It’s been three years since the industry has gathered in Chicago for the National Restaurant Association Show.
Much has changed since then, including Chicago’s restaurant scene. But it remains vibrant and eclectic.
Here are some new spots, as well as stalwarts that made it through the pandemic, all perfect places to meet up after a long day on the Show floor with colleagues and clients.
Be sure to call ahead or check online about reservation availability.
During the pandemic, Boka Restaurant Group transformed Bellemore into Alla Vita, an Italian spot in the West Loop’s Restaurant Row. It’s a more casual, less pricey restaurant than the former, offering pizzas from a wood-burning oven, pasta and family-style dishes to share. Chicken is noteworthy here, elevated in the hands of chef Lee Wolin. 564 West Randolph St.
Noted sommelier and restaurateur Alpana Singh is back with an eponymous restaurant in the city’s historic Gold Coast neighborhood. Singh, who was the youngest woman and only South Asian to ever pass the final level of the Master Sommelier exam, offers a menu of wine-friendly food here. The space is decorated with famous women throughout history. And the menu features approachable dishes such as roasted half chicken with fingerling potatoes, braised short ribs and pistachio pesto pasta. 831 N. State St.
Avec River North
Popular West Loop restaurant Avec opened a second location in 2021, this one in River North. The wine-focused spot is known for its Midwestern takes on Mediterranean classics and is open for weekend brunch and dinner. It’s a prime spot for shared plates, with dishes such as wood-oven roasted calamari, focaccia pizza with taleggio cheese and truffle oil, and cheese plates. 141 W. Erie St.
Avli River North
Contemporary Greek food is the star at Avli River North, one of several Avli locations in Chicago. The restaurant features a large patio, upstairs dining room and bar seating, as well as happy hour from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Share an assortment of small plates such as spinach pie, saganaki, grilled octopus or truffle Greek fries while sipping a signature cocktail (try the Greek Old Fashion). 702 N. Wells St.
Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres
Fans of chef Jose Andres can also head to the new Bank of America building, where Bazaar Meat and two of the chef’s other concepts—Bar Mar and Café By The River—operate. Bazaar Meat was created in partnership with Gibson’s Restaurant Group, and the menu is geared toward carnivores and seafood fans. Everything is grilled or roasted on the dramatic “fire stage.” Customers can dine at the eight-seat meat bar, main dining room or regular bar. 120 N. Wacker Dr.
Chicago is a steakhouse mecca, but tucked away among the old favorites are some relative newcomers. BLVD is a modern rendition of the genre, in a glamorous setting designed to look like 1950s Hollywood. The menu offers prime cuts, seafood towers and other high-end steakhouse staples in a slightly off-the-beaten path neighborhood. 817 W. Lake St.
For an inspired dinner in an artistic space, head to Esmé in Lincoln Park. Husband-wife team of Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo opened the fine-dining restaurant last year, curating a $200 tasting menu experience and often collaborating with local artists on themed dinners. The dishes veer in a French direction and a portion of the profits are donated to community projects and personal philanthropic causes. Bar Esmé shares space with the restaurant, offering a less expensive a la carte menu. 2200 N. Clark St.
Food halls (Multiple locations)
For a quick meal, snack or drink, Chicago is home to multiple food halls. Head to Time Out Market (916 W. Fulton Market) for several floors of local restaurant and bar options, including Tony’s Rooftop Bar, and restaurant stalls with everything from ramen to tavern-style pizza to barbecue and pastries. The Urbanspace food hall (15 W. Washington St.) opened last fall and features a wide range of local options, including Filipino food, lobster rolls, gourmet doughnuts and vegan comfort food, as well as a full bar. Revival Food Hall (125 S. Clark St.), operated by multiconcept group 16 on Center, features some of Chicago’s best neighborhood dining all brought together in the city’s center. Revival’s stalls sell a wide range of cuisines, including dosa, empanadas, tacos, poke and more.
James Beard Award-winning chef Zachary Engel helms the kitchen at Galit, a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Bring a group to try an assortment of velvety hummus, pillow-like pita and a variety of twists on traditional dishes. Be sure to save room for one of the seasonal desserts. The menu is a four-course tasting service. 2429 N. Lincoln Ave.
If you want to grab a glass of wine and a bite in an unpretentious spot, head to this wine bar and café in the Loop. The list showcases all-natural wines from lesser-known regions of the world, encouraging guests to sip out of their comfort zones. The all-day food menu includes imported cheeses, house-made charcuterie, anchovy toasts and other bold pairings that stand up to the wines. 180 N. Upper Wacker Dr.
Philanthropic celebrity chef Jose Andres opened this outpost of his flagship Spanish restaurant last summer. Conveniently located in River North, it offers a wide array of shareable tapas and paellas, with a variety of sangrias, Spanish wines and sherries on the drinks side of the menu. The bright, modern decor is infused with the same upbeat spirit as the menu. Downstairs is Pigtail, a speakeasy-style bar with light bites. 500 N. Clark St.
