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New Survey Results: Chicago's Best Restaurants

By Sarah Freeman
September 4, 2013

This year's Chicago Restaurants survey reflects the valued opinions of 7,634 surveyors. These diners are eating out often and all over the city, averaging 4.7 meals per week at 1,147 different eateries, ranging from high-end destinations to smoked-meat sanctuaries serving sliced brisket on metal trays. Brand-new lists for Chicago this year include “Best Buys” across multiple categories, “Craft Beer” and “Craft Cocktails” as well as “Chicago Icons” featuring restaurants that have achieved remarkable longevity. Click through to find out the big winners in some key categories. 

  • Top Food

    Winner: In one of the year’s biggest surprises, Katsu, the Rogers Park hole-in-the-wall sushi spot, takes the win in this category with Grant Achatz’s culinary empire of Next and Alinea trailing closely behind.

    Notable Newbie: Proving that there is indeed quality dining in the suburbs, chef Paul Virant’s Vie makes the Top Food list with a score of 29.

    Biggest Drop: Sprout, which landed high on last year's list, didn’t make the cut this time around. Dale Levitski’s flagship restaurant dipped in food score from a 28 to a 26 and fell off the prestigious list.

  • Top Decor

    Winner: Surveyors were impressed by rooftop restaurant and bar Shanghai Terrace, which is adorned with scenic Asian imports on the inside and features lush cabanas overlooking the Chicago skyline on the terrace..

    Notable Newbie: Brendan Sodikoff’s new River North steakhouse, Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, earned high marks for its plush red-leather booths, distressed mirrors and oriental rugs.

    Rooms With Views: Everyone loves a little "ooh" and "aah" with their meal - killer views helped Sixteen, Everest, North Pond, NoMI and Spiaggia make the list as well. 

  • Top Service

    Winner: As far as standards of excellence go, Next sets the bar very high with its team of staff seamlessly executing a multicourse menu that changes three times per year.

    Notable Newbies: Joe’s Seafood & Steak cracked the list, proving that it's just as important to strive for stellar service whether you're offering classics of meat and potatoes or more complex culinary creations.

    A World Without Trotter's: The departure of the king of fine dining left a noticeable absence in Chicago’s fine-dining scene.

  • Most Popular

    Winner: If given the choice to eat only one meal in Chicago and on an unlimited budget, chances are good that meal would take place at Grant Achatz’s culinary wonderland Alinea.

    Notable Newbie: Just down the street from Alinea is a less-flashy dining destination. The rustic Italian cuisine in the comfortable setting of Balena has had diners coming back for seconds since it opened last year.

    Honorable Mention: Ruxbin, Au Cheval and RPM Italian also join the list this year for serving consistently captivating cuisine.

  • Top Italian

    Winner: The Milanese native who is not only Riccardo Trattoria’s owner but also its namesake serves his family recipes in this comfortable Lincoln Park restaurant.

    Notable Newbie: Despite its off-the-beaten-path location in Forest Park, Gaetano’s gathers a crowd of Italian food lovers who have been praising the cuisine of chef-owner Gaetano Di Benedetto since 1978.

    Fall of the Titans: Two Italian institutions dropped off the list this year in favor of the more old-school Italian joint. Both Spiaggia and Piccolo Sogno did not make it into the top five.

  • Top BBQ

    Winner: Between the expertly smoked meats, the handcrafted sauce and a slew of sides, Smoque takes the top BBQ titles with a one-two punch of flavor.

    Notable Newcomer: A bit of ethnic flavor infiltrated the top five this year with the addition of Bill Kim’s Korean BBQ restaurant, Belly Q.

    BBQ Boom: This category will see some additional competition in the years to come with the opening of County, Blackwoods BBQ and Green Street Smoked Meats.

  • Top Hot Dogs

    Winner: From the classic Chicago-style to the exotic alligator sausage, Hot Doug’s serves up a wide array of encased meats to those willing to wait in line.

    Notable Newbie: It takes a pretty special piece of encased meat to crack into the top five of hot dogs, and the lack of change in this list proves that the frank forerunners are not giving up the title easily.

    A Chicago Institution: The Chicago-style hot dog is a beef frank with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt.

  • Top Burgers

    Winner: Kuma’s Corner maintained its title as the prince of patties. With the addition of a second location in Lincoln Park, more burger fans can enjoy the best in Chicago with a side of heavy metal.

    Notable Newbie: Restaurant and butcher shop Butcher & the Burger climbed onto this list this year with their build-your-own-burger emporium that lets diners choose between house-blend beef, locally raised pork and grass-fed bison.

    Other Stellar Burgers: While this category recognizes places that specialize in burgers, other spots gained notoriety for their house burgers - think Acadia, Au Cheval and Three Aces.

  • Top Mexican

    Winner: Topolobampo maintains its firm grasp on the top spot of the Top Mexican list. Rick Bayless’ upscale Mexican institution seemingly can do no wrong as it continues to attract locals and visitors from around the world.

    Notable Newbie: On the other end of the Mexican food spectrum with an equally impressive chef is Paul Kahan’s temple of tacos and whiskey, Big Star. The Wicker Park hipster mecca makes the list at number five.

    Bayless Is Still the Best: The seasoned chef takes not one, not two, but three of the spots on the Top Mexican list with his River North restaurants Topolobampo, Frontera Grill and XOCO.

  • Top Pizza

    Winner: Authentic Neapolitan-style pizza has a thin, bubbly crust covered in a tangy tomato sauce and gooey cheese. The pie at Spacca Napoli captures the essence of the simple preparation.

    Notable Newbie: Chicago Pizza Oven & Grinder Company is not a new restaurant, but it is a new addition to this year’s top five - it's been serving signature pizza pot-pie since 1972.

    The Pie Hole: There is a pizza-shaped hole in the hearts of a lot of Chicagoans. The cheesy, saucy, crusty ‘za community has not been the same since the closure of Great Lake.

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