THE FOODITOR 99 IS DEAD FOR 2020—long live The Fooditor 33! I didn’t do a new printed edition of my annual guidebook for pretty obvious COVID-related reasons—places have been closed; places have been trying new things; as soon as I published what a place did, they would have changed it to reflect a different game plan for surviving in the Coronavirus era. It’s been a year for the week by week coverage in Buzz List, where I’ve reviewed whatever I just ate. Not for pretending to lasting omniscience on a constantly changing scene.

That, and I had another book to work on this year.

But I wanted to pay some attention to new openings this year. Even as this has been a disastrous year for restaurants in so many ways, it has also been a demonstration of how creative restaurant people are at adapting to some serious weirdness, and making deliciousness out of it. And it bothers me that both reviewers and our restaurant awards-industrial complex kind of checked out this year—a year when restaurants really could have used their attention to attract the traffic they need to stay alive.

So I decided that even if a full guide from me was impossible, I could at least offer a free abbreviated version of The Fooditor 99, focusing on one-third as many places, all of them new (to the guide; that’s my definition of new, so some opened in 2019, and there’s one that died and came back, and another that completely reinvented itself this year). Note that it’s meant to remain valid as things change, so I may talk about the atmosphere inside when we’re not currently allowed to eat inside, but we will again someday. (And with the definitions of restaurant rather fluid at the moment, I had to draw some arbitrary lines—pop-ups are okay but they have to serve at least a couple of days a week, and spinoffs within well-known existing restaurants didn’t count.)

The main thing is, in a year when we’re all stuck indoors, and not able to travel, Chicago’s restaurants remain the easiest, cheapest way to experience our world and its cultures and pleasures in a safe way—and by doing so, you’re supporting the people and their businesses who have responded to this crisis so creatively and generously.

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I’ve made it easy to print out and carry this guide with you via a PDF:

1. Click this link to download the PDF.

2. Open PDF and select Print (black and white if that’s a choice). If possible select “print two-sided” and you will get a single sheet with the full text.

And with no further adieu, here are new places for you to eat in 2021:


1. Ever


West Loop • Fine Dining, Tasting Menu • $$$$
1340 W. Fulton, Chicago • ever-restaurant.com

Far and away the most extravagant opening of a benighted year, highlighting Curtis Duffy’s ultra-refined, exquisite food in a minimalist setting where service threads the needle between social distancing (everyone’s in black masks, tables are far apart) and elite comfort. What to order: tasting menu (currently only takeout).


2. Moody Tongue


South Loop • Beer, Tasting Menu • $$/$$$
2515 S. Wabash, Chicago • 312.600.5111 • moodytongue.com

Jared Rouben’s brewery with a focus on fruit and spice flavors existed before as a tasting room. But the new location (the former Bäderbrau brewery), with Jared Wentworth (Longman & Eagle) as chef, takes beer-food pairings to a new artistic level in the Dining Room, while running a bar and a barbecue takeout operation at the same time. What to order: Dining Room: tasting menu. Takeout: pork ribs, smoked brisket, gooey butter cake.


3. Mis Moles


Avondale • Mexican • $$
3661 N. Elston, Chicago • 773.604.8500 • mismolesrestaurant.com

The year’s greatest feat of restaurant time travel is that Frontera protegé Geno Bahena’s late 90s restaurants like Ixcapuzalco and Chilpancingo, with their moles as subtle and profound as French sauces, should turn up out of the blue in the former Cafe Continental/Little Bucharest space (with the irrepressible Branko Podrumedic as manager). What to order: red or black mole with duck or pork, uchepos, guacamole.


4. Testaccio


Logan Square • Italian • $$
2456 N. California, Chicago • 773.661.6028 • testacciochicago.com

Aldo Zaninotto, of Osteria Langhe a block away, turns the former Quiote space into a very pleasing Roman small bites and snacks spot, paired as always with well-chosen wines (Aldo used to be an importer). What to order: charcuterie, lamb kefta spiedini, tajarin carbonara, oven-grilled whole branzino.


5. Hermosa


Hermosa • Chinese, Cambodian • $
4356 W. Armitage, Chicago • 872.802.4920 • hermosarestaurant.com

Ethan Lim, who comes from a Cambodian Chinese restaurant family but spent time as a host at Next among other things, opened this five years ago as a neighborhood fast food stand. In the last year it suddenly exploded in ambition, first with terrific handcrafted Asian sandwiches, then with sitdown Cambodian dinners. What to order: Cambodian fried chicken sandwich, Korean spicy pork sandwich, Moo Ping sandwich; Cambodian dinner.


