The Windy City boasts a food scene that’s a vibrant and varied as its citizens, full of everything from hidden-gem food trucks, wild blends of ethnic cuisines to elegant world-class restaurants. It’s an ever-expanding scene, too: countless spots have opened in the past year alone, and already claim devoted followings. While "farm-to-table" fare still seems to reign as dining zeitgeist, there’s also no better city than Chicago to taste exciting new takes on Lowcountry, Mexican, and other regional cuisines. From diner-chic bites to Swiss ski chalet-style dining, here are 13 can’t-miss new restaurants in Chicago you need to know about.
By Emily Wasserman
Little Goat Diner
Just across the street from Stephanie Izard’s nationally renowned Girl and the Goat restaurant is Little Goat Diner, Izard’s newest dining concept. Little Goat offers standard diner fare with her signature unique spin: favorite dishes include "Bull’s Eye French Toast" or "Fat Elvis Waffles" with bacon maple syrup, as well as more savory offerings like "Tempura Mashed Potatoes" or the "Goat Almighty" goat burger with braised beef, barbeque pork, or pickled jalapenos. The diner stays open until 1 am on weekend nights, so hungry customers can get their late-night fix without stooping to lower-quality diner bites.
Chef Carrie Nahabedian, a native Chicagoan, is best known for her James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Naha. Following Naha’s success, Nahabedian and her cousin Michael decided to open Brindille in 2013. The restaurant draws its inspiration from Nahabedian’s favorite restaurants in Paris, and reflects her culinary roots. Diners can sample typical French dishes like Mediterranean loup de mer, guinea fowl, and duck breast with foie gras. Finish off the meal with a Parisian-inspired pastry like the "Fantaisie au Chocolat," a sinful combination of chocolate mousse and chocolate cookies topped with chocolate fondant.
Not far outside the city is one of Chicago’s newest culinary hot spots: Found. Restaurateur Amy Morton teamed up with Chef Nicole Pederson to create a kitchen and social house that plays off the concept of being "found": ingredients are sourced locally, and the restaurant’s Modern American dishes change based on the market and season. The spot's social mission to "hire and train people coming out of homelessness" to help them live more independently, and to stay environmentally conscious, informs its operations. When you walk through the door, you’ll feel as if you’re stepping into someone’s home: mirrors line the walls, antique rugs are spread across the floors, and salvaged furniture comprises the restaurant’s seating area. Dishes include grilled farm steak with creamed nettles, and crispy chickpea fritters with cilantro, peanut, and yogurt.
It was a match made in heaven for chef Rick Ortiz and creative director Ashley Ortiz, as well as Mexican food lovers: their matrimony gave way to Antique Taco, one of Chicago’s most exciting new Mexican restaurants. The restaurant features an impressive menu of tacos, and also doubles as an antique retail store. The atmosphere is homey and inviting, as patrons sit at picnic tables and sip aguas frescas through old-fashioned straws. Dishes include crispy fish tempura tacos with sriracha tartar sauce and chorizo chili with beer-battered cheese curds. End your meal with a horchata milkshake or "Abuelita’s Pop Tart" with Mexican chocolate and marshmallow filling.
It’s hard to find good, home-style Southern cooking in Chicago, but Carriage House is the exception to the rule. The restaurant is the brainchild of executive chef Mark Steuer, a seasoned industry veteran who wanted to pay homage to his Southern roots while offering a modern twist. Menus are divided into "traditional" and "reimagined" dishes, and small plates allow patrons to sample authentic Southern fare. Skillet cornbread, grits, and a "Lowcountry Boil" with Carolina shrimp, clams, and rabbit sausage round out the daily menu, while brunch includes chicken and biscuits, "Farmer’s Cheese Fritters" with rhubarb caramel and powdered sugar, and "Pullman French Toast" with caramelized banana.
