Chicago got nine nominations in the James Beard awards this year—of course, four of them in the Best Chefs Great Lakes category where we usually get 4/5ths of the nominees. The most interesting one is an Outstanding Chef—the national prize—nomination to Jason Vincent of Giant and Chef’s Special. Not surprising for any quality-related reason—though in my experience Vincent has always stressed co-cheffing with Ben Lustbader, so not sure how the Beards decided otherwise—but because he had not been nominated even in Best Chef Great Lakes before. (He was a semifinalist for Nightwood in 2014.) So how’d he catapult to the top ranks this year? (Remember that he was the one left off the semifinalist list at first due to a “clerical error.”)

The five chefs/four restaurants nominated in the Great Lakes category are John Shields and Karen Urie Shields (Smyth and the Loyalist), Erick Williams (Virtue), Noah Sandoval (Oriole) and Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe ). Parachute was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant; Kasama was nominated for Best New Restaurant; Maya Camille-Broussard of Justice of the Pies for Outstanding Baker; and Andersonville’s Nobody’s Darling for Outstanding Bar Program.

It’s a very diverse list—at least if you don’t think Latinos have anything to do with food in Chicago. This is to be expected given the embarrassed #Beardstoowhite position the awards have been in since cancelling their last shindig in 2020. That always runs the risk of making it look like they’re thinking first about making sure to fill diversity slots. Which is a disservice to chefs, etc. who are outstanding, if they can be perceived as being there just to check off a box. Happily most of these nominees—Williams, Parachute, Kasama—would be considered unimpeachable choices by most. (I suspect fewer have tried Justice of the Pies, but I have and it’s pretty great too.)

The one that I think gives telltale signs of being a box-checker-offer is Nobody’s Darling, a black lesbian bar which has only been open since last May. Coverage of the place has been fairly thin, though at one point it got written up in the Washington Post. Anyway, it sounds like a heartwarming place that has reached out to two underserved communities and given them a place to hang out minus the toxicity of many Boystown bars—what you hope a neighborhood bar should do. But what you don’t read about in almost any of the pieces is what the award, “Outstanding Bar Program,” is actually given for—there’s been almost no coverage of the mixology. Here’s the most in-depth coverage of the cocktails I could find, in a Reader piece from September, a whole paragraph! about the drinks:

The J. Kincaid, according to the bar owners, is a take on the classic daiquiri with more depth and flavor thanks to the dark rum in the drink. The A. Walker is a slightly sweet drink, with blueberry basil syrup adding complexity to the martini. And by the owners’ admission, their Southside Lychee Martini is a “dangerously strong” take on the classic, but as they say “frequently overlooked,” drink.

Dare I suggest that two fruit-flavored martinis is not exactly the equal of The Violet Hour when it won the award in 2015? If this is in fact an outstanding bar program, nobody in media has yet made the case. But it’s the Beard’s darling anyway.

Anyway, note that two of this year’s nominees were featured in this Fooditor roundtable two years ago.


Time Out left the byline off their review of Noble Square Italian spot Elina’s, but whoever it was gets it exactly right:

I can only describe the remainder of my meal as “exactly what I expected”—no slight intended. Chefs Ian Rusnak and Eric Safin understand that dishes like rigatoni a la vodka and shrimp scampi don’t need to be embellished with extraneous ingredients, serving quintessential renditions that are easy to share. The chicken parmesan arrived at our table golden and crispy, with basil leaves curling atop the layer of melted cheese. The angel hair scampi was buttery yet light, with a generous portion of crab interspersed amid the tender noodles. Silvio’s meatballs were a succulent blend of beef, pork and veal, cooked medium rare and coated in just enough (but not too much!) red sauce.


John Kessler has been urging me to check out Konbini and Kanpai, a liquor store in Lakeview that does interesting Japanese things. Now he’s telling everybody:

Now for the really fun part: With tables scattered throughout the space, you can crack open a beer or order a sake flight. And, yep, there’s hot water if you want to try that ramen then and there. The shop also hosts food pop-ups from Asian American outfits like Onigiri Shuttle Kororin and Mom’s to keep you sated on rice balls and bento boxes while you sip.


