Nine-time Michelin starred Chef Jared Wentworth takes traditional brewery dining over the top with two newly opened restaurants in Chicago's South Loop. There's a more casual menu at The Bar (with oysters, chicken liver mousse, crispy whole Branzino and a Moody burger) or opt for an extravagant, 12-course seasonal tasting menu in the warm, minimalist The Dining Room, paired with signature beers. Suds are brewed with palate-surprising ingredients like black truffles, Asian pears, and freeze-dried black limes. The menu is hyper-seasonal, however, expect courses such as Maine lobster with apple, squash and wort consommé; King crab paired with sour watermelon Saison; and a caraway pretzel with beer cheese. The dessert course could be bittersweet chocolate cake served with a 2018 vintage of 12 Layer Cake Imperial Stout.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: The Bar is comfortable tasting room and the intimate Dining Room is a heavenly night for beer connoisseurs who also appreciate refined dishes.
Jacky's expert tip: The full dining menu is available during kitchen service hours beginning at 5pm but you can order all beverages and the 12 Layer German Chocolate Cake whenever the venue is open.
Initial surprise? This fine Contemporary American restaurant with innovative regional cuisine is located in the Lavin Family Pavilion within the Northwestern Medicine Campus. Woodwind also boasts cool city and lake views 18 floors above Streeterville. Michelin-starred chef Don Young (formerly of Temporis) presents sophisticated dishes starring seasonal ingredients: nibble snacks from fermented hummus to raw oysters and grilled toast torpedoed into house ricotta. Whole-roasted dry-aged duck tacos with pineapple salsa, radish, and tortillas elevates the city's love affair with tacos. Notable veg-centered items include fire-roasted carrots; zesty chicory salad; and pappardelle fashioned from butternut squash. On the indulgent end, consider a NY Strip with crab butter or pan roasted chicken. Dessert ain't bad, either: parsnip cake with honeyed cream cheese? Yes, please. Open for lunch, dinner and Happy Hour (which offers great value on bites and drinks).
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Perhaps the best reason to enter a medical center, Woodwind is upscale yet unfussy with sweeping views and creative regional cuisine.
Jacky's expert tip: A wrap-around terrace and separate bar opens in spring 2020.
The original "small plates," tapas have been around Chicago since at least 1985. The 21st-century tapas sanctum is Barcelona-inspired Boqueria, a lively dining experience featuring Spanish fare by executive chef and Barcelona native Marc Vidal. The seasonal menu features tapas, impressive paellas, Spanish cheese and charcuterie, vegetables, seafood, meat and fresh bread from neighboring Publican Quality Bread. In addition to the a la carte menu, there's a prix-fixe Chef's Menu, served family style. Spanish-inspired desserts like Los Rellenos (churros oozing fillings from Nutella to dulce de leche) and Turrón, almond-hazelnut cake topped with candied hazelnuts and a honey drizzle make a nice finish. Come for brunch and a satisfying rendition of classic Tortilla Española or a "Brunch Feast" - a profusion of Spanish dishes that will ready you for a siesta.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: With perhaps the most expansive Spanish menu in the city, Boqueria is a sunny exploration of the cuisine in a spirited atmosphere.
Jacky's expert tip: Dip into the all-Spanish wine list, Spanish beers and signature sangrías by the glass and pitcher to complete the Iberian experience.
After successful eateries in Winnetka, IL and Lincoln Park, Avli River North is putting the "OPA" in River North with a Greek dining experience that's authentic yet contemporary. Nibble fruity olives and crusty Greek bread while perusing the wine list that encompasses Northern, Southern and Central Greece, and the Aegean Islands. Share mezzes, like honey and fig saganaki; pork skewers with garlic aioli; spreads from taramosalata (with house-smoked roe) to spicy feta and roasted red pepper. Don't miss the achingly tender Smyrna-style beef and lamb meatballs in tomato sauce threaded with herbs. Raved-about prawns baked in shredded filo, are bolstered by boukovo pepper mayo. Gyro sandwiches star rotisserie-cooked Berkshire pork shoulder. There are kabobs, lamb chops and moussaka, but the kitchen also coaxes greatness from the sea: the Greek lobster pasta with ouzo-tomato sauce is a stand out. Finish with Greek coffee, dessert wine and moist chocolate olive oil cake.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Avli, which means "courtyard" in Greek, brings a casual, contemporary yet sophisticated Greek dining experience to River North.
Jacky's expert tip: If partner Louie Alexakis is on the premises, ask anything about Greek food, wine and history and you'll be rewarded with an odyssey of fascinating information.
Kostali just opened in the fifth-floor lobby of The Gwen, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Carrie Nahabedian, Kostali threads a maritime mosaic through the menu via Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel and Morocco. Keto all week then order bread service on your cheat day: housemade tahini spiral rolls and loaves from Publican Quality Breads served with Greek extra virgin olive oil, taramasalata, whipped feta and other spreads are worthy. And how could you resist "Our Mother's Feta Cheese Turnovers"? Prize dishes include whole roasted seabass; hummus with spiced lamb, radish and walnuts (a nod to Carrie and Michael Nahabedian's Armenian and Greek heritage); housemade pasta with braised clams, prawns and feta cheese butter; and Tagine of Baby Chicken with carrots, chickpeas, candied citrus and couscous. Olive oil Basque cake with mascarpone, pomegranate and Turkish apricots may be a model of a Mediterranean dessert.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: James Beard Award-winning chef Carrie Nahabedian offers a sweeping menu inspired by the great coasts of the Mediterranean.
