The Hit List is where you’ll find our favorite new food and drink experiences in Chicago. We track new openings across the city, and then visit as many as we can. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of every good new spot, one thing you can always rely on is that we’ll only include places that we have genuinely checked out.
Our goal is for this list to be as diverse as the city itself - inclusive of a wide range of cuisines, price points, neighborhoods, chefs and owners of all backgrounds, and the multifaceted communities within the industry. If you think we missed a great new place, we want to hear about it. Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether you’re looking for in-person dining, takeout, or delivery, The Hit List is here to help you find a great new spot to support. Read on to find your new favorites.
This South Asian restaurant began as a pop-up, moved into Politan Row, then was in a virtual kitchen, and now finally has a permanent location in Wicker Park. We hope it’s their forever home, because this little counter-service spot is incredible. The nihari momos are delicately wrapped packages of beefy love, the mushroom korma is rich and savory, and the chettinad masala has the perfect amount of heat and unbelievably tender pieces of chicken. Wazwan is very casual, but they also have a tasting menu concept in the same space called Aman. It’s only available on Friday and Saturday, and checking it out is next on our list.
This food hall in the Loop is more like an anthology of some of our favorite Infatuation spots. Urbanspace is based out of New York, and the large two-level space currently has 12 vendors. This includes local classics like Edzo’s, Budlong, Sushi Dokku, and Isla Pilipina (which closed in Logan Square last year), but it also has the first Chicago location of Roberta’s Pizza - which our friends in NYC have been talking about for years. We can confirm that their wood-fired pizza is indeed delicious. But we’re also fans of the other new places here, like Bianca’s BBQ (their moist corn cake alone is worth the effort of finding parking downtown) and Plant Junkie, a vegan spot with things like fried seitan po’boys and jackfruit pulled “pork” sandwiches. There’s also a full bar, which offers Happy Hour Monday through Saturdays.
This new West Loop Italian spot is already incredibly busy. It’s from the same chef as Boka, which means the food is great. And while the menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees) it is delicious. The cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings are now our reigning definition of “decadent.” The pizza has a chewy crust, and the chicken parmesan stays crispy even while sitting in a rich tomato sauce. It’s in the former Bellemore space (which is huge) and it’s decorated with hanging plants and a very cool fabric wave ceiling. The bar is full of people dining solo, and the restaurant is buzzing with staff and everyone from couples to large groups. Right now reservations are few and far between, so plan on booking a month or so in advance, or snagging a seat at the bar right when they open.
If you’re in the market for a new favorite Indian spot, Basant might be it. This North Center restaurant has a menu full of hits, from starters like mushroom kulcha and tamarind-glazed sweet potato chaat, to creamy lamb gustaba and smoky eggplant bharta. Not only is the food really good, but this place works well for a bunch of situations. They make great cocktails (with Happy Hour from 4pm-pm Tuesday through Friday) and the bright, spacious dining room that’s great for both group dinners and casual date nights. Oh, and there’s a covered sidewalk patio. So unless you just don’t like eating delicious things, there are very few scenarios where Basant isn’t a good option.
This casual Mexican spot in Humboldt Park has birria that we can only describe as transcendent. While we ate it time stopped and the restaurant dissolved around us like pixels in The Matrix and nothing existed besides the truth of braised meat and flavorful red consomé. It’s served with some incredibly pliable handmade tortillas that stand up to the juicy meat without disintegrating - a fact that we put to the test with the delicious quesabirria, too. Birria is (obviously) the specialty, but the menu also includes things like fajitas and chilaquiles (which we’ll be trying on our next visit), and a short beer list. Plus, it’s decorated with a fun mural that was colorful enough to pull us back into reality - though we’re not holding that against it.
Look, we’re not telling you to just run out and spend $200 on a 12-15 course tasting menu. But if you’re in the market to do so, we highly recommend doing it at Esme. This new fine-dining spot in Lincoln Park has everything we look for in a fancy-ass meal. The three-hour meal never drags, courses flow together seamlessly, and (most importantly) the food is incredible. Plus, the magician that did the restaurant’s lighting made sure everyone looks airbrushed and like they belong in an art gallery. The food is fun without being too whimsical, with dishes like charred ribs topped with banana caramel and wrapped around a ceramic “bone” you eat like a Flintstone. There’s also savory sweet potato ice cream topped with caviar, and a canapé that tastes like a Cheeto from the future. So if you’re looking for a very upscale place to celebrate a special occasion, you can confidently book a table here.
