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 River North iteration of avec and the sunny exploration of Greek cuisine at Andros Taverna (both opened in February, 2021).
Marvin’ Food & Fuel is an unpretentious, affordable dining and drinking establishment in Fulton Market that does not disappoint. If music, Mezcal and tasty Latin street eats sound like fun, head to Pilsen Yards. The menu at Azul Mariscos says “authentic Latin seafood” and the location, along the Chicago river in the Goose Island neighborhood, is all Chicago. For views of a larger body of water, have your Latin-influenced fare at the new Lirica on Navy Pier. Chicago can now claim an excellent French-Canadian eatery for which our Midwestern ingredients were made – Dear Margaret in Lakeview.
If you’ve sampled these new spots, know that highly anticipated openings are just around the bend. You didn’t think Top Chef winner, Joe Flamm, was going to be spending spring and summer watching the White Sox, did you? His Rose Mary promises inspired dishes like Croatian black risotto. Humanitarian and chef, José Andrés brings a tapas restaurant to River North and Logan Square gets a curing cave for charcuterie at Lardon. Save some room!
Is it a sports bar? There are plenty of televisions to attract fans. The disco ball, colorful decor, cocktails, beer list, DJ booth and sheer space nod to night life. The fact that Chef Marco Colin (The Publican, Alinea and Soho House) crafted the menu means that the food has got to be good. Why can’t Tree House be all three houses?
Count on modern Italian dishes, comfort and classic bar food including wood fired Neapolitan and Detroit pizza. Hopping on the hot birria taco trend, Tree House lists a Detroit style pie that sports slow braised beef, onion and cilantro with consomme for dipping. Small plates worth exploring: imported burrata encircled with marinated cherry tomatoes, Calabrese chili, honey comb and basil; pork and veal meatballs lolling in a thick house Marinara with Publican sourdough for sauce surfing; and beet ricotta hummus. There’s rigatoni in house vodka sauce adorned with crispy prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano. And, of course, a burger and a steak.
Sip a house Negroni or Mango Mezcal for a smoky tropical option.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: It’s the new kid on the River North block offering plenty of space, Italian dishes, comfort and classic bar food and nature-inspired design.
Jacky’s expert tip: Tree House just opened so there may be tweaks and additions to the menu and the possibility of dancing (remember that?) when social distancing rules relax.
Nobu Chicago is a stunning 10,000-square-foot restaurant with a lounge, dining room, stone sushi bar and private dining rooms. Known across the globe for signature dishes like Black Cod with Miso, Yellowtail Jalapeño Sashimi and a long list of sushi, the restaurant is located within the new Nobu Hotel Chicago.
The menu feels fresh and healthy. There are snacks such as traditional edamame; cold dishes like various ceviches, popular Yellowtail Jalapeño sashimi; and interesting salads – King Crab salad; Baby Artichoke Salad; and Warm Mushroom Salad. Tacos? Yes – filled with tuna, King crab, lobster, Ribeye or Wagyu.
The only thing wrong with Nobu’s famous Black Cod with Miso is that you’ll want another order. But there are plates of Arctic Char, Wagyu Dumplings and Prime Tenderloin to sample. If you like surprises, go for the Omakase signature tasting menu. The Bento Box dessert of
Valrhona dark chocolate fondant, and Imperial matcha gelato makes a fine conclusion to a special night out.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Expect plating to be as gorgeous as your surroundings at Nobu Chicago.
Jacky’s expert tip: The Rooftop at Nobu Hotel Chicago offers sweeping views of the city, cocktails and a menu of cold and warm bites.
Peruse practically any restaurant menu these days and see monotony: meatballs; Brussels sprouts; octopus; a fried chicken sandwich. Yawn. Chef Ryan Brosseau (Le Sud, Table, Donkey and Stick) brings “vive la différence” to Lakeview. Dear Margaret is steeped in French-Canadian cuisine using our fine Midwestern ingredients.
Sure, there was a trendy flurry of poutine in the last few years but the intimate eatery gets serious about French-Canadian food using classic techniques and Brosseau’s memories of his grandmother Margaret’s kitchen. Among the small, medium-sized and larger plates: Charred & Smoked Carrots with toasted sliced almonds, feta, parsley, dill, oregano, and almond butter vinaigrette; Duck Liver Mousse with apricot jam, 9-grain toast, and smoked pickled onion; Fried (in beef tallow) Smelts with tartar sauce and lemon; potted ham capped in clarified butter; rabbit and lamb dishes.
