Readers and friends of The Infatuation often ask for one very specific request: they want to know about the city’s best new restaurants before we review them. We get it, it’s the age of instant information. But that wasn’t information we gave you, until now. We’re happy to present The Infatuation Hit List, a regularly updated guide to the new Chicago restaurants we think are worth your time.
On this list, you’ll find new places we’ve recently reviewed and places we’ve enjoyed and will likely have good things to say about in the future.
One thing you can always rely on: we’ll only put places on this list that we have genuinely vetted. That means every brand new opening doesn’t automatically make a restaurant worthy, nor does a team of ten publicists and an army of Instagrammers who insist it’s good. We don’t care if Oprah endorses it, we’ll only add it to the list if we think it’s actually a place you should spend your time and money in search of new favorite things.
New to The Hit List (as of8/21): Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar, La Josie
The idea of a casual neighborhood caviar bar is an unusual one, but Heritage somehow works. The Humboldt Park space is laid back, and the caviar menu has a wide range of variety and prices allowing you to try different kinds. They also do some excellent Eastern European food - you’ll find stuff like borscht, as well as pierogi and a fantastic pelmeni filled with ground duck. Check it out for date night, or if you feel like hanging with a group of friends over Russian vodka and platters of caviar.
La Josie has three full bars and a rooftop deck, and all are crowded, even on weeknights. Since this spot is in the West Loop that’s no surprise, but La Josie also happens to be serving great Mexican food and drinks. Even if you’re not looking for a wild night out, it’s worth coming here for excellent tacos and enchiladas. The servers and bartenders are very friendly, and the extensive cocktail menu offers more than pitchers of watered down margaritas. Check it out as a new option for day drinking, or for a dinner with friends.
This new spot in Edgewater serves “contemporary Indian” in a fun, brightly-decorated environment, and you should get it in your weeknight rotation immediately. The less traditional dishes - things like lamb sliders and pork belly - are excellent, but they do the classics extremely well too. The samosas are light and crispy with a filling that doesn’t feel like baby food, and the chana masala is one of the best we’ve had. There’s a solid cocktail menu as well. This place is casual enough for a low-key meal, but nice enough for a date.
Split Rail is a modern gastropub in Humboldt Park, and it feels a bit like an updated version of Longman & Eagle. The menu has everything from a fancy potato salad to a dish called “Fajitas, Reimagined” that involves red pepper gelee. Normally when menu items sound like headlines of an Onion article, it’s a bad sign, but luckily Split Rail pulls through in a big way. In addition to the great food, this is a relaxed, low-key place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and we like it a lot.
Mi Tocaya is a new small plates Mexican restaurant in Logan Square, and they’re doing upscale takes on regional Mexican food. That means you’ll find some excellent stuff you might not frequently come across - like guisado de nopalitos, a really excellent cactus stew - but you can get some very good tacos here as well. The excellent food and bright, lively space make this a great choice for a summer hang, especially if you can get a seat on their patio.
There’s been an influx of vegetable-centric restaurants in Chicago recently. First, there was Bad Hunter, then came Clever Rabbit, and now we have Daisies in Logan Square. This small restaurant gets even more specific than the first two, with a veggie-focused “Midwestern pasta-focused” menu. An open kitchen puts out the solid pasta dishes, and animal parts occasionally make an appearance (you’ll find chicken cracklins in the tajarin). You can get chicken or fish too, but you should mainly be coming here for pasta.
It hasn’t been open long, but Bebu in Lincoln Park is already in the running for being one of our favorite pizza spots in the city. The thin crust is the right balance of crispy and chewy, and is the perfect vehicle for the many toppings on offer. There’s a mixture of creative pies (the littleneck clam is a stand out) and classics (one is actually named “Ode to Rubirosa” after the excellent NYC spot). Fortunately, you can order them half and half, so you don’t have to stress out about choosing which to get. Bebu is in an area of Lincoln Park that gets overlooked, but it’s definitely worth heading out there to shake up your pizza routine.
Kitsune is a Midwest-inspired version of a Japanese izakaya from the same people behind Bunny The Micro Bakery (RIP), which was one of our favorite places to eat during the short time it was open. Unlike Bunny, this is a full-on restaurant, where you can have dinner and drinks. Everything on the menu at Kitsune looks and sounds Japanese, but with a twist. Think sashimi with rice and miso sauce, but the rice is Carolina gold rice, which is noticeably different than the stuff that came with your California roll the other night. Kitsune is small, fun, and different.
Entente is in Lakeview and it’s a partnership between the owner of Arami and the old chef of Schwa. The waitstaff at Entente won’t get drunk and light off fireworks like Schwa has been known to do, but you definitely notice some elements of Schwa going on here. That means there’s a steady dose of loud music including everything from rap to rock, and the food is cool and interesting. Dishes like pork chop and chicken might sound boring, but they’re presented in creative ways you’ve never seen before, not to mention taste really good. Make sure to order the carolina gold, which is basically a risotto with a lot of parmesan, truffle, and a duck egg. And get a table in the brick-walled back room by the kitchen over the front one that can be awkward at times.
We’re wondering who has all the money in this town that fancy tasting menu restaurants can keep opening and stay in business. But you can add Temporis to the list, a small, 20 seat restaurant in West Town with an 8-course tasting menu that will run you $110 (+$95 wine pairing). It’s worth a try if you’re into these sort of things.
That new West Loop hotness. Elske is a little more upscale, evidenced by a menu full of things like grilled octopus with treviso and beurre rouge. Good news is beurre rouge is just a fancy term for red wine butter sauce, and we can always get down with food cooked in butter.
Steak. Bacon. Burgers. Truffle. Truffle-bacon-wrapped-steak-burgers. These are the types of things we normally expect at exciting new Chicago restaurants. But carrots, radishes, and beet tartare? Not so much. And that’s what makes Bad Hunter great - a veggie-heavy menu that makes vegetables exciting. You’ll be happy to eat more plants and less meat in the cool West Loop space. There’s even an excellent veggie burger with the option to add bacon for the best of both worlds.
No surprise that the newest restaurant from the Alinea squad is pretty awesome. Roister is their “casual” restaurant to rival the formalities at Alinea, but casual is a relative term. It’s not casual compared to most other places, but it is a lot of fun. Feel free to go for the set menu starting at $85 or order a la carte, just make sure to get the chicken and a foie gras candy bar either way.
El Che Bar was basically destined to be in the space it now inhabits. It’s located in the former Checker Taxi building that still has the old sign out front, but only three letters remain lit up today: CHE. The atmosphere at this West Loop Argentinian spot is fun but not over-the-top, so you’ll actually enjoy hanging out here. And the food is always delicious. Lean heavy on the meats that come from the huge flame grill, and round out your other meal with other great dishes like roasted oysters or gnocchi.