Plenty of restaurants have opened in Chicago over the past year, and despite the buzz and excitement surrounding so many of them, a lot have been disappointing. Not the nine listed here. These are the places that make all of our research (in 2019’s case, eating a lot of carefully coursed-out plates) worth it - they’re the new favorites we’re always hoping to find.
For some reason, 2019 is when Chicago restaurants didn’t want us making our own ordering decisions. Four of our Best New Restaurants have tasting menus (and one prix fixe), but not all of them are upscale or expensive experiences. There’s more to this list, though, than just those types of places - from an outstanding fried chicken spot to a momo restaurant that makes us want to break out a scale, protractor, and Ouija board to find out from Euclid how their dumplings are so perfectly constructed. In other words, whether or not you like to order a la carte, or just let the restaurant decide, you have some very enjoyable eating ahead of you.
All restaurants on The Infatuation are selected by our editorial team. Chicago’s Best New Restaurants Of 2019 is presented by Truly Hard Seltzer.
There are restaurants that are great, really great, and really really great. Then there are spots we go back to again and again… and again, way after writing the original review. This is the case with Galit in Lincoln Park. It’s a place we like so much that we’ll tell anyone who will listen about the food. Whether it’s the unbelievably creamy hummus, cloud-like pita, or Tunisian fried fish, we really think the Starbucks barista needs to hear about it at 8am on a Tuesday. And in case you come to the restaurant and have a hard time deciding what to choose, this place has a $65 prix fixe option too.
We can usually tell right away whether or not we’re going to have a good time at a dinner party (jumping dogs and Pillsbury tubes are a bad sign). And as soon as we arrived for our first visit at Wherewithall, we knew immediately that it was going to be a great night. This place feels a lot like a fun dinner party - starting with the friendly host and servers, followed by a fantastic $65 four-course (plus some snacks) tasting menu that changes literally every day. Halfway through the meal, we wanted to ask for the recipe to the current and sheep’s milk cheese-topped duck breast, and find out exactly where they get their bread (it’s Middle Brow Bungalow). Most importantly, this restaurant showed us that kalamata olive crumbles make an excellent ice cream topping.
Walking into The Momo World in University Village, we were confronted with a bunch of choices - meaning a long list of momos written on the chalkboard above the register. There are roughly 6,894 options to choose from and we’ve eaten them all, but we still can’t pick which one is our favorite. Is it the fried-then-chargrilled tandoori momo? The sadeko covered in a rich sesame gravy? The momo chaat with sev, tamarind, rice crackers, yogurt, and a bunch of other delicious things? We can’t decide. The only solution is to come here and make our own 6,894-course tasting menu.
After our first visit to Kumiko, we couldn’t wait to eat the perfectly doughy steam buns again. In fact, one night after going to Kikko, their seven-course omakase restaurant in the basement, we stopped back upstairs for another order of them. We’d been thinking about those buns non-stop, along with the katsu sweetbreads that look and taste like crispy chicken nuggets (but unfortunately don’t come in a 20-piece). We ended up spending the rest of the night cracking jokes with the bartender as they walked us through one of the best cocktail lists in the city. But we were only really half-listening - partially because we were still thinking about the A5 wagyu we just ate downstairs, and also because we’d already started booking our next reservations on our phone.
Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or that one Robert Frost poem, there are two paths to choose from at Jeong in West Town: ordering a la carte or (you guessed it) getting the $87 seven-course tasting menu. It’s not a decision to make lightly - both have entirely different dishes, and duck fat-fried tteokbokki versus kimchi truffle steak isn’t an easy choice. But after a lot of research and development, we can confirm that the tasting menu is the way to go. From a simple salmon tartare with creme fraiche to silky tofu custard to the steak - everything is excellent. Plus, we just order the tteokbokki from the al la carte menu regardless.
Whenever the team behind Girl & The Goat decides to open a new restaurant, the entire city re-watches Top Chef and gets in line before construction even starts. All that noise being generated from the hype machine can be distracting, but even Hot Take Harry (who hates everything popular) can’t ignore that Cabra in the West Loop is an objectively great restaurant. Whether it’s the lighter Peruvian small plates (like the duck ceviche) or the chicharron de puerco (a deep-fried shank that’s one of the best pork dishes we’ve ever had), it’s all worth waiting in line for.
Out of all the tasting-menu spots on this list, Mako in the West Loop definitely wins the prize for priciest ($175) and lengthiest meal. In fact, when we saw how long the omakase is here (22+ courses of sushi and small plates), we wondered if things might start to drag like the last hour and a half of any Transformers movie. But after our first pieces of the expertly prepared fish, we were immediately grateful for this restaurant’s long runtime.
Bayan Ko is where we go when we need to turn a day around - the kind that starts with dropping our phone in the toilet and ends with our parents selling our childhood home. That’s because this small Filipino-Cuban restaurant in Ravenswood is straight-up charming, with friendly, warm service that makes you feel incredibly welcome as soon as you walk in. And after spending a few hours here drinking wine and eating a plate of the delicious ropa vieja, we realized the last time we enjoyed ourselves this much was probably before we got our braces off. And if the house we grew up in ends up being razed for a soulless condo, we’re glad the pork-filled croqueta tots will be there to help us pick up the pieces.
Like MLB pitchers and merry-go-rounds, if a restaurant focuses primarily on one thing, it better do it well. So when we saw Luella’s (very) short menu of fried and jerk chicken (and chicken accessories) we were hopeful. And it turns out that this counter-service spot in Wicker Park makes some excellent f*ckng chicken - no matter if it’s fried and covered in spicy Gospel sauce, or smoked with jerk seasoning. In fact, since there’s no decision to be made here, it’s kind of like a one-course tasting menu.
In Memoriam: Italianette 8.5
Some stars shine too bright for this world, and we have a too-brief period of time to bask in their glow.
To say we were initially skeptical of this pasta place located in a trendy food hall is an understatement. But like every romantic comedy ever made, it turns out that our true love was hiding in the most unlikely place - a glorified food court surrounded by a bunch of annoying construction in the West Loop. Not only did Italianette have the best cacio e pepe in the city, but the rest of the pastas on the menu were outstanding, too. Here’s hoping it gets reincarnated, or comes back to us the same way Patrick Swayze possessed Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. We’ll ask our Ouija board.