A few years ago we used to have a host of top ten lists and such from major media. Now we go to see what the collective opinion on Chicago restaurants are among our freelancers, bloggers and Substack writers. I’ll begin with my own top ten.

The biggest list is, as always, Titus Ruscitti’s, in that it offers 11 Best Chicagoland Bites (led by the sisig at Boonie’s, which was in the next couple of choices after my top ten picks), plus 11 Bites Beyond Chiocagoland, 11 from Europe (including Paris, Milan and Greece), and 7 Best Pasta Preps from Italy—40 in total.

Michael Nagrant’s best dishes eaten not only overlaps with some of mine, he runs an almost identical photo to mine of one dish—the pheasant dish, topped with a disc of something spotted with different flavors, from Atelier. (I didn’t actually name that dish, but the dish looks so cool I had to run the photo along with the dish from Atelier I did cite.) He also included the sisig at Boonie’s, all three of us mention Omarcito, and Nagrant and I both cited mole at the now-gone Calli. But the best news is that the recently laid-off Nagrant landed a new job.

At The Dining Table, David Manilow picks his five favorite restaurants of 2023, including Ciccio Mio, Pompette—and Red Hot Ranch. In another episode, he asked local restaurateurs, like Genie Kwon and Alpana Singh, for their faves as well.


John Kessler reviews Maman Zari, the Persian tasting menu place on Kedzie:

This course serves as an announcement: Here are the synaesthetic flavors of Persia. You can eat the colors and taste the fragrance. It’s such a great dish, and the only holdover from the summer menu, which I tried in early September. I was less bullish then. The vegetarian menu opted for wan mushrooms rather than more interesting center-of-the-plate items. Other dishes — compressed watermelon and feta with balsamic pearls, branzino in saffron beurre blanc — were more like fancy banquet food.

But this time around, the menu opens with an icon: kuku sabzi, the brilliantly emerald-hued herb frittata eaten to bring in Nowruz, the Persian New Year. It’s a beaut here, alive with a flavor that can only be described as “green” and set against a subtly tangy-sweet compote of barberries and apples. Though kuku sabzi is associated with spring, Shahsavarani assures me it is served at celebrations by Persian families year-round.

The last time I used a reference to synaesthesia in a piece, it was in regard to the lighting (that changed colors) at Alinea. So guess I better check it out at Maman Zari, and maybe take Joris-Karl Huysmans with me.


Sorry, all I could think of was an obscure Python reference. Anyway, Maggie Hennessy went to Anelya and loved the borsch among other things—using it to explain at Time Out what’s different about Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim’s Ukrainian restaurant:

Leave all preconceived notions about borscht at the door! I feel compelled to shout this, because at Avondale newcomer Anelya, the borsch (no “t” in Ukrainian) upends the thin, staunchly utilitarian soup you or I may have known. Homaging the style of Poltava in central Ukraine, it’s lush and harmonious, gently sour yet bearing sweet campfire notes from charcoal-dried pears; the addition of rich, gamey duck tames its telltale earthiness.

Like the rest of the menu at Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim’s exceptional restaurant, this humble dish both nourishes and teases with the thrill of discovery, less a chef’s reimagining of Ukrainian cuisine than a chef-led illumination of what’s long been there—and long suppressed—now joyously released. It makes Anelya the sort of restaurant you can’t wait to see evolve, but also one you want to greedily take in while it’s exuberantly new, and tell all who’ll listen to do the same.

Meanwhile, The Infatuation visits Anelya as well:

Eating at Anelya is simultaneously intimate and communal. Tables are close together, but neighboring conversations won’t interrupt your own—unless you’re invested in the nearby group’s journey through vodka pours flavored with dill, rose, and citrus. And similar to the house-infused booze, touches like decorative Ukrainian plates and the custom-made zaksusky carts make dinner here a uniquely charming experience. Under the neon lights of Anelya, we’ve never been more excited to dive into a bowl of borscht.


Michael Nagrant has a new place that he says might quickly become the Warlord-style gotta eat spot: Nettare, an Italian restaurant.

Nettare, a new spot in West Town, makes me feel, like early Daisies, that the place could be special.

Like the old Daisies, Nettare (Italian for nectar) is relatively small, almost more like a bar. The design is clean, but also unremarkable, featuring the same kind of overhead glass bar storage I’ve seen at a bunch of modern taverns. It also has the same kind of green highlights and dark wood color schemes that conjure a certain kind of Pinterest-crowd sourced Brady Bunch-chic.

…Like the pandemic and current version of Daisies, Nettare already runs an all-day café and market.  Also like Daisies, the menu from chef John Dahlstrom, who most recently spent time cooking at Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming, is committed to Midwestern ingredients, purveyors, and ideas.


I saw that Harvestime started carrying locally grown mushrooms, which is nice because I had a maitake and farro dish that I like to make occasionally but didn’t know where to get them when Local Foods closed. Anyway, I assume they’re from Four Star Mushrooms, which Steve Dolinsky visits:

“I started this because I’m super passionate about sustainable agriculture,” said Joe Weber, the owner. “And mushrooms are a keystone component in building sustainable food systems.”

