Chicago

Here Are Chicago's Best New Restaurants That Opened in 2018

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

In 2018, Chicago said goodbye to beloved and acclaimed restaurants like GreenRiver and Bohemian House, saw the quick-service poke trend slowly fade out, and welcomed dozens of new restaurants onto the scene. From the omakase explosion and franken-cuisines like Korean-meets-Italian and Filipino-meets-Cuban, to West Coast influences and soul-warming hearth-focused fare, even the current dining trends prove arguably more dynamic than years past. Read on for a close look at ten of the best new dining concepts to open this year, and reorganize your bucket list accordingly.

Kyōten
Kyōten
Kyōten

Kyoten

Logan SquareA spendy omakase experience with not a California roll in sight
If cream cheese-packed maki is your idea of fine sushi dining, this minimalist eight-seat sushi spot might not be for you. Here, pedigreed chef Otto Phan presents each guest with a series of about twenty different bites that largely showcase both the Edomae tradition of aged, cured, and marinated fish, and the intentional use of varied shari (sushi rice) recipes. As such, you’ll find a lot more nigiri here than sashimi or maki. The reservations-only omakase takes place over only two seatings each evening, and will run you a cool $220 per person, sans sake pairings.

Rachel Bires
Rachel Bires
Rachel Bires

Etta

BucktownHearth-centric fare that won’t break the bank
Rustic cuisine is the name of the game at this approachable concept from the folks behind glitzy steakhouse Maple & Ash. A quaint, simply-designed space bows in deference to chef Danny Grant’s wood-fired menu that toes the line between captivatingly complex and not overly fussy. Kickstart a lazy Sunday morning with ricotta and strawberry preserves-laden focaccia, green chicken pozole, and fire-roasted breakfast sausage off the brunch menu, and delve into a feast of rack roasted oysters with smoked tomato butter, pizza topped with guanciale, giardiniera, Jimmy Nardello, and chile de arbol, and the shareable “pig picnic” (crispy pork belly and fire-roasted pork shoulder with marinated cucumbers, chimichurri, lettuce cups, and some spicy accoutrements) for dinner.

Fisk & Co.

LoopAn instant classic with a penchant for mussels and suds
Casual, inviting, and with just the right amount of polish, this concept is the sort of place that keeps you coming back for more. Craft brews and five different mussels preparations (coconut curry, anyone?) are an effective lure, but crave-worthy — and Instagrammable — bites like pretzel monkey bread with housemade mustard, seafood charcuterie, hand-cut frites served with a bevy of sauces that range from black garlic ketchup to smoked aioli, and pork cheek ragout will seal the deal. Added bonus: Stop by on the weekend for the weekday staples, as well as brunch-y stunners like crab dip benedict, harissa baked eggs, and a perfectly crafted Belgian waffle topped with Sugarman maple syrup, strawberries, and whipped cream.

Kailly Lindman Photography
Kailly Lindman Photography
Kailly Lindman Photography

Stefani Prime

LincolnwoodDowntown steakhouse vibes in the ‘burbs
Chicago’s modern steakhouse scene is nothing if not booming, but its reach hasn’t expanded much beyond city limits — until this year. Brought to you from the good people behind places like Bar Cargo and MAD Social, this stylish gem flaunts large, colorful art as bold as its meat-heavy menu offerings. While steaks, like the bone-in filet an colossal 40 ounce tomahawk, steal the show, Italian-inspired dishes like chicken vesuvio, veal ossobuco, and fettuccine al forno mixed in a wheel of parmesan shouldn’t be overlooked. If you save room for dessert (read: definitely save room for dessert), make moves for the architectural marvel that is the five-layer chocolate cake.

Stoffer Photography
Stoffer Photography
Stoffer Photography

Dutch & Doc’s

LakeviewCasual American grub and Cubs nostalgia in Wrigleyville
Wrigleyville experienced a restaurant and hospitality renaissance in 2018, and Boka Restaurant Group’s latest endeavour is arguably (and predictably, given the group’s penchant for opening quality concepts) the neighborhood’s newest star. The airy, two-storey space boasts massive windows that give way to unobstructed views of Wrigley Field, while chef Chris Pandel’s straightforward and well-executed menu promises everything from finger-lickin’-fantastic sticky, soy-glazed pork ribs and brown butter-spiked red kuri squash soup, to skirt steak, hearty three-cheese mac ‘n’ cheese, and mussels served with dijon cream, white wine, chiles, and garlic bread for dipping.

