For 10 years, this funky local favorite has been a leader in Chicago's artisanal, Slow Food movement: Pastas are hand-cut, the pantry is full of house-preserved berries and house-pickled vegetables and nearly every farmer within 100 miles plays a part in creating dishes. Brunch is arguably the best in town, anchored by a vegetable strata (dish of layered ingredients) that changes weekly. We loved: House-smoked duck breast with grilled apples and honey.
Laurent Gras (an F&W Best New Chef 2002) replaced the French warhorse Ambria with a Japanese-informed, modern seafood restaurant. His ethereal treatment of prized amadai and shimaaji flown in from Tokyo rivals Japan's top sushi houses. We loved: Halibut fillet with a shaved fennel and oyster salad with chanterelles; jamón (Spanish ham) chowder.
The beer list at this gastropub is outsize, featuring every Belgian style known to man. Beer director Michael McAvena has a knack for pairing brews with dishes on the pork- and seafood-heavy menu from owner Paul Kahan (an F&W Best New Chef 1999): He might suggest the Champagne-like Boon Oude Geuze Lambic to go with the city's best raw oysters. We loved: Charcuterie plate of pork pie with duck-and-foie gras terrine.
Every neighborhood needs a solid restaurant with an ever-changing menu and an ambitious beer-and-wine list. Bucktown got theirs with the opening of the Bristol. Chef Chris Pandel creates his own versions of beer-friendly classicsinstead of a Scotch egg (a hard-boiled egg wrapped with sausage), for example, he offers sausage-stuffed Scotch olives. His specials feature snout-to-tail ingredients. We loved: Grilled prawns with anchovy butter; roasted chicken with mustard spaetzle.
This cocktail lounge in the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood is hidden behind a door plastered with posters. Mixologist Toby Maloney stocks his bar with house-made bitters and infused liquors, and he mixes classic cocktails like the Moscow Mule as well as impressively balanced signature drinks. They're delicious with snacks, like deviled eggs topped with candied pork belly. We loved: The Berliner, made with gin, egg yolk and three kinds of bitters.
Doug Sohn's joint is the perfect place for anyone who wants a taste of the city's hot dog history, or simply a fun, cheap meal. Out-of-towners can order the classic Chicago dogtopped with condiments like green relish and a pickle spearwhile locals try more innovative creations. We loved: Rabbit sausage with mustard-garlic goat's-milk butter. Insider tip: Sohn's duck-fat fries are only available on Fridays and Saturdays.
Six years after opening, Paul Kahan's narrow West Loop wine bar is still a foodie favorite. Chef Koren Grieveson (an F&W Best New Chef 2008) produces maximum flavor in Mediterranean-inspired dishes like her house-pickled sardines. Sommelier Eduard Seitan's all-European list is packed with small producers, with about a third of the selections available by the carafe. We loved: Wood-roasted cobia (a type of fish also known as black salmon) with smoky ham hock.
At his 26-seat BYOB, chef-owner Michael Carlson (an F&W Best New Chef 2006) offers experimental cuisine and a hip-hop sound track. The menu, which changes every six weeks or so, might include Israeli couscous cooked with watermelon juice accompanied by cold-smoked cobia. We loved: Peekytoe crab with "pine flavors" (rosemary, juniper, Banyuls and maple) served with yuzu-marinated royal king mushrooms. Insider tip: Reservations take about six weeks to get, so plan ahead.
The relentless creativity of renowned chef Rick Bayless (an F&W Best New Chef 1988) has made Frontera Grill one of the city's most popular restaurants for more than 20 years. Everyone from Oprah to the Obamas heads there for seasonal, regional Mexican dishes like red chilebraised goat served with house-made tortillas. We loved: Spicy posole (a traditional stew) with grilled Gulf shrimp and pumpkin seeds. Insider tip: When it's crowded, hover by the bar to snag a stoolthe full menu is served there.
Bill Kim isn't the first ambitious chef to burn out on fine dining and open a casual spot with counter service, but few chefs have done so as magnificently. At his pan-Asian noodle shop, dishes reflect Kim's Korean-American roots (a hominypork belly stew gets its heat from house-made kimchi) but also include Chinese and Japanese flavors. The restaurant is BYOBand every dish is 13 bucks or less. We loved: Soba noodles in a blue-crab broth.