…“Blue Oysters, Black Oysters and King Trumpet, and we’ve also got Chestnut mushrooms, Golden Enoki and Lion’s Mane mushroom,” said Weber.


Ari Bendersky wrote about Brendan Sodikoff’s Hogsalt opening a restaurant in Paris for Crain’s, and then more for his newsletter Something Glorious. He says it may remind you of Chicago—specifically, the late Maude’s Liquor Bar, which is a second space within La Renommée:

This opening also revives Maude’s Liquor Bar. “We brought her back home,” Sodikoff said, referring to the West Loop restaurant known for its French fare, seafood towers, and fabulous cocktails that closed in 2020 after nearly a decade. The 20-seat Maude’s, which is reserved for dining patrons, feels like a salon straight out the Belle Epoque.

…To get to Maude’s, descend a white marble staircase with burgundy carpeting near the front door that follows along pink rose-pattern wallpaper into the 20-seat subterranean cocktail lounge. Guests can linger before or after dinner on plush red couches with low tables with short pouf stools. The room has cavern-like archways adorned with globe lighting and whimsical art pieces like a stuffed peacock and a marble statue.


A friend (of Fooditor) was leaving for a trip on the 20th or so, and I told him Titus Ruscitti would have a new entry on that city soon… which he did on the 19th, just in time. Here it is:

New Orleans is an absolute treasure and in my opinion the entire city should be a UNESCO Heritage Site. NOLA is too small to be the best food city in the country but it has the best regional food. That and a high quality of cooking from spot to spot are what make New Orleans such a great food town.

Speaking of what the best food town is, he got into it with some people at Reddit’s Chicago Food board. My inclination is to think that sparring on Reddit fits the old definition of wrestling with pigs—that you get dirty and the pig gets annoyed—but check it out if you must.


Grimod’s review of Thattu starts with an attack on Daisies that runs so long that I went back to the headline to make sure I had clicked on the right article:

Daisies’s success, brokered by media figures who went once and saw only what they wanted to see, represented a victory of hyperreality (the restaurant as a symbol of intangible, untastable values) over substance. It formed a blueprint for how you can win national acclaim without really putting in the work and marked—though you hope it does not—Chicago’s further estrangement from the careful appreciation of craft.

Not sure who those “media figures” are, but I certainly don’t recognize my own admiration for Daisies, over multiple visits at both locations, in the notion that it’s some sort of con writers play on themselves—of all the restaurants in this city that give off a whiff of a put-on (and I don’t mind some artful showmanship), Daisies ranks far, far down the list to me. Careful craft and virtues you can most certainly taste are certainly what draws me back (or at least, what I have very successfully fooled myself into thinking I like and pay my own money for).

But what that has to do with Thattu slowly becomes clear as he detects the same level of self-conning in the reaction to it:

More importantly, does Thattu—despite benefitting from the novelty of its food and support for its practices—impress those who are not predisposed to care about either? Does it excel in those fundamental dimensions of setting, service, beverage, and food? Is it great because it is merely different—or because it really pushes hospitality, texture, balance of flavors, and consistency to another level? These are the questions you must always ask: the questions that strip away the advantages of trendiness and allow for a valid assessment of where a restaurant ranks in the wider dining scene. Dedication to craft is, after all, the real equalizer and the only means through which novel ideas rightfully win acceptance.

Is it great? Does it mean to be great? You could say Daisies is just a neighborhood restaurant, but it seems to be aspiring to be a neighborhood restaurant for the whole city. While Thattu is, I think, a true neighborhood restaurant, starting with its location tucked inside a neighborhood that most hardly know exists (except the hipsters at Guild Row). More than that it has a neighborhood restaurant soul, playing around by no means hyperauthentically with a little-seen regional South Asian cuisine—not the chef’s own, but her mother-in-law’s, if we’re still playing the woke game of who’s “permitted” to make certain cuisines. I know an Indian-American who objects strongly to her cooking versus the real deal. Okay, fine, but does it taste good? For me, that measure—not some notion of “dedication to craft” being something the writer can judge from his table (and pontificate on at length at his desk)—is the ultimate measure. I think there are few things better in this city than farm to table items like the Overpriced Tomato at Daisies, and as long as Thattu existed in Politan Row, I went to eat black chickpeas there any time I had to be downtown, it was one of my favorite dishes then (and I’m rarely in love with vegetarian entrees). Being drawn back to something speaks for itself, and seems almost indisputably sincere. Anyway, read Grimod’s piece—it’s always good to have to defend your opinions, if only to yourself.


