Navigating Chicago's Newest Restaurants
New restaurants open seemingly every day in Chicago. Add in the thousands upon thousands of other dining staples around town and you've got yourself quite the dubious task when it comes to navigating your dinner plans. You'd have an easier time keeping up with the Kardashians than with the spate of new dining options. But we're here to help whittle down your decisions and abate your stress. From a "furious" new ramen shop to a slice of Southern soul, here's your guide to hot new restaurants in Chicago and why you might love them.
You need to know: Say hello to your new ramen obsession. The noodle craze that shows no signs of ebbing (and why the hell would it?) just welcomed a major new player to the game in Wicker Park, courtesy of acclaimed chef Shin Thompson, nee: Bonsoiree. The chef proved his ramen mettle at his previous/shuttered restaurant Kabocha, where diners flocked to get their fill of brothy noodles. Now he's opened his most casual endeavor to date, a low-key noodle nook in a neighb in dire need of hearty, booze-soaking sustenance.
Why you'll love it: The Milwaukee Avenue artery in Wicker Park is woefully lax when it comes to alcohol-soaking cuisine. With so many bars positioned in the area, you'd think there would be more options for late-night drunk food. Furious Spoon is here for you. Even if you're not hammered, you'll love this place for its nourishing, heady broths, succulent noodles, and sumptuous proteins like egg and pork. This is just the type of wintry comfort Chicago needs.
Who won't like it: If you don't have a soul, you may not like Japanese soul food. Or, you know, if you feel like you've long since reached ramen fatigue in Chicago.
You need to know: Master Sommelier/Restaurateur/Former Check, Please! host/Goddess Alpana Singh goes two for two with her second Chicago restaurant, Seven Lions. Kind of sounds like a Narnia sequel, tastes and looks much better. After soaring to dining and drinking acclaim with The Boarding House in River North, Singh branches out to the Loop with a Michigan Avenue mega-spot across the street from The Art Institute of Chicago. Here, she's honing in on newfangled takes on classic American clubhouse fare for brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert. There's also an obviously awesome American wine list, along with craft beers and neo takes on classic cocktails. This old contemporary American ethos has been done to death, but Seven Lions has legs thanks to executive chef Chris Curren, an alum of such spots as Blue 13 (RIP) and Homestead on the Roof.
Why you'll love it: If you're a fan of Americana (read: club sandwiches, Cobb salad) and also give a damn about how well your food is prepared, you'll find the perfect middle ground at Seven Lions. With all meal periods covered, along with an ample and strong beverage program, Seven Lions looks to be the rare restaurant that can appease any appetite at any time of day. It's also a solid bet in the Loop, a neighborhood that has until recently been overly beleaguered with lackluster dining options.
Who won't like it: People looking for something a little more boundary-pushing, people looking for a scenier setting, people who think bacon eclairs are sacrilege.
You need to know: This Texas-based import just set up shop with its first Chicago location in the Gold Coast. It's an enormous piece of Viagra Triangle real estate as well, much more spacious and comfortable in terms of mod taquerias. In line with the notoriously saucy neighborhood, Velvet Taco embraces its randy side with 69 seats and a special menu item called "Back Door Chicken," which literally allows diners to order large chicken meals from the restaurant's back door. Tacos here skew eclectic, featuring ingredients like falafel, buffalo chicken, and Cuban pork. It makes for an exciting, unique taco experience, as long as you're not sensitive to the restaurant's innuendos.
Why you'll love it: Velvet Taco is a welcome affordable reprieve from the infamously sceney and pricey Gold Coast. It's also open super late, which is nice for club-goers and drinkers. Finally, the globally inspired taco menu makes for a tortilla experience unlike anything else in Chicago currently.
Who won't like it: Nuns, prudes, and those who take offense to terms like "back door chicken," which might actually be a lot of people.
You need to know: When L2O closed its doors at the end of 2014, fine dining fanatics wondered with baited breath what would come next from the multifaceted Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises empire. The answer to that curiosity is an innovative dining concept for the city, a fine dining restaurant that serves more as a rotating chef incubator than a singular dining destination. Every few months, the humbly dubbed Intro features a different chef in the kitchen, tasked with the opportunity to contrive their own restaurant, menu, and style. It's essentially a glorified pop-up series, and it's a win-win in that it keeps things fresh for diners and keeps chefs on their toes. The current and inaugural chef is C.J. Jacobson, an affable Los Angeles-based Top Chef alum who has cooked up a menu he deems "rustic-refined" with dishes like fluke with avocado, radish, and Douglas fir; oxtail tea with rutabaga "ramen" and Aronia berries; and kombucha with juniper snow, chocolate, and sunflower.
Why you'll love it: Like Next and Sixteen, Intro is a fine dining destination that morphs every few months, completely altering its core menu to fit a designated theme (in this case, a rotating roster of chef talent). It's an exciting element for fans of prix fixe menus, keeping them coming back on a regular basis without tiring of the same old formula. It's also a unique opportunity to taste the cooking of chefs from outside Chicago.
Who won't like it: No surprise here, but prix fixe fine dining isn't exactly budget-friendly.
Luella's Southern Kitchen
You need to know: Southern inspired restaurants aren't rare in Chicago. What is rare is a Southern inspired restaurant that can walk the walk and talk the talk at the same time. Luella's Southern Kitchen, newly opened in Lincoln Square, may very well be that restaurants, thanks largely to chef Darnell Reed, a Hilton alum who knows his way around a plate of comfort food. Named for his great grandmother Luella (aww), the restaurant is a welcome homey addition to the northwest side neighborhood, with a menu that serves as a casual homage to the cuisines of the Carolinas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana. Think braised short rib mac & cheese, bourbon chicken & waffles, and shrimp & grits.
Why you'll love it: Southern expats and lovers of Southern-style comfort food will be pleased with the wares at Luella's Southern Kitchen. It's a nice spot for families and kids as well.
Who won't like it: Diners on a diet should probably stay away. Customers looking for something more upscale will also feel lacking.
- Matt Kirouac