Chicago's Hot New Restaurants - March 2010

Gilt Bar

Falling somewhere between classy and casual, Gilt Bar combines elements of both for a unique, downtown feel. In terms of class, look to the massive brass-framed mirrors behind the bar, the twinkling chandelier, expansive leather couches, and the solid brass bar. For casual, see the picnic table-style seating and the table wine ($4) and PBR ($2) on the drink menu. In other words, I'd feel comfortable wearing jeans here, but would probably dress them up a little with some designer pumps.

The food is pretty stylish too, with snacks like Gioia burrata (essentially mozzarella-stuffed mozzarella from California-based Gioia Cheese), pork and duck liver on toast, and roasted beets with brown butter and almonds. Entrees are divided into pastas and meat/seafood, with offerings that include a mushroom and truffle pasta, ricotta gnocchi, steamed mussels, and maple and bourbon-glazed pork. The drink menu is equally intriguing, mixing domestic craft brews (Dogfish Head, Three Floyds) with rare imports, and classic cocktails like the Sazerac with some more modern concoctions.

I can't quite decide what vibe this place is going for, but maybe that's exactly the point.

Burger Mania


Chicago's burger craze rages on, with two new burger joints opening their doors this week. First is Lettuce Entertain You's M Burger, which offers quick counter service for people on their lunch break or on their way home from work. Seating is limited, but an outdoor patio will open as soon as Mother Nature allows. The menu is super simple, serving hamburgers, cheeseburgers, the M Burger (with bacon, cheese and special sauce, pictured here as a double), a chicken sandwich and a veggie burger, named after Northwestern Hospital's Nurse Betty. Best of all, everything is under $5. Pair your burger with fries, a shake, fresh-squeezed lemonade or homemade peach iced tea.

Next up is J. Wellington's in Wicker Park, another counter-service burger joint, but this one's open late--and BYOB. Choose from one of eight signature sandwiches, including the One-Eyed Runt burger (with a fried egg, applewood smoked bacon, blue cheese and sriracha mayo) and the J. "Royale" Filet (breaded tilapia with fried pickles, American cheese and creamy horseradish). You can also build your own burger with your choice of cheeses, toppings and signature sauces.

Beyond sandwiches, the four-cheese mac 'n' cheese is not to be missed. Get your food to go or grab a seat under the watchful eye of J. Wellington Wimpy himself.

Déjà Vu

Interestingly, many of the places that have opened in the last couple weeks are names we've heard before. Brunch juggernaut Orange opened its fifth location in River North, opening an hour earlier (7 a.m.) than its other restaurants to grab the downtown work crowd on their way to the office. Francesca's also expanded its dominance of the pizza-and-pasta world with its 20th Chicagoland location in the Gold Coast's Seneca Hotel. And last but not least, Harry Caray's Tavern opened on Navy Pier, finally bringing some decent food to my least favorite Chicago tourist attraction (sorry, I just don't see the appeal of chintzy shopping mall carts and $10 beers). This family-friendly location (less expensive than the steakhouse, less rowdy than the Wrigleyville bar) combines menu items from both, including the Holy Cow! build-your-own-burger bar. There's also a "museum" of sports memorabilia and a large patio for the summer months.

With this new addition, maybe Navy Pier isn't so bad after all.

Contact Erica about new restaurants and clubs at