Can’t score a spot at Grant Achatz’s molecular gastronomical wonder, Alinea? Already checked out The Publican and Girl and the Goat? The Windy City’s overflowing with noteworthy eateries, serving up far more than just hot dogs and deep-dish. Here’s a sampling of newer noteworthy additions.
Chef Diana Dávila pays homage to her heritage with inventive interpretations of classic Mexican dishes at this colorful Logan Square hotspot. The queso fundido is a crowd-pleaser. Tacos come in unexpected flavors, including beer can chicken and cactus fruit. Adventurous eaters can opt for the peanut butter y lengua, a dish of beef tongue and a spicy peanut salsa that pays tribute to Dávila’s uncle. Pair it with a Mexican beer or cocktail (pictured). 2800 W. Logan.
Bland, Americanized Chinese food is thrown out the window at A Place by Damao. The modest storefront on Chicago’s South Side serves Sichuan specialties by chef Aishan “Damao” Zhong, a native of China who wanted to bring the spicy foods of her youth to the Midwest. Diners can order wontons floating in a flavorful chicken-and-beef broth or snack on crinkle-cut fries slathered (pictured) in a sweet-and-spicy secret sauce. Don’t leave without trying the spicy noodle soup, which includes hearty slices of meat that melt on your tongue. 2621 S. Halsted.
If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box dining experience, head to this Logan Square eatery, which marches to the beat of its own drummer. Among the offerings on the style-defying menu: spicy onion rings with chili salt and tri-tip steak with sour cream and mushrooms. Chef/owner Jason Vincent pays special attention to house-made pasta. The “sortallini” with tomato, guanciale, basil, and pine nuts is a must. Consider reservations to snag a seat at the chef’s table, located beside the bustling open kitchen. 3209 W. Armitage.
Luxury is the name of the game at Bellemore. The restaurant, located just steps from downtown’s French Market, has won praise for its stylish interiors and creative New American dishes. Diners might choose such items as Kona Kampachi (pictured) or maple-glazed suckling pig with slow-roasted strawberries. And don’t expect miniature portions; chef/partner Jimmy Papadopoulos expertly layers dishes with a well-planned mix of ingredients. 564 W. Randolph.
Asian fare and classic French cuisine meld beautifully at S.K.Y., located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, on the West Side and named for chef/owner Stephen Gillanders’ Korea-born wife, Seon Kyung Yuk. The restaurant’s dishes, which capitalize on Gillanders’ classical training and Filipino heritage, include tender lobster dumplings with a rich butter sauce and bibimbap with a slice of foie gras on top. Most entrées run less than $28—a steal, considering the technique and acumen that go into each dish. 1239 W. 18th.
The century-old St. Elmo Steakhouse and Shapiro’s Deli are musts, but Indy’s seen a surge of fresh concepts, among them such hotspots as the Kurt Vonnegut– inspired Bluebeard, chef Neal Brown’s The Libertine Liquor Bar, and the popular Café Patachou breakfast chain. But that’s just scratching the surface…
On buzzy Mass Ave, a mural of pig legs greets customers at this popular eatery. Husband-and-wife team Chris and Ally Benedyk specialize in offal-forward sandwiches (think tongue and pork belly) and comfort breakfast fare. This year, at its new location, Love Handle rolled out Friday fish fries, at which patrons might find jumbo soft shell crab, shrimp rolls, or fried skate. But don’t skip dessert: Ally bakes brownies, tiramisu, and rich New York–style cheesecake with raspberry jam. 877 Massachusetts.
This colorful diner, situated inside a former garage, has garnered national acclaim from the likes of Bon Appétit and Food & Wine. Milktooth’s main trade is brunch fare, and chef Jonathan Brooks’ most sought-after menu item might be the Dutch baby pancakes, made with local berries and topped with powdered sugar. But consider other dishes from the menu’s Classic Stock section, including the cranberry walnut with gouda and raclette grilled cheese (pictured). And don’t miss the house-made cocktails—particularly those in the Bubbles & Blood menu section—as well as the bottomless drip option for local brand Tinker Coffee. 534 Virginia.
When in town, who’d dare skip the Indy eatery helmed by a Paris-trained chef who crafts fun (blowtorched—seriously!) snacks, including a famous cheeseburger, behind the bar? Indianapolis Monthly named it the city’s Best Restaurant of 2018, describing the place as “dark and moody.” Open three nights a week and with just 16 seats, Bar One Fourteen requires would-be diners to plan well in advance. But for those who miss out on that flame-kissed cheeseburger, owner Martha Hoover and executive chef David Hoover (pictured) also oversee a spot known as Crispy Bird across the street. 114 E. 49th.
