Best of 2021: Dining

Best of 2021_ Dining Winners

On-site dining is back, and we couldn’t be happier to announce the winners of this year’s Best of Dining awards. Kudos to the restaurants that made it through a tumultuous 2020 and emerge victorious. Here are your favorite spots for 2021.

Best Al Fresco Dining – City
Honey Butter Fried Chicken

3361 N. Elston Ave. Chicago

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Bring on the HBFC Fried Chicken with a tub of their namesake honey butter, pour us a Candied Jalapeño Margarita, and let us dine under the twinkly lights on this expansive patio in Avondale.

Best Al Fresco Dining – Suburbs
Five & Dime, Evanston 

1026 Davis Street, Evanston

This Evanston patio roof has it all: umbrella-shaded dining, cornhole, giant Jenga, creative cocktails, rosé slushies, a great Tuna Poke Bowl, and one of the best burgers around.

Best Bakery – City
Sweet Mandy B’s

Lincoln Park & Streeterville Locations

A multi-year winner in this category, Mandy B’s brings the sugar to Lincoln Park and Streeterville in all the sweetest ways — looking at you, Snickerdoodle Cake.

Best Bakery – Suburbs
Hewn, Evanston

1733 Central St., Evanston

The talented team at Hewn are putting out extraordinary loaves of hand-forged, artisan sourdough bread every day, along with excellent sandwiches, coffee drinks, and all manner of tempting sweets.

Best Bar – City
Village Tap

2055 W Roscoe St

This repeat winner in Roscoe Village is a Chicago classic for a reason… plus they’ve got a great beer garden.

Best Bar – Suburbs
Ward 8

629 Howard St Evanston

Classic cocktails made to perfection on the border of Evanston and Chicago; come for the drinks, stay for the charcuterie boards.

Best BBQ – City
Smoque BBQ

3800 N. Pulaski

The Avondale neighborhood is blessed with this BBQ destination, and some of the best damn brisket (and pulled pork!) in town.

Best BBQ – Suburbs
Hecky’s BBQ, Evanston

1902 Green Bay Road, Evanston


Though we lost the ebullient Hecky Powell to COVID last year, his namesake BBQ joint soldiers on, bringing the gospel of Baby Back Ribs and Smoked Chicken to the North Shore. As Hecky always said, “It’s the sauce!”

Best Breakfast/Brunch – City
Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club

Various Locations

Gotta love a great brunch, especially BMBC’s Mayan Benedict, Lemon Crab Cakes, and Spiced Banana Waffles. Two locations keep the people happy.

Best Breakfast/Brunch – Suburbs
Walker Brothers’ Original Pancake House, Wilmette and Glenview

Wilmette: 153 Green Bay Rd, Wilmette
Glenview: 1615 Waukegan Rd, Glenview

Cravings not to be ignored: Walker Brothers’ Hot Apple Cinnamon Pancake, served piping hot from the oven, and a side of hash browns with cheese. Don’t ask about the calorie count.

Best Brewery – City
Half Acre Beer Company 

2050 W Balmoral Ave.

The Balmoral location’s beer garden is a big draw for enjoying a freshly brewed Daisy Cutter Pale Ale or Pony Pilsner in good weather. 

Best Brewery – Suburbs
Sketchbook Brewing, Evanston and Skokie 

Evanston: 821 Chicago Ave, Evanston
Skokie: 4901 Main St, Skokie

sketchbook brewing

Visit either the original Evanston or new(ish) Skokie taproom to enjoy Sketchbook’s Orange Door Double Dry-Hopped IPA in a convivial atmosphere. Follow them on Instagram to keep up with their latest beer releases and events.

Best Burger – City
Au Cheval 

 800 W Randolph St, Chicago

The original Au Cheval burger can be found in the West Loop, but this most excellent burger can also be found at the fast-casual Small Chevals in Wicker Park or Old Town — with a much shorter line.

Best Burger – Suburbs:

 1571 Sherman Ave, Evanston

This legendary Evanston burger joint wins this category every year, and one taste of Eddie Lakin’s Patty Melt, Five Onion Fries, or the perfect Oreo milkshake tells the tale.

Best Chinese – City
Duck Duck Goat 

857 W Fulton Market, Chicago

Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s “reasonable authentic” Chinese Food wins your heart. Is it the Char Siu Pork Buns, or the Xi’an Goat Slap Noodles that catch your fancy?

Best Chinese – Suburbs
Koi, Evanston 

624 Davis Street Evanston

Sandy Chen’s Koi is a longtime Evanston destination for fantastic sushi, happy hour, and a vast selection of regional Chinese dishes.

Best Coffee Shop – City
Dark Matter Coffee 

Various Locations

The “mothership” in Ukrainian Village is Dark Matter central, with a large selection of freshly roasted beans, drip and draft coffee, and a healthy serving of attitude.

