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Best New and Popular Restaurants in Chicago

New Chicago restaurants topping the must-visit lists


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

Chicagoans love their lake but the Mediterranean emerges as their second favorite body of water as evidenced by the sunny exploration of Spain at José Andrés' Bar Mar and Bazaar Meat, Italian at Carlucci Chicago and Adalina, and Greece via LYRA in Fulton Market. 

If Oaxacan influenced dishes and drinks sound appealing, vamanos a Chikatana. Raw fish fans fans should look to Sushi by Bou in Hotel Lincoln for a more affordable omakase. Casual Nepalese and Indian flavors as well as comforting chai is on the menu at Chiya Chai in the Loop. Get saucy barbecue (aka char siu) and completely new Chinese taste sensations at 3 Little Pigs Chi.  The new X Pot and Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley add some theater to your dining experience by way of robot servers (The X Pot) and extravagant adult beverages (K + K). 

If you've sampled these new spots, know that highly anticipated openings are just around the bend. The West Loop's Aikana Chicago just opened with Latin American-inspired food and Con Todo Cantina y Cocina in Logan Square should have a dine-in option for its albondigas and more by the end of February, 2022. In Humboldt Park, there's Segnatore for Italian food lovers. Save some room! 

 

 

 


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The Indian/Nepalese restaurant boasts one of the most extensive chai programs in the country with over 150 different combinations ranging from traditional masala to flavors like pink salt and almond butter. And chai is the focus at the newly opened Chiya Chai that's steps from Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. Owner Swadesh Shrestha hopes customers sip chai and slow down for a mental respite from the cacophony of the city, whether you're a tourist or office worker. He grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas in Western Nepal where he and his father made countless trips to tea estates. Mornings in Kathmandu involved tea tastings, blending spices and packaging. He knows his tea! The compact shop is a perfect stop for lunch in between touring museums or shopping. Choose among flaky savory pies stuffed with Masala chicken or kale and potato with pleasant spices. Fat momo dumplings embedded with Katmandu chicken or all veg are fun to share. Count on satisfying curry bowls from sag paneer (cheese in a spinach sauce) and deep dish lamb to cauliflower, peas and potatoes. Or opt for various chaat (Indian street food), hot curry wings and samosas. Cool the palate with a side of healthy green apple or cucumber raita.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: From a small mountain tea shop in the Himalayas to cafés in Logan Square and downtown Chicago, the Chiya Chai journey is heartwarming and delicious.

Jacky's expert tip: If you fall in love with chai, consider purchasing a chai concentrate growler to tote home.

Read more about Chiya Chai Café - The Loop →


Peach cobbler, banana pudding, fried chicken, creative waffles, braised short ribs, fried pickles, poboys, shrimp 'n' grits, seafood gumbo - it's all about the most comforting of Southern food and spectacular drinks at Kitchen + Kocktails. The restaurant has two bars to show off its distinctive beverage program of specialty cocktails with dazzling presentations. There are pina "Koladas" in pineapples; a Reese's Kocktail with a peanut butter cup festooned on the coupe glass; and the Hennessy Lemon Drop, a top seller, has a mini Hennessy bottle overturned in a martini glass. Waffle lovers rejoice in cinnamon roll, butter pecan and peach cobbler waffles, among others. Order grits with shrimp, lobster or fish; chicken, lamb chop and seafood entrees; plus vegan bowls and lots of sharable sides like black-eyed peas with smoked turkey, okra, cornbread and mac 'n' cheese. Winning appetizers include Dream Eggs (deviled eggs crowned with blackened shrimp) and perky fried pickles. Brunch, offered weekends, is equally popular and delish.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Over-the-top cocktails, comforting Southern fare and a lively atmosphere make for a memorable night of dining.

Jacky's expert tip: Gratuity is automatically added to your bill but you can always kick it up for spectacular service in this busy venue.

