New Chicago kitchens topping the must-visit lists

America's best restaurant city is not retreating from its reputation one iota.

As Korean fare makes it onto everyone's must-eat list, it's evolving from simple mandu dumplings and kimchee to more challenging items - tteok-bokki with schmaltz. pickled mustard. quail egg. charred cabbage and spicy chili sauce, for example - like they're lapping up at Jeong.  ROOH promises to combine India's traditional and regional flavors with local Chicago ingredients and seductive, elegant Le Colonial assures fans its new digs and menu additions are just as enchanting.

Big and brimming with fresh seafood near the River Walk, Ocean Prime has location and Chicago's healthy population of fin-atics on its list of pluses and repeat diners can't decide if the peanut butter and jelly infused Jameson shots or the better-than-a-Big-Mac burger compel them to return to JoJo's Milk Bar. 

Innovative cookery is reaching beyond the West Loop and River North environs warming up diners to go beyond the expected. Fast-casual Ajo, just blocks from Sox Park, has healthy, flavorful Caribbean food for your pre- or post-game hunger and Hyde Park is now enjoying thoughtful southern soul food at Virtue. For a Disneyesque visual experience to accompany your lobster Pop Tarts or slow roasted Hudson Valley duck for two, book a table at Barton G. The in-house flower shop makes Machine a good choice for a first date or anniversary

When The Hoxton Hotel opens in the busy Fulton Market district, look for three new venues from the Boka Restaurant Group: Cabra, a Peruvian-inspired restaurant by Chef Stephanie Izard on the hotel’s rooftop; a modern Mediterranean restaurant, Cira, on the ground floor; and a classic cocktail bar tucked away on the lower level.


Although the Chicago dining orbit feels the tourism gravity in River North, you'd do yourself a favor by giving the south side some love. Virtue is an American southern restaurant in Hyde Park oozing hospitality, gratefulness and just great food. Chef Erick Williams, formerly Executive Chef of lauded restaurant MK and partner of Michelin rated County Barbeque, combines all that celebrated experience with his passion for southern culture. The restaurant evokes the warmth of Williams' great grandmother's home and honors his ancestors through the intricate recipes: biscuits with homemade butter and pimento cheese; rice dirtied with gizzards and gravy; collards with smoked turkey; gumbo, pork chops; roast chicken; and blackened catfish with Carolina gold rice. Cocktails can be sturdy like the Hyde Park Sazerac or alcohol-free (Earl Grey tea with star anise, lemon and egg white).

JoJo's Milk Bar is a modern diner focusing on creative desserts and elevated comfort favorites. There are wacky shakes with at least a half dozen ingredients in each one (to which you can add booze); actual milk bar confections; various hot chocolates and coffees; cocktails; and shots that sound dangerously fun like peanut butter and jelly infused Jameson and Birthday Cake with Absolut Vanilla and Frangelico. Jumbo cookies flights with infused milk add to the decadence. Once you get buzzed, you'll want some vittles and JoJo's delivers some of Mom's staples: baked mac 'n' cheese; lasagna; chicken pot pie; braised brisket; loaded grilled cheese; and fantastic chicken noodle soup. Two-fisted sandwiches include a couple of memorable corned beef numbers, an excellent smash burger and honey fried chicken. Brunch is on the way or stop by for coffee and pastries starting at 8 a.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. weekends.


While deep-pocketed restaurant groups continue to flood the dining universe with outposts of eateries born elsewhere, it's nice to see that a Chicago restaurant family can also expand with authentic Chicago cookery. TRIA is the baby of the Bertucci sisters, Christie, Stephanie and Brittany, whose parents founded Fabulous Freddies, the fast-casual Italian-American staple in Bridgeport. Freddies is known for service, substantial portions, fair prices and handmade items from a butcher family background: Italian beef, sausage, meatballs and breaded steaks. About 10 years ago the daughters took over the Freddies, opened a catering arm and now have a full-service brunch and dinner concept - TRIA. The menu is an homage to their Chicago upbringing and Italian roots. Serving dinner and weekend brunch, TRIA serves traditional meatballs and arancini; pasta Barese with homemade sausage and rapini; and Braciole that may make your Italian nonna jealous. If you're near Bridgeport, TRIA delivers.


Another modern American restaurant and lounge opens in April 2019, this one located in LondonHouse. Situated near the River Walk and where the Mag Mile begins (or ends, as it were) the restaurant serves weekday lunch and nightly dinner featuring a menu of fresh seafood, prime steak, cocktails and an extensive wine list. Executive Chef Jason Shelley helms the from-scratch kitchen that aims for simple, local and regional flavors. Expect pristine raw bar items; spins on appetizers like white truffle caviar deviled eggs; sushi; Prime steak; impressive seafood entrees; and more than a dozen sides (smoked Gouda tots and lobster mashed spuds). Even though the Ocean Prime concept has 15 locations in 12 states, this new location pays respect to Chicago in decor - the two-story lobby is wrapped with illuminated illustrations of Chicago's history - and the bar room's picture windows overlooking Wacker Drive and the ChicagoRiver afford great views.