Best Coffee Shop – Suburbs
Backlot Coffee 

2006 Central Street Evanston

backlot coffee

John Kim and Isaac Bloom’s Evanston coffee shop (pro tip: there’s also one in Chicago’s Irving Park nabe!) roasts their own beans, bakes up some seriously amazing sourdough cinnamon rolls, and makes a killer Lavender Matcha Latte.

Best Fine Dining – City

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago

Co-Owners Nick Kokonas and Chef Grant Achatz created an oasis of calm and gentility in Lincoln Park, one of the world’s best restaurants — and they’ve got the international awards to prove it.

Best Steakhouse & Best Fine Dining – Suburbs: The Barn Steakhouse 

1016 Church St Rear, Evanston

the barn steakhouse

Amy Morton and James Beard Award-winning chef Debbie Gold have redefined the steakhouse for the modern age at this gem in downtown Evanston.

Best Farmers Market – City
Green City Market  

2613 W. Lawrence Avenue

green city market

Each Wednesday and Saturday morning, the south end of Lincoln Park is filled with chefs, Chicagoans and suburbanites alike, all in pursuit of the freshest locally sourced food around. Community programs, cooking demonstrations, and more.

Best Farmers Market – Suburbs
Evanston Farmers Market

1800 Maple Ave, Evanston

Evanston Farmers Market

Head to Evanston for your favorite suburban market on Saturday mornings from May through October and discover a vibrant and thriving community of foodies and local purveyors.

Best Grocery Store or Market
Trader Joe’s

Various Locations

TJ’s, how do we love thee? The snacks and ice cream novelties alone are reason to go, but the beverage selection and the large selection of cheeses are close runners up.

Best Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt/Gelato – City
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams  

Various Locations

There are seven Jeni’s locations in Chicago — plus one at Oakbrook Center — so you’re never too far from your next scoop of Buttercream Birthday Cake or pint of Skillet Cinnamon Roll.

Best Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt/Gelato – Suburbs
Graeter’s Ice Cream, Northbrook and Winnetka

Northbrook: 1347 Shermer Rd, Northbrook
Winnetka: 940 Green Bay Rd, Winnetka

Lucky Northbrook and Winnetka, home to Graeter’s Ice Cream shops. It’s ALL about those signature chunks of chocolate combined with premium ice cream flavors like Black Raspberry or Toffee Chocolate Chip.

Best Indian – City

1414 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

Winner of a Michelin Bib Gourmand designation, this Logan Square restaurant offers modern Nepalese and Indian cuisine.

Best Indian – Suburbs
Mt. Everest, Evanston 

 630 Church St Evanston

Featuring local, ethically sourced ingredients whenever possible, this Evanston spot for Indian and Nepalese cooking has graced downtown Evanston for over 20 years.

Best Italian – City
RPM Italian 

52 W Illinois St Chicago

RPM Italian

It’s always a party at River North’s RPM Italian, where the house-made pastas, high-quality meats and seafood, and glorious antipasti offerings are much in demand.

Best Italian – Suburbs

815 Chicago Avenue Evanston

Chef Vince DiBattista serves up rustic — yet sophisticated — Italian cuisine in this Evanston neighborhood favorite. Don’t miss his Pappardelle Bolognese or the salmon with lentils, spinach, and melted tomatoes. 

Best New Restaurant – City
Avli on the Park 

Lincoln Park & River North Chicago Locations

Louie Alexakis does it again with his fourth location of Avli (which originated in Winnetka, BTW), this time in a light-filled and airy space overlooking the urban botanic garden of Lake Shore East Park. 

Best New Restaurant – Suburbs
Soul & Smoke, Evanston

1601 Payne #C, Evanston

Soul & Smoke

Chef D’Andre Carter and wife Heather Bublick are making barbecue with fine dining underpinnings and a surfeit of deliciousness. Is there a better brisket around? Or Shrimp and Grits? Not in my book.

Best Mexican – City
Frontera Grill 

445 N Clark St, Chicago

For over 30 years, Chef Rick Bayless and his team have been creating peerless Mexican cuisine in the heart of River North. The Cochinita Pibil is still every bit as wonderful now as it was then.

Best Mexican – Suburbs
Taco Diablo, Evanston 

1026 Davis St. Evanston

Taco Diablo

Dan Kelch and his Evanston team have double dipped on the Best of Dining list this year! They make a mighty fine margarita here, and some killer tacos, too.

Best Pizza – City

2207 N Clybourn Ave

It’s all about the caramelized crust at this Lincoln Park pizza joint (the original location in Morton Grove is also still going strong). One slice is a meal in itself.

Best Pizza – Suburbs
Lou Malnati’s, Evanston

1850 Sherman Ave, Evanston

There are 58 Lou Malnati’s pizzerias in Illinois, with more in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Seems like people can’t get enough of their Chicago Deep Dish and thin-crust pizzas.

Best Sandwiches – City
Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen 

1141 South Jefferson Street

Making the Reuben (and the Potato Latkes, Babka French Toast, Cheese Blintzes, Stuffed Cabbage, Noodle Kugel… yada yada yada) of your dreams since 1942.

Best Sandwiches – Suburbs
Stacked & Folded, Evanston and Winnetka 

Evanston: 824 Noyes St. Evanston
Winnetka: 551 Lincoln Ave. Winnetka

Stacked & Folded

Whether your taste runs to a Chicken Parm or a Bulgogi Cheesesteak Sandwich, you’ll find just the right thing to fill your tummy at either location of this happy spot.

Best Seafood – City
Shaw’s Crab House

21 E Hubbard St.


For decades, Shaw’s has been the Chicago go-to for impeccably fresh fish and seafood. A second location opened in Schaumburg, to the delight of the Western ‘burbs.

Best Seafood – Suburbs
Oceanique, Evanston 

505 Main Street Evanston

It’s been 30 years since seafood wizard Mark Grosz opened this destination restaurant on Evanston’s Main Street, and it’s still going strong. A great place for oysters and champagne!

Best Steakhouse – City
Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse 

1028 North Rush Street

The Rush Street/Viagra Triangle location of this eternal hot spot has been very good to Gibson’s, Chicago’s favorite source for prime meat. 

Best Sushi – City

 820 W Lake St

Head to the West Loop for some of Chicago’s most pristine raw fish and seafood at Momotaro, the Boka Restaurant Group’s take on modern Japanese cuisine.

Best Sushi – Suburbs
Blufish Sushi Bistro, Glenview, Park Ridge, Vernon Hills 

Various Locations

Got a taste for sushi? You’ve got three suburban locations to choose from, all offering beautiful maki, nigiri, and sashimi, along with other favorite Japanese dishes.

Best Thai – City
Opart Thai 

 1546 W. Chicago Ave.

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Opened in 1983 in Lincoln Square, this wonderful Thai restaurant is now located in West Town, but the authentic flavors and dishes remain the same.

Best Thai – Suburbs

1622 Orrington Ave., Evanston


The word for “cosmopolitan” in Thai, NaKorn’s food is anything but business as usual. Eating here is always a revelation.

Best Vegan/Vegetarian – City
The Chicago Diner

  Logan Square & Lakeview Locations

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For nearly 40 years, The Chicago Diner has led the way for vegans and vegetarians in search of a good meal. Locations in Lakeview and Logan Square.

Best Vegan/Vegetarian – Suburbs
Blind Faith Café  

525 Dempster Street, Evanston

Blind Faith Cafe

Owner David Lipschutz has been keeping the faith at this seminal Evanston vegetarian restaurant for over 40 years. From Stuffed Risotto Cakes to Thai Peanut Noodles, the global influence here is always in evidence.

Best Vietnamese
Le Colonial

57 E. Oak Street

The new location on Oak Street has been a huge boon to this Vietnamese stalwart, giving new life to the menu and drawing crowds.

Best Wine Store – City
Binny’s Beverage Depot 

Various Locations

Binnys Beverage Depot

With 45 Illinois locations, 30,000 available products, and an impeccable 70-year history of service, Binny’s rules Chicagoland.

Best Wine Store – Suburbs
Schaefer’s Wines, Foods & Spirits 

9965 Gross Point Rd. Skokie

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Your one-stop shop on the North Shore for all things beverage related: wines and liquors from around the world; craft beers; sodas and mixers; partyware; and great snacks, cheeses and more!

Category Sponsor
Koi Fine Asian Cuisine & Lounge


Pandemic Pivot

“This Pandemic and economic depression the world faces is a challenging period for all businesses, especially for the Hospitality Industry. For those who see the opportunity and pivot to exploit them, will succeed. My business Koi Fine Asian Cuisine in Evanston stayed open everyday by offering curbside pick up and contactless delivery service. At the same time, I donated food to low income families, hospital workers, Connections for the Homeless, Common Pantry, etc. I have learned one most important lesson: We are all in this together and need to help each other. That is the pandemic pivot. I am grateful and lucky to continue to keep the doors open for Koi.” – Sandy Chen, philanthropist, community leader and owner of Koi Fine Asian Cuisine

Sandy’s Top Dining Picks

Clarke’s Off Campus
804 Davis St, Evanston
Great breakfast and lunch spot. Clarke’s has been visited by a Princess and the GOAT, Muhammad Ali. Woo hoo!

Bar Roma
5101 N Clark St, Chicago
Traditional Italian with crafted cocktails. Owner Julia Zhu provides warm hospitality and of course, delicious food. 

Edzo’s Burger Shop
1571 Sherman Ave, Evanston
Best burger in town. Fresh ground-on-site beef burgers and fresh cut fries and hand scooped milkshakes. Edzo’s also has a classic Chicago hot dog with all the trimmings.

505 Main St, Evanston
Family owned and operated, with Chef Mark Grosz uses only the freshest ingredients and seasonal fare and over 300 wine selections. its a go to spot in Evanston. 

Union Pizzeria
1245 Chicago Ave, Evanston
Connected to SPACE, delicious wood fired neapolitan pizza. Beautiful industrial dining room with stunning floor to ceiling windows. 

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