Best New Restaurants

Chicago’s crack team of dining critics eat themselves silly and rank the top spots to open in the past 12 months



Above: The scene at Tavernita

Chicago’s 20 Best New Restaurants

Chicago’s crack team of dining critics eat themselves silly and rank the top spots to open in the past 12 months.

by Carly Boers, Penny Pollack, and Jeff Ruby
photography by Anna Knott

Someone recently asked us how much the average entrée costs at Telegraph. We were stumped by the question. Entrée? Who serves entrées anymore? In fact, the words “appetizer” and “entrée,” those suddenly embarrassing relics of the past, do not appear anywhere on the menus of our top 20 newcomers. Lincoln Park’s Rustic House flirts with but deftly avoids the dirty words, opting instead for “starters” and “mains.”

But calling small plates a trend misses the point entirely. Small plates are not a trend or even a movement. They’re the new reality. It’s as if all the restaurateurs in Chicago privately agreed on the terms of the sea change and are sweeping the rest of us into the water along with them. The new restaurants that don’t mix and match sizes and courses serve prix fixe menus–most notably Lincoln Square’s dazzling Goosefoot–but go BYO to make that old French tradition more inclusive. (Then there’s Next, which takes tickets instead of reservations, freely travels across time, and exists in its own solar system.) The vibe today is of a tasting party, with forks flashing, drinks flowing, and the barrier between chefs and diners often stripped away. At EL Ideas in Douglas Park, you’re encouraged to go back to the kitchen and do prep work. Especially if you bring a six-pack.

Menus simply don’t exist as they once did, in that predictable procession from small to large to sweet. The explosion and embrace of cicchetti, pintxos, yakitori, crudos, and bar snacks of all stripes enables restaurants to change the way they offer food. Our definitive list of the 20 best restaurants to have opened since last April, which we have ranked in descending order, reflects–and celebrates–these changes. (You’ll notice that most of them do not appear on our Dine list of recommended restaurants; we make repeat visits over time before considering a restaurant for inclusion.) As always, we sought out the places that innovate, thrill, welcome, and, of course, serve damn good food, whether a sleek noodle shop Slurping Turtle), an Italian bar (Ombra), or a mod diner (Au Cheval). In 2012, the plates may be small, but the flavors and ideas keep getting bigger.

First up: Goosefoot



2 years ago
Posted by kristainchicago

I'm tired of small plates. I just want a large one.

Also, "starters" and "mains" is borrowed from British English, where a starter is an appetizer and a main is an entree.

2 years ago
Posted by Ducasse

The past year in the Chicago dining year has been troubling for the advancement of Chicago in the culinary world. Your list has some very weak choices. Tavernita and Bar Toma are mediocre and should never be on a best of list. Telegraphs food is middle of the road, the portions are small and everything is served atop a piece of baguette. Perennial virant although I enjoy his use of local ingredients and pickling falls short in flavor and plate presentation. It seems that chefs in Chicago are looking at each others menu for inspiration. Avec, girl and the goat, telegraph , Bristol , purple pig, telegraph, publican all have similar menus and concepts. In order for Chicago to move forward in the culinary world chefs will have to be bold, take risks and not forget the salt.

2 years ago
Posted by MSNGUYEN

Well said Ducasse.

2 years ago
Posted by ralapati

Agreed, Ducasse. And, it wouldn't hurt for someone to go out on a limb and ditch the "Mediterranean Small Plate" concept for something a little edgier and perhaps out of Western Europe?? How about doing something interesting with Asian cuisines (like Ruxbin) or dare we experiment with Caribbean or African fare? It wouldn't hurt for Chicago to think a little more broadly or globally!

2 years ago
Posted by jay23452345

Small plates have way outlasted their welcome. Sometimes it's nice to be able to sample a number of different dishes - assuming a menu is interesting enough that you want to sample 3-5 dishes (and I generally find that challenging). Sometimes, I'd just like to order a full size portion of what I want. Sharing small plates with a large group results in having to eat things you don't really want and limiting your portion of the items you most want - which lessens the overall experience. And a lot of restaurants have gotten to the point where they just ship out whatever dish comes up first with no logic. I ate at publican not too long ago where our order of (raw) oysters was delivered after we had at least one larger hot dish. The small plate concept has gotten old and boring.

2 years ago
Posted by clokwurk

Diners who have become cold to "Family Style" dining have outlasted their welcome. The menus throughout Chicago are more than interesting and if you simply want a "full size order of what you want" then there are plenty of chain restaurants begging for your busuiness. One should go to Publican with an open mind and not with a "I could only find 3 things on the menu" mentality." You are not wired for places like the Publican. You would easily fit in to a J. Alexander or Red Lobster. Shovel the one-dimensional food in your small-town mouth and grin. Thanks for your one-dimensional feedback.

2 years ago
Posted by Lauren N.

I completely disagree with Goosefoot at #1. They have only been open since December vs Next a full year and my experience there was horrific. 2 1/2 hours to dine (one hour longer than our neighbor) + an allergic reaction that ended the dinner. They *kindly* took care of our tab after causing my husband to stay up for the next 12 hours ailing his reaction that hundreds of restaurants have accomodated. This is NOT the best new restaurant and certainly has not achieved what Next has in the last year.

2 years ago
Posted by hadrian

I thought that Goosefoot and Next absolutely deserve to be on the list. They do rise above the ordinary even if they might sometimes deliver a negative experience (I am sorry Lauren had a bad experience and I know that can happen).
But I absolutely agree that some cuisines and styles are way overdone, particularly Italian and Mediterranean (which usually is a way to disguise Italian, also aka big mark ups). Bar Toma is not in the category of a best new restaurant. And fortunately RPM Modern Italian is not in the list after taking over a perfectly interesting Chinese restaurant). Of all the famous cuisines, Italian seems the most static, probably because they end up relying on the same few popular flavors, whether it is called "new", Tuscan, Northern or whatever. There are of course exceptions. It can be a marvelous cuisine.
And yes, we should think more globally, African, Asian, even lesser known European...
However, that being said there are many fine new restaurants on this list and I think their food critics have good insights on these restaurants.

2 years ago
Posted by FlyingSnow

Well said Clokwurk. Well said. And to add to that- anyone who has a problem with Avec, or Girl & the Goat, OR who thinks that Publican & PQM is ANYTHING like the other restaurants needs to get their head screwed on straight.

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