Chicago Hot Spots

Half chicken with fava beans, carrots, and German spaetzle.
Half chicken with fava beans, carrots, and German spaetzle. Karl Brewick

Culinary expertise and menu versatility abound in these restaurants that are making headlines in their first year of operation.

If there was ever any doubt about Chicago's clout as one of the top food cities, the decision by the James Beard Foundation to move the annual awards celebration to the Windy City this year dispelled those questions. This month marks the first time the ceremony will be held outside New York City, and Chicago is rising to the occasion with a host of new restaurants primed to welcome the James Beard crowd as well as leaders from throughout the restaurant industry who will be coming to the city later in the month for the National Restaurant Association's annual conference. Among the best are these restaurants that have opened in recent months:

Seven Lions

OPENED: February 2015
LOCATION: 130 South Michigan Avenue
OWNERS: Alpana Singh, Matt Fisher, and John Ward
PASTRY CHEF: Karianne Soulsby
AVERAGE CHECK: $24 lunch; $38 dinner
MENU: American clubhouse cuisine, with American wines

Inspired by the cultural amenities and vibrancy surrounding the location, Alpana Singh opened Seven Lions in the historic People's Gas and Coke Building, which has more than 50 ornamental lion motifs on its façade. The name, however, is a tribute to her heritage (Singh is derived from the Sanskrit word for lion) and her late grandmother who referred to her seven children as her lions. The concept of a modern American clubhouse was chosen because the style of food is classic and the dining experience fits every occasion. "Come for a burger and beer at the bar, to impress clients over lunch, or to celebrate a special event—a clubhouse caters to every need," Singh says. The dining room seats 85, the bar seats 30, private-dining enclaves can seat another 80–95, and an al fresco patio serves 70–80.

42 grams

OPENED: January 2014
LOCATION: 4662 North Broadway Street
OWNERS: Chef Jake Bickelhaupt and Alexa Welsh
AVERAGE CHECK: $185 or $243 including tax, tip, and service charge
MENU: Fine dining with Asian inspirations

Husband/wife duo Jake Bickelhaupt and Alexa Welsh have scored a winner. Formerly the chef at Alinea, Schwa, and Charlie Trotter's, Chef Bickelhaupt earned two coveted Michelin stars within the first year of opening this pre-paid, fine-dining-meets-supper-club restaurant on Chicago's North Side. The cozy Uptown neighborhood spot (named after two souls, each mythically weighing 21 grams) has a BYOB policy and two seatings per night. The first seating for eight is held at the chef's counter, which affords upfront viewing and interaction. A later seating gathers 10 guests at a communal table reminiscent of Sous Rising, the underground dinner party Chef Bickelhaupt and Welsh ran before becoming "legitimate" restaurateurs. Chef Bickelhaupt is known for extremely creative dishes and artistic presentation with a distinct Asian influence and emphasis on natural, modern techniques layered with texture. Think salmon nigiri with trout roe and powdered plankton, and a semi-sweet beet salad with microgreens, fromage blanc, and quail yolk. Even after dinner ends, guests continue listening to Chef Bickelhaupt's eclectic playlist via Spotify at 42 grams.

Bar Takito

OPENED: August 2014
LOCATION: 201 North Morgan Street
OWNER: Anshul Mangal
CHEF: David Dworshak
AVERAGE CHECK: $25 for lunch; $40 for dinner
MENU: Contemporary Latin American

Latin cooking expert David Dworshak heads up Takito Kitchen's second outpost in the West Loop, centering more on South American food and drink than tacos, which is the focus at the earlier Takito. Chef Dworshak's Argentine arepa is generously sized and comes stuffed with beer-aged cheese and topped with pickled vegetables. An instant favorite, it pairs nicely with lighter dishes like Peruvian-style ceviche and tender plancha-grilled octopus. Beverage favorites include new twists on tequila and mezcal cocktails. A back-room chef's counter gives guests a view of the action, while the colorful-meets-industrial décor in a wide-open space fosters a lively vibe.

Bohemian House

OPENED: July 2014
LOCATION: 11 West Illinois Street
OWNERS: Dan Powell and Markus Chwajol, with operating partner Dan McCormick
CHEF: Jimmy Papadopoulos
MENU: Bohemian-inspired fare with influences from the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria

Decked out in colorful tapestries and murals, with eclectic furniture and ornately framed artwork flanked by exposed brick and a long, wooden bar, this Boho-chic restaurant centers on upscale Czech fare from Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos, who's already earned street cred for his über tender, spice-forward chicken paprikash and dumplings. Other dishes, like beef pierogi, German-inspired knockwurst, schnitzel, and spatzle with pork belly, partner with hoppy pilsners, craft drafts, and creative cocktails by veteran bartenders.


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