The interior is cheery and warm – just as you would imagine a sweet granny’s would be, albeit one who knows how to prepare a mean pork pâté.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Chicago can now claim an excellent French-Canadian eatery for which our Midwestern ingredients were made.
Jacky’s expert tip: Dear Margaret offers a menu tailored to travel well for enjoyment at home, too.
Pilsen Yards may be the antidote to a year of holing up alone. DJ’s deliver vinyl sets of vintage Funk, World, Soul, Cumbia, Salsa, R&B and Fusion. As the pandemic softens its grip, expect live music and art shows, too. It’s a spacious and playful.
The menu might read familiar – tacos, ceviche, hummus, burger, nachos, steak and fries – but look a little closer and you’ll notice some clever swings on the same old. Shrimp tacos excite with chorizo, potatoes, chipotle aioli and cibollitas along with the crustaceans. Veg gets an upgrade: carrots al pastor are charred carrots and pineapple, dappled with cilantro pesto and lime crema . Masa encases ricotta and is draped with poblano cream sauce for yummy meat-free tamales. Order one of the ceviches when it’s sweaty or the steamy pozole when its chilly. But whatever the weather, get a seat on the patio – it has a radiant-heated cement floor, radiant overhead heaters, and a clear roof to let the sunshine in.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Music, Mezcal and tasty Latin street eats in the heart of Pilsen.
Jacky’s expert tip: Seek out The Alderman, a separate 18-seat cocktail bar, within Pilsen Yards. It’s a great little room to surprise your date.
You might want to reserve a table at Andro’s Taverna just for pastry chef Hsing Chen’s desserts but then you’d miss her Chef Doug Psaltis’ sophisticated Mediterranean food. Traditional cuisine shares the menu with innovative new dishes for a more modern expression of Greek food.
Meze includes pleasantly perky Avgolemono soup; tiny Cretan sausages; zucchini chips; and baked barrel aged feta. Any outing to a Greek restaurant must include bread (like Chef’s sesame village bread) to mop up spreads: will it be charred eggplant; traditional tzatziki; spicy whipped feta; or garlicky skordalia with octopus? A meze collection is great for a group or a lighter dinner for two: choice of three spreads, served with crudités, cheese & olives, char grilled kalamaki and wood fired pitas. Your Yiayia may be envious of the family recipes of eggplant moussaka and prawn saganaki with sides of yigante beans or lemon potatoes. Lamb, chicken and seafood come “from the embers.” Staff will help you choose among Grecian and other Mediterranean wines.
Dessert goes way beyond baklava – try ruffled custard pie with layers of crispy filo or traditional roasted almond butter cookies buried in powdered sugar.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Traditional Greek cuisine shares the menu with innovative new dishes for a more modern expression of Greek food. Plus – those pastries.
Jacky’s expert tip: Chen’s bakery skills show up at brunch, too, by way of flakey cinnamon swirl brioche; olive oil lemon cake and chocolate halva croissant.
Located in Sable, a Curio Collection by Hilton hotel, Lirica is a Latin-influenced waterfront bar and restaurant that certainly has location on its side. The 150-seat patio is another plus in terms of views and an open-air dining experience many people crave because of Chicago’s long winters and, well, CoVid.
The menu is inspired by the cuisine of more than a dozen South American countries highlighting fresh-cut fish, roasted meats and a samba of smaller plates. Start with salmon ceviche; ahi tuna; grilled octopus; or shaved Serrano ham with olives, tomato jam and housemade focaccia. A double-stacked Prime burger; beer-battered fish tacos; and a baked sweet potato with cumin yogurt, corn and smoked chili sauce are among the five entrees. Since Navy Pier attracts so many groups and families, shareable “grandes” are a good idea – like Spanish-style fried chicken.
Sip one of the handcrafted “bebidas” or wine and beer options drawn heavily from Spain and Portugal.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: It’s right there on Navy Pier for all the visitors bypassing Dippin’ Dots, churro stands and hot dog purveyors.
Jacky’s expert tip: Lirica is inside of a hotel so you can eyeball the great views for breakfast along with chilaquiles and a Bloody Mary.
The entire dining experience at the new Azul Mariscos is playful from the tropical music and location on the river to three outdoor spaces and a boat dock plus Latin-influenced seafood. It’s a fresh tonic of ocean goodness after a very long year of holing up indoors. Sunny servers launch your culinary vacay with a sample of Azul’s spin on pina colada – a nice touch.
