A 2019 James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, Passerotto successfully knits the hottest cuisine (Korean) with one of the most beloved (Italian) but it's not a gimmick. Chef Jennifer Kim knows her way around kalbi and kimchi then surprises diners with a Tuscan cantuccini for dessert and Lambrusco on the wine roster. Between her culture and stints at restaurants like Nico Osteria, the result is "fun Korean fare" and your tastebuds and wallet will both smile. Expect painterly presentations of raw fish (like kombu-cured hamachi with grapefruit emulsion); seductive small plates from Trumpet mushrooms and sunchokes to sweetbreads and spare ribs; satisfying noodles and rice dishes; and a couple of entrees sized for two like kalbi - glazed short ribs with "Mama Kim's Kimchi." You'll be treated to a number of seasonal banchan, small side dishes, with either entree, too.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Passerotto is turning out fresh, creative Korean (with a dash of Italian) cuisine in a completely unpretentious atmosphere plus spot-on service and fun vibe.
Jacky's expert tip: Podo Pop!. 4-9pm Sundays brings wine specials by the glass and a unique dinner menu of Korean comfort food.
At the intersection of Texas, Italy and Top Chef, you'll find Monteverde, Chef Sarah Grueneberg's ode to her birthplace, wanderlust and the inventiveness that tv viewers witnessed on season 9 of the Bravo show. Traditional dishes, yes, but there are also adventurous new flavors not seen in an Italian kitchen. Try handcrafted pasta made fresh daily - either classic Italian pasta or Grueneberg's innovative riffs like wok-fried arrabbiata - a tempting toss of black and white tagliolini, ground Texas Gulf shrimp, garlic and hot pepper oil. Nibble Stuzzichini (snacks), primi piati (before pasta), sizable entrees and dessert. Oma's Green Mountain Salad is full of seasonal crunchy vegetables served with a family dressing recipe with house-made lemon pepper and garlic salt. Try an updated version of Chef's grandmother's dish, Lillian's Stuffed cabbage redolent of mushroom bolognese, a vegetarian choice that is as hearty as any meat dish.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Sarah Grueneberg is the only Chicago semifinalist for Outstanding Chef in the 2019 James Beard Awards.
Jacky's expert tip: There's always room for walk-ins - the bar and patio serve the full menu on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Publican has become a part of the fabric of Fulton Market highlighting farm-to-table fare long before it was a culinary catch-phrase. Among the first to open in the uncharted meatpacking district in 2008, its star has not dimmed. The restaurant is serene at 5 pm with Happy Hour diners slurping $1 oysters only to become a carnival of gleeful eaters and drinkers just 90 minutes later and into the evening. Although known for charcuterie and meat (butcher shop, Publican Quality Meats, opened in 2012), expect wonderful hand-selected and sustainably-raised fish, seafood and vegetables, too. Briny oysters, Alaskan halibut flanked with Spanish olives and kumquats, barbecued carrots, ramps with burrata and breadcrumbs, it's all great. The Publican has been with us for over a decade but the constantly evolving menu and extensive international beer roster keep it in the Top 10. Weekend brunch is among the best in the city, too.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: More than a decade in and The Publican shines in food, drink and conviviality with refreshingly zero pretension.
Jacky's expert tip: The Publican is akin to a European beer hall, so if you want a quiet, intimate meal, save this gem for another time.
Nominated for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2013, 2014, 2015 2018 and 2019, Chef Paul Fehribach's respect for Southern heirloom cooking is apparent on every plate emerging from Big Jones' kitchen. And many are ordering the absolute best-fried chicken in the north - it's fried in leaf lard, ham drippings and clarified butter donning a well seasoned breading. Among the Southern starters, pimento cheese is made even better by homemade benne crackers or the Boucherie Board gives you a sampling of Chef's pickling, bread making and butchering chops. Crispy catfish with creamy grits or Barbecued Pork Shoulder sandwich serve a body right. Phenomenal whiskey, bourbon and rye selection, southern cocktails like Sazerac plus wine, beer and cider all moisten the pipes splendidly. Desserts are swoon-worthy: homemade dark chocolate-rum ice cream with toasted pecan-coconut macaroons? Come on.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Everything hits the right notes from the music and expert service to the honest cookery with exceptional ingredients.
Jacky's expert tip: Big Jones chef, Paul Fehribach, recently beat Bobby Flay on Food Network with a winning biscuit sandwich now available for brunch and lunch.
How does Chef/Partner Tony Mantuano continue to crank out the most ethereal pasta, sophisticated antipasti and stunning second courses after all these years? He cooks from the head and the heart and is smart to partner with like-minded creative chefs like Season 15 winner of Top Chef, Joe Flamm, a south sider making Chicago proud. Ideal for date night, Spiaggia offers fantastic views coupled with simple but expertly created dishes featuring seasonal produce and delicate, handmade pasta like Tortellini all' Amatriciana with guanciale, hay-aged Pecorino, tomato and garlic. It will make you a pasta amnesiac for all other noodles. Second courses are equally astonishing: how about red snapper with pancetta, sunchoke and horseradish or duck breast with cabbage and chestnut? Go all out for the five or eight-course tasting menu. Spiaggia is a nominee for the 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program. Service is impeccable and desserts irresistible.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Attention to detail, thoughtful cookery, fine wine and fetching views make the restaurant and cafe wholly memorable.