But first, good news: after months of being an occasional afterthought at Chicago mag, Dish, written by Anthony Todd, will be coming back as an every other week thing. If you don’t know why that’s good news, read his piece on John Manion’s new Brazilian restaurant, Brasero, opening in the former Funkenhausen space:

The last few years haven’t seen all that many risky restaurants. “It seems like everything that opened post-pandemic was very safe — steakhouse, Italian steakhouse, French steakhouse,” laughs Manion. “Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Manion isn’t waiting any longer, which is why his next restaurant, Brasero (which is definitely not a steakhouse) is opening in the next few weeks.

…One centerpiece of the menu will be a take on feijoada, a beef and black bean stew that is considered the Brazilian national dish. Rather than a stew, Manion’s version is based around a giant beef shank, which is smoked then braised and served with black beans folded with bomba rice, which almost becomes a black bean risotto. “It’s a take on osso bucco with a Brazilian and midwestern sensibility,” he explains.

Maggie Hennessy also did a piece on Manion back in December for her SubStack:

Have you ever had a dish named after you at a restaurant? My friend John Manion has. His namesake entrée, which is technically a preparation style akin to steak frites with sauce au poivre, has been on the menu for a few months at Le Bouchon, an exceptional little bistro in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood.

The essential maneuver that makes a steak “Manion style” is to plop the beef on top of the skinny golden fries before dousing the whole thing in peppery cognac pan sauce, which takes you on a magical potato journey that keeps unfolding.


Christmas food thoughts at NewCity from David Hammond, including a PR dinner at some joint called Olio e Piu—I heard that it was not P.U., but the music was too loud—and the anniversary party at Pizzeria Uno, which apparently managed to mention Ric Riccardo at last but still gave more credit than history indicates to Ike Sewell (see item #10 in this past newsletter).


Maggie Hennessy has also posted a couple of pieces on the theme of, what is food writing for? Why do it? In the first part, she ponders the odd act of restaurant reviewing:

In keeping with Time Out’s optimistic tone, I don’t write restaurant takedowns or cover places I find terrible. I offer choice words for things that need improving, cost too much or are otherwise absurd in every review I write. Some might argue that skirting total evisceration makes me less serious of a critic or journalist, but I don’t see much value in brutalist clickbait, particularly in this ugly era of internet trolls. A restaurant that’s failing, either on its menu or in some other area of operation, will more often than not put itself out of business.

Or prove indestructible by any critic—there’s more of a few of those in town. Anyway, it’s a good look at what the value of the pro critic is, in an age not only of Yelp, but of ChatGPT. In the newest part, she makes homemade granola in the middle of the night, and makes a case for human-based storytelling—and satisfying other human needs with cooking:

Vulnerable, food-centric storytelling is relatable; its universality has power as a form of solace. For a handful of people, reading “Insomniac Granola” was like a cathartic, collective shoulder drop in a frightening time, and validated cooking as a kind of meditation for the meditation-averse. You’re not alone in this struggle to wield control over your overstimulated, occasionally sadistic brain as we endure crisis after crisis. Hell, it might even help to cook or bake something. Measure, chop, season, bake, taste, season again, tip into bowl, eat while warm, sigh.


Meanwhile, in news designed to thin the ranks of despairing local food writers even further, Dennis Lee’s Food is Stupid newsletter—not the one where he actually goes to restaurants, but the one where he breads and fries Tide pods or whatever—wins acclaim in Bon Appetit:

Lee’s anti-food-blog food blog, The Pizzle, where the hot dog terrine originally appeared, went viral nearly a decade ago via cooking experiments like “How to Make Puffy Cheetos At Home With Packing Peanuts” and “How to Ruin a Party: The Fart Dip Experiment.” In 2019, when he launched the Substack newsletter Food Is Stupid, it had the same playfulness and joyful irreverence, but with a more refined touch. His approach stands in stark contrast to food newsletters that seek to inspire epicureans with seasonal recipes and clever kitchen hacks, like Sohla El-Waylly’s Hot Dish or Mark Bittman’s Heated. Lee doesn’t make weekly trips to the greenmarket or garnish his food with microgreens or edible flowers. His absurdist recipes, most of which are designed to fail, feature common grocery items and processed foods, transmogrified into unthinkable preparations—think Froot Loops as a pizza topping or Doritos pulverized, then boiled into grits. Flavor is an afterthought, if not an outright inconvenience.


Congrats to Javauneeka Jacobs, sous chef at Frontera Grill, who took home the top prize on Food Network’s Chopped, in a Julia Child-themed challenge filmed on a reproduction of Child’s own famous TV set. (As happens with these shows, she actually won back in November of ’22, but it just became public knowledge.) A Trib story tells more.


Still more John Manion! He was on the En Process podcast. So were Kirstin and Xavier Alexander of Metric Coffee and Brite Donuts.

Joiners Podcast has been on a tear. I mentioned the Kevin Boehm episode a few weeks back, but had not actually listened to it yet—then I did while prepping Christmas dinner, and it’s so sharp and insightful into a life in this business. (His, not mine.) But they have had several since then, including Erling Wu-B0wer whose Maxwell’s Trading has just opened, and Friend of Fooditor Ari Bendersky.