Lula Cafe

Spring salad with wild watercress Photos: Jeff Marini If one were to judge a restaurant by how gracefully it grows, Lula would have four stars. What began in 1999 as a modest, friendly café on a gritty block in an even grittier part of town has evolved into something much bigger: a symbol. Not just … Read more


Agnolotti with ramps and Calabrian chile Photos: Jeff Marini Ah, Spiaggia. Is any restaurant in Chicago more irritatingly perfect? Tony Mantuano’s Italian bastion holds fast on the corner of Chicago’s two poshest streets, enjoying annual James Beard love, boasting a Top Chef winner in the kitchen (executive chef Joe Flamm), and benefiting from the deep … Read more


Peaches in Cream Photo: Anna Knott Rick Bayless made his first impression in 1987 with Frontera Grill, and it was a great one, introducing Chicagoans to previously unfamiliar Mexican flavors and culinary history. But it’s his follow-up, Topolobampo, that opened our eyes and palates to the then-radical notion of Mexican food as haute cuisine.   … Read more


Squab breast Photos: Jeff Marini From the get-go, everything about the experience at Oriole feels unique and special. Diners enter through an inconspicuous door on a narrow West Loop side street, where they’re greeted by Cara Sandoval, the GM, who takes them through a freight elevator into a comfortable 28-seat space with crisp linens and … Read more


Morel, blueberry, and onion Photos: Jeff Marini Before Alinea opened in 2005 and started blowing minds with its groundbreaking molecular cooking, partners Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas sat down to sketch out the ambitious Lincoln Park restaurant’s goals. Some concerned revenue targets; others involved ethical food sourcing. Some of these plans were vague—keep innovating, respect … Read more


A dish called Flavors of Forest There has never been another restaurant like Schwa. And once chef/owner Michael Carlson decides he is finished, which he’ll most likely do on a random Tuesday in the indiscernible future in some fabulously unpredictable way, there never will be again.   Schwa 1466 North Ashland Avenue Bucktown Contemporary $$$$$ … Read more

George Trois

Filet de boeuf with truffle Photos: Jeff Marini At a time when restaurants were trending downscale, chef Michael Lachowicz, whose Restaurant Michael had become a North Shore fixture, went in the opposite direction. In 2015 he opened George Trois, a quiet, jackets-required side room with a staid fireplace and regal chandelier where he astounded diners … Read more


A dessert featuring vanilla, matcha, truffle, cherries, and pink peppercorns Photo: Jeff Marini Chris and Nina Nugent’s unlikely jewelbox of a restaurant, which shares an unprepossessing block with the neighborhood grocery store, has streamlined its operation since first opening in 2011. Gone are the occasionally chilly servers, the menus printed on plantable seed paper, and … Read more


Duck breast Photo: Martha Williams Boka Restaurant Group’s flagship has always been the most significant, capital-R restaurant in the company’s impressive portfolio (which includes heavy hitters like Bellemore and Swift & Sons), but that doesn’t mean it’s deadly serious. The dining room features a framed portrait of Bill Murray in full sea-captain regalia, a dizzying … Read more


Lobster au pain Photos: Jeff Marini Drive to the West Loop on any given night and peer into the white minimalist box at 619 West Randolph. No matter the time of year, you will find the little room full of laid-back, well-dressed urbanites who seem to be having an absolutely splendid evening. No restaurant in … Read more