This modern Filipino restaurant and bakery makes a tasty stop for breakfast, lunch or coffee and a snack. Filipino specialties such as lumpia, longanisa sausage and chicken, pork or mushroom adobo. Prices are gentle, ranging from $7 to $15. Local roaster Dark Matter coffee is the base for the large selection of espresso drinks and unique teas are offered in the “Rare Tea Cellar” menu section. Guests can also enjoy wine and cocktails as the day evolves. 1001 N. Winchester Ave.
Well-known Chicago restaurateurs chef Carrie Nahabedian and sommelier Michael Nahabedian of Naha fame opened Kostali in late 2019 at The Gwen Hotel. The menu features a mix of coastal cuisines from Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel and Morocco. Try the whole fried branzino and be sure to share some of the chickpea and potato beignets with smoked lentil puree. 521 N. Rush St.
Small plates and happy hour are the attractions at the second location of this Lettuce Entertain You concept. Classics include fried shishito peppers, patatas bravas, bacon-wrapped dates, garlic shrimp and Spanish meatballs. From 3:30-5:30 p.m. weekdays, tapas and pinxtos are $1 apiece and a glass of sangria is $5. Weekend brunch attracts a lively crowd. 441 N. Clark St.
It’s worth the trip to Chicago’s Andersonville or Wicker Park neighborhoods to pick up some artisanal baked goods from Lost Larson. Chef-owner Bobby Schaffer led the pastry programs at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York and at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Grace. There’s a reason the cinnamon roll, with its citrus-cream cheese frosting, is the best seller. But the menu includes other stunners like the almond croissant, kouign-amann, rustic breads and cakes. 5318 N. Clark St. and 2140 W. Division St.
Mustard Seed Kitchen
Right down the street from McCormick Place is this takeout restaurant developed by Erick Williams, chef-owner of award-winning Virtue in Hyde Park. The pandemic inspired Williams to launch Mustard Seed after creating high-quality meals to-go out of Virtue. Weary Show attendees can make a quick stop here for an affordable chef-inspired dinner to take back to the hotel. 49 E. Cermak Rd.
Here’s where to enjoy thin-crust pizzas with creative toppings while sitting outside on Chicago’s Riverwalk. Specialties include king crab and asparagus, charred pepperoni and the seasonal ramp and smoked bacon pizza. Antipasti, salads and pastas round out the menu, along with an extensive drinks list. Try an aperol spritz while watching the boats float by; some pull up and dock to grab a pizza to go. Tables inside offer a view through the large windows. 317 N. Clark St.
The Press Room
Get cozy in this intimate basement wine bar in a century-old building in the West Loop. The Press Room is known for its cheese and charcuterie board, as well as its housemade pastas such as sourdough cavatelli and squid ink chiitara. A well-curated list of classic cocktails and wines rounds out the experience. 1134 W. Washington Blvd.
Top Chef winner and former Spiaggia chef Joe Flamm opened this restaurant last year, naming it after his two grandmothers—Mary Rose and Mary—and creating a menu that reflects his family’s Italian and Croatian roots. The rustic but refined dishes are divided into vegetables, pastas, risottos, fish and meats, all vibrantly seasoned and seasonally focused. House-crafted cocktails and an imaginative beer and wine list accompany the food. The casual space is flanked by an open kitchen for a warm, inviting vibe. 932 Fulton Market
Luxurious RPM Seafood, which opened early in 2020, represented the final phase of the massive Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises riverfront restaurant project that also includes Pizzeria Portofino and RPM Events. The opulent restaurant’s menu includes multiple caviar service options, as well as some wow-worthy seafood towers. There’s plenty for meat-eaters, too, with wood-grilled steak frites, grass-fed ribeye and more. Try one of the restaurant’s signature agave cocktails to start. 317 N. Clark St.
Chopstick-wielding customers can get their fill of traditional rolls and innovative sushi creations in the original Sushi-San or the new branch in Willis Tower. But if you’re after an elevated, intimate sushi experience, nab one of the spots at the 10-seat Omakase Room at Sushi-San. Here, master sushi chefs interact directly with guests as they prepare an 18-course tasting, accompanied by Japanese whisky or sake from the impressive selection. 63 W. Grand Ave.
Mexican-born chef Carlos Gaytan gives the food of his country an upscale, urban spin. The menu showcases authentic Mexican cuisine infused with French techniques, ranging from familiar favorites like chile rellenos and guacamole to guajillo roasted octopus and Guerrero-style pork shank. The skilled bartenders mix up cocktails that nicely complement the food. Centrally located, Tzuco is open for brunch or dinner, with both outdoor and indoor seating. 220 N. State St.
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