Chicago’s restaurant scene has recently suffered some setbacks. Three excellent restaurants closed — Sixteen, 42 Grams and Grace — taking with them a total of seven Michelin stars. One local columnist wrote a controversial article about how “Chicago’s once-vaunted dining scene has lost its luster.” Fortunately, the vacuum left by the closures of these notable restaurants is rapidly being filled.
Even though I restricted myself to restaurants that had opened in 2018 (except for Bellemore, which opened in November 2017), I discovered eight notable venues serving cuisine that ranged from satisfying to sublime. Some of the restaurants below will doubtless claim Michelin stars in the year to come. In 2019, dining in Chicago promises to be as delightful as ever.
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless opened this cellar bar and restaurant beneath his flagship venues, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (the entrance is in the alley behind these restaurants). It can get a little loud — because of conversations more than music — but the vibe is festive, and the service is both friendly and efficient. Bayless’ daughter, Lanie, who greeted us and showed us to our table, was largely responsible for the vast selection of mezcal offered at the bar. Each of the mezcal-based cocktails we tried was superb, ranging from the fresh and complex “El Sótano,” with green Chartreuse and lime, to the sweet, savory and citrusy “Tacos al Pastor,” which incorporated chorizo-infused mezcal. The food also impressed. We tried a fresh and well-balanced yellowtail aguachile, roasted vegetables in rich almond mole, and delicious “Mexican paella” with shrimp, avocado, poblano peppers, chicken thighs and chicharrones (crispy chicken skin). And we couldn’t resist a dessert of plantains “Foster” in tequila-infused custard topped with Mexican vanilla ice cream.