If your travels spawn a hankering for high-end fried chicken, look no further. Hoover’s Crispy Bird, which debuted late last year, offers playful takes on the fried favorite, whether topping a sourdough waffle or in a slider-size sandwich (pictured). Add such mouthwatering sides as grits and the “life-changing” mac and cheese. Eater named Crispy Bird one of the city’s hottest openings earlier this year, and we’re not surprised—the atmosphere’s also über-cool, with light wood panels contrasting against matte black details. 115 E. 49th.
The draw at this Japanese-inspired restaurant is omakase-style dining, available at Ukiyo’s reservations-only sushi bar. Patrons are treated to a chef-selected multi-course tasting menu. (Omakase literally means “I’ll leave it up to you.”) The experience also includes wine and sake pairings. At one time, Ukiyo transformed into popup restaurant Moon Rabbit Ramen at lunchtime, serving up piping-hot bowls of the savory noodles; since June, though, the restaurant began serving ramen all day. But Ukiyo’s sushi and small plates (e.g., miso soup, grilled octopus) are the real stars. Indianapolis Monthly calls chef Neal Brown “the gateway chef for accessible high-minded cooking.” 4907 N. College.
Yes, Missouri’s other metro is known for its BBQ—hometown boy Calvin Trillin did, after all, once proclaim Arthur Bryant’s the single greatest restaurant in the world, and other establishments—Jack Stack, Gates, Joe’s, and, more recently, Q39—have received endless acclaim. But consider branching out beyond ’cue.
Considering that the owner is renowned architect David Manica, it’s an understatement to call The Monarch Bar’s atmosphere exquisite. A thousand transparent butterflies float above a bar carved from imported Italian stone. Inviting banquettes line the white-and-gray perimeter, and the room is graced by a glowing fireplace. Even the menu is exquisitely designed, with illustrations of butterflies and world maps. Oh, and the drinks, whipped up by bar manager Brock Schulte (pictured)? As we said, exquisite. 4808 Roanoke Parkway.
It’s not often that Travel + Leisure suggests paying a visit to a Midwest town of fewer than 10,000—or that a small-town chef has such big ambitions that the James Beard Foundation recognizes his farm-to-table approach. But that’s exactly what happened at Justus Drugstore in Smithville, half an hour north of K.C.—so imagine the anticipation when word got out that chef Jonathan Justus (pictured) was opening a new restaurant in the city. The 5,000-square-foot space opened in January. Like its predecessor, Black Dirt stays true to its locavore philosophy. The roast duck, for instance, is sourced from a farm just a half- hour northeast—meaning you’ll have traveled farther than what’s on your plate. 5070 Main.
Before you go, you’ll want to decide whether to sit in the buzzing shared plates–style Supper Club or the more intimate Tasting Room, where the open kitchen’s the star of the show. (You’re driving for four hours, so consider the latter if you have several hours and $105 for the prix-fixe menu.) The menus change seasonally, but there are always nods to chef Michael Corvino’s upbringing in the Pacific Northwest in such dishes as Imperial Gold caviar and oysters with rhubarb and pink pepper. Stick around for live music and a sampling of the late-night happy hour menu. Seaweed Donuts, anyone? 1830 Walnut.
After staging in restaurants around the globe (including Denmark’s renowned Noma), chef Nick Goellner and his wife, Leslie Newsam Goellner, opened a spot of their own in K.C.’s Hospital Hill neighborhood. It’s since received heaps of praise, including being K.C.’s sole eatery on Bon Appétit’s 2017 Best New Restaurants in America list. Why all the buzz? Well, for starters, such elegantly presented, locally sourced dishes as the beet pappardelle (pictured). Top it off with a scratch-made dessert by Goellner’s sister Natasha Goellner, who runs pastry shop Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott and Cirque du Sucré food truck. 2506 Holmes.
After five years in Westside, co-owners Ryan and Jessica Brazeal recently moved their renowned restaurant to the Crossroads Arts District. There, the couple renovated a historic two-story building that now houses a 50-foot tile mosaic, a granite bar, and an open kitchen. The menu’s a mix of American and Italian, with some novel items—Rabbit Pie, Cold Brew Coffee Float (pictured)— thrown in. 1927 McGee.
If you’ve visited Music City before, you’ve likely tried such places as Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Husk, and (our favorite splurge) The Catbird Seat. But like the city’s music scene, there’s always a newcomer—and these spots are so fresh, some locals have yet to check them out.
Julia Sullivan and Allie Poindexter’s restaurant opened in Germantown last February to rave reviews, including an America’s Best New Restaurants nod from Bon Appétit. The menu features more than a dozen varieties of oysters and stunning presentations of predominantly seafood shareables. White-painted brick, light woods, and deep-blue accents bolster the coastal vibe. Look for local chefs Sunday-brunching on their day off. If you have but one choice for dinner in Nashville, Henrietta Red checks the most boxes. 1200 Fourth N.