Many years ago a bunch of us from LTHForum went to eat at a newly opened Mag Mile place called Devon Seafood Grill which turned out to be kind of a tourist trap. Anyway, once I’d scored a few good one-liners off it, I pretty much never thought about it again—until last Monday, when, walking to a doctor’s appointment, I noticed that the prime real estate space had been taken over by a longtime dive bar called Pippin’s Tavern. Mike Sula explains how that happened and why you should check out Pippin’s for more than an Old Style under new chef/industry vet Amanda Barnes, whose resume includes Moto and the Publican:

“I was approached by Lodge [Management Group] and they said they wanted to do a food-forward concept,” says Barnes. “I was like, ‘Uhhhh Pippin’s? Mother’s? Redhead? This doesn’t sound like a group I’m gonna be interested in.’ I said, ‘If you want chicken wings and hot dogs I’m not the chef for you.’”

But they insisted they were committed to a scratch, chef-driven kitchen, and despite her misgivings Barnes submitted a sample menu. When she was offered the job after a tasting, she was persuaded by Lodge’s longevity (River Shannon is the 12th-oldest bar in the city). “They definitely have the financial stability and the long-term vision to do this.”


Paczki day is behind us, so time to stuff ourselves with zeppole! Steve Dolinsky visits Il Giardino del Dolce on Harlem Avenue for doughnut-like zeppole for St. Joseph’s Day.


Titus Ruscitti has a roundup of Wisconsin bar food joints. How can you resist paying homage sometime this summer to the Potato Pancake Queen in Palmyra:

Next Stop: Friday Fish Fry in Palmyra (pop. 1781) at The Nite Cap Inn in the Scenic Kettle Moraine State Forest. This place is a step back into time with it’s wraparound bar, curtain covered windows, Old German menu (Saturday’s only) and the vintage blast from the past dining room. The building itself dates back to 1857. The first restaurant opened here in 1938 and Nite Cap Inn has been occupying the space since 1988. Cod is all you can eat but walleye is where it’s at. Served with your choice of fries or what many consider the best potato pancakes in the state. The recipe comes from the lady who owned the previous restaurant in this building which she opened with her husband in 1974. Betty Betenz was the area’s Potato Pancake Queen until her passing at 93 in 2016 but her legacy lives on in these housemade potato pancakes that live up to their billing as some of the best anywhere.

Speaking of seeing the midwest, friend of Fooditor Cynthia Clampitt, who I interviewed about pigs when she wrote a book on them, has a new book on historical sites to see as you travel the midwest: Destination Heartland: A Guide to Discovering the Midwest’s Remarkable Past, coming out May 10 from U of I Press.


Sandwich Tribunal looks at radish sandwiches—one of those things I like but hesitate to even call a sandwich; I grow French breakfast radishes most summers and slice them onto buttered dark bread, something The Bristol taught me back in the day. Anyway, he looks at the many varieties of fresh and pickled radishes on bread:

Radish sandwiches seem to deserve a place there though. Despite or perhaps because of their simplicity, they are ubiquitous. The internet abounds with blogs and videos extolling their virtues. They are widespread, beloved, and exceedingly simple, so simple that it takes Jacques Pépin about 15 seconds to describe how to make one.

Speaking of sandwiches, who knew that Sandwich Tribunal wasn’t the only blog devoted to sandwich experimentation and judgement in Chicago? I recently found Jonathan Surratt’s Bounded by Buns, which most recently went a little crazy on St. Patrick’s Day recipes. Check it out and double your sandwich fun!


Frontera Grill usually celebrates its anniversaries by bringing back the past, and this week it will celebrate its 35th birthday with a host of dishes from the past—to go with the ones that have never left. The celebration kicks off with $7 margaritas on Tuesday; get the details here.

When Frontera was 30 I interviewed Rick and Deann Bayless about its long history; check our conversation out here at Fooditor.


Twisted Hippo, the Irving Park brewery destroyed in a fire a few weeks ago, will be the beneficiary of an event Monday at Old Irving cider brewery and restaurant Eris Breweey and Cider. Calling it an “almost-tailgating-type festival experience,” the event will feature beer from about 75 breweries plus barbecue from Smoque; tickets are $75. Read more, including where to get tickets, at Block Club.


A defense of breakfast diners, even if they are a cliche of political reporting in small towns.


