The 10 Best Restaurants That Opened in Chicago in 2019
Or, how to eat your way around the world without leaving the Windy City
The Cubs fizzled and burned, the Red Stars blew the championship match, Mitch Trubitsky is still trying to find his footing behind a dwindling offensive line and the jury’s out on whether or not the Bulls even still play basketball. But 2019 was a banner year for one prominent sector of Windy City life: restaurants.
From the dead of winter to the dog days of summer, countless venues threw open their doors and invited the good people of Chicago to come inside and eat their feelings with unparalleled gusto. Whether you’re in the market for belly-warming shrimp and grits, spicy tuna ceviche or savory octopus-stuffed Japanese pancakes, this year’s top 10 has something to suit every fancy.
Dine on and drink well, people.
A veggie-centric journey through Israel’s diverse cultural landscape
With its bustling open kitchen, perpetually packed blonde wood and blue-accented dining room, and an approachable bill of brilliantly executed Middle Eastern shareables, this highly anticipated Lincoln Park addition from James Beard Award-winning chef Zach Engel and partner Andrés Clavero handily lives up to the hype. Expect appetizing mezze like Cipollini onions with Bulgarian feta and a trio of Yemenite, Israeli and Bulgarian pickles plus four different hummus variations (two words: Bubbe’s Brisket) along with coal-roasted mains that cover all the regional bases, from saffron-encrusted Iraqi lamb kabob to Tunisian-style fried fish kissed with lemon and herbs. A curious assortment of hand-picked vintages from Lebanon, Bulgaria, Israel and Armenia among other under-the-radar winemaking locales only enhance the immersive experience.
2429 N Lincoln Ave.
Innovative local chefs breathe new life into the neighborhood wine bar
It’s been a helluva year for natural wine here in Chicago, so it only makes sense that 2019 would usher in a new generation of ambitious young wine bars, each champing at the bit to uncap the latest funky release to a crowd of fashionable oenophiles. And this cozy Avondale outlet from decorated Parachute chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, with its gaping windows, earthy, industrial-chic design and bargain $65 four-course prix-fixe, has managed to elbow out the growing competition and assume its rightful position at the top of every discerning wine aficionado’s bucket list. While the dining room might appear casual, the artful cuisine is anything but, featuring a whirlwind of global influences, farm-fresh ingredients and cheffy twists that defy convention at every turn. At the laidback reclaimed-wood bar, guests can sip their way through several dozen highly rated bottles, many available by the glass, or kick things up a notch with a tasty aperitif cocktail complemented by a host of wine-friendly bites.
3472 N Elston Ave.
Mediterranean meets the Midwest via wood-fired comforts and killer cocktails
This Logan Square newcomer merges dapper mid-century stylings (think: hunter green velvet banquettes, chestnut leather barstools, warm recessed lighting and curved Art Deco bistro chairs) with a seasonally driven menu that highlights a glorious mishmash of New American and European flavors. Caramelized halloumi, gussied up with pickled grapes and piquant green harissa yogurt, primes the palate, followed by sultry black garlic rigatoni, unctuous pansotti erupting with braised rabbit and foie gras butter and juicy pork collar, roasted slow and low in the wood-burning oven before being tucked under a verdant blanket of shisito peppers and salsa verde. Dominated by natural gems and small batch releases, the broad-ranging and intriguingly idiosyncratic wine list every bit as enticing as the food and nothing awakens the senses quite like the house gin martini, jazzed up with an intoxicatingly aromatic blend of Fino sherry, Amontillado sherry and orange saffron.
2528 N California Ave.
Southern classics crafted with a studied chef’s precision
Chef-Owner Erick Williams, a Chicago native, cut his teeth at various upscale eateries throughout the city before taking the solo leap and opening this airy and inviting Hyde Park spot in late 2018. It quickly became a weekend go-to, attracting hordes of hungry brunchers with soulful dishes that honor the legacy of Black American cuisine while simultaneously spotlighting Chef Williams’s distinctive voice and well-honed technique. Fried green tomatoes smothered in a creamy remoulade, plump shrimp atop a bed of heritage cheddar grits, blackened catfish with smoky barbecued carrots and, perhaps most famously, the gooiest, most luxurious baked macaroni and cheese in the city top the savory charts, while Millie’s Puddin’, a mountain of homemade banana pudding layered with Nilla wafers and Cool Whip, will satiate the sweetest of sweet teeth.
1462 E 53rd St.
Kumiko & Kikko
A lesson in Japanese spirits and small plates from drinks icon Julia Momose
Born and raised in Japan, Chicago cocktail maven Julia Momose (The Aviary, Green River, Oriole) harnessed every aspect of her storied resume, immense talent and deep, unfettered passion for hospitality when she opened this exquisite bar and omakase back at the snowy tail end of 2018. A shining beacon of minimalist elegance, Mamose’s intimate, wood-clad cocktail nest specializes in Japanese finger foods paired with dreamy concoctions like the Seaflower (a mix of Nikka Coffey Gin, Berto Vermouth Bianco, spicy yuzu paste, Japanese citrus and lime finished with an umami-laced rim of “ocean dust”) as well as effervescent highballs, curated flights emphasizing the distilled rice liquor shochu, and a plethora of serious spirit-free options that hold their own. Downstairs lurks Kikko, a newly minted Michelin Starred chef’s counter peddling seven incredible omakase-style courses from Executive Chef Noah Sandoval and Chef de Cuisine Mariya Russell to eight lucky customers per seating.
