Best New Restaurants in Chicago 2011

22 great places to eat right now

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Stephanie Izard of The Girl & the Goat
Stephanie Izard at Girl & the Goat



Best new chef, dish, dessert, bartender, and more

Last year’s picks

When Martial Noguier told us that he was opening Bistronomic—which tops our list of 2011’s best new restaurants—he described it as a modern bistro. “You know, good food but not that complicated on the plate,” he said back in January. That breezy description could apply to any of the places on this year’s list: From Portage Park to St. Charles, everyone is doing more with less and trying awfully hard to make it look like they’re not trying. Don’t be fooled. Our story is dedicated to smart people making smart food—showstoppers like Sable Kitchen & Bar’s root-beer-glazed braised bison short-rib sliders and Davanti Enoteca’s baked focaccia filled with melty Crescenza cheese. Here, our 22 favorite new restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs. (Launch the gallery). 

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]

ARAMI (Japanese)
Chicago has never had a clear sushi king, à la Masa in Manhattan or Matsuhisa in Los Angeles. West Town’s warm and woody Arami is not in that league, but with time it could sit on the empty throne. I wouldn’t raise a fuss, not after experiencing Byung Kyu Park’s impeccable offerings, from the katsuo tataki sashimi—a superfresh seared bonito topped with a black fig—to a stunning crunchy hamachi maguro ebi (yellowtail, tuna, shrimp) wrapped in rice paper. Park puts care into nonraw items, too, like a tremendous kimchi ramen bursting with pork belly hunks and a rich short-rib donburi with pickled Asian pear. People always call good sushi “pristine,” like it’s a freshly scrubbed kitchen, but Arami embodies the philosophy, urging diners not to blight fish with soy sauce. Finally, we have reason not to. 1829 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-1535 

A nip here (white walls out, taupe in), a tuck there (tablecloths out, Plynyl in), and—voilà!—Eve is out and Bistronomic is in. Matt Fisher is still the owner, but he has a new chef/partner, Paris native Martial Noguier, and together they pulled off what must be one of the quickest redos in restaurant history—to impressive effect. But for the wraparound bar in the back (an intimate spot for charcuterie and wine), the room doesn’t look terribly different from before, yet the cozy boîte is more subtle—soothing, even. It’s a lovely place to kick back with velvety smooth cauliflower velouté or ahi tuna tartare in a clever baby Mason jar presentation or, best of all, the house-made pâté, from Noguier’s mother’s repertoire. The glazed short ribs are fall-apart fab, and the whole organic chicken for two is the juiciest bird in the most decadent sauce ever. Even an old chestnut like baked Alaska seems oh-so-right on this uncompromising bistro menu. From the Pump Room to One Sixtyblue to Café des Architectes, Martial Noguier has long been a local hero, but Bistronomic is surely his raison d’être. 840 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-944-8400 

A one-page menu with three categories: appetizers, entrées, and desserts. Inconceivable. Who dares to be so straightforward in the age of cross-cultural shared plates designed to fit every possible dining permutation? The folks behind the utterly charming Bistro One West, George Guggeis (Mango) and Doug D’Avico (Trattoria No. 10), that’s who. And, by George, it works. Guggeis runs a friendly, relaxed dining room, and D’Avico runs a creative kitchen unburdened by excessive ingredients. Take the jumbo prawns with garlic, chili threads, and shallots, for instance, or the perfectly seared swordfish in a puddle of green-onion sauce—both juicy, delectable, and deceptively simple. The mainstream wine list holds no surprises, but if you dine on the veranda along the Fox River, you really won’t care. 1 W. Illinois St., St. Charles; 630-444-0600 

Chicago Cut is one of those déjà-vuish places that feel like they’ve always existed. When it comes to steak houses, that’s a good sign: We don’t like surprises with our red meat, unless they involve a porterhouse the size of a Frisbee. Everything is in order in the bouncing space—plush crimson booths, towering riverside views, overflowing cocktails, scantily clad hostesses—and the leather-bound menu effectively covers familiar ground. I was thrilled with the Dover sole meunière and Amish brick chicken, but both took a back seat to a stunningly juicy prime bone-in rib eye with a sustaining outer layer of caramelized fat. That and a side of crusty truffled scalloped potatoes hiding a layer of crisp lardons are pure gold, and all this was before Jackie Shen (Red Light), a rare talent, took over the kitchen. Things are looking up at CCS. 300 N. LaSalle St.; 312-329-1800 

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3 years ago
Posted by rmb

Including Silom12 on this list is completely ridiculous. I recently dined there with three friends and had a horendous dining experience. We began our evening by sitting and waiting 15 minutes before being approached by a waiter. Once we were finally greeted and received water, we pulled out our BYO bottle of wine and asked our server for wine glasses. We put in our order and waited and waited and waited. Finally, the two of us who had ordered a soup and appetizer for our meal, received our food. The other members in our party were left to sit and watch us eat for at least a half hour (still no wine glasses). In addition to the completely poor service, the food was lack-luster and over-priced.

3 years ago
Posted by ChiTownDreamin

My friend and I went to Totopo after reading this article in your magazine. As the atmosphere itself is kind of generic, we had hopes that the food would "wow" us somehow. It didn't. While we were pleased with the variety offered, and the service was fine, the food was just okay. I don't feel I am out of line in calling it a more upscale version of Baja Fresh. It was good, not great. I'm honestly puzzled as to how it made it into the ranking of one of the best new restaurants in the area.

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