6. Kasama


Ukrainian Village • Filipino, Bakery, Coffee • $$
1001 N. Winchester, Chicago • 773.697.3790 • kasamachicago.com

On one side this neighborhood spot from Oriole veterans Genie Kwon and Tim Flores makes finely-crafted modern versions of Filipino flavors; on the other, exceptional pastries. Someday, you’ll hang out here with coffee and a cardamom-scented kouign-amann. What to order: tocino ribs, Filipino breakfast, charred corn; kouign-amann, ham and cheese danish, ube and huckleberry tart.


7. Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream


Bridgeport • Pizza, Fried Chicken, Beer • $$
960 W. 31st, Chicago • 773.565-4192 • pfcic.com

Spinoff of the Maria’s Bar/Kimski complex; I never tried their initial Detroit style square pizza, but the current Chicago-style tavern pizza breathes new life into a stale style, a cracker-thin crust cooked to a defiant well-done, topped with spicy tomato sauce and fennel-heavy balls of sausage. It’s fantastic. The fried chicken is solid too; the ice cream is Pretty Cool bars; the beer is Marz, so it’s all good. What to order: pizza, fried chicken, ice cream.


8. Pizza Friendly Pizza


Ukrainian Village • Pizza, Sandwiches • $$
1039 N. Western, Chicago • 773.395.2483 • pizzafriendlypizza.com

Noah Sandoval of Oriole, closed for COVID, led the square/Detroit/Sicilian pizza craze with this takeout spot back of co-owner Bruce Finkelman’s The Empty Bottle, serving artfully composed toppings on an airy, crunchy crust with a 5-day fermentation, plus a few sandwiches and salads. What to order: Rapini & Lemon, Pepperoni & Basil, Italian cold cuts sandwich.


9. In-On Thai


Uptown • Thai • $$
4641 N. Broadway, Chicago • 773.944-0114 • inonthaichicago.com

Several years ago, In-On Thai was an LTHForum favorite at the north end of Lakeview; then its building got knocked down. Returning in Uptown not long before COVID, it seems to have been embraced by everybody, and rightly so, as a Thai restaurant making its food with particular love and care. What to order: marinated pork ribs, mee krob, fried rice with BBQ pork, jungle salad with crispy fish.


10. Aya Pastry


Noble Square, West Town • Bakery • $
1332 W. Grand, Chicago • 312.846-6186 • ayapastry.com

Veteran pastry chef Aya Fukai (Sixteen) went solo with terrific baked goods, from crusty breads to croissants, cakes and cookies. The recent addition of a drive-thru made perfect 2020 sense. What to order: plain croissant, ham and cheese croissant, kouign-amann, Samoa cake, baguette, shokupan.


11. Evette’s


Lincoln Park • Tacos, Middle Eastern • $
350 W. Armitage, Chicago • 773.799.8478 • evetteschicago.com

Mexican-American Rafa Esparza (Finom Coffee) and Lebanese-American Mitchell AbouJamra teamed up to do Mexican-Lebanese fusion food (a real thing—the origins in fact of the shawarma-like cone of pork in taco al pastor). But even if it wasn’t, shawarma-style chicken on a velvety-soft flour tortilla is all the justification the idea would need. What to order: tacos arabes, halloumi taco, chicken shawarma wrap.


12. JT’s Genuine Sandwich Shop


Irving Park • Sandwiches • $$
3970 N. Elston, Chicago • 773.754.7729 • jtsgenuine.com

The native sandwiches of the midwest, much better crafted than usual, are the focus of this sandwich shop with a patio area hidden around the corner. What to order: Fried chicken sandwich, breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, Italian pork and greens sandwich, Made Rite.


13. El Oso Cafe @ The Promontory


Hyde Park • Mexican • $$
5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W, Chicago • 312.801.2100 • promontorychicago.com

The woodburning hearth at the Hyde Park restaurant and music venue The Promontory is being used during lockdown—and who knows after that—by Jonathan Zaragoza of birria family fame, turning out rustic Mexican dishes and some more upscale ones (a tamal is as deconstructed as a Graham Elliott Caesar salad). What to order: taco del dia, tamal frito, huarache, pozole.


