Chicago has been the beneficiary of a slew of exciting new openings in the past year. Among the hottest tables of the moment are a daring reclamation of the steakhouse, an elegant take on Southern cooking with an adjacent bourbon ‘barlet’, an Argentinean-American hangout slinging wood-fired delicacies, and an inventive sushi bar you enter through another restaurant’s kitchen. Dig in and get to know these seven hot Chicago restaurants.
The second restaurant from acclaimed Lillie’s Q owner Charlie McKenna, This elegant bi-level spot in the former Takashi space highlights the refined side of Southern cuisine. Composed shareable plates, like deviled crab with collard juice, steak tartare with fried oysters and red pea miso, and sweetbreads with Nashville hot sauce, demonstrate the sort of globally inspired, evolved Southern fare McKenna and chef Tony Mantuano have in mind. The bright, whitewashed exterior at Dixie gives way to a gilded dining room that could be straight out of a historic mansion in Savannah, Ga. If you arrive a little early (read: you should arrive early), take a right just past the main entrance into 1952 ½ Liquorette, the tiny, adjacent bar specializing in bourbon, whisky, and rum cocktails. Make a reservation at Dixie.
El Che Bar
This West Loop spot is the hotly anticipated second restaurant from chef John Manion (La Sirena Clandestina). A lively culinary homage to his travels through Argentina, it’s firmly rooted in Midwestern ingredients. The space is anchored by an expansive wood hearth, which provides a charred, smoky backbone to dishes like grilled oysters with corn butter, BBQ quail with figs, head-on grilled prawns with charred sweet peppers, and ash-roasted potatoes. Cocktails are bright and food-friendly, like the yerba mate gin sour, while the global wine list highlights the Americas — with (unsurprisingly) memorable vintages from Argentina and Chile. The sexy, dark marble bar, black entryway pillars, and dark wood accents throughout reinforce the charcoal and ash theme of this sultry newcomer. Make a reservation at El Che Bar.
Chicago’s in the midst of a mini steakhouse revolution, with next-generation spots like anti-steakhouse Boeufhaus and cheeky-chic Maple & Ash reclaiming the tired notion of steak and potatoes. The latest entrant, from Boka Restaurant Group and chef Giuseppe Tentori (GT Fish & Oyster), makes the steakhouse shareable via 4- and 8-ounce cuts of filet, rib eye, wagyu, skirt steak, venison, and bison, sliced to order. (Fear not, meat gluttons: a Carnivore Platter includes all six.) A massive (30-plus) wines by the glass list and bold, unique cocktails round out the beverage side, while desserts keep it light and seasonal with offerings like lemon crème brûlée. The fairytale interior features a colossal crystal chandelier, cabernet-stained concrete floors, custom taxidermy, and rich, faux fur upholstered chairs. Make a reservation at GT Prime.
Coda di Volpe
Yeah, we know; Chicago has almost as many Italian restaurants as steakhouses, but this inviting entrant to Lake View’s Southport Corridor takes a decidedly lighter approach by highlighting Italy’s southern region. Owners Billy Lawless (The Gage) and Ryan O’Donnell (Gemini Bistro) tapped chef Chris Thompson (A16-San Francisco) to oversee the classic menu of Neapolitan-style pizzas, pastas, steaks, seafood, and house-cured salami. The space boasts plenty of natural light, beamed ceilings and banquette seating — plus a sprawling patio come summer months. A large, horseshoe-shaped bar pours cocktails, regionally appropriate wines, and a handful of domestic and Italian beers. Make a reservation at Coda di Volpe.
Walking through the kitchen of Lettuce Entertain You sister restaurant Intro to get to Naoki feels like being in on a secret. This low-lit and secluded little sushi spot in the back of the Belden Stratford apartments offers a playful mix of traditional and contemporary sushi and Japanese small plates worth uncovering. Chef Naoki Nakashima’s composed sashimi plates — neatly arranged pieces of barely garnished, impeccable raw fish — aren’t to be missed. Add a few nigiri (like salmon with smoked soy and fried shallot) and a maki roll (such as the umami-full unagi with omelet and truffle) for sustenance, or go big with whole-roasted lobster with togarashi butter. Wash it down with sophisticated, Asian-inflected cocktails, food-friendly sakes. and global wines. Make a reservation at Naoki.
Sisters Amy and Clodagh Lawless (The Gage, Acanto) teamed up to open this sprawling, stylish tavern that’s already proving to be a big part of the Loop’s gastronomic revolution. The Midwest-leaning, seasonal menu playfully blends high-brow cuisine with American classics. Think steamed mussels with nduja and wine butter, caviar with pork rinds, and dry-aged duck breast with panzanella bread and grilled stone fruit. Upscale takes on classic cocktails and a hand-selected wine list focusing on domestic bottles round out the menu. The 8,000-sq.-ft. space on the ground floor of the buzzy Block 37 development boasts earth tones, leather seating, and inlaid wood floors — with a mix of industrial and modern design elements that harken back to Chicago’s past. Make a reservation at The Dearborn.
Situated under the El tracks on a comparably quiet stretch of Lake St. in the bustling West Loop, the refined yet welcoming Honey’s has been quick to charm the neighborhood. Executive chef/partner Charles Welch’s seasonal American menu is imbued with Mediterranean influences and relies largely on stripped-down cooking over a wood-fired rotisserie grill. There’s spit-roasted cauliflower with smoked giardiniera, marinated bay scallops with white gazpacho, rainbow trout with roasted corn succotash, and, naturally, succulent rotisserie chicken with ratatouille. The 100-seat space is divvied up into a livelier, airy bar (which includes a raw bar) and a separate, more intimate dining room. Make a reservation at Honey’s.
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Photo credits: Galdones Photography (Honey’s); Anjali Pinto (Naoki); Anthony Tahlier (GT Prime).