Read more about Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley →


There's eating because you're famished and you just need to shove substance in your trap then there's a complete dining experience that ignites your taste buds, olfactory nerve, sight and hearing. Taking the immersive dining trend to the next level, The X Pot does exactly that via interactive 5D light shows, soundscapes, robotic servers and a sweeping menu featuring A5 Wagyu beef and imported seafood. Expect to experience the tradition of hot pot with broth simmering so you can cook your choice of fresh ingredients with robot servers doling out the goods. Choose the Wagyu Tasting Menu, an individual or sharing ala carte pot. Your soup base could be ocean lobster, golden chicken, earthy mushroom, Szechwan spicy or Sukiyaki. Dip A5 or domestic Wagyu, seafood, meatballs, veg, or tofu selections into the steaming broth. And don't miss the Dancing Noodles. There's also a bar dining menu with sushi, oysters and appetizers. Pair it all with sake, Champagne, specialty cocktails and Far East interpretations of classic drinks.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: It's an entertaining, Asian-American fusion dining experience that not only fills the belly but the ears and eyes, too!

Jacky's expert tip: The Wagyu Tasting Menu is limited to 20 reservations a day, so if you're keen on the ultra high quality marbled beef, make that resy.

Read more about The X Pot →


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7
Lincoln Park

If you've graduated from California roll with its pressed imitation crab substance and uninspired tuna rolls, it's time for an omakase experience. Omakase is chef's choice and it's a wonderfully surprising dining encounter as each course appears with a description of what your palate is about to encounter. Omakase is easy to find in Chicago (with some even earning Michelin Stars) but it's quite pricey. Enter Sushi by Bou, open since January, 2022, offering a timed omakase: 12 pieces/30 minutes/$50 per person or 17 pieces/60 minutes for $100 per person. Order a drink and watch the chef prepare servings of artfully plated fish: lean tuna, hamachi, spotted prawn, salmon roe, scallop, bbq eel and even a torched morsel of miso cod lying on a small sheet of nori among the courses. Make no mistake - this is "timed" so eat up because there's no lingering at the sushi bar after your last bite. You can, however, retire to a comfortable living room area to enjoy an additional drink after your time is up!

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Sushi by Bou offers a more affordable omakase experience in a comfortable, intimate atmosphere.

Jacky's expert tip: The whiskey library includes a wide selection of Japanese whiskeys and whiskey-centric cocktails - try flights or rare spirits.

Read more about Sushi by Bou →


6
Humboldt Park
3 Little Pigs Chi
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Domingo

Home of saucy barbecue (aka char siu) and completely new taste sensations like Salt & Pepper Chicken Sandwich; original Sweet & Sour Chicken Sandwich; and 3LP fried rice, (a porkapalooza of barbecue pork, spam, Chinese sausage), 3 Little Pigs Chi is a real find. Operating as a cloud kitchen with a dine-in spot coming in 2022, the Humboldt Park biz touts "untraditionally authentic' Cantonese grub created by born-and-bred Chicagoan, Henry Cai. You'll recognize crab rangoon but the fried appetizer is rendered unique via Cai's homemade sweet 'n' sour sauce. The 3 little pigs eggrolls are more than 70 percent meat stuffed in a tight crispy roll with a hint of peanut butter. Yum! The dish that put the little pigs on the culinary map is BBQ Pork Char Siu. The pork is hung, smoked, generously basted then gets another round of sauce. Cai's sweet and sour chicken comes with lovely food memories of his grandmother regularly preparing the popular Chinese dish for him (you can also get it as a sandwich crowned with tomato, pineapple ring, green pepper and white onion). Do try the salt and pepper fried chicken sandwich that features an orange mayonnaise glaze. Extra hungry? Order an Emperor rice box with 14-15 pieces of chicken, veggies and rice.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: A Chicago native takes his love of Chinese food and tweaks 'em just enough to make them simultaneously familiar and unique.

Jacky's expert tip: Direct message Cai on Instagram for preorders to cut down on wait time.

