it beautiful. Inside, build a granite-topped bar, put a flat-screen behind it, and serve fine microbrews from Dogfish Head and North Coast. Add endearing touches like a take-one, leave-one library. Get a smart, energetic chef like Jeff Brantley (Tizi Melloul), who knows his way around crowd pleasers like boneless fried chicken, juicy Kobe burgers, and exceptional duck-fat french fries with multiple dipping sauces. Don’t overthink the menu: nothing more upscale than beer-braised short ribs and warm homemade apple pie. Be nice and learn the names of your customers, because they’ll be back—with their friends. 3938 N. Central Ave.; 773-853-0779 

REDD HERRING (American)
[$]
In this era of specialization, there’s something daring about Redd Herring’s democratic attitude. The décor tilts urban (but not urbane)—brick walls, subway tiles, low acoustic-tiled ceiling—and Roger Herring (Socca) and David Gollan (Spiaggia) have loaded their menu with straight-up comfort food without any twists, thank you. As such, the simple-pleasure seekers among us can enjoy a scallop wrapped in crisp pork belly, ale-steamed mussels, and an Allen Brothers filet while our kids devour Niman Ranch hot dogs. Meanwhile, expertly grilled wild salmon with a yummy hash of onions, potatoes, and bacon could hold its own in any la-di-da downtown spot. During dessert, a funny thing happened at my table: All the adults stole tufts of cotton candy off the kids’ giant pastel puffs. Such are the joys of a family restaurant that’s actually good. 31 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-908-7295 

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