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