Ken Price, historian of and publicist for the Palmer House Hilton. Maureen O’Donnell in the Sun-Times:

Mr. Price, 82, was tall — about 6-feet-2 — and elegantly turned out: beautiful suits and neckties, shoes shined, pocket square folded. And large designer eyeglasses that somehow seemed part of his persona.

…“He would wear his ascots and he would wear his Hollywood glasses,” said Shelley MacArthur, an entertainer who sang at the Palmer House Empire Room, which staged nightclub shows until 1976 — comedian Phyllis Diller put on the final performance — and then started functioning as a regular, albeit splendid, hotel ballroom.

“Mister Kelly’s, all those great clubs, the Empire Room was one of the last survivors of that,” MacArthur said. “When they changed the room, that was one of Ken’s very sad moments.”

I had lunch with him once (at, where else?) and he was one of those exquisitely well-mannered, but funny and a little gossipy, old school gentlemen who seemed to sum up an entire lost world where great hotels were the center of a world of sophistication. I should have thought to do it more often; we shall not see his kind again.


I’ve dropped more than a few wads of late, dining out—hey, I’m just happy to eat food from such places that comes on dishware, not in deli cups and cardboard boxes. But it did get me thinking about where the price point for fine dining out has gone. Food costs, especially for commodities like beef, have shot up, and keeping staff remains a constant struggle, which has undoubtedly had an effect on pricing for restaurants. At the same time, it’s a fact that few have talked about, that while COVID hit many people hard, if your job was not affected by COVID, then you spent the last two years taking in the same money more or less, but with far fewer ways to spend it on things like restaurants, travel or entertainment. Meaning, there’s no small part of the audience for dining out that has money in the bank and is eager to spend it again at restaurants.

A couple of years ago, with a number of new high-end places opening, I wrote a piece on where the high end price point had gone—the answer was, creeping past the $200 mark. Today, it has left that mark in the dust, even as many of the places on that list have closed (Yugen, Acadia, Everest, etc.). So here’s my appraisal of what the most expensive meals in Chicago are now, based on the reservation prices shown on the various reservation services (most at this price point, incidentally, are on Tock).

Although you could jack up your cost almost anywhere by ordering pricy seafood towers, bottles of famous name Napa cab, or by eating wagyu and caviar by the ounce at Bazaar Meat, the fact remains that even at a high end steakhouse, a normal person’s meal is not going to run that high, $100ish but not stratospheric. So the highest prices are almost always going to be tasting menus, meaning you go in knowing what you’re spending—X hundred for the multicourse meal and another amount, roughly half as much, for a wine pairing, plus tax, and—possibly tip, though often this is built into menu price (especially on Tock) as a service charge. Whether it will be or not can be hard to tell, based on the way the price is described on the reservation service; but at this price level it appears to be all but universal.

Oh, and more and more I notice fixed price menus inviting you to leave an additional tip on top of that; there’s no standard, it seems to me, for whether or not you’re expected to do that, and I tend to think if the service charge (usually 20%, sometimes higher) is comparable to or even greater than what you’d normally leave (assuming you’re not a cheap SOB), you don’t need to feel guilted into leaving more. (But on the other hand, if it makes you feel happy and like a baller to do it, do it!)

So, anyway, here are, so far as I can judge, the most expensive meals in Chicago now—and surprisingly, Alinea is not #1:

CORRECTION NOTE: I was talking with Otto Phan of Kyoten about this list. His contention, and I’m now convinced he’s right, is that he’s about the only one including the service fee in his “ticket price” for a reservation. What typically happens is that when you book your reservation, the service charge is then added on to it before you check out. So a $250 ticket as shown here becomes $300 with a 20% service charge (plus tax on top of that). Unfortunately this cannot be checked for any place which is currently sold out—without an open reservation to play with, you can’t get far enough in a system like Tock to see it happen.

Also, H/t to reader Remy Walle who told me about Sushi-San’s $250 Omakase Room experience. I had checked Sushi-San’s regular menu, but missed that The Omakase Room has its own section on the Sushi-San site. And finally, Chef Michael Lachowicz reminds Fooditor of the existence of George Trois in Winnetka, which at $225 would tie for 10th below; I left the suburbs out because, well, the piece is kind of about the city food scene (which not only doesn’t stretch to the north shore but barely crosses Damen or Fullerton). But I’m all for getaway meals and am happy to endorse a jaunt to Georges Trois.