The Listening Room is a new bar and listening cafe in the Loop. What’s a listening cafe, you ask? Taken from their website, it’s “a clubby dining experience with a state-of-the-art audio experience.” And while “clubby Loop restaurant” is not something we generally find on our Hit List, it turns out it’s not very clubby - it’s more of an upscale cafe that works for a casual date night. Plus, the food is delicious. The menu has dishes like tender chicken thighs with crispy skin, mac and cheese that gets melted raclette poured over it tableside, and some very interesting roasted carrots served with a fluffy coconut mousse and topped with peanuts. The “listening” part really just means that the sound quality is really good, and the music genre changes, so check their Instagram to see what they’re playing before you visit.
Amaru in Wicker Park has an amazing vegan tacu tacu. So when we heard that the same chef opened Bloom, a vegan restaurant in Wicker Park, we were excited. And our instincts were correct - the long menu is full of hits. Like the squash blossom-filled tamal topped with a rich mole, a tomato pizza with sweet tamarind saba and a cauliflower crust, and some truly wonderful mushroom asada tacos. And a lot of the dishes on the menu are also gluten-free and raw, so this place works well for a variety of dietary needs. The space keeps with the theme - it’s filled with plants and is bright enough that you won’t worry that said plants aren’t getting enough light. Right now it’s BYOB, and ideal for a casual date night, or a small group dinner with some vegetable-loving friends.
The Lardon is a salumeria, so the menu is full of lots of salumi, cheese, and various meats they cure in-house. And when we came here, we sat out on their patio and ordered a meat and cheese spread (which came with housemade accouterments like onion jam) along with a couple of sandwiches - including an incredible Rueben made with what might be the best pastrami in Chicago. Also, Lardon just extended their hours and menu, so you can come here for dinner and get things like steak frites or mussels.
Pequod’s has been our favorite deep dish for a long time, but as the ’90s Bulls can attest, dynasties end. Now there’s finally some legitimate competition for the best deep dish in the city. And the reason that George’s in Roger’s Park is so good is that this carryout spot uses a 48-hour cold-fermented sourdough. It creates a deliciously yeasty crust that’s very similar to focaccia, and has a crispy cornmeal base. There’s a fantastic balance of cheese to sweet tomato sauce, and like a traditional deep dish, the cheese is underneath the sauce. Oh, and George’s has a caramelized edge - not as pronounced as Pequod’s, but wonderful all the same. There are a bunch of varieties (like Clooney’s ER which comes with pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, and bacon) but our favorite is the simple cup and char pepperoni pie. Just be aware that these pizzas are made in very limited quantities, so you might need to order a week in advance to get yours.
We didn’t know what to think when we walked into Bocadillo for our 8:30pm reservation on a Thursday night. The brightly lit Spanish restaurant felt like a coffee shop, which makes sense, because they’re open all day for pastries and sandwiches. But we were quickly ushered to a table on their string light-filled back patio, which was just lovely. It was small (only about six tables), with Spanish music playing in the background. And it turned out to be the perfect place to eat pretty (and tasty) dishes like tiny pieces of french toast topped with foie gras and jam, a wonderful vegetable pisto with manchego and a duck egg, and tender Iberico pork with pickled snap peas.
To be perfectly candid, we didn’t have very high expectations of Jaleo in River North. Chicago is the fifth location of this casual Spanish restaurant that opened in D.C. back in 1993, and at first the brightly lit, busy space gave us definite chain restaurant vibes. But that concern disappeared fast thanks to the attentive service and great food. The menu includes tapas, paellas, sangrias, and a long list of Spanish wines. And the crowd - while a mixed bag of tourists - is clearly having some fun. It’s contagious, so even if you come here in a bad mood, you’ll be joining them soon. It’s a great spot for dinner and drinks before going out downtown, or if you just want to get together with friends and not worry about how loud you’re being.
This new Italian restaurant in the West Loop does wonderful handmade pastas, like a fantastic bucatini cacio e pepe, pici with ragu, and paccheri mancini prepared tableside. It’s large without feeling cavernous, tastefully decorated in soothing neutral colors, and the service is attentive without being obtrusive. And while Gioia is very busy, it’s still easy (as of now) to book a reservation. Plus, there’s a large bar area that’s great for hanging out after dinner, and a cute sidewalk patio with comfortable tables and chairs that don’t look like they were hastily purchased from a discount garden store.
