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Favorite New Restaurants

 

 

Favorite New Restaurants

The past two years have been an existential crisis for Chicago eateries. Mass layoffs and unfair PPP loans that were given out with the same arbitrary cruelty as a Squid Game challenge marked the beginning of it. Workers soon began exposing the numerous injustices pervasive in the sector after being liberated from their daily grind. Many left without returning, leaving the kitchens and dining rooms understaffed.

However, a new dynamic has evolved within this mayhem. Call it the "scrapiest survive." Everyone attempted carryout, and some people did it extremely well. The strength of resiliency began to manifest as snow globe feasting on the pavements. In contrast to their predecessors, young cooks with something to say took a different route. They operated ghost kitchens and pop-ups rather than building hotspots with a mound of debt. They transitioned from tweezing plants to making street food influenced by their cultural backgrounds. When they did attempt fine dining, their efforts were aimed at specific audiences; rather than headlining the Chicago Theatre, they were performing in the Hideout.

With a better understanding of what modern customers need, these chefs eventually created physical locations with craveable, innovative food priced at the lower end, emotionally impactful dinners in the middle, and a modern infusion of the high-end tasting menus for which Chicago is renowned.


We are excited to resume our yearly list of the city's top new eateries after a one-year break. These 14 eateries, all of which debuted in 2020 or 2021, best capture the modern eating scene in Chicago.

1. Kasama

Diners went crazy about Genie Kwon's sweet-savory ham and cheese Danish with melted raclette, Serrano ham, and black-pepper caramel when Kasama, a Filipino all-day café, debuted in July 2020. Getting one gave you Instagram bragging rights. Tim Flores' outstanding breakfast sandwich, which had a griddled longanisa sausage patty, crispy hash browns, and a fluffy piece of egg soufflé topped with melted American cheese, became the next popular item. What's worthy of social media giggling right now is getting a reservation for Kasama's 13-course evening tasting menu, which debuted in November.

Through the viewpoint of fine dining, that menu reinterprets traditional Filipino foods like kinilaw (a vinegar-based ceviche) and halo-halo. Both Flores and Kwon formerly held positions at the two-Michelin-starred Oriole, where he served as chef de cuisine and she as pastry chef. They now apply this upscale perspective to dishes like pancit, which is squid ink noodles topped with Serrano ham and dots of scallop conserva. Kwon's truffle croissant is a mic drop as it serves as the transitional item between the savory and sweet courses. It is covered with rock sugar, honey, and black truffle shavings that are shaved at the table and is filled with creamy, unique Délice de Bourgogne cheese and truffle paste.

You can even drop by during the day to enjoy the truffle croissant for for $13 if the $185 tasting menu is out of your price range. Because, although serving some of the greatest pastries in the city and providing an educational perspective on Filipino food, Kasama is, at its core, a neighborhood eatery.

2. Ever


Ever


A whiteboard in the kitchen here displays a number: a countdown to the number of services left before the team thinks the Michelin Guide may come out and a reminder to everyone on staff of what they’re working toward. Chef Curtis Duffy and his partner, Michael Muser, earned three stars at their previous restaurant, Grace, and though they currently have two, that third is likely. Three stars, in Michelin parlance, means it’s worth visiting the city just to dine at that restaurant. And, yes, at Ever you’re in for an experience like no other, sucked into an atmospheric bubble as soon as you open the door and cross the threshold. Walls curve, passageways narrow, colors mute. The food is so precise it could be made by robots with lasers. You need Muser’s offbeat and delightful wine pairings, which comment on the food and open it up. Imagine this: You get a plate of frozen hamachi that resembles curled sticks of Juicy Fruit over an assemblage of green herbs and purple rice. Then you take a sip of a Riesling with a wild minerality and find out it’s from the Langhe region of Italy. As the hamachi melts, you do too. Vaut le voyage.

3. Dear Margaret
3. Dear Margaret



If you stop into this bistro looking to re-create a trip to Quebec with a meal of tourtière, poutine, and thick pea soup, you could be confused. “What makes it French Canadian?” you may ask executive chef Ryan Brosseau. “I’m French Canadian,” he’d answer laconically. Brosseau is cooking from the heart, and in a way that plays to his strengths. The food here is of a piece with what he served at Table, Donkey and Stick. It is cold-weather European fare: duck liver mousse with hunks of warm housemade bread to rip into; sweet fried smelts from Lake Ontario; braised goat with red wine velouté; a warm salad of duck confit with white beans and pickled onions. Wine director Terry McNeese is a treasure who knows how to read customers as well as he knows his wine. (He stocked up on Riesling, and on our last visit, he offered a paint-swatch selection of eclectic reds.) If he sees you holding off to have your second glass with your entrée, he may just offer a taste of something to see you through your appetizer. This restaurant is as warm as a rocking chair by the fire.

4. Sochi Saigonese Kitchen

4. Sochi Saigonese Kitchen


Before opening Sochi, Chinh Pham and Son Do had never run a restaurant, which is astounding, considering how the couple’s maiden effort hits all the right notes. The setting, bright and airy, is easy on the eyes. The servers perform their moves with skill. The kitchen never seems to back up, even when the place is hopping — though this food would be worth waiting for. The spring rolls are velvety to the touch and come with a funked-up peanut sauce that gives you that great Vietnamese one-two punch of fresh crunch and umami. You can’t miss the egg rolls, fried in crackly rice paper and set up with bundles of lettuce, herbs, and veggies to wrap them in. The left side of the menu is the sweet spot, with a fantastic duck and banana blossom salad and wings that redefine “crispy.” But save room for the tender shaking beef with beef marrow fried rice and, to finish, a slice of airy cheesecake capped with fruit jelly, made daily by Pham’s mother.


5. Jinsei Motto

5. Jinsei Motto


Our new favorite sushi bar is in the Malört factory, and if that isn’t the most Chicago thing ever, we don’t know what is. Head sushi chef Patrick Bouaphanh first began rolling sushi at Mariano’s (gotta start somewhere) and cut his teeth at Sushi Dokku. More to the point, he has traveled enough in Japan to form an approach we wish more locals would emulate: Buy great fish at the source, cut it with care, season it with delicacy, and serve it at the right temperature vis-à-vis the rice. No truffle-oil funny business on the nigiri.

 Here, you’ll find wonderful farmed bluefin tuna from Spain and a variety of selections from Tokyo fish markets including ishidai (knifejaw) and kinmedai (golden eye snapper). All are available à la carte, so if an expensive omakase isn’t your plan, no problem. While you can get any number of cocktails using Malört, partner Andrew Choi instead recommends a sake to accompany the meal and finishing with a shot of Chicago’s finest and a pickled ginger chaser: “That’s our pickleback.”



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