1. Kyoten   $490 Fri-Sat, 440 Wed/Th/Su, service included

Despite being dissed by Michelin, chef Otto Phan gained such a local reputation for sushi, and benefits from such scarcity (eight seats max, five nights a week), that he can demand the highest price in town (the equivalent of a $400-ish prix fixe before service)—and frequently sell out.

2. Alinea   multiple prices running from $295 to 475

The most internationally celebrated restaurant in Chicago, usually sold out, offers three different experiences which can run from $295 for the Salon at off-peak hours to $475 for the kitchen table, plus wine pairings which ascend quickly.

3. Ever, Oriole, Smyth, The Dining Room at Moody Tongue   $285

Do restaurants look at what their peers are charging? What would you think, when four of the top tasting menus have the exact same price—and two, Oriole and Smyth, offer kitchen tables at the same price of $325.

7. Next   $185 to 295

Alinea’s sister restaurant starts at the “moderate” (and common) price point of $185, but ascends to $295 for the kitchen table.

8. Esme, Sushi San   $250

Jenner Tomaska’s art-focused tasting menu, and The Omakase Room experience at Lettuce Entertain You’s sushi restaurant.

10. Claudia   $225 to 265

Chef Trevor Teich’s tasting menu at dining room and kitchen table levels.

Runners Up  ($125 to 225) (note: some of these also offer a la carte offerings): Kasama ($215), Brass Heart ($185), Omakase Yume ($185), Goosefoot ($175), Mako ($175), Temporis ($175), EL Ideas (price not listed on current site, but probably $155-175 or higher), Hermosa (for Cambodian family meal, varies based on number of attendees, but $162 pp at capacity), Boka ($160), Schwa ($160), Tao (omakase quoted at “$159 and up”), Elizabeth ($150-155), The Coach House by Wazwan ($150), Topolobampo ($145), Les Nomades ($135-150), Jinsei Motto ($130 for omakase), Nobu Chicago ($130 for omakase/tasting menu), The Bristol ($125).

What do we conclude from all this? In 2019 I wondered if the traditional high high end in the Michelin sense was on the decline, given that we hadn’t had any additions to that list since Smyth and Oriole in 2016; we’ve gained a few since then (Ever, Esme) but more than that we’ve had an explosion in the “mid-high” end—much of it not in the traditional French-style upscale mode. There’s the Japanese omakase side—a few years ago you could hardly have spent a hundred bucks on sushi if you tried, and now there’s a range of places for which a $100-plus omakase is standard—though I wonder how often a place like Tao or even Nobu really serves such meals; if you’re going to spend that, seems like you’d want to spend it at a place that focuses on it every night. If it’s just on the menu to make the place look high end and to allow ballers to show off, it’s no better than the gold-leafed doughnuts or $100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that get Eater/Infatuation coverage but never actually get ordered by anybody. (The giveaway is always the 24 hours’ notice required—for them to shop for posh ingredients they don’t normally keep in house.)

More remarkable, I think, are the places where chefs who have high end experience, like Genie Kwon and Timothy Flores of Kasama, start out by offering upscale, but reasonably priced, baked goods and cafe food reflecting their heritage, but then—having the space, and not using it at night—start offering a more serious and upscale dinner merging that heritage with the tropes and expectations of American high-end dining. In part it happens because it’s a model that’s comparatively low risk—you’re using a space you’re already paying for, and you only have to buy ingredients for the number of reservations you have. If it doesn’t work, it’s not going to take the whole ship down.

But it also happens because the audience, spending the kind of money you could only spend for French at Everest or “contemporary American” at Trotter’s and Tru a couple of decades ago, is willing to spend it on food cultures that never remotely figured in high end dining back then—Filipino at Kasama, South Asian at Wazwan, Cambodian at Hermosa. (Though there was Thai at Arun’s back then.) Of course, it’s still a small proportion of the audience showing up for, say, contemporary American dinner at Alinea or Smyth, but it’s a sign of how diners have changed that it happens at all. To me it’s exciting that we’re exiting the lockdown period with this openness to experimentation on the part of both chefs and diners. Even if you find paying this much for food ridiculous, you can find it cheering that the ridiculousness now spans cultures around the globe.