You’ll find this upscale steakhouse at 88 Marketplace, a very large shopping complex just west of Chinatown. Inspired by Korean BBQ, each table at Holu has a grill where the server (or you, if you like throwing caution to the wind and/or are a control freak) cooks your steak. And the main reason this place is on our Hit List is the incredible quality of the meat. Most of it is aged in-house (you can say hi to the impressive selection displayed in the window while you have a drink at the bar), with everything from ribeye and zabuton, to wagyu tongue and A5 Japanese Kobe. It’s ordered by the ounce, and our suggestion is to get the $75 meat paradise. That allows you to try a portion of everything, along with some banchan-style sides and dessert. Come here with a friend who loves meat, or for a group dinner where everyone at the table digs the idea of having a personal chef for the night.
The original Dr. Bird’s opened in Buffalo in 1981 (fun fact, Griselda named a song after it) and thankfully this counter-service Caribbean spot has a second location in Wicker Park. Their specialty are Jamaican patties, which are filled with either chicken, beef, or spinach. Those are great (our favorite is the spicy beef) but the menu also has tender jerk chicken and creamy rasta pasta with Gruyere, rosemary, and roasted tomatoes. The sides are outstanding too - including must-order coco rice that’s sweet and savory, fluffy coco bread that’s perfect for enfolding your patty, and festivals that are a perfect complement to the smoky jerk seasoning. Bird’s also has a long list of fresh juices, rum cocktails, and incredibly friendly service. In other words, if you like being in a good mood, head here immediately.
We became fans of this Vietnamese restaurant in Lakeview after eating here on a 90-degree day. Sochi’s refreshing seared duck salad was exactly what we needed - the gỏi vịt was topped with tender breast underneath crispy skin, pickled daikon and carrots, and a perfect amount of mint, sweet and spicy ginger fish dressing. The delicious bánh mì (which had an excellent ratio of pâté and pork loaf to crunchy bread) - made us want to go on a picnic, especially since we were sitting next to the restaurant’s large garage-style windows. The menu also has bigger entrees like phở and cơm chiên, which we’ll certainly be trying on our next visit. This place works for a catch-up dinner with friends or a casual date night, and they now serve cocktails, wine, and beer.
Adding a food hall that opened in 2019 to the Hit List might feel a little lame. But Time Out Market just reopened in Fulton Market after being closed for a year, and now has a bunch of fantastic new vendors. Like Soul & Smoke, a barbecue spot you’ll find further down on this list. Or Shawn Michelle’s, one of the best ice cream shops in the city. There’s also Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, which has incredible chicken wings and moist corn muffins that might change your life (or at least help you forget you lost your left AirPod - again). The industrial space is huge, with two levels, three separate bars, a rooftop, and a sidewalk patio. So if you’re looking for a casual spot with no shortage of tables in the West Loop, put this place on your list.
Other than the fact that it’s literally our job to visit new restaurants, En Passant in Logan Square piqued my interest because its chef opened Au Cheval. And Au Cheval has plenty of great dishes - like the chicken liver and foie gras with eggs - other than that damn cheeseburger (which, yes, is delicious). Turns out En Passant is also full of delicious things, and we had a wonderful meal at this casual spot. The escolar topped with black garlic honey was one of our favorite crudos in recent memory, the chicken liver mousse was delightfully airy, and the fennel sausages had a Calabrian caramel sauce we can’t stop thinking about. Also worth mentioning is that En Passant managed to make an incredible burger using only three ingredients: beef, marie rose sauce, and balsamic onions. The restaurant itself is small and dimly lit, with vintage touches (like chandeliers and candles) decorating the space. The whole vibe can work well for a date night, or just a chill dinner with some friends.
Soul & Smoke has a familiar story: a catering business designed for events like graduations and weddings buys a food truck and pivots to takeout and delivery because of the pandemic. But now this outstanding barbecue spot has (along with a food truck) two ghost kitchens in Avondale and the South Loop. And not only is the tender, meaty brisket incredible (currently the best in the city), but the sides (like creamy mac and cheese, cornbread muffins, and spicy baked beans) are all just as great as the meat. In conclusion, last year sucked, but we’re really glad that we don’t need to go to a wedding just to eat their food.