Jacky's expert tip: One of Chicago's finest restaurants, Spiaggia is on visitors' and locals' lists so reserve a table and don't overlook Cafe Spiaggia for lunch or dinner.
Get ready for a dreamy night of artful food and drink in Oriole's serene dining room where there will be just 28 of you lucky ducks nibbling a thought-provoking menu. Why lucky? It's probably a happy special occasion; your kid decided against college and you are more financially liquid, or you simply know how to live well. The cost of the menu is $215 per person and if you'd like a curated pairing, sommelier Aaron McManus will service you for an additional $125. Thoughtful food this good comes at a price. Courses may include Golden Osetra caviar with dill and saffron; Japanese Milk Bread with aged kombu butter; Nichol's farm carrots with furikake and seaweed hollandaise; or prawns with black lime, prawn head caramel and Vietnamese herbs. Délice de DE Bourgogne soufflé with sesame and lemon is a fairy tale dessert.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Awarded two Michelin stars just seven months after opening, Chef Noah Sandoval is also a finalist for a James Beard Award Best Chef, Great Lakes.
Jacky's expert tip: Just like a treasure, you have to search a bit for Oriole which is on an alley-ish street in the West Loop.
Earning two Michelin stars in less than two years, the combo tasting menu restaurant (Smyth) and downstairs tavern (The Loyalist) make up a fever dream for which Chicagoans want no cure. Executive Chef John B. Shields, a veteran of Charlie Trotter's and Alinea, and his Executive Pastry Chef wife, Karen Urie Shields (TRU and Charlie Trotters) have created some genuine magic with their seasonally driven multi-course menus at Smyth. This is the place where farm-to-table really lives as the couple sources directly from The Farm, located an hour south of Chicago, that grows ingredients exclusively for the restaurant. It may sound hoity-toity but the atmosphere is informal and warm featuring an open kitchen and wooden tables in a homey atmosphere. Come as you are and choose a five, eight or twelve-course tasting menu (two, two and a half and three hours) that can be complemented with an optional beverage pairing.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Smyth is the embodiment of the celebration of the table.
Jacky's expert tip: "Smyth" refers to five years the couple lived, worked and cooked in Smyth County, Virginia, before coming back to Chicago.
Fat Rice introduced Chicagoans to the unique spice blends of Portuguese speaking areas of Macau, the autonomous region in southern China. Not only can't you get these flavors anywhere else in town, but Chef Abraham Conlon and co-owner Adrienne Lo also gifted us with a bakery and The Ladies' Room lounge, so yeah, we can almost live there. The Macanese restaurant is loaded with awards since it opened in 2012 and the depth of flavors and breadth options make it difficult to specify best dishes. Try house-cured salt cod spread swabbed on freshly baked bread; pork and ginger dumplings; fried breakfast tofu; or rice noodle stir fry with shrimp, char siu pork, tofu, garlic chive and pickled ginger. First timers will want to go with the signature "Fat Rice" or Arroz Gordo, a layered rice dish containing curried chicken, linguiça, wood-roasted beef and chili prawns. Damn keto and have Portuguese bread.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: You know the phrase, "It's all good"? It had to have originated at Fat Rice.
Jacky's expert tip: Stop by the Chinese/Portuguese bakery serving fresh bread, sweet and savory buns and confections plus Malaysian hand-pulled milk teas and coffees.
The Alinea, or paragraph mark, signals the start of a new train of thought. The restaurant Alinea has been revolutionizing dinner since 2005 and it's the only restaurant in Chicago to retain three-star Michelin status. Chef Grant Achatz' intersection of art and science draws culinary enthusiasts worldwide wanting to sample one-of-a-kind plates that change constantly on the 20-course menu. The all-small courses may arrive on pillows inflated with lavender air, mini pedestals or wire hangers. It's dinner as theater, best appreciated by open minds and deep pockets. The first-floor Gallery experience is offered in two "showings" per night for parties of two or four only. The Kitchen Table, for parties of six, is the most intimate and cutting-edge experience. Three salons offer a multi-course tasting menu for parties of two, four or six. Book anything two months in advance online and leave the kids with a sitter.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: Alinea creates a hallucination of culinary genius - it's art, it's science and it's unforgettable.
Jacky's expert tip: If you're in town alone know that there's only one booking per night for a single diner at 8 p.m. in the Salon.
Boka is like the kid in high school who was not only the quarterback and star of the musicals but you couldn't hate him because he was also a great guy. Four consecutive Michelin Stars, Best New Chef and Pastry Chef awards and an extensive redesign attract a conga line of curious diners old and new. Chef/Partner Lee Wolen (nominated again for a Beard Award) has his way with seasonal American cuisine elevating even pedestrian veg - carrots with sprouted lentils, mustard, salted peppercorn, sesame - as to stagger the taste buds. So imagine what he does with Whole Roasted Dry Aged Duck for two or Wild Striped Bass with French white asparagus, razor clams and green garlic. Don't miss arresting, right-sized desserts by Meg Galus that won't make you groan but glad. Service is impeccable and you'll leave with an "everything is beautiful" feeling despite the steep tab.
Recommended for Best Restaurants because: You have to give the Boka Restaurant Group its props - it has written the definitive menu on successful chef-driven restaurants.
Jacky's expert tip: Don't fear the eight-course tasting menu because dishes are light, flavor-focused and it's one surprise after another.