Of the 17 spots on this year’s list of best new restaurants—the most promising, innovative newcomers setting the pace in a world-class dining city—guess how many have tablecloths. Ten, you say? Eight? Five?
Try three: Nico Osteria, Brindille, and Baffo. Once the most obvious indicator of an “important” establishment with grown-up food where you had to keep your voice down and your elbows off the table, the tablecloth has largely gone the way of tape decks and rotary phones. Customers today are too busy eating and drinking better than ever to recognize, much less lament, the loss.
If this year’s eclectic group proves anything, it’s that dining out is fun again. (And before you protest, Nico, Brindille, and Baffo are plenty of fun too.) Wear jeans, trade plates, take pictures: Anything short of nudity goes these days. The winners reflect these profound changes and the ever-evolving definition of a restaurant. It can be an interactive dinner party where you high-five the chef (42 Grams) or a butcher shop/deli counter/party room (Chop Shop). It can be anywhere from Uptown to Hyde Park. But it’s most likely in River North, Chicago’s evergreen restaurant mecca, which wound up being home of six establishments on this list.
From March 1, 2013, through February 28, 2014, we ate 317 meals at 61 of the most promising new restaurants spanning the entire six-county Chicago metro area. These are the ones that rose to the top. Even the best are still works in progress, sharpening every day. Only if they prove their mettle over time will they earn a spot in our hallowed dining guide. Meanwhile, feel free to put your elbows—and your fork, for that matter—wherever you want.