Machine: Engineered Dining and Drink has Trevor Hoyte in the kitchen fashioning a Modern American menu of Braised Pig Tails with hazelnuts, cauliflower, grapes and endive; Walleye paired with mussel escabeche sauce: smoked mushrooms adorned with chicken skins, Parmesan, chestnuts and puffed wild rice; and a sturdy burger topped with foie gras, Comte cheese, Maitake mushrooms, pickles and house sauce. As you might imagine, the decor is masculine and industrial with tufted leather seats, concrete flooring and custom-made steel archways. The new eatery nabbed Aneka Saxon, from Chicago's award-winning The Violet Hour, to lead the cocktail program so expect some surprising adult beverages that have interactive elements. The house Bloody Mary is completely clear starring green chili vodka and Fino sherry topped with a spiced Parmesan crisp.

Another inexpensive cuisine puts on the ritz. The second outpost of the San Francisco Bay area's urban, Indian-inspired restaurant lands in the West Loop in spring of 2019. Chicken tikka? Inexpensive saag paneer? This is not that place. ROOH calls itself a "progressive Indian restaurant" offering upscale food of the subcontinent by way of well-heeled Americans so your curry may star pork or beef short ribs and seekh kebab will feature cream cheese and duck. And there's Old Delhi Fried Chicken. Expect a lot of flavors emanating from even small plates (case in point - tandoori octopus sporting everything from compressed apple to cucumber gel). Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar promises to combine India's regional flavors with the use of local Chicago ingredients. Cocktails will tantalize West Loop crowds with a "philosophy" of new world cocktails that are inspired by Ayurveda, using Indian ingredients, shrubs, spices and artisanal spirits.

Joining its culinary twins in Miami Beach and Los Angeles, Barton G. The Restaurant is the brainchild of restaurateur and special event architect Barton G. Weiss who aims to provide a multi-sensory experience. Dishes are created to be an Instagram-worthy event - not just sustenance at lunch or dinner. Translation? Instead of the ubiquitous side of Brussels sprouts, a branch of the little cabbages arrive tableside looking like a pluckable desert plant and lobster Pop Tarts are peeking out from a pink toaster. The theatrics extend to cocktails, too, as your Mimosa lands on your table via a toy airplane. Desserts are equally elaborate (and pricey). Is it Disneyesque? Yes. Is it over-the-top? Indubitably. But let go and have fun with your Hanging Sausage. The surprising presentations and general joviality make the new eatery good for special occasions.


Nourishing, clean, Caribbean food has come to Bridgeport courtesy of the husband/wife team, Omar Solis and Audri Simonelli, of nana. Located next to nana (in the building Solis was born and raised), Ajo follows the same philosophy practiced at Nana: sustainable suppliers and clean ingredients (GMO-, hormone-, antibiotic-free, chemical-free, no synthetic preservatives and no artificial colors or flavors). Everything is made from scratch and inspired by cuisines from Puerto Rico, Cuba and a bit of Jamaica via Jerk Chicken. Ajo is a quick serve restaurant emphasizing carryout and delivery but there's a small counter with six stools (the countertop was the front door to Omar's childhood apartment). Order a rice or salad bowl, with custom ingredients or select one of the signatures like a luscious Cuban Pork Bowl. Most items are gluten-free, there are vegan protein and many vegetarian options. Great sides include elotes, Caribbean slaw, pico de mango and others.

Gold Coast

How can a restaurant be "new" when it has been wowing diners for more than 20 years? When it moves around the corner, adds new items to its singular menu and still welcomes a full restaurant night after night. Recreating the seductive atmosphere and vivid flavors of 1920's French Colonial Southeast Asia, Le Colonial presents an updated menu by Executive Chef/Partner Quoc Luong and stunning interiors evoking the romance of French Indochina. The four distinct spaces include a softly lit dining room; an all-season porch overlooking Oak Street; a sexy bar and lounge; and a private and special chef's tasting room for 10. Chef Luong preserves the heirloom recipes of his homeland and collaborated with Culinary Director Nicole Routhier (considered the nation's leading expert in Vietnamese cookery) to add a range of new, vibrant menu additions like duck noodle soup, seafood ceviche, whole red snapper filleted tableside and pineapple flambeé.

West Town

Hanbun was such a huge hit in a Westmont mall, David Park and his wife, Jennifer Tran, decided to head to the city and open Jeong in the pretty space formerly occupied by Green Zebra. Jeong, which is the maiden name of Park's grandmother, features familiar Korean ingredients fashioned in a completely contemporary style. Park, who earned a James Beard semifinalist nomination, offers upscale a la carte and tasting menu dinners with complexity, artistry and definite "wow" moments for diners lucky to get a reservation. Winning dishes include broccoli with smoked mayo, fuji apples, chili oil and roasted cashews; shrimp cake with gochujang aioli and radish; and duck confit. Diners are raving about desserts including chocolate cake and tapioca pudding with buttermilk icing and pine nut sponge candy. Even though the buzz about Jeong is deafening, you can still try to walk-in and enjoy the full menu in the lounge.


Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky