It’s finally fall, and new restaurant openings in Chicago and the suburbs continue, with some familiar names and the apparent return of fine dining. So great to see these chefs and restaurateurs back in business. For those of you keeping score, here are 13 new spots to add to your must-try list.
564 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Chef Lee Wolen and the Boka Restaurant Group have opened their newest spot in the West Loop to replace the popular but expensive Bellemore, which closed during the pandemic. Alla Vita is Italian for “To Life,” a toast that aptly nods toward overcoming obstacles and making the most of life and memorable experiences. The casual, family-style menu includes platters of Fritto Misto, Wood-Fired Meatballs, and Kale Caesar, to be followed by wood-oven pizzas (particularly intrigued by the Fennel Sausage with Broccolini, Mozzarella, and Pecorino), a Whole Sea Bream dressed with salsa verde, olives and raisins, or a big Roasted NY Strip for the table. House-made pastas include Mafaldine with Prawns and Calamari and Tagliatelle with Beef Shank Ragu. This is Sunday dinner food right here! Opened September 2021.
1201 E. 60th St., Chicago
There’s a welcome surprise hidden in the University of Chicago’s David Rubenstein Forum, and it’s a tasty one. BarDavid, a Mediterranean-influenced bar and restaurant helmed by Marco Bahena (Everest, Lyfe Kitchen) debuted this summer on the U of C campus in Hyde Park. The focus is on small plates, with a smattering of main courses at dinner. You’ll revel in dishes like Bahena’s Parmesan Chickpea Fries with Piquillo Aioli, Basque Chicken Croquettes with Brava Sauce, Whipped Cod Brandade, Tuna Niçoise, N’Duja Flatbread with Taleggio and Broccoli, and Roasted Salmon with Harissa-Miso Glaze. Currently open from 11 am to 8 pm Tuesday through Friday, they’re hoping to expand their hours later this fall. Opened July 2021.
116 W. Hubbard St., Chicago
Indian street food and tropical drinks could be a winning combination for the team from Rooh, the modern, high-end Indian cuisine spot in the West Loop. Bar Goa, a more casual approach to Indian dining, has taken over the old Sleeping Turtle space in River North. Dishes like Green Pea & Chorizo Hummus with Poi Bread, Mushroom Fried Rice, and Chicken Cafreal Sandwich with Madras Curry Aioli and Cabbage Slaw can be washed down with the Edge of India, made with Ghee-Washed Jin Jiji Goan Gin, Amaro Montenegro, Cardamom Bitters, Giffard banana liqueur, chamomile, and fresh lime juice. A scaled-down outpost of Bar Goa will open in the West Loop’s Time Out Market in October. Opened September 2021.
228 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago
Former Sunda Chef Louie Yu is at the helm of Near North’s new Chalet, a Rocky Mountain/Alpine-ski-lodge-comfort-food kind of place. Aprés-ski cuisine promotes “comfort, warmth, and conversation,” according to Yu. An ample Charcuterie Board is one of the stars of the “For the Table” menu, along with sure to be crowd pleasers like Duck Confit Poutine, Mile High Nachos, Salmon Tartare, and Shrimp Scampi Skewers. Word is out that the Chalet Smash Burger — Wagyu/bison blend topped with aged white Cheddar, garlic aioli, arugula, and pickled red chilies on a brioche bun — is worth every. Single. Calorie. Opened Summer 2021.
3137 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago
Rotating chef-driven micro-concepts (aka pop-up restaurants) in Logan Square? Sounds pretty cool. They give local chefs the opportunity to test their restaurant concepts without having to commit the resources that make opening a new restaurant prohibitive. current tenants are The Kluckerz (inventive fried chicken sandwiches) and Lime and Radish, which features Mexican-inspired cuisine. The best part? You can try both concepts on one menu, so grab a few tacos (chicken tinga and fried panela jump out at me) and some Street Corn, the Turbolicious Fried Chicken Sandwich (with cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, and bacon), and a Nest of Fries garlic-parm style and support these up-and-comers. Opened Summer 2021.
2200 N. Clark St., Chicago
Another new fine-dining restaurant, Esmé is a collaboration between Jenner Tomaska (Next) and his wife Katrina Bravo set in Lincoln Park, not far from Tomaska’s old boss Grant Achatz. They’ve reimagined the three-star Michelin experience as “an expression of their shared vision for the community-focused restaurant,” according to their website, and they’ve worked to integrate philanthropy and art into the mix. Curated collaboration dinners with other local creatives are planned with a portion of proceeds supporting different nonprofits and projects. Of course, there’s a price to pay for the prix-fixe menu: $200 per person, with wine pairings available at $250 — or $125 if you pre-book. Seems like the way to go. Opened August 2021.