“What’s this?” you ask, “Ken Kee isn’t new!” Yes and no. This 20-year-old Chinatown staple was recently bought by the owner of Strings Ramen, and both the space and menu have been overhauled. Now the two-story restaurant is full of neon signs and pop art, and the long menu has been pared-down to mainly congee, Hong Kong street food, and entrees like chow mein. But the reason to come here is to try their new Hong Kong-style cart noodles. There’s a separate menu where you get to customize your bowl, choosing from four types of broth, eight different noodles, and a whole bunch of toppings. I immediately got overwhelmed, so ordered two of their premade bowls - the vegetarian delight (with dumplings, spicy bamboo shoots, enoki, seaweed knots, and Chinese lettuce) and the rich lai kwai fang that was full of brisket, beef tendon, pork blood cake, squid, spicy tripe, and a soft boiled egg. Both were great, and now we want to go back and create my own. Oh, and their egg rolls are really good, too, so at least ordering those will be one easy decision we’ll be able to make.
Rose Mary is a Croatian spot from a Top Chef winner and former Spiaggia chef that just opened in the West Loop. Right now, reservations are tough to get, which isn’t that surprising considering this place is from a popular chef and in a popular neighborhood. But please don’t let that dissuade you from booking a table whenever you can, because this place is great. I ate a very spring-appropriate salad with tomato, farro, and asparagus that was both flavorful and refreshing. There was also a delicious crni rizot that tasted like it was made with stock from the tears of a hundred lobsters (that’s a compliment), and, of course, incredible pastas. Most dishes range from $10-$25, and it works for either a casual date or a fun night out with friends. And even though they recently opened, they’re operating seamlessly. So if you’re looking for a new restaurant where you won’t have to form a search party to find your server, you’ll get it here.
We received three DMs telling us to try the smashburger at Three House, an all-day restaurant in West Town. And once we did, we wanted to write a thank you note to the tipsters - the burger is delicious, with two juicy patties topped with the perfect amount of cheddar and garlic aioli on a fluffy sesame bun. But the burger isn’t the only reason we’re putting Three House on the Hit List. The rest of the dishes we tried were also great - like the curried chicken empanada that had a light and crispy shell. Or the fried brussels sprouts topped with shallots, feta cheese, and tender slices of skirt steak. We can’t quite put our fingers on why, but this is exactly the kind of food we want to eat when we’re hungover, drunk, or about to get drunk.
This downtown food hall is having some sort of renaissance - three of the restaurants on our Hit List are here, including Boonie Foods. This Filipino spot started out as a pop-up in Logan Square last summer, and recently found a permanent home at Revival. The menu is full of hits, from entrees like bagnet and liempo (which comes with delicious garlic rice and a fried egg) to their “Boonie Bomb” tacos, which are their tastiest dishes wrapped in a flour tortilla. We enjoyed everything we ate from Boonie Foods, but want to take a little extra time to call out the sisig. The menu description is “the best thing you’ll ever eat” and we’re not arguing with that - and we eat a lot.
If you’re wondering which Big New Restaurant you need to visit right away, check out Andros Taverna. This Greek restaurant in Logan Square is exactly what you’re looking for - it’s spacious, has great food, and you can usually get same-week reservations. You’ll find appetizers like the must-order kataifi cheese pie (shredded filo layered with cheese, baked, then topped with honey and pistachios), entrees like prawn saganaki in a rich tomato sauce, and a great spanakopita. They also have a big patio, weather permitting.
If you’re looking for a leisurely spot where you can commiserate about your former boss, or discuss important topics like Aaron Rodgers’ contract, book a table at Dear Margaret in Lincoln Park. This charming BYOB French-Canadian restaurant in Lincoln Park has tasty dishes like foie gras terrine with fluffy milk bread, duck breast with lentils, and a friendly team who will leave you alone while you get to the bottom of how Aaron and Shailene met. In other words, it’s exactly the kind of place where you will want to take extra time to finish off that wine you brought.
Open for takeout
We were already excited to try this Afro-Caribbean spot, but became even more so after hearing about its origin story. The owner, Niquenya Collins, is a business development coach who decided to take her own advice and turn her love of cooking into her own restaurant. Clearly, it was a great decision, because everything we ordered was delicious. The smoky jerk chicken was some of the best we’ve had, the Sengalese poulet yassa was tender and full of lemongrass and the chili con carne makes me mad at all the versions we’ve ever tried to make. We also discovered that fried plantains dusted in cinnamon sugar are our new favorite palate cleanser.
