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]

GIRL & THE GOAT (American)
[$$]
The passage of time has neutralized our desperate crush on Stephanie Izard enough that we can finally assess her exhilarating restaurant with a clear eye. And you know what? If the kitchen were run by the goat rather than the girl, we’d still be into it. Whether carnivorous (silken pork liver mousseline with tangy cherry mustarda and pickled cauliflower), vegetarian (pan-fried green beans with cashews and Dijon-garlic-soy aïoli), or sweet (frozen corn nougat with plum, apricot, and bacon nubs), the food is luscious across the board. Even breads, such as a focaccia-like homemade stecca brushed with anchovy oil, ignite fireworks of flavor. Izard keeps changing up the menu, dabbling here and there with ingredients, but most anything that comes from her open kitchen and lands on your chunky wood table is a declaration: The girl’s still got it. 809 W. Randolph St.; 312-492-6262 

HENRI (French)
[$$$$]
With all the time and capital poured into Henri, the place ought to be great. Instead, it’s merely good, which makes Billy Lawless’s companion to The Gage next door a sort of tragic hero. The “vintage salon” looks terrific, like an elegant shindig thick with crystal and silk, and the food, while never quite living up to the promise or the prices, gets plenty right. Lobster Wellington with foie gras, escargots Bourgogne, whole roasted loup de mer stuffed with fennel and arugula—all gorgeous, filling, and first-rate. A Hawaiian tuna crudo in a creamy salted-pineapple vinaigrette proves the kitchen can do modern, too. Apart from the clever elixir cocktails and biodynamic wines, Henri is not especially trendy nor does it aim to be. In 2011, that in itself is kind of cool. 18 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-578-0763 

LEOPOLD (Belgian-inspired Gastropub)
[$]
Trends are tricky. A new one seems like such a good idea—for about a minute and a half. Next thing you know, there’s a gastropub on every corner, and you’re bored out of your gourd with small plates, charcuterie, and craft beers. But the folks behind Leopold—Christy and Don Agee (Witts)—had already immersed themselves in Belgian beers, so a hop over the English Channel for a matching menu seemed in order. The result: plenty of fresh moules and frites, zingy steak tartare, and savory smoked rabbit to go with the happy sound of clinking glasses topped off with Belgian-style Ommegang, plus fun and crispy mini Belgian waffles for dessert. Don’t quite know where the poutine fits in, unless the Agees’ next project is going to be called Trudeau. 1450 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-348-1028 

LILLIE’S Q (Barbecue)
[$]
Someone once told me that the best barbecue joints burn down every few years. If that’s true, someone better get Engine 35 on speed dial, because Lillie’s, the best in show from Chicago’s barbecuepalooza of 2010, is bound to go up in flames sooner or later. Wonderful down-home bites like fried pickles and bacon-studded stone-ground grits are great foreplay (and sideplay) for the kind of smoky baby backs of which legends are made. Charcoal and peachwood from Charlie McKenna’s custom-built D.W.’s Kountry Cookers soak into beautifully crusted pork, just as they do the impeccable pulled chicken and limber tri-tip. Now that it has survived its frenzied opening and every knotty pine table is still piled high with ribs and drowning in craft beers, Lillie’s is ready to take its place among Chicago’s barbecue greats. 1856 W. North Ave.; 773-772-5500 

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