16 of the Best New Chicago Restaurants to Try in 2021

Spring is the time of rebirth, and that is definitely the case in the Chicago restaurant community. Many of your favorite restaurants are reawakening after their pandemic slumber, and there have been a surprising number of new restaurant openings, with more to come on the horizon. Big names (think José Andres, Paul Kahan, Joe Flamm, and others), new iterations of old standards, and new places popping up where other restaurants failed to thrive are all on the menu. Here are some of the best new Chicago restaurants recently opened or soon to open.

Now Open

Apolonia
Opened April 2021

 
 
 
 
 
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This sure-to-be-a-hit South Loop resto has a great provenance: it’s the second restaurant from S.K.Y.’s Stephen Gillanders and his wife, Seonkeung Yuk. He cooks, she designs, and the results (so far) have been magic. Don’t expect S.K.Y. Jr — this is more his take on Mediterranean food. House-made Tagliatelle with Seared Scallops, Robiola Ravioli with Parmesan Brodo, Grilled Swordfish with Piperade and Rapini, and Savory Black Truffle Puff Bread will all make appearances on the opening menu.

Avec River North
Opened March 2021

One Off Hospitality made the decision to close the wonderful Pacific Standard Time during the pandemic, but the space certainly isn’t sitting empty. After nearly two decades, they finally made the decision to open a second iteration of their mega-hit Randolph St. restaurant, avec, in the beautiful, vacated space. There’s a more expansive menu to match the larger interior, but don’t worry — you’ll still find your favorite Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates with Bacon, the Deluxe Focaccia with Taleggio and Ricotta, and other avec stalwarts.

First Watch
Opened March 2021

First Watch chicago restaurant, pancakes, breakfast food
Courtesy of First Watch

Oakbrook is the first Illinois location chosen for beloved breakfast restaurant chain First Watch, where everything is made to order, baked goods are made from scratch, and all fruits and veggies are fresh, not frozen. Healthy options like the vegan A.M. Superfoods Bowl stuffed with chia pudding, fresh fruit, and house-made granola, or the Avocado Toast on thick slices of whole-grain toast with poached eggs will help you get the morning started on the right foot.

Hinoki Sushiko
Opened April 2021

Photo by Charlie Garcia

Award-winning Chef Otto Phan (Kyōten) has opened a two-story complex in the Elston Corridor that features an izakaya lounge on the first floor (the space dominated by a huge man-made tree left over from previous occupant, Camp Willow) and a world-class omakase experience on the second. The omakase will offer sushi bar and tableside seating; there will be one seating each evening at 6 p.m.

Matchacita
Opened March 2021

Matchacita, chicago restaurants, match latte and macarons
Matchacita’s Purple Haze Matcha latte and macarons

While no one would ever confuse me with a cool kid, I’ve become obsessed with matcha drinks. There’s something about that back note of grassy bitterness that I find really appealing. So, I’m going to beeline it over to this new Lincoln Park spot for a Matcha Horchata, or perhaps a Purple Haze Latte, made with lavender, matcha, oat milk, and CBD. What could be more zen? Matcha lemonade, matcha smoothies, hot matcha, iced matcha… so many options, plus coffee drinks and Strawberry-Nutella Toast. This might be heaven.

Oaken Bistro + Bar
Opened April 2021

Courtesy of Oaken

Lake Forest gets a taste of something fresh with the opening of this upscale bistro in the new Forester Hotel, the first boutique-inspired Hyatt Place Hotel. Chef Kristen Burman will be serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner (it is a hotel, after all), and currently they are offering half-off every meal as they ramp up to a full opening. Look for inventive options like Rohan Duck Tacos with five-spiced pineapple and scallion pancakes, Chicken-Fried Cauliflower with avocado-green goddess dip, and a Maple-Braised BLT with Port-shallot mayo.

Rye Deli + Drink
Opened November 2020

Rye Deli, chicago restaurants, reuben sandwich
Rye Deli + Drink’s Reuben. Photo by Neil Burger.

Opened in late fall, this fabulous deli has flown a little under the radar, and it’s time for Rye to shine. Fresh bagels made with local grains (in flavors like za’atar, thyme/sea salt, and oat/pepita), salmon and pastrami smoked in-house, and perfect matzo ball soup made new with the addition of local grains and seasonal fresh veggies set this deli apart from the rest. The Whole Smoked Chicken Dinner for Four — with charred carrots, fava bean hummus, dill aioli, pita, herb and radish salad, and pickles — is an incredible bargain. Definitely worth a stop in the South Loop.