Minahasa started out as a pop-up focusing on Indonesian food. It’s owned by the chef and his mother (Mama Betty), and after months of operating out of their house, they opened a stall at Revival Food Hall in the Loop. I recently stopped by to pick up an order of their signature beef rendang (and to see if I could meet Mama Betty). Sadly, Mama Betty wasn’t there, but I’m happy to report that the beef rendang was tender and full of coconut curry flavor. I also picked up some pork sate (and the meat was wonderfully caramelized) and some fluffy balapis for dessert. And as a bonus, they’re also open for lunch.
Ever since placing our first order at Taqueria Chingon, not a day has gone by where we haven’t thought about their incredible tacos. We’ll even scroll through their online menu like it’s taco Zillow, fantasizing about my theoretical order. We’ve tried almost all the tacos at this Bucktown spot, and each one has impressed us. They’re all made with chewy handmade tortillas, and have a variety of flavorful fillings - like the morcilla (made with blood, bread, onion, and apples before getting topped with brown butter salsa macha), crispy pig head carnitas, and tender al pastor. The cheese quesadilla is also wonderful, it’s filled with cotija and melty oaxaca cheese that’s caramelized on the edges. Whatever your fantasy order is, just place it early - they run out of food quickly.
I ordered from this great new Peranakan restaurant in Lincoln Park two weeks after they opened, and I appreciated not just the great food, but also how much they had their sh*t together already. After all, Kapitan is meant to be a sit-down restaurant, but until indoor dining returns, they’re focusing on takeout and delivery. And they’re doing it very well - for example, the pie tee is packaged with the vegetable filling separately, keeping the pastry nice and crispy. And everything else I’ve had here has been great. Kapitan serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day, with dishes like chee cheong fun, a whole roasted Hainanese chicken, and kuih that changes every week. The menu is pretty long, so I’m considering it a personal goal to get through the whole thing as soon as possible. Don’t worry, I’ll report back.
A random DM telling me to, “Check out this place, best Middle Eastern food in the city,” is how I ended up at Mr. Kabab, ordering half the menu for carryout. And it turns out this newish (it opened in September 2020) spot in West Rogers Park does indeed have incredible food. I tried the combination plate (which included chicken shawarma, kefta, rice, salad, and pita), a gyro, the beef shawarma sandwich, and a vegetarian combo with baba ganoush, hummus, falafel, and dolmas. It was all so delicious that I became legitimately upset when I started to get full.
Last summer felt too strange to casually toss around phrases like “best new restaurant,” but Filipino restaurant Kasama in West Town was definitely my favorite. I ordered from here more than any other brand new spot. From their pastries (like the ham and cheese danish or cardamom kouign amann) to their Filipino plates like the BBQ platter or chicken adobo, I’ve never eaten anything that wasn’t absolutely delicious. This place just puts me in a good mood, and I firmly believe it should go into your self-care rotation.
Last year I fell in love with Italianette, which sadly closed when the Fulton Galley food hall shuttered after only seven months. It left a pasta-shaped hole in my heart - one I didn’t realize I’d been trying to fill until I ordered from Flour Power. And while this carryout-only West Town spot isn’t quite the same, the short menu of handmade pastas is all I could ever want when I need a pasta pick-me-up. Just plan ahead: they’re only open Thursdays through Saturdays and release that day’s menu at 8am.
We’re fans of of Little Bad Wolf in Andersonville. Their fantastic burger is on just about every single burger-adjacent list we write. So when we heard last winter that they were opening a new restaurant in Logan Square, we were excited to check it out. And not only is the new burger delicious (it comes on an everything bun, which is a nice change), but the nachos stay magically crispy throughout the entire dinner.
This Logan Square sandwich shop is a collaboration between the former Blackbird Chef and a chef from the sandwich spot Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans. I’m a fan of both of those places, which is why I practically ran to Big Kids as soon as they opened. Unsurprisingly, the sandwiches and small bites (like the ’sketti pocket) are good. But the specific reason for its appearance here is the collard melt - with braised collard greens, cherry-pepper Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on rye bread. It’s rich, spicy, and delicious.