Feature

9 Chicago Restaurants That Should Be Getting More Love

By Matt Kirouac  |  March 21, 2016

In a city like Chicago — where we’re spoiled by the dizzying array of restaurant and bar openings — it can be all too easy for laudable spots to fall off the radar. By all means, queue up and check out the new hot spots around town...but don’t overlook these gems.   

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  • Tortoise Club

    That people aren’t constantly fawning over Tortoise Club is baffling. With its central location on State Street in River North, masterful American supper club–esque food, an entrancing space that looks like the board game Clue come to life (minus the pesky murder) and some seriously stellar cocktails that toe the line between inventive and well-honed classics, this is a restaurant deserving of some serious adoration.

    Must Order: For the perfect power lunch, order a French dip dripping with horseradish cream. Pair that with the Chicagoan cocktail, Tortoise Club’s savory, onion-infused answer to the Manhattan. 

    350 N. State St.; 312-755-1700

  • The Winchester

    This cottagelike East Village eatery commands a cult following for its waffles and brunch in general. But with acclaimed chef Duncan Biddulph newly at the helm, this could change very soon — especially with new dishes like hen of the woods Lyonnaise and whole-roasted branzino. More specifically, though, the cocktail program here is astonishingly strong; it deserves attention right alongside the best of them. 

    Must Order: The menus change seasonally, but the PB&J Old Fashioned made with peanut-infused rye, apple brandy, cherry jam, angostura and orange bitters single-handedly makes winter worthwhile. (Photo by Nathan Michael)

    1001 N. Winchester Ave.; 773-698-8703

  • Baffo

    A stroll through Eataly, which often feels like the Italian food version of Old Orchard Mall, confirms the juggernaut dining complex is more popular than ever. People come from near and far for the pizza, house-brewed beer, wine, bread and infamous Nutella bar. That’s all well and good, but lost in the miscellany is Eataly’s prized fine-dining restaurant, Baffo. It’s a sleek destination that handily sets itself apart and deserves destination status along with anything else at Eataly. Including the Nutella. 

    Must Order: Working your way through Baffo’s elegant dinner menu, our idea of the perfect meal includes burrata splashed with balsamico, raviolo and short rib with polenta, root vegetable scafata and bread crumbs. 

    44 E. Grand Ave.; 312-521-8701

  • The Betty

    For some of the best cocktails in one of the prettiest lounge spaces in Chicago, you go to The Betty. Or you damn well should. The sprawling Fulton Market space, a grandiose parlor reminiscent of something out of the Beauty and the Beast castle, sets an entrancing backdrop for impeccable drinks and dishes from the Footman Hospitality team (Bangers & Lace, Sparrow). Likely due to the crazy congestion of restaurants and bars in its direct vicinity, The Betty doesn’t get quite the fandom it deserves. 

    Must Order: For food, the potato- and mushroom-filled pierogi with apple agrodolce is pretty incredible and deeply comforting. To drink, the Coffee + Cigarettes cocktail is a heady, smoky medley of rye, sweet vermouth, Madagascar vanilla and orange flower water, single-handedly solidifying The Betty’s mettle as a serious mixology contender in all its seamless simplicity. (Photo by Nick Fochtman)

    839 W. Fulton Market; 312-733-2222

  • Cerise

    In 2015, the opening of the world’s first Virgin Hotels property should have been a bigger deal than it was, especially considering the incredible dining and drinking areas open to the public. The hotel was largely overshadowed by another nearby opening, the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, but now that the opening frenzy has hushed a bit it’s time to start acknowledging how special the Virgin really is. One prime example is Cerise, the vibrant rooftop bar perched on the 26th floor, complete with skyline views on three sides, tasty small plates and colorful cocktails to match the lipstick-bright space.  

    Must Order: The Sakura Fizz cocktail is fun and refreshing, made with Belvedere vodka, Bunny sparkling sake, sakura syrup, lemon and soda water, and the Tradewinds Punch sings of summer with rum, gin, grapefruit, guava, lime, vanilla, saffron and a dash of IPA. (Photo by Virgin Hotels)

    203 N. Wabash Ave., rooftop; 312-940-4774

  • Dia de los Tamales

    Tamales in Pilsen are a dime a dozen, but none are in the same category as Dia de los Tamales. This pioneering eatery has taken a popular Mexican street food and given it a contemporary spotlight, showcasing a world of flavors within a corn husk. The only thing is, Dia de los Tamales should be drawing lines out the door and down the street. One bite of these things and you’ll understand why they’re just as delicious as any other line-inducing destination in town. 