224 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
James Beard Award-nominated Executive Chef Brian Huston (The Publican, Boltwood) joins forces with David Morton (DMK Restaurants) in the awe-inspiring, Daniel Burnham-designed Chicago Railway Exchange building. Huston’s “vegetable-centered” cuisine ensure that vegetables are the star of the menu, even beside beautiful cuts of meat, chicken, and fish. The Sweet Corn Rigatoni in a creamy saffron sauce with feta cheese is sure to please, and the Steamed Halibut sits atop a ragout of giant runner beans heightened by the addition of green olives and orange. Head Baker Matt Pontarelli (Publican Quality Bread) ensures that the gorgeous breads and sweets keep coming. Check out the immersive sound experience in the Japanese-inspired Listening Room while you’re there. Opened Summer 2021.
1133 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Chef/partner Federico Comacchio (Coco Pazzo, Bice) has spent his life bringing the magic of true Italian food to the rest of us, and for that we are grateful! After many years working for others, he’s on his own in this West Loop space, and the magic continues with innovative dishes like Crudo di Branzino (raw Mediterranean sea bass with marinated escarole, spicy grape tomatoes, and cruschi peppers), Tagliatelle di Mare (gluten-free chickpea tagliatelle with anchovies, sea urchin, and clams), and Polletto e Tempura (lightly fried free-range chicken served with tempura-fried vegetables and oregano salsa verde), as well as classics like Pizzette with wild mushrooms and Taleggio cheese, and Bucatini Cacio e Pepe. All I can say is, “Mangia!” Opened Summer 2021.
844 Spruce St., Winnetka
Fresh off the great North Shore success of Sophia Steak in Wilmette, Ballyhoo Hospitality’s newest spot is this French charmer in Winnetka. They’ve certainly got the right bistro pedigree with Chef Jason Paskewitz running the kitchen. Warm Tomato Tartes, Escargots a la Bourguignonne, Parisienne-style Gnocchi, Frisé aux Lardon with a runny poached egg, Roast Chicken with Pommes Purée, Steak Frîtes, and a full-flavored Bouillabaisse Royale as Friday’s Plat du Jour? He’s covered all the bases, and he’s just getting warmed up. Opened August 2021.
1520 Sherman Ave., Evanston
Downtown Evanston has a few new restaurant openings on deck, with this new comfort-food tavern the first to open. You’ll find bar standards like Fried Cheese Curds with Ranch Dressing, Jumbo Buffalo Wings, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Caesar Salad, Turkey Club, and Fish & Chips, along with some fresher takes like Risotto Fritters with Sriracha Aioli, and a Southwest Veggie Burger with guac and corn salsa on a potato bun. An unscientific survey (aka me walking by the crowded restaurant last week) says that the House Burger (double smashed patties with cheddar, lettuce, garlic mustard aioli, and tomato relish on a potato bun) is already a runaway favorite. Opened August 2021.
5600 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago
After a 2019 fire shut down the West Lawn stalwart El Solazo, owner Pepe Barajas (La Josie) decided to rebuild with a slightly different concept, new agave-focused bar program, expanded menu, and large outdoor patio. Taking a cue from the über-popular La Josie’s modern Mexican menu, you’ll now find Ceviche Aguachile Rojo, Queso Fundido Hongos con Huitlacoche (mushrooms and corn truffles), and Beer-Battered Fish Tacos alongside Enchiladas and Guacamole. And their expanded cocktail game? Oh, it’s on. Opened September 2021.
712 N. Clark St., Chicago
Chef Louie Yu is a busy man! He’s also overseeing the kitchen at this River North ode to New Orleans. The interior is meant to evoke the wrought iron railings and bounteous greenery of the French Quarter, while the food and beverage program transport you directly to Cajun country. Boudin Balls, Cajun Crostini, and Fried Okra with Grilled Lemon are great starters before diving into your Seafood Gumbo laden with shrimp, crawfish tails, and spicy andouille sausage, or the Cajun Pasta with Blackened Shrimp. Dessert means Beignets dusted with powdered sugar, Pralines, and Bread Pudding with chocolate sauce and brown-sugar glaze. Expect to drink too much as Storyville Hurricanes, Unholy Hand Grenades, Chicago Sazeracs, and Va Va Vieux Carrés will be served in abundance. Laissez les bon temps roulez! Opened September 2021.
Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Dr., Chicago
You’ll find the newest outpost of Sushi-san in Chicago’s Loop — at Catalog in Willis Tower — and the time is right to go grab one of their specialty eight-piece Maki Rolls (I’m partial to the Spicy Salmon with yuzu and gochujang), with a side of Spicy Szechuan Tofu, some Miso Soup, and maybe a Seaweed Salad. This can also be your go-to for office catering, with half-pans of Blistered Shishito Peppers and Spicy Octopus Tacos, or big mixed sushi platters (serving from 6 – 20) and trays of Robata-Grilled Kalbi Shortrib or Vietnamese Pork. The Loop just got a little bit more delicious. Opened September 2021.
More from Better:
- North Shore Restaurants Share Lessons Learned During the Pandemic
- 31 of the Best Things to Do This October in Chicago and the Suburbs
- Daughters Launch Momsy’s Cafe in Winnetka to Honor Their Mother
Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.