Chicago South Side native Michael Hernandez offers classic mariscos dishes like cóctel de camarón (jumbo shrimp in housemade cocktail sauce enhanced by avocado, celery and onion); aguachilies – spicy lime-sured shrimp; and squeaky clean oysters, nude or topped with shrimp ceviche. A sturdy dice of cod shares a bowl with mango, bell pepper, habanero and a perky hit of citrus juice waiting to be scooped onto crisped tortillas – it’s a winning ceviche. Impressive entrees include whole Veracruz Red Snapper; seafood studded paella; surf & turf with your choice of shellfish accompanying a grilled marinated skirt steak. Shared plates are served by entree, half-kilo and kilo: prawns, shrimp, grilled King Crab legs; or grilled skirt steak. There are tacos and tortas; lobster empanadas; elotes and wings; various grilled fish; and a kids’ menu.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Azul Mariscos is a fresh tonic of ocean goodness after a very long year of holing up indoors.
Jacky’s expert tip: Azul offers individual cans of select wines – perfect for boaters stopping by for a drink or a friends chilling on the patio.
On the corner of Morgan and Fulton, Marvin’s Food & Fuel is the unpretentious, affordable restaurant and bar in a neighborhood teeming with tiny plates and big tabs. And the food is very, very good.
Riffing on the current popularity of Jewish deli food, Chef Mitch Cavanah hits a homer with potato latke tots served with smoked salmon dip and house-pickled veg. It’s a perfect partner to the housemade pastrami platter. Nostalgia comes via BBQ turkey meatloaf with whipped spuds; a real “best burger in the city” contender sided with tasty fries; and ice cream drinks like a Grasshopper or Brandy Alexander. Vegans get a pulled mushroom sandwich topped with Jax House-made BBQ sauce. Consider hand-crafted TV dinners (served in a tin partitioned tray), that are freezable and ready to heat at home.
There’s a new expanded dining room and bar with hand-crafted furniture and four-season dining options.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Marvin’s is a completely unpretentious, affordable dining and drinking establishment in a neighborhood full of the opposite.
Jacky’s expert tip: Notice the reclaimed pieces such as vintage German airplane hanger light fixtures, reupholstered antique chairs, and wonderful pop culture art from owner James Geier’s personal collection.
After nearly 20 years, an entire lifetime in the restaurant biz, avec has expanded to a second location in busy River North.
Expect the same quality of Mediterranean-influenced cuisine plus more pizza, pasta and seafood. Add avec’s moderately priced wine list that points to hearty peasant wines from small producers in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and you’re in for a as-close-to-perfect dining experience as one would hope for.
Small plate winners include smoked whitefish taramasalata with hot-from-the-oven pita; sea scallop crudo with Meyer lemon and Fresno chili; wood oven roasted shrimp; and chorizo stuffed Medjool dates. There are cheese plates to complement uncommon wines and exquisite handmade pasta. Inventive pizza (roasted Oyster mushroom with garlic cream and chili crisp, for example); whole roasted Branzino; slow-roasted pork shoulder; and paella find their way on the large plates menu. For dessert, decide among the elusive Basque cheesecake; chocolate baklava or baked custard.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: The new iteration of avec promises and delivers a as-close-to-perfect, cheerful, delicious dining experience as one would hope for.
Jacky’s expert tip: Drink up! There are more than 130 wines priced between $20 and $90 a bottle and 30 wines by the glass, plus French, Italian and Belgian beers.
Curtis Duffy, respected Michelin-starred chef, has a new passion: Ever. (You can learn more about him via the documentary “For Grace,” currently streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube Movies).
This is not the place you stop in for a casual meal. The tasting menu experience, that typically lasts two-and-a-half hours, is pricey but unforgettably transcendent. You see the artist and craftsman in every painterly course that leaves you excited for the next. Listing items on the current menu (Hamachi with Finger lime, ginger and Blue Basil, for example) doesn’t do Ever justice – Instagram was made for this. Expect a parade of dramatic flourishes, for sure, but also phenomenal flavor. The tasting menu of 8-10 courses is constantly changing (Duffy calls the menu “52-week seasonal”) and summer’s generous rewards should result in exciting vegetable additions.
The space is a master class in understated, elegant design and decor and coupled with chef’s food and impeccable service, a visit to Ever is an ultimate dining experience. Ever’s rooftop offers a breathtaking view of the skyline – ask to see it before you leave if dining there isn’t available yet.
Recommended for New and Popular Restaurants because: Elegant ambience, incredible food and and impeccable service, make a visit to Ever an ultimate dining experience.
Jacky’s expert tip: The best time to book a reservation at Ever is at 9 a.m., Chicago time, on the first Tuesday of each month.