That’s the number of restaurants we featured this year in Table Stakes, our dining-out series that answers man’s eternally recurring question — “Uh, what’s new?” — and recurs once every lunar cycle.
Conclusions: Good year for indulgences. Bad year for our waistbands.
To celebrate another fine year of excellent restaurant openings, we whittled said 60 eateries down to this:
InsideHook’s highly personal, all-too-subjective, intensely disputed seven best new restaurants of 2015.
At Intro, what goes around comes around. It’s a restaurant that runs on good karma: give an up-and-coming chef free reign. Repeat with new talent every three months. The revolving head chef-in-residence concept makes Intro the most radical, if not the riskiest, opening of 2015. It also makes the restaurant just as exciting now as it was the first day it opened.
And that’s not even getting to the dining experience, which produced a few memorable moments. There was the rutabaga ramen in oxtail tea from opening chef CJ Jacobson. The sous-vide beef short rib and eggplant puree from former Elizabeth chef Aaron Martinez. And currently from Jean-Georges protege Stephen Gillanders: the Hamachi Sashimi with black sesame ponzu and puffed rice.
Don’t miss: Next chef-in-residence and James Beard 2015 “Rising Star Chef of the Year” Jessica Largey.
Lincoln Park | 2300 N Lincoln Park W. (map)
First thing you think after eating at Pub Royle: the city was missing a restaurant like Pub Royale. This is especially true when you consider its place on Division St., a site of acrimonious bickering about the changing demographics and plight of good taste in Wicker Park. It’s everything Heisler Hospitality — who this year also opened the maritime tavern Queen Mary — is known for: stiff drinks in an atmosphere that agrees with most Chicagoans. Dimly lit and effortlessly charming, if not perhaps a little too hip.
But you’re here because chef Jason Vaughan is plating up the most delightful and exciting Indian food this side of Devon Ave. While our two favorite dishes (the tripe and the sweetbreads) have been taken off the menu, this kitchen is fearless throwing down bold and adventurous spices and flavors.
Don't miss: The Gobi Manchurian
Wicker Park | 2049 W. Division St. (map)
The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel opened this year to many admirers, yours truly included. It’s filled with concepts that could easily stand on their own. Cindy's. Game Room. Milk Room. Cherry Circle Room. So many rooms! We like to think our pick here as a catchall for the behometh concept that took over Mag Mile and made downtown a legit dining destination once again.
The food, like all things here, is an homage to days past where you can eat a crock of french onion soup or broiled walleye pike in what feels like an exclusive gentleman’s club setting. The details are stunning, down to the tableware and napkins, and it’s hard to resist taking the opportunity to max out like a 19th-century industrialist.
Don’t miss: Bartender Paul McGee’s traditional cocktail menu based on Jacques Straub’s century-old recipes.
Mag Mile | 12 S. Michigan Ave. (map)
Modern. Natural. Deeply satisfying. That is Monteverde, and chef Sarah Grueneberg and crew know how to make Italian food sing to the mountains. Every dish, from the stuffed cabbage served up with crispy polenta to the duck egg corzetti with pecan pesto showcases Grueneberg’s light, refined Italian cooking — she is an absolute monster with pasta. Handmade. Seemingly always perfect, and more importantly, never oversauced.
Don’t miss: The Cannelloni Saltimbocca
West Loop | 1020 W. Madison St. (map)
White table-cloth French restaurant? In Lincoln Park? Welcome to the Blanchard, the least trendiest restaurant of 2015. And that is not a knock. It is, in fact, a compliment of chef Jason Paskewitz’s headstrong vision that there is still a place for the neighborhood French bistro, and we can say the meals we’ve had here are easily among this year’s best.
What makes this place so admirable is there’s no mistaking you’re in a French restaurant, and most of the appeal comes with the thrill of discovery that comes with every dish. You get excited for technique here, and so it helps to be familiar with a few French standbys like foie and steamed mussels and duck a l’Orange. Even still, if there’s anyone to make you a believer in the power of French cuisine, it’s Paskewitz and the Blanchard.
Don’t miss: The Suprême De Poulet (with truffles if they got ‘em)
Lincoln Park | 1935 N. Lincoln Park W. (map)
With its Tokyo-like neon signage but no-frills atmosphere, Ramen Takeya is the noodle bar this city deserves. Ramen for comfort. Not ramen for the pretentious buzz. The service here reflects that to a tee. Appearances aside, it is a tremendous sister offering from the well-established ramen slingers of Logan Square’s Wasabi.
The focus here is chicken paitan. It is superior. It is pungent. With the same richness you’ll find in a bowl tonkotsu, but with a more subtle and smooth weight. If anything, you’ll also do well in exploring this joint’s non-noodle offerings, particularly the Chicken Karaage and Crispy Takoyaki, which are superb in their own right.
Don’t miss: The Chicken Paitan Ramen
West Loop | 819 W. Fulton Market (map)
We’ve reached peak steakhouse and all that, yes. We agree. We felt a degree of steak fatigue, too. A barrage of chophouses, small and large, opened this past year, but the best overall among them for our money is Swift & Sons.
Namely because we enjoy our steakhouses with a celebratory air, and Swift strikes a balance that’s both ambitious and accessible. Admirers of the sprawling restaurant Momotaro should love Swift & Sons — it was done up by the same design group. Service is on-point and professional. As for the food: this is a steakhouse, man. Get some.
Don’t miss: The beet salad and/or the ricotta dumplings
West Loop | 1000 W. Fulton Market (map)