Soul & Smoke
Opened March 2021

Soul and Smoke, Chicago restaurants, brisket
Soul & Smoke Chef D’Andre Carter

Evanston has long known the skills of classically trained Chef D’Andre Carter, who also owns the boundary-pushing Feast & Imbibe catering company. And when he and wife Heather Bublick opened their comfort food and BBQ take-out spot Soul and Smoke, trust and believe there was rejoicing on the North Shore. But now Carter and company are bringing the heat to Avondale, with a ghost kitchen set-up that will get your brisket and ribs to you in the city, with a third location to open in the South Loop later this year. Damn, this food is good.

The Arch
Opened February 2021

Chef Brian Huston is back, and I couldn’t be happier. After he closed Boltwood — his terrific Evanston restaurant — in 2019, he joined forces with restaurateur and all-around mensch David Morton (DMK Restaurants) to plan a spectacular set of restaurants in the refurbished Railway Exchange building. The Arch – a “carefully curates, chef-driven, virtual market” — is the first to open, and it features pizza made with a three-day fermented dough, breads and pastries made from locally grown grains, and house-made butters, jams, and pickles. Order freshly prepared foods to go or opt for take-and-bake and other pantry items.        

Tree House
Opened April 2021

Tree House, chicago restaurants, pasta
Tree House pasta. Photo by Rachel Bires.

The menu at Chef Marco Colin’s new “chef-driven” restaurant in River North is filled with updated comfort/bar food with an Italian accent. Small plates (Chicken Parm Sliders, Frites with Parmesan and Truffle, Calamari Fritti), Wood-Fired Neapolitan and Detroit-Style Pizzas (including one topped with trendy, slow-braised birria), pastas, salads, and more, make for a fun and share-friendly experience (but please, only the people at your table!). Come for the Limoncello Semifreddo, stay for the dazzling mirror ball. It’s a party!

On the Horizon

Avli on the Park
Opening late April 2021

Avil Estiatorio chicago restaurant, grilled artichoke
Grilled Artichokes. Photo by Jason Little.

Winnetka’s Louie Alexakis is at it again, opening his fourth Avli in Lakeshore East. Expect spectacular views from huge floor-to-ceiling windows, double-sided stone fireplaces, a huge bar, and a large outdoor roof deck with heated cabanas. Executive chef Niko Kapernaros’ favorite new dishes include Octopus Stifado (stew) with tomatoes, pearl onions, rosemary, and red wine, and Shrimp Mikrolimano (sauteed shrimp in fresh tomato sauce with smoked feta, served over cauliflower purée).

Chiya Chai
Opening June 2021

This Logan Square darling is opening a second location in the Loop later this spring, and if you’re a true chai fan (and we aren’t talking the sweet swill they peddle at Starbucks), it’s time to get psyched. They’ve got 150 combinations to explore, from black cardamom to ginger-fennel, turmeric-curry to caramel-sea salt chais. Hot, cold, however you take it, always delightful. The Loop location will also offer fresh samosas, dumplings, sweet and savory pies, curry bowls, and chaat.

José Andrés’ Trio of Restaurants
Opening Summer 2021 and beyond

Legendary chef and humanitarian José Andres brings his culinary magic to Chicago in Summer 2021 with two different concepts: Jaleo, his Spanish restaurant, will open in the old Naha space in River North; Joe’s by the River, an all-day café, will open in the old Bank of America Tower in the Loop. No opening date yet for Andres’ Bazaar Meat, also to open in the Bank of America Tower, but I’ve eaten at the Las Vegas outpost and the food is outstanding, so looking forward to it being a little closer to home!

Rose Mary
Opening late April 2021

Rose Mary chicago restaurants, whole branzino paprikas
Rose Mary’s Whole Branzino Paprikas

Top Chef winner Joe Flamm has been planning this dream restaurant since leaving his post at Spiaggia, and it’s sure to be a doozy. Named for his grandmothers Mary and Mary Rose, and of course, the herb that is prevalent in Italian and Croatian cooking. The Fulton Market neighborhood is home to his seasonal, rustic Mediterranean cuisine, and you’ll also find a host of Eastern European spirits, and both Italian and Croatian beers and wine. I’m especially excited to try the Whole Branzino Paprikas, served with Rancho Gordo beans, a fennel and herb salad garnish, and of course plenty of paprika.


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Julie ChernoffBetter’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.