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Insider's Guide to 15 Hot New Restaurants From the Survey

By Sarah Freeman
September 11, 2013

This year’s Zagat guide not only showcased the culinary superstars of Chicago, but featured some key newcomers to keep an eye on. These newbies to the restaurant game are not letting their rookie standings hold them back. Bold flavors, unique concepts and elegant designs define our editors’ picks for this year’s most notable arrivals. Check out our guide on how to navigate these trailblazing new restaurants.

  • From a former television host to a fine-dining alum, the newcomers in the Big Names/Big Ticket category are as varied as the cuisine they serve.

    The Boarding House
    After leaving her post as the host of Check, Please!, master sommelier Alpana Singh turned her attention to a four-story wine emporium. The cellar is perfect for light bites, and the main floor bar is designed for guests to enjoy wine by the glass underneath the shimmering chandelier, while the second-floor dining room serves refined American classics.

    Grace
    After departing from the highly acclaimed Avenues, chef Curtis Duffy set his sights on redefining fine dining in Chicago with his über-upscale West Loop restaurant. Both the veggie-forward flora menu and the carnivore-friendly fauna cost $185 and include eight to 12 courses of beautiful cuisine.

    Little Goat Diner
    Stephanie Izard’s follow-up to her wildly popular Randolph Street restaurant is a diner heavy on the goat. Goat sloppy Joes, goat chili cheese fries and lattes made with goat milk have diners flocking to it at all hours of the day. Snag a seat at the communal tables or bar to avoid the hours-long wait.

  • Newcomers in the Asian Spice category think outside the take-out box when interpreting Eastern flavors.

    Embeya
    This West Loop gem is doing a lot of things right. Diners sit in a massive dining room with gold accents and light fixtures that resemble sea urchins while enjoying the progressive Asian cuisine of chef Thai Dang and hospitality of industry veteran Attila Gyulai. Sit at the bar or in the lounge to enjoy the masterpieces that are beverage director Danielle Pizzutillo's kitchen-driven cocktails.

    Lao 18
    The latest from restaurateur Tony Hu and business partner Bing Zhou is located in 8,000 sq. ft. of prime real estate on Hubbard. Despite the trendy location and massive bar, Hu’s Sichuan cuisine remains almost completely unaltered. Signature dishes such as three-chile chicken and steamed spare ribs are served with all the heat and flavor of Hu’s food on the south side of town.

    Mott St
    The team behind Ruxbin takes on Asian night-market cuisine, which means crispy wings glazed with soy and tossed with everything bagel seasoning and crab-brain fried rice with Chinese sausage, coconut, bean sprouts and lime. Unlike its sister spot, the eclectic dining room does take reservations, but the tiered patio is reserved for walk-ins.

  • Meat, meat and more meat are all over the Decadent Eats category, with representatives serving steak, BBQ and lamb chops.

    Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf
    Brendan Sodikoff’s European steakhouse has the glitz and glam of, well, all the other restaurants owned by Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Maude’s and Au Cheval). He changes it up in his River North meatery with vintage oriental rugs, red-leather booths and distressed mirrors. Below the steakhouse is a basement cavern of cocktails.

    County
    Chef/restaurateur Michael Kornick’s latest venture takes him into the saucy world of BBQ with a small Taylor Street restaurant with a big smoker. Dine on St. Louis spare ribs, veal brisket or Kansas City burnt ends in the dining room or at the bar overlooking bottles of bourbon.

    The Tortoise Club
    Old-school charm infiltrates both the dining room and the menu at this riverside spot. From wild pheasant pie to Colorado lamb chops, chef Gray McNally’s classic cuisine leaves diners licking their fingers in the white-tablecloth dining room. Classics also comprise the cocktail menu that features the Bees Knees and the Antique Whiskey Sour.

  • Who says a cozy neighborhood joint has to be boring? The Neighborhood Stars category is filled with spots pushing the boundaries of flavor.

    Fat Rice
    This time a year ago, few had heard about the hybrid Chinese-Portuguese cuisine on the tiny island of Macau. Now, thanks to a duo of smart chefs, Macanese cuisine is in the spotlight in Fat Rice's wildly popular Logan Square restaurant. The no-reservations policy means diners should arrive by 6 to avoid waiting for the restaurant's signature dish, a shareable rice dish filled with Chinese sausage, Portuguese chicken, roast pork, linguiça, salted duck and littleneck clams.

    Found
    A cozy restaurant with its mismatched chairs and tchotchke-covered bookshelves is attracting city-dwellers to nearby Evanston. Dishes such as grilled Slagel Farm steak with braised roma beans, smashed potatoes and sorrel butter, or wood-oven-roasted pork chop with cucumber, dill crème fraîche and market greens are complemented by light cocktails or wine by the glass.

    Table, Donkey & Stick
    The Alpine region gets much more attention for its skiing than for its eating, but chef Scott Manley is bringing the mountain fare of France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Slovenia into the spotlight. This translates to soft pretzels with Gruyère fondue, as well as an Alpine Burger with Bodensee Butterkase, onion marmalade, latkes, horseradish aïoli and apple mustarda on a pretzel bun, best paired with a German beer.

  • The Scenes category takes diners to an alfresco escape complete with red-and-white-stripped umbrellas and a “mermaid shack” serving South American cuisine.

    La Sirena Clandestina
    Chef John Manion taps into the home-style cooking of Argentina and Brazil with his Fulton Market “mermaid shack.” La Sirena Clandestina, meaning "secret mermaid," is a gem hidden in plain sight. Despite its trendy neighbors, Next and The Aviary, the 40-seat restaurant keeps things simple with grilled head-on prawns, pork loin Milenesa and a rotating selection of empanadas.

    Parson’s Chicken & Fish
    The restaurant on the corner of Humboldt Boulevard and Armitage Avenue and the second project from the team behind Longman & Eagle left many on their toes with curiosity. Now that it's open, it's an outdoor mecca for fried chicken and fish as well as a dangerously refreshing Negroni slushy. Inside, a design-forward space features booths and a full bar perfect for beer cocktails and salt cod fritters.

    Trenchermen
    The first year of this stunning restaurant was filled with ups and downs. A hightlight was the invention of pickle tots served with chicken breast bresaola and red onion yogurt, while perhaps just a hiccup was the departure of co-founding chef, Michael Sheering, leaving his brother Patrick in charge of the creative cuisine and recently launched brunch menu.

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