15 New Classics of the Chicago Restaurant Scene

By Sarah Freeman  |  April 6, 2015

What defines a classic? First, it must be timeless — a dish with pure flavors executed using impeccable techniques. Second, it must be a refection of the chef who prepared it as well as the restaurant it's served in. These dishes are the ones that pop off the menu, and would cause heartbreak if they were ever removed. As the Chicago restaurant scene evolves, so do the signature dishes that define its greatness. These are the new culinary icons, and they are here to stay.

  • The New Classic Bread: Deluxe Focaccia at Avec

    The menu at Avec is full of addictive dishes that will long outlast any seasonal changes — from chorizo-stuffed medjool dates to wood-oven paella — but one of the most iconic is the deluxe focaccia. This simple, sharable dish features sliced housemade focaccia sandwiching creamy Taleggio and ricotta cheeses, finished with a drizzle of truffle oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

    Price: $18

    615 W. Randolph St.; 312-377-2002

  • The New Classic Starter: Pickle Tots at Trenchermen

    “This dish was conceived on the train by my brother and I,” chef Patrick Sheerin says. “We were talking about how great fried pickles are as well as tater tots. Why not put them together as the starchy richness of the potato would help balance the pickles in the dish?” The final, irresistible product pairs the tangy tots with chicken breast bresaola, red onion yogurt and scallions.

    Price: $12

    2039 W. North Ave.; 773-661-1540

  • The New Classic Raw Dish: Momotaro Tartare at Momotaro

    Momotaro not only refers to a legend about a boy emerging from a peach, it's also a variety of tomato known for its sweet and tangy flavor, the star of this completely meatless tartare. Made with the minced and dehydrated flesh of the tomato, it's served with puffed shrimp chips and Maui onion purée. 

    Price: $9

    820 W. Lake St.; 312-733-4818

  • The New Classic Gin Cocktail: Juliet & Romeo at The Violet Hour

    In 2007, head mixologist Toby Maloney wanted to make a gin drink for people who said they “hated gin,” while also capturing the flavors of summer. The result was this concoction made with Beefeater gin, mint, cucumber and rosewater, which epitomizes the Violet Hour's approach to cocktails — simple, elegant and delicious.

    Price: $13

    1520 N. Damen Ave.; 773-252-1500

  • The New Classic Side: Hogan’s Peas at River Roast

    Chef John Hogan has been serving these peas for decades, at previous restaurants as a side or special, but they've since made waves as his namesake dish at River Roast. Based on an age-old French dish called petits pois à la Française (peas, cream, pearl onions, lettuce and bacon), his modern version uses leak cream for more flavor and as well as Bibb lettuce.

    Price: $10

    315 N. LaSalle St.; 312-822-0100

  • The New Classic Pork Dish: Wood-Oven-Roasted Pig Face at Girl & the Goat

    The team goes though 80-90 pig heads per week, sourced form a local farm, to meet the demand of this unexpectedly popular dish. The meat and skin is removed from each face in one piece, and rolled with spices. The result is a log that is sliced and roasted in the wood fire oven, and then served with potato sticks, sunny-side up egg, tamarind aïoli, cilantro oil and maple red wine gastrique.

    Price: $18

    809 W. Randolph St.; 312-492-6262

  • The New Classic Sandwich: Lobster Roll at Acadia

    Chef Ryan McCaskey has vivid memories of experiencing his first lobster roll while vacationing with his family in Maine. “As I built and continued to conceptualize Acadia, I knew I had to bring a ‘purist’ version of the lobster roll to my restaurant and Chicago,” he says. That meant sourcing buns from a general store in Maine and flying in whole Maine lobsters two to three times per week.

    Price: $18

    1639 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-360-9500

  • The New Classic Burger: Cheeseburger at Au Cheval

    The burger that has been recognized by many as one of the best in the city, if not the country, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The griddled cheeseburger is served with a choice of two or three thin patties sandwiched with cheddar and topped with Dijonnaise and house pickles.

    Price: $10.95

    800 W. Randolph St.; 312-929-4580

  • The New Classic Chicken: Grilled Chicken Paprikash at Bohemian House

    You can tell a lot about a chef by the way he cooks chicken. Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos marinates half of a chicken in sweet and hot paprika, garlic, lemon, black pepper, marjoram and brown sugar, and then grills it. The chicken is finished in the oven and served with potato dumplings and kale. Since appearing on the menu, it's become a “cult favorite,” combining the classic appeal of roast chicken with advanced cooking techniques.

    Price: $25

    11 W. Illinois St.; 312-955-0439

  • The New Classic Carbonara: Bucatini Carbonara at A10

    "As long as A10 is serving food, the bucatini will be waiting for you," chef John Vermiglio says. Since its debut in November 2013, it has become a Hyde Park favorite and is the only remaining dish from the opening menu. Housemade bucatini is tossed with guanciale and pecorino, and served with a 60-minute egg sourced from the farm at Cook County Jail.

    Price: $20

    1462 E. 53rd St.; 773-288-1010

  • The New Classic Shareable Entree: Fat Rice at Fat Rice

    The celebratory dish common throughout Macanese homes inspired the restaurant’s namesake. Designed to be shared with a group, it starts with a clay pot filled with sofrito-laced jasmine rice, which is topped with head-on spicy prawns, plump clams, salted duck, Portuguese chicken thighs, char sui pork, croutons, hard-boiled eggs steeped in fermented tea and soy and Chinese and linguiça sausage. 

    Price: $48

    2957 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-661-9170

  • The New Classic Comfort Food: Roasted Half Chicken at The Bristol

    Before Lee Wolen sparked chicken mania with his version at The Lobby (he now serves a similar version at BOKA), chef Chris Pandel struck poultry gold with his Millers farm roasted half chicken, served with dill spaetzle and crunchy salad. It has been removed from the menu one time, which sparked a small riot by locals. It was promptly returned to the menu and has been on ever since.

    Price: $22

    2152 N. Damen Ave.; 773-862-5555

  • The New Classic Seafood Pasta: Tagliolini Nero at Balena

    Foodies fawn over this dark and intense pasta that is one of the few unchanged offerings on the housemade pasta menu. Chef Chris Pandel thinks part of its popularity is that it’s a casual introduction to something very exotic like sea urchin, by combining squid-ink pasta, which is safe and comforting, with crab and sea urchin to create the satisfying dish.

    Price: $19

    1633 N. Halsted St.; 312867-3888

  • The New Classic Summer Cocktail: Bunny’s Banana Daiquiri at Lost Lake

    When Paul McGee left River North’s Three Dots and a Dash to open a new Logan Square tiki bar, he took one of his signature cocktails with him. Now, Bunny's Banana Daiquiri, the drink that People Magazine called the world’s cutest cocktail, sits on the menu at both bars. It’s made with overproof Jamaican rum, overproof Guyana rum, spiced rum, banana, coconut and lime, and garnished with a carved banana dolphin.

    Price: $12

    3154 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-293-6048

  • The New Classic Dessert: Chocolate Cake at Formento’s

    People who don’t love chocolate cake shouldn’t be trusted. This universal favorite reaches its peak at Formento’s, where pastry chef Sarah Koechling serves a decadent version covered in chocolate ganache. The kicker is a hazelnut praline that adds a hint of crunch to each soft bite. It is so popular, guests have asked to order by the whole cake for special occasions. 

    Price: $11.50

    925 W. Randolph St.; 312-690-7295