Pacific Standard Time

River NorthA bright space filled with California cuisine
One Off Hospitality (Publican, Blackbird), former Nico Osteria chef Erling Wu-Bower, and partner Joshua Tilden joined forces to open one of the most hotly anticipated restaurant arrivals of the year. The sleek, mid-century modern digs emanate West Coast cool, complete with clean lines and plenty of wood, while an ever-changing, ingredient-driven menu keeps things fresh and seasonal. Try the of-the-moment delicata squash with citrus, tatsoi, pickled red onion, tahini, and sunchoke chips, ricotta dumplings with cabbage, turnip, cipollini opinion, and apple, a whole roasted duck designed to feed three to five hungry people, and, of course, the huckleberry sundae composed of buttermilk cake, spiced meringue, honey ice cream, and basil. And bring your pals, because tackling this ambitious menu necessitates teamwork and a can-do attitude.

Neil Burger
Neil Burger
Neil Burger

Free Rein

LoopBrasserie in the St. Jane Chicago hotel with Michelin-worthy talent
The chef who led the now-shuttered GreenRiver to Michelin-starred fame has re-emerged at this Midwestern-influenced brasserie, much to the delight of Chicagoans who mourned the late restaurant’s closure in early 2018. Aaron Lirette’s take on breakfast is an exercise in elegant simplicity, with standouts like market vegetable hash and a fine herb omelet; his lunch and dinner menus are decidedly cheffier, and range from kampachi crudo with English peas, hearts of palm, and citrus, to riffs on GreenRiver classics like saffron spaghetti and smoked whitefish toast. For the full and immersive experience, team your meal with a house cocktail, like poignantly named rum-based concoction, The Future is Equal.

Kailley Lindman Photography
Kailley Lindman Photography
Kailley Lindman Photography

The Warbler

Lincoln SquareVeggies and ancient grains abound in an airy space
This neighborhood charmer, the latest from the Gather team, is the stuff that veggie-lovers’ dreams are made of. Chef/partner Ken Carter’s menu spans from a colorful spaghetti squash dish spangled with pomegranate seeds, pepitas, and pickled chilis and ponzu-glazed crispy cauliflower with sesame seeds, cilantro, and pickled red onion, to brown butter mushroom agnolotti and pumpkin farrotto. Meat-eaters shouldn’t miss the flatbreads, which are topped with everything from bacon and eggs to chicken sausage, Korean-style chicken wings, and a griddled double-patty cheeseburger.

Bixi

Logan SquareAn artsy, Asian-inspired brewpub
Whether you’re a beer neophyte or a jaded connoisseur, the unique brews and cheffy eats at this eccentric, bi-level concept demand to be taken seriously. Indulge in a flight of house brews like Shifties, a crisp American lager brewed with puffed jasmine rice, Stormcaller, a fall pale ale imbued with peach puree and dried peaches, and Chelonian Lair, a dark ale spiced with Szechuan peppercorns, and soak it all up with crispy pork belly adobo and Chicago beef bao packed with prime rib and Szechuan giardiniera. If the bold flavors don’t get your tongue wagging, the space’s custom, comic book-inspired mural surely will.

Matt Haas/Thrillist
Matt Haas/Thrillist
Matt Haas/Thrillist

Passeroto

AndersonvilleKorean comfort food with an Italian accent
This unique mashup of cuisine and culture is so successful, it earned a spot on our nationwide Best New Restaurants list. Don’t miss dishes like dry-aged lamb tartare with Asian pear and confit yolks, kalbi, and foraged maitake mushrooms when you inevitably plan your visit.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Kailley Lindman is a Chicago-based freelance food writer and photographer who regularly contributes to Thrillist.

Chicago

Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.