    Must Order: If you can handle heat, opt for the Atomic Pork, a fiery melange of slow-roasted pork and “Apocalypse” sauce. The coconut curry chicken tamale is the perfect example of the restaurant’s dexterity and eclectic stylings, outfitted with coconut roasted chicken, spicy peanut sauce, chopped peanuts and cilantro. 

    939 W. 18th St.; 312-496-3057

  • Latinicity

    A curious thing happened when Latinicity opened its doors late last year. Similar to Eataly before it, Chicagoans descended upon the Latin food hall en masse, so much so that the complex was all but depleted of food after opening weekend. It boded well for the ambitious concept, which boasts multiple food stalls, a full-service restaurant, a bar, a coffee shop, a market and even an art gallery. But in the months to follow, crowds ebbed and a general air of discontent waved over Latinicity. Sure, it still draws lines during the weekday lunch rush, largely due to its central location in the heart of the Loop, but Latinicity should be packing them in for dinner and drinks as well. Perhaps in reaction to the surge of food halls popping up all over the country, it became almost trendy to rebel and nitpick Latinicity. It’s unfortunate, because this dismisses the groundbreaking work the food hall is accomplishing in the Loop, almost single-handedly beckoning a new era of dining in a neighborhood notoriously lacking in diversity, nightlife and dining options beyond mediocre fast-casual lunches. We’re here to defend Latinicity and champion it for all the good it’s doing.  

    Must Order: The Choripan hot dog from the Burguesa stall is utterly habit-forming. It’s the type of sandwich that completely monopolizes your lunch plans, made with a a griddled Argentine-style sausage, Provolone, aïoli and a verdant green herb chimichurri. Elsewhere, the Sopas stall makes a particularly mean tortilla soup and the arroz aeropuerto from Chaufa-Wok is a delicious mix of crispy noodles, fried rice, meats, seafood and chaufa sauce. 

    108 N. State St.; 312-795-4444

  • Luke’s Lobster

    Somewhat in line with Latinicity, albeit on an entirely different scale, Luke’s Lobster helped signal a new tide in the Loop’s long-stagnant dining scene. The New York–based mini chain, famed for its Maine-sourced ingredients and top-tier fast-casual seafood, dropped anchor in the Loop’s financial district last spring. It offers something refreshingly different for the area, so, it’s disconcerting to see the restaurant quiet early afternoon on a Tuesday. (When lines are literally wrapping around the block for some falafel down the street.) Optimistically, this is such a novel concept in the Loop that it’ll take a bit of time to catch on. The product is a bit pricier, but the quality speaks for itself. 

    Must Order: The namesake lobster roll is essential, served chilled inside a buttered bun with a dash of mayonnaise, lemon butter and “secret” spices. Brand new to the menu, however, is a game-changing salad featuring a whole steamed lobster tail, baby kale, warm quinoa, chickpeas, house-pickled red onions, roasted pumpkin seeds and housemade poppyseed vinaigrette. 

    134 N. LaSalle St.; 312-982-2977

  • Tanoshii

    Originated as a tiny sushi counter in Andersonville, Tanoshii rose to acclaim as a neighborhood staple thanks to its beloved owner “Sushi Mike” and his penchant for simple, honest fish. When he announced plans for a West Loop location, it seemed only natural that one of the city’s most endearing sushi spots set up shop on Restaurant Row. Unfortunately, Tanoshii appears to have gotten buried amidst the sea of restaurants nearby. Let this be a call to action to add this sushi stalwart back into your rotation.

    Must Order: You can’t go wrong with any of the sashimi, nigiri or maki. A few standouts include the sweet shrimp nigiri, bigeye tuna sashimi and the negi hamachi roll with scallions. 

    720 W. Randolph St.; 312-207-8894