14. Flour Power


West Town, Ukrainian Village • Italian, Pasta • $$
1642 W. Chicago, Chicago • 312.363.3066 • flourpowerpasta.com

Wilson Bauer, ex of Schwa and other funky high-end spots, and his wife Alice traded restaurant late nights for family-friendlier hours making fresh pasta for cooking at home, as well as meal kits and a small quantity of nightly prepared dinners—which combine the supple, satisfying housemade pasta with well-crafted classic Italian sauces. What to order: pastas, nightly specials.


15. Ørkenoy


Humboldt Park • Sandwiches, Nordic • $$
1757 N. Kimball, Chicago • 312.929.4024 • orkenoy.com

Humboldt Park’s first brewery, located in the shadow of the 606, combines herbal-infused brews with a food concept that fits the neighborhood—100 years ago: it’s built around Norwegian open-faced sandwiches, albeit the kind of hipster fusion smørrebrod that might as easily feature kimchi and gojuchang. What to order: spambrod, Fry Life, Madi’s caraway knots.


16. Lao Peng You


Ukrainian Village, West Town • Chinese • $$
2020 W. Chicago, Chicago • 872.206.8624 • oldfriendchicago.com

The Wat brothers who run this spot grew up making dumplings with their Chinese immigrant grandparents—perhaps that explains why they stand out as something distinctive next to the typical dumplings found all over town, as does anything with carbs here. What to order: pork and dill dumplings, xi’an bing, chung yao bing, cold noodle.


17. Big Kids


Logan Square • Sandwiches • $$
2545 N. Kedzie, Chicago • bigkidschicago.com

Currently a popup in the former Johnnie’s Grill/Young American space, this collaboration between Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird) and Mason Hereford (New Orleans’ Turkey & the Wolf) offers a short menu of indulgent sandwiches which, at their best, offer gloppy, delicious sensory overload. What to order: collard greens sandwich, fried bologna.


18. Menya Goku


North Center • Ramen, Japanese • $$
2207 W. Montrose, Chicago • 773.942-6701 • menyagoku.com

This ramen-focused spot from the owners of Wasabi has an authentic Japanese feel inside, tiny and intimate. The specialty is tantan ramen—a spicy ramen with dan dan noodles—though I was just as happy with the more familiar tonkotsu. What to order: goku tantan men, goku tonkatsu, karaage slider.


19. Tlayudas Oaxaca Grill


Albany Park • Mexican • $$
3652 W. Lawrence, Chicago • 773.681.0266 • tlagrill.com

Authentic Oaxacan food—note the chapulines on the menu—highlighted by the tlayudas, a small-pizza-sized crispy tortilla topped with beans, meat, cabbage and onions. It’s not actually like pizza at all, except in sheer scarfability. What to order: tlayuda, grilled whole chicken.


20. Phodega


Bucktown • Asian, Vietnamese • $$
1547 N. Ashland, Chicago • 773.687.8187 • phodega.com

First-rate pho leads a short list of Asian comfort soups and foods in a bodega atmosphere—all of it something Bucktown/Wicker Park was definitely missing before this place appeared. What to order: pho bo, pho ga, Hainanese chicken and rice, Vietnamese coffee.

Buzz 2


21. Rye Deli & Drink


West Loop • Deli • $$
25 S. Halsted, Chicago • 312.602.2100 • ryechicago.com

I just got to preview a couple of things from this newish deli, so I can’t comment comprehensively, but everything I had had smart, unconventional thinking behind it—pastrami is smoked like Texas brisket, bread and Montrealish bagels are baked in-house from midwestern grains, the schmear for your bagel is labneh with middle eastern spicing rather than Philly cream cheese—all terrific. What to order: all of it.


22. Jeff & Jude’s


West Town • Deli, Bakery • $$
1024 N. Western, Chicago • 773.661.1227 • jeffandjudes.com

Another artisanal deli, from baker Ursula Siker (and named for her parents). It was a work in progress as of when I tried its pre-opening pop-up, with some things so, so right (her fantastic marble rye, a crusty loaf with ash-black swirls; excellent black and white cookies) and others needing work (the taste and texture of corned beef and pastrami are on the salty side, but good… once you get past the spiky barrier of cracked pepper on the outside of the latter). What to order: corned beef sandwich, lox tartine.


23. El Fogón de Elena


Albany Park • South American • $$
3149 W. Lawrence, Chicago • 773.267.6893

Little Colombian cafe with a lot of heart, specializing in handmade arepas and hearty breakfasts like the calentado (apparently Colombian for “garbage plate,” and big enough for two breakfasts). What to order: arepas, calentado.