630 W Lake St.
Reimagined South Asian street fare and stellar cocktails served with a smirk
Farm-to-table pioneer Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe, Marisol) is the driving force behind this colorful Logan Square original, alongside a dream team of chef-partners (Zeeshan Shah and Yoshi Yamada) plus Violet Hour alum Colleen Malone on drinks. The all-star cast fails to disappoint, dishing up whimsical plays on Indian comforts like crunchy Manchurian fries littered with scallions and sesame seeds, freshly baked naan oozing with salted jalapeños and gruyere, soft pao buns stuffed with braised shoulder and tamarind, and the belle of the ball, the butter chicken calzone, its golden, pristinely blistered crust giving way to heaps of warm tender chicken swimming in an herbaceous sauce. The space — brightly patterned textiles, unfinished wood, whitewashed brick and a cozy interior courtyard — evokes a fittingly fun neighborhood vibe while Malone’s refreshing highball- and spritz-heavy cocktail program, its focus privileging flavor and ingenuity over hard-hitting potency, keenly balances the carb-loving menu.
3059 W Diversey Ave.
Restaurant titan Paul Kahan summons Brittany’s oyster capital to Wicker Park
When One Off Hospitality’s Paul Kahan, fresh off an eye-opening trip to France’s northern coast, decided to transform the shuttered Publican Anchor into a breezy homage to the tiny fishing port of Cancale, no one knew exactly what to expect. But of course, the industry gods shined upon Chef Kahan once again, and the sunlit, blue-and-white-striped seafood emporium quickly became one of the neighborhood’s hottest tickets, delighting diners with upmarket bistro charmers like beef tartare, duck terrine, mussels a la Normande, buttery vermouth-poached halibut and steak frites dripping with addictive escargot bordelaise. Plus: dozens of ocean-fresh oysters hailing from all corners of the globe. And in true French fashion, there are plenty of select European wines (Pét-Nat superfans, take note) as well as a lengthy assortment of digestifs to wash it all down.
1576 N Milwaukee Ave.
Highballs and okonomiyaki prove a winning combo for a returning hometown hero
Blackbird alum Chef Paul Virant, who’s spent the last few years helming suburban outposts Vie and Vistro, made a triumphant West Loop comeback this year with this buzzy izakaya dedicated to the delicious art of okonomiyaki. The savory Japanese pancakes provide the perfect platform for showcasing Chef Virant’s masterful culinary prowess, served either Okinawa-style (griddled and bursting with mix-ins like fried shrimp, corn, and creole butter or octopus with fermented cherry and honey gastrique) or Hiroshima-style (layered with bacon, egg and toothsome yakisoba noodles). To drink, Toki whisky highballs flow freely from the built-in tap, crisp, bubbly and set ablaze with a dash of fragrant lemon oil. Make sure to save room for dessert, a parade of melt-in-your-mouth mochi donuts and traditional kakigori, pillowy mounds of hand-shaved ice dressed with tantalizing toppings like black sesame ice cream, yuzu syrup and strawberry compote, among other indulgences.
950 W Lake St.
Moody Tongue Brewing Company
A celebrated brewpub tests the waters of fine dining
Chicago is a beer town, through and through. So when the late Baderbrau Brewing vacated their gargantuan 28,600-square-foot South Loop digs, Pilsen’s culinary-minded Moody Tongue Brewing saw an opportunity and jumped on it. The new location provides ample space for both Brewmaster Jared Rouben’s sprawling brewhouse and production facility as well as the star of the show, an ultra-sexy restaurant and bar concept under the tutelage of multi-award-winning chef Jared Wentworth. Hopheads convene in the polished, library-esque bar with its jet black wood plank walls, overstuffed leather seating and roaring fireplace, sampling unique house beers like the zesty peeled Grapefruit Pilsner and decadently boozy Bourbon Barrel-aged Chocolate Barleywine while feasting on tastefully updated pub-grub classics. The handsome dining room takes a more refined approach, touting a 12-course sit-down tasting menu spanning artfully crafted seasonal creations complete with palate-pleasing beer pairings.
2515 S Wabash Ave.
A Restaurant Row OG pairs vibrant Latin flavors with captivating panoramic views
Prolific Chicago chef Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat) invaded the Hoxton Hotel’s expansive rooftop this past April, bringing with her bright, bold Peruvian-inspired global fare, tropical cocktails and a lively, sun-drenched atmosphere popping with teal accents and lush greenery. Ceviche is king here, with options ranging from seductive standards like tuna with serrano peppers, cilantro, passion fruit and jicama to unconventional twists like duck with crispy quinoa, pickled mango and gooseberries, all lovingly prepared behind at a lustrous marble-topped counter lined with six coveted bar stools (the prime foodie perch). Other standouts include lamb neck seco, a velvety stew brimming with brown butter lima beans and pickled kumquats, and the much-raved-about pulpo con olivos: hunks of chilled octopus layered with avocado and briny olive mayonnaise. Don’t leave without trying the succulent goat empanadas — this is Chef Izard’s house, after all.
200 N Green St.