It didn’t take long for Philip Krajeck’s maiden restaurant, Rolf & Daughters, to achieve nods from Esquire and Bon Appétit. So when sister restaurant Folk recently opened, it became an instant hot spot for “neo-Neopolitan” oven-fired pizzas (pictured), which some consider the best pizza in town. The star of the show includes an uncommon topping—clams—along with bonito, lemon, chili, and parsley. Start with a seasonal toast, and don’t miss the sweet-as-crawfish Royal Red Shrimp. 823 Meridian.
The bar/restaurant is located just around the corner from the famed Printers Alley. Guests are first seduced by the live jazz and quilted and leather upholstery, then captivated by the wood-fired grill—the polestar for roasted meats, charred veggies, and hearth-baked sourdough. At happy hour, consider the signature rabbit rolls—rabbit terrine atop melted Swiss and onion, all tucked into pineapple-sweetened house slider rolls (pictured)—paired with a $5 Ezra Brooks Old Fashioned. 218 Third N.
Brimming with plants and murals inspired by author Henry David Thoreau, Walden opened in East Nashville in March. Another breath of fresh air: the beverage prices. In an era when craft cocktail prices are creeping toward the $15 mark, it’s refreshing to see more than 35 taps of rotating beer, wine, and house-batched cocktails priced under $10. The same sub-$10 pricing applies to the recently expanded menu (including a grilled d’Affinois-and-fig sandwich and jackfruit tacos). But this sylvan respite shines especially brightly during weekend brunch, when the star is Bravocado Toast, made with sourdough, smashed avocado, honeyed goat cheese, bacon, and a fried egg. 2909 Gallatin Pike B.
Located in one of the city’s oldest buildings, the former John Geist and Sons Blacksmith Shop, the eponymous restaurant and bar opened in March. The coveted seats are one of the plush perimeter deuces in the main dining room or any seat on the charming Champagne Garden, the place to be during Sunday brunch, offering memorable dishes—charred beets, gossamer Dutch babies, and a knockout dessert boasting a “lime” made of chocolate (pictured) that the diner cracks open. 311 Jefferson.
Closer to Home
Don’t feel like driving five hours? There are plenty of options closer to St. Louis at a range of price points. Without the big-city vibe—and far enough removed from a typical weekend night out—they make for convenient, relaxing retreats.
A rustic “barn” dining room surrounded by a working farm is the setting for upscale weekly dinners. Expect exquisite ingredients harvested just outside the kitchen. Menus and atmosphere change with the seasons. Family-style seating generates an infectious conviviality. Sipping a glass beside the fire pit is a guaranteed restorative. It’s far enough to be exciting but conveniently close to home. 570 Lewis, Eureka.
More St. Louisans should visit Arrow Rock, that time-warp town where it’s still the 19th century, because it’s so charming and historically fascinating. It’s home to this splendid eatery that defines gracious dining. A constantly changing menu brings fish, duck, steaks, and pork to the table, imaginatively presented and accompanied by house-made sauces. Reservations are a must. It’s the perfect place for dinner before a show at the Lyceum Theatre. 503 High, Arrow Rock.
Fine dining’s the focus in this rustic setting, where there’s little to distract you except the surrounding fields and produce gardens. The rural setting lends an informal vibe, but the gourmet dishes—especially seafood and steaks—offer a decidedly upscale dining experience. Toast the occasion with a selection from the superb by-the-glass wine menu. Make the drive some Saturday morning for a relaxing, delicious lunch date. 1810 Avenue of Mid-America, Effingham, Illinois.
Nestled amid rows of grapevines in rolling hills outside Ste. Genevieve, this restaurant at Chaumette Vineyard & Winery offers an intimate dining experience. The menu comprises a mix of Cajun-Creole fare with some French surprises. Then, of course, there are Chaumette’s wines, including both varietals and blends. Consider a stroll through the vineyard before dinner or a midafternoon wine and cheese tasting. Better yet, stay overnight in one of the winery’s villas and really soak in the setting. 24345 State Route WW, Ste. Genevieve.
St. Albans is awash in history, with 19th-century homes and panoramic views of the Missouri River. Sit down to a meal of hearty farm-to-table French fare by chefs Eddie Neill, from Café Provencal, and Max Crask in this charming reclaimed general store. Ices Plain & Fancy has a western outpost here, too. Head’s Store is open for lunch, though it’s worth a return visit for dinner, served Wednesday through Saturday. 3516 St. Albans, St. Albans.