Jacky's expert tip: Drink up! The wine roster features Mediterranean coastal regions and cocktails incorporate regional spirits like Greece's ouzo, Italy's limoncello and pastis from the South of France.
Critics and dining aficionados buzzed-about the Claudia pop-up, and now native Chicagoan Chef Trevor Teich debuts his new restaurant also named Claudia (after his mom). Teich's culinary pedigree is impressive having worked in some of the country's best restaurants including L20, Acadia, NoMi and Las Vegas' Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (voted best chef in the world in 2015 by Le Chef List of The Best Chefs in the World). Chef Teich presents a 10-course tasting menu in a second floor, polished dining room. Adventurous and playful courses may be a Bento box with tuna-foie, scallop cracker, squid ink Madeleine and potato-caviar; lasagne of crab; and snails with truffles scented with fines herbs and pine. Diners are even raving about the butter accompanying the bread course. At of now, Claudia is BYO and the restaurant suggests you drop off wine prior to your reservation to ensure proper service - $35 corkage.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Now that Claudia has roots in the West Loop, take the opportunity to experience the intimate spot before awards make it hard to book.
Jacky's expert tip: Claudia is just steps from Ogilvie Transportation Center so you can fully enjoy your meal plus wine and hop a Metra train.
Surely West Town can't be mistaken for the seaside of Galicia, Spain or Portugal, however, your senses can fully enjoy this edge of the Atlantic coast at Porto. Fresh, wild caught fish is imported weekly from Portugal and Galicia and dances on Porto's grills and woodburning ovens in three open kitchens. Choose a la carte or a five- or 10-course tasting menu allowing a more immersive experience in this special cuisine. There may not be other spots in the Midwest to try Galician uni and razor clams, house cured sardines with Basque pepper sauce, citrus-cured Spanish mackerel, Portugeuse dumplings and the unique use of fresh seaweed for natural salinity in various dishes. The roster of sherries, Ports and Madeiras is the largest in Chicago and the music serenades with sounds from the African coast to Rio and the Algarve.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: An authentic taste of the Iberian peninsula, Porto is a one-of-a-kind trip to Galicia and Portugal via wine, seafood and heart.
Jacky's expert tip: Peruse Porto's wine book for tasting flights that travel along the Iberian peninsula's historic family vineyards.
Everyone loves Mexican food but combine it with French technique and Michelin starred phenom, Chef Carlos Gaytan, and expect fireworks. The 110-seat River North eatery (25 in the bar/lounge and 34 seats al fresco) provides a sophisticated and contemporary ambience and a vibrant marriage of Mexican and French cuisine (see French onion soup with poblano peppers, Gruyere and Chihuahua cheese). Put a kibosh on Keto for the night or you'll miss out on freshly baked bread escorted by chicken liver paté, seasonal fruit marmalade. pepita butter, cochinita rillettes, pickled red onions and creamy habanero. Ceviches pulse with additions like charred tomatillos, cactus sorbet and Serrano pepper. Chicharrón de pescado is an impressive presentation of fried fish with salsa Veracruzana and pickled vegetables for two. Fans of the culinary sorcery known as mole should order an Old Fashioned that resonates with Old Forester Bourbon, mole syrup, mole bitters and chile ash.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Chef Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican-born chef to earn a Michelin star, does not disappoint with the inspired cuisine at Tzuco.
Jacky's expert tip: In addition to many of Tzuco's signature dishes, the weekend brunch menu offers selections like tacos de pescado and pan de muerto French toast.
Gaijin, Chicago's first okonomiyaki restaurant, is on fire. The compact 60-seat space pulses with laughter, music and sizzling grill tops cooking Hiroshima and Osaka styles of savory Japanese pancakes. Award-winning chef Paul Virant clearly envisioned the appeal of this traditional Japanese comfort food: Osaka style pancakes with a cabbage base, protein and additional flourishes, then capped with items Okonomiyaki sauce and Kewpie Mayo. Hiroshima style is a layered dish with the addition of yakisoba noodles in traditional and vegetarian versions. Winning starters and shared plates include Arctic char in a frame of hot mustard; various yakisoba (noodles); croquettes; and steamy bok choy enlivened with sesame, garlic, shoyu and fried shallots. Highballs are the house drink prepared with various spirits but there are other tasty cocktails, beer, wine, sake, teas and zero ABV beverages to cool the pipes. Kakigori, a shaved ice dessert, and mochi donuts wrap it up very nicely.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Chicago's first okonomiyaki restaurant offers a taste of traditional Japanese comfort food in a dynamic atmosphere.
Jacky's expert tip: Gaijin serves lunch, dinner and drinks seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., so you can dodge a long wait by visiting mid-afternoon to early evening.