This is the old market area which now has great lofts, galleries and restaurants. Now Randolph, Lake St. and Fulton Market have some of the best new restaurants in the country. The West Loop has some great spots also.
Next and The Aviary: Next is the creation of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. Achatz is one of the most acclaimed chefs in the US, being named James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef and James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star. His Alinea restaurant in Lincoln Park has earned three Michelin stars. The restaurant theme changes several times a year and you have to buy tickets online through their website. Follow them on Facebook, as often spaces will open up at the last minute. The Aviary is the teams state-of-the-art cocktail bar/restaurant featuring creative drinks, and a chef’s Kitchen Table for a 10-course cocktail tasting menu, paired carefully with crafted bites of food. Next is located at 953 W. Fulton Market. The Aviary is at 955 W. Fulton Market.
La Sardine: Located at 111 N. Carpenter St., this is a wonderful French bistro now owned by the family of Jean-Claude Poilevey. It has been there since 1998 and has high ceilings and exposed brick walls.
Piccolo Sogno: Just north of Fulton Market is Piccolo Sogno which, by far, has the best outdoor garden in the city for summer dining. The food is great also. 464 N. Halsted.
Across the street is the new restaurant, The Dawson, at 739 W. Grand. I had a wonderful meal of mussels, halibut with calamari and a stone fruit salad of fresh plums. The lively, energetic space draws a young crowd. They have a wonderful outdoor space with dining, bar and seating area around an outdoor fireplace.
The Girl and the Goat: Top Chef winner, Stephanie Izard’s popular restaurant with great food and wonderful rustic décor. She recently won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes. It is hard to get in, so her her new Little Goat Diner across the street is a good spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a bar, coffee bar and shop selling her Little Goat Bread products, and a newly opened rooftop bar. The Girl and the Goat is at 809 W. Randolph and Little Goat Diner at 820 W. Randolph.
Publican and Publican Quality Meats: Also in Fulton Market is Publican and Publican Meats for eating in or purchasing their quality products. Publican, at 837 W. Fulton, pays homage to beer, pork and oysters. Executive Chef Paul Kahan and Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston have crafted an eclectic menu inspired by simple farmhouse fare in a space evocative of a European beer hall. Publican Quality Meats features traditional items broken down by their in-house butchers and also sells house-made breads, artisan cheeses, and over 300 retail items. There is a full café menu.
Glazed and Infused: At 813 W. Fulton Market, this is a hot new doughnut shop offering some amazing treats. Next door at #817 is the recently opened Cemitas Puebla, which is a Puebla, Mexico inspired restaurant. They have wonderful tacos, chalupas and cemitas. Cemitas are large sandwiches which they serve with a house-made chipotle sauce, Oaxacan cheese and avocado. Nine different meats are available. I loved the chicken with a side of rice and a side of beans. The traditional horchata drink was also good. The contemporary design of white-on-white murals and sleek chairs is really excellent.
For Mexican, high on your list should be two new concepts by famed Mexican chef Rick Bayless. Cruz Blanca at 904 W. Randolph is a casual taqueria and brewery. I just did a brewery tour which featured a great description of their process and a tasting of their beers. The feature a number of lagers, porters, ales, and stouts. I particularly liked the Rubia, a pale malt made with local honey and the Marigold, an ale, blended with blackberries and rich coffee. I highly recommend the tour. Before I really enjoyed their chicken tacos in the restaurant. They have a dining room downstairs and a large bar area on the second floor as well featuring food, cocktails and beer.
Next door at 900 W. Randolph is Lena Brava, a fun spot for Baja-style seafood with a focus on live-fire cooking, plus mezcal & wine. When I toured Cruz Blanca, was able to taste two of their great mezcals. I will definitely go back to try the food, which I understand is excellent.
bellyQ: At 1400 W. Randolph, this is Chef Bill Kim’s Asian barbecue restaurant. Located in an old pickle factory, the space is contemporary and materials used are reflective of its past industrial use. There are also built-in hibachi grill tables to enhance the dining experience. The chef’s Urban Belly, noodle restaurant, is moving to this location as well.