Chef Abraham Conlon, founder of Chicago’s X-Marx underground cooking movement, opened Fat Rice to return to his roots: the menu reflects Conlon’s Portuguese heritage, as well as his background in Southeast Asian cooking. Plates are divided by size: small, medium, large, and extra large, and include dishes like "Caramel Catfish Claypot" with tofu and Thai eggplant, and hand-rolled noodles with mushroom and egg. The brave at heart can try the restaurant’s only extra-large dish: "Arroz Gordo" or "fat rice" with Chinese sausage, Portuguese chicken, and salted duck.
It’s all in the family at Trenchermen. Chef and restaurateur Michael Sheerin and his older brother, Patrick, teamed up to open the restaurant, drawing upon years of experience in the industry and frequent partnerships throughout their careers. Michael recently stepped down as co-executive chef, but Patrick continues to create the restaurant’s contemporary American fare. Dishes look almost too good to eat, but luckily flavor meets (or even surpasses) presentation. Starters include smoked salmon tartare with brown butter crème fraiche, and entrées range from Berkshire pork shoulder to fried chicken with grits and hot sauce.
After months of waiting for permits, chef and co-owner Enoch Simpson and his brother Caleb opened Endgrain to rave reviews. By day a corner café and by night an elegant dinner destination, the restaurant serves authentic American comfort food sourced from local and seasonal ingredients. Popular dishes include braised pork hand pies, soft-boiled egg biscuit sandwiches, and "Ham Chop" with cornbread crumble, but consider stopping by early in the morning: "Enoch’s Doughnuts" are served from 7 am until they run out, and feature flavors like "Bourbon Vanilla," "Nutella Milk Stout," and "Blackberry Peppercorn."
Table, Donkey and Stick
Named after a Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale, Table, Donkey and Stick offers patrons a cozy dining experience with creative, seasonally driven food. Chef Scott Manley draws upon Alps mountain cuisines for his menu, and works with local farmers to find the freshest ingredients. Guests sit at long wooden tables, and the ambiance feels a bit like a Swiss ski chalet. The menu is divided into charcuterie, cheese, small plates, and entrees, and dishes include pretzels with cauliflower and gruyere fondue, and an "Alpine Burger" with onion marmalade and horseradish aioli.
It’s best to come armed with an open mind and sense of adventure when dining at Elizabeth. Chef Iliana Regan showcases "New Gatherer" cuisine at her Lincoln Square restaurant, using foraged ingredients and homegrown goods to create sustainable tasting menus. Menus vary depending on the day of the week, but diners can rest assured that every ingredient was sourced in the Midwest. Don’t bother making reservations: Elizabeth sells tickets instead to keep the dining experience small and intimate.
Parson's Chicken and Fish
The team behind Chicago’s Longman & Eagle created Parson’s Chicken and Fish, a casual restaurant that serves American classics with a creative twist. The menu is divided into "raw," "fresh," and "fried" foods, and includes everything from a chickpea salad with grilled octopus to fried hush puppies with ham hock. For dessert, try a carnival favorite: funnel cake with brown butter and green peppercorn brittle.
Little Market Brasserie
Chef Ryan Poli’s international training comes into play at Little Market Brasserie, the latest restaurant from Chicago’s Mercadito Hospitality group. Poli and partner Alfredo Sandoval traveled across the United States and Canada to gain inspiration for their new restaurant, and created a menu that features classic American comfort food like mac and cheese and double-griddled cheeseburgers. The restaurant’s extensive beverage menu allows guests to create their own "charged soda," or a flavored soda with a complementary spirit pairing.
Top Chef alum Fabio Viviani paired up with two Chicago sports bar owners to create Siena Tavern in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The restaurant serves up traditional Italian food with a Mediterranean influence, and provides a fun, convivial environment for hungry dinner patrons. More traditional dishes include baked lasagna, double cut veal chop, and gnocchi with pancetta. But adventurous eaters can also try the squid ink linguine or Mediterranean seafood brodetto with grilled polenta bread.