Read more about 3 Little Pigs Chi →


5
Fulton Market

Countless restaurants of all ilks list burrata, beet salad, meatballs, pork belly and cauliflower creations on their menus eliciting yawns from adventurous diners. Chef Guillermo Reyes of the new Chikatana tweaks 'em with Mexican-inspired flavors that transform the tried-and-true into something new. Start with an agave-forward craft cocktail: the Chikatana Margarita with a perky tajín rim; a refreshing Paloma with tequila and housemade grapefruit soda; or any of the mezcal numbers. You'll want so many of the starters but plot a plan to order lamb meatballs dappled with chili birria sauce, and queso fresco crema plus mezcal cucumbers and jalapeño mint salad. Other good bets are the lobster taco or whole shrimp bathing in chile de arbol garlic oil with grilled sourdough for dunking. You needn't be vegetarian to marvel at Cabbage in Mole Blanco: the oven roasted cabbage is staged with mole blanco, peanut salsa and pineapple relish. Fin-addicts will go for grilled Branzino, lapped with salsa verde or Bass a la Veracruzana. Crispy Pork Belly is encircled by a light mole verde, queso fresco and spicy roasted Hen of the Woods mushrooms. Barbacoa Short Ribs with parsnip puree and the Oaxacan tamal with slow cooked pork, are comfort food stand-outs. Finish with moist chocolate cake or horchata ice cream.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Chef Reyes' Oaxacan influenced dishes, available for brunch, lunch, and dinner, transform the tried-and-true into something new.

Jacky's expert tip: The bar program includes a a variety of cocktails featuring sweet and smoky Sotol and Raicilla (Mexico's original moonshine) in addition to mezcal and tequila.

Read more about Chikatana →


4
Gold Coast

Executive chef, Soo Ahn (previously with lauded Band of Bohemia), reimagines Italian fare, with the "Soo twist" - traditional flavors but using techniques not typical in Italian cooking..Whatever he's doing, it's working. in the heart of the Gold Coast, Adalina is a moody, two-level space with pops of floral decor. The main dining room is on the second level with views of the neighborhood and the Rose Lounge, a speakeasy ensconced behind a secret door on the ground level opens in late February, 2022. The menu offers classic Italian dishes with unexpected turns. For example, veal Parm is a colossal and tender veal chop capped with melted cheese and crispy basil in an arresting tomato sauce. If you crave Chicago's own Vesuvio flavors, try chef's variation with salmon, gnocchi and micro oregano. Like arancini? Adalina's combines popular cacio e pepe with Forbidden black rice, nutty Manchego cheese and rich guanciale. You could make a fine meal from starters like tender meatballs, charred octopus, mussels au gratin, oysters, truffled Caesar salad and an impressive shellfish tower. Handmade pastas are exquisite. The floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar displays 3,000 bottles, so you know the roster of grapes is extensive.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Sophisticated Adalina offers comforting Italian flavors with creative turns, a deep wine list, new speakeasy and views of the Gold Coast.

Jacky's expert tip: Order the pastry board during brunch. Jean Banchet Award-winning pastry chef Nicole Guini's (Blackbird, Avec) creations are spectacular.

Read more about Adalina →


3
The Loop

Michelin-starred chef, José Andrés, is single-handedly taking care of feeding people (via World Central Kitchen, that provides meals after natural disasters) and populating cities with remarkable Spanish restaurants. His latest in Chicago, Bar Mar on the first floor with Bazaar Meat upstairs, dazzle with big flavors and culinary theatrics. Bar Mar is a colorful trip to the sea with alluring tapas like hamachi or caviar cones; briny bivalves; perky ceviches and Spanish favorites like pan con tomate - toasty bread studded with tomato pulp. Lobster, calamari and tuna tartare rolls up the appetite ante but there are also more substantial items like whole fried fish and José's pulled chicken. Order a dramatic cocktail like the Floral Cloud: gin, lemon, cherry liqueur finished with a blossomy aromatic cloud. Bazaar Meat is a carnivore's delight. Theatrical snacks include cotton candy foie gras and liquid olives that pop in your mouth. "Say When" caviar service is a special indulgence and don't worry - there's plenty of Jamón Ibérico (hand-cut ham from acorn-fed Spanish pigs) to go around. Carpaccios, steaks and suckling pig round out the meaty menu.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Bar Mar and Bazaar Meat offer a carnival of Spanish flavor and showmanship in a restaurant-lean part of downtown.