Nellcote, 833 W. Randolph: One of Chicago Magazine’s Top 20 Best New Restaurants in 2012. Chef Jared Van Camp has a locally focused menu with ingredients and products sourced exclusively from the Midwest with influence from France, Italy and Spain. The decor is formal and elegant with Art Nouveau wrought-iron gates, a white Italian marble grand staircase, Parisian herringbone wood floors, crystal chandeliers, and Gran Dossier Tolix bar chairs in Hermes orange.
Saigon Sisters: At Clinton and Lake (567 W. Lake) is a top Vietnamese restaurant with great food and contemporary industrial design. The green papaya salad, shrimp spring roll and steamed sea bass fillet with shaoxing, soy, ginger and scallions are all excellent! They have a second location at the French Market at 131 N. Clinton a short distance away.
Chicago French Market: At 131 N. Clinton, this is Chicago’s first indoor market featuring local artisans and food purveyors. It was named one of Bon Appetit’s best five food halls in the US. Vendors include Saigon Sisters, Lillie’s Q barbecue, and Pastoral Artisan Cheese Bread and Wine.
Sepia, 123 N. Jefferson: Chef Andrew Zimmerman was a James Beard Nominee for Best Chef Great Lakes.
Others to try include Blackbird, Avec, La Sirena Clandestina, R& M Champagne Salon, Au Cheval and De Cero. R&M has the most creative patio that is perfect on summer nights. Also add Maude’s Liquor Bar for their innovative cocktails and fun, casual space. I recently went back to Blackbird at 619 W. Randolph. The food and service are excellent. It has one Michelin Star. I recommend it for lunch as it is bright, has a excellent prix fixe menu in addition to its regular menu.
Next to Blackbird and Avec is Salero restaurant, from the owners of Wood in Lakeview. This new spot features modern Spanish restaurant cuisine and is getting great reviews and press. They feature excellent Basque Pinxtos, starters and larger main courses. I loved the smoked salmon pinxto with cheese and a honey truffle sauce. The beet salad with frisee, toasted pistachios and Spanish goat cheese was lovely and the shrimp was beautifully cooked and presented. Next time I want to try the scallops which looked amazing. It has a sleek and warm contemporary interior. 621 W. Randolph.
My latest find is Fulton Market Kitchen at 311 N. Sangamon. Billing themselves as part art gallery, part restaurant and part craft cocktail bar, I had a wonderful meal surrounded by street art, paintings and eclectic furniture. They have a small menu of large and small plates for sharing and an extensive craft cocktail menu. The restaurant was inspired by the 1980’s NYC art scene and the Wynwood Walls in Miami which is one of my favorite spots in my recent travels. We had great service and enjoyed meeting and visiting with Chef Kyle Petersen. The decor is one of the best in town!!
Soho House Chicago is a member’s hotel and club at 113 N. Green. In addition to two private restaurants for members only, it does have three public restaurants including the Fox Bar, the casual Chicken & Farm Shop and The Allis. The Allis is a perfect spot for a morning coffee, an after-work drink or cocktail or afternoon tea.
At 201 N. Morgan just below the el stop, is Bar Takito a fun casual Mexican spot. Here you can find a large selection of large and small plates as well as a great cocktail list. You can taste a flight of mezcal or margaritas or have a custom cocktail. I really enjoyed their None of Your Beeswax cocktail made with Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, zucca, chamomile, honey and Angostura bitters.
A great new find in the neighborhood is Swift & Sons, an American Steakhouse, at 1000 W. Fulton Market. It is part of the Boka Restaurant Group, one of the best in Chicago. They have a fun bar in the front and a very large dining room in the back. They have a great selection of steaks, seafood and more. I had a wonderful meal, with a perfect scallop dish, and a shared beet salad, hamachi crudo and crab cake. A piece from their chocolate trolley featuring bite-sized chocolate cakes cookies, pastries, candy was the perfect way to cap off the experience. You won’t be disappointed.
I just enjoyed dinner before the Goodman Theatre at Proxi. Located at 565 W. Randolph, this is a chic, new restaurant that has been been getting great press. It features a menu of global street food and cocktails in a contemporary setting with open kitchen. I enjoyed the roasted eggplant topped with tahini and pomegranates, a cobia fish entree in a coconut curry sauce and a tres leches cake topped with fresh strawberries. I highly recommend it.