24. Santa Masa Tamaleria


Avondale • Mexican • $
2949 W. Belmont, Chicago • santamasa.com

Delivery-only tamale spot from Danny Espinoza, who’s cooked around Chicago; he planned to open a Mexican seafood restaurant, but for now settled on tamales as a COVID-friendly food. These are certainly tasty, warm and comfy, just like we need right now. What to order: verde de pollos, rajas, pozole.


25. Milly’s Pizza in the Pan


Logan Square • Pizza • $$
1801 N. Spaulding, Chicago • 224.656.4732 • millyspizzachi.com

Delivery/takeout operation which aims to reinvent—no, not Detroit square, for once this year, but the kind of pan pizza associated with Burt Katz (Pequod’s, Burt’s). So it’s the thick crust with the caramelized edge, but it all tastes a bit brighter and more freshly made. What to order: choose among several styles with preset combos, or you can pick your own.


26. El Asadero Colombiano


Jefferson Park • South American • $
4800 N. Central, Chicago • 773.283.8323

Chickens roast over live charcoal all day long at this Colombian restaurant, and though there’s a full menu of perfectly good South American food, during lockdown, those chickens to go are all you need. What to order: chicken.


27. Flo’s Kitchen


Avondale, Logan Square • Mexican • $
3335 N. Troy, Chicago • 708.307.1058 • facebook.com/FlosKitchenFoodTruck

Flo’s Kitchen is in fact a food truck, located out back of a house unless it says they’re at a park or other event on Facebook. Anyway, 2020’s favorite Mexican comfort food, the quesabirria (birria and cheese in a tortilla, with broth for dipping) is the standout along with carne asada and pastor tacos. Check Facebook for location and hours (they are, at this writing, on winter break). What to order: quesabirria.


28. PiniPico Coffee Co.


Old Town • Coffee, South American • $
1538 N. Clark, Chicago • 312.624.8389 • pinipico.com

Coffee shop near Sandburg Village with a sideline in authentic Brazilian pastries, just right for comfort eating in this travel-deprived time. What to order: Ham and cheese or spinach and feta empanada, chicken empada, guava or Nutella pao de quiejo.


29. Cat-Su Sando


Humboldt Park • Sandwiches, Japanese • $$
3220 W. Grand, Chicago • 312.574.0546 • catsusando.com

This delivery operation wasn’t the first place to do Japanese convenience-store-style sandwiches, but it has the most accessible menu of sandos and other playful Japanese-style snacks. What to order: cat-su sando, cat-su club, chicken noodle soup.


30. French Quiche


Lincoln Park • French, Sandwiches • $
2210 N. Halsted, Chicago • 773.857.0097 • fqchicago.com

From veteran chef Dominique Tougné (Chez Moi), a charming French cafe serving sandwiches (on crusty La Fournette bread), lush and creamy quiches, and some dinners to cook yourself like cassoulet and beef bourguignon. What to order: quiche Lorraine, quiche Savoyarde, croque monsieur, le jamon beurre, Oceanic flatbread.


31. Pocho’s


McKinley Park • Breakfast, Mexican • $$
2025 W. 35th, Chicago • 773.475.7829 • pochoschicago.com

One of the signs that a neighborhood is gentrifying is the arrival of a sunny, friendly, community-focused breakfast cafe, local art on the walls and a hint of ambition on the plate. Here’s McKinley Park’s! What to order: Chilaquiles all the way, shakshoukah, rajas omelet.


32. Lizzy J Cafe


North Center • Soul Food, Breakfast • $$
2205 W. Montrose, Chicago • 815.735.2762 • lizzyjcatering.com

Longtime African-American caterer opened a tiny, very friendly cafe with soul food breakfast and brunch items to put a smile on your face. What to order: chicken and sweet potato waffles, fish and grits, Crabby Benny.


33. Razpachos


West Elsdon • Frozen Treats, Mexican • $
5611 S. Pulaski, Chicago • 773.570.7011 • facebook.com/razpachos

It’s worth making what will be a trek down south for most readers, to experience the psychedelic array of frozen treats (paletas, ice cream and more) in distinctly Mexican flavors. What to order: mangonado, tamarindo, diablito, chamoy, arroz con leche, jamaica…

 

To print your copy of The Fooditor 33:

1. Click this link to download the PDF.

2. Open PDF and select Print (black and white if that’s a choice). If possible select “print two-sided” and you will get a single sheet with the full text.

 


Michael Gebert is still the editor of Fooditor.

COVER PHOTO: Tocino ribs at Kasama



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