Jacky's expert tip: The restaurants are just across the street from Lyric Opera for exceptional pre- and post-opera drinks and nosh.

Read more about Bar Mar →


2
Fulton Market

Swarms of diners filling Lyra must have read that the Mediterranean Diet is ranked #1 in 2022. Or they just want to have a good time, eating fresh takes on Greek cuisine in a beautiful honey-lit space. The Mykonos based culinary team of Alexis Zopas and Athinagoras Kostakos (who was the winner of Greece's version of "Top Chef"), work the custom wood and charcoal burning hearth throughout the menu: charcoal grilled octopus; wood fired Branzino or Sea Bass; and burnt beetroot with garlic hummus, among the smoke-kissed options. The raised open kitchen is buzzing from open to close sending out mezze like prawns saganaki with blistered feta (instead of customary kefalotyri) and grilled meatballs with delightfully smoked yogurt. A table of friends might like to start with the platter of spreads of spicy feta, tzatziki, charred eggplant and tarama with caviar to slather on 60-second pita. Expect a festive atmosphere and fun tableside staging of dishes like roasted lamb shoulder gyros; Maine lobster linguini; and desserts from Bougatsa (a crispy dough, ice cream and custard smash-up) to "The Plate" that comes with a mallet to break the edible disc. Modern interpretations of classics like moussaka and pastitsio please Greek cuisine fans. Cool cocktails (Santorini Spritz and a martini starring olive oil washed vodka) and an artisanal Greek wine list add to the high-spirited atmosphere.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Lyra shines in the restaurant laden Fulton Market district with a vibrant, happy atmosphere and tableside presentations of healthy Greek cuisine.

Jacky's expert tip: An amuse bouche of briny olives and fruity apertif is a welcoming gesture of Philoxenia" - an ancient Greek concept of caring for visitors.

Read more about Lyra →


Carlucci, a name known to Chicagoans since 1984, is back in the city with a new location in the East Loop across from Millennium Park. The lively space features imported Italian tile floors and colorful window panels with the names of Italian cities you've either visited or are planning to. Launch with a studry Negroni or Carlucci's in-house sommelier will help choose from a deep wine roster and dramatically decant your bottle tableside. A meat and cheese board; tender beef and pork meatballs; seared octopus with charred carrots; or a particularly light fritto misto (calamari, shrimp, halibut with lemon chili aioli) are perfect starters. But then again, there are the exceptional Neapolitan pizzas: the Calabrian transforms the traditional pepperoni pie with blasts of homemade chili oil and honey. The signature Bombonato pasta dish is a fun presentation of housemade pasta tossed tableside in a Parmesan wheel resulting in absurdly silky noodles placed atop prosciutto. Housemade gnocchi, in a bright tomato basil sauce, plus swaths of creamy fior di latte is a revelation. You'll find smoked fior di latte in Chef's eggplant Parm dish. Whole grilled sea bass and massive grilled pork chop staged with caper cream sauce are other worthy entrees. Housemade tiramisu or luscious gelato conclude your trip to Italy.

Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Joe Carlucci brings his celebrated hospitality; Chef Dana Heffernan contributes a deep knowledge of Italian food and the result is a sublime dining experience.

Jacky's expert tip: Chef Dana Heffernan honed his chops in Sorrento, Italy and Chicago's Spiaggia so don't bypass his specialties like Pappardelle Anatra, a duck ragu with Porcini mushrooms and Pecorino.

Read more about Carlucci Chicago →


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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

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