As you’ve no doubt already heard, Michelin put out its latest list of starred restaurants and Bib Gourmands last week, and most of food Twitter commented the same way—how are they judging anybody this year? The anonymous chief inspector talked with Time Out Chicago about it and explained their methodology this year:

From the U.S. perspective, from the beginning of the global pandemic, we paid really close attention to each market — whether that was Chicago, Washington or New York or California— we’ve been in close contact with restaurants to stay informed on their openings and closures, any new menu changes and concept pivots. Once the pause was over in the spring from the dining-in shutdown and we resumed our selection process, we did so in a very careful and appropriate manner that followed local and state health protocols for each location. And we were in fact able to complete our selection while being very careful and respectful to each of the restaurants in our selection.

Which gives the impression that they just managed to squeeze in recently to the last few restaurants to firm up their selections. Well, let’s go through the existing three and two stars: Alinea, reopened March 17. Smyth, reopened. Oriole, not reopened yet. Acadia, not reopened and most likely closed for good. Continue through the one stars and you have some still only doing takeout, like Elizabeth, and some still closed, like Entente (possibly closed for good; an LTHer claims the phone is disconnected).

So to my mind the best you can say for Michelin making its usual self-promotional noise is that they are trying to help out the scene a little as it comes back to life, but they’re pretending that their much-vaunted process hasn’t completely fallen apart under the pressure of COVID reality. Most of their opinions are, in fact, base on pre-COVID restaurant visits at least 13 months old, and in many cases they don’t have any better idea what’s really going on with certain restaurants than anybody else does.

But nevertheless, good to know that Pizzeria Bebu, which has not made a pizza since March 2020, is still a Bib Gourmand!

Out of the meager opportunities the present restaurant scene offered them, they managed to scrape up a few bits of new news. Two stars to chefs who had previously held stars before—to Ever and chef Curtis Duffy, three-starred at Grace, and to Moody Tongue in its tasting menu format under Jared Wentworth, ex of Longman and Eagle. (They were, you’ll note, number one and two on this list.) One star to Porto, and Bib Gourmands to Tzuco (no doubt a disappointment for chef Carlos Gaytan, who had a star at Mexique),  Chef’s Special (the same team has Bib-awarded Giant), Ciccio Mio, Joe’s Imports, Kasama, Mama Delia (the same group as Porto), Munno Pizzeria & Bistro which of course was a Fooditor find two years ago, Perilla, Soulé and Vajra.

As often, what’s more interesting is what they seem willfully blind to. The position of best fine dining restaurant Michelin just doesn’t get, so long held by now-closed Fat Rice and for which Kyoten has been a leading candidate, has now been bequeathed to the wonderful Jeong. All Asian restaurants—when you look at the Asian choices on the Bib Gourmand list in general, it’s hard to feel like they really understand those cuisines or where to look for the most interesting examples in Chicago.

In the end, if this really brings anyone business, great, but if there’s anything that seems less suited for this moment of struggle and recovery than Michelin snootily sniffing over our scene as if they own it, it’s that.

See the stars here and the Bibs here, if you must. And now the question is, if Michelin came early this year, when will they return with a list based on a fully revived restaurant scene? We’ll get to try restaurants again over the next few months, but it could be a year or more before they put out a new list responding to the post-COVID world.


Well, not any humans, but specifically the breed known as restaurant reviewers. John Kessler makes a case for why we need them, if not how we’ll get them again, at Plate:

Much restaurant writing had already been on the road to becoming some else entirely before the pandemic. The old-school review, a service piece for readers with strong point of view, was no longer the cornerstone of dining journalism. Instead, the most vital and influential restaurant writing had morphed into travel writing. The restaurant writers with the biggest voices and widest wakes traveled to eat, roaming the country to find the best restaurants, chefs and dishes to include in their annual “Best of” lists. Readers looked to these packages to enhance and edify their own travel experiences. For every sales meeting in Phoenix, a road warrior could bring along a list of dining check-ins from the legendary Pizzeria Bianco, the best tacos downtown, and an expense account-worthy meal in Scottsdale.

But what’s missing in all this writing is that satisfying knife edge of assessment; writing from an insider who uses their dining budget to research a restaurant for review over multiple visits. A few restaurants will be great in such a particular way that it will attract national attention. But most restaurants won’t; they’ll have hits and misses, laudable qualities alongside problematic ones. These places require a review that’s more multifaceted and offer more nuanced observations.

All true, though I was most struck by this section:

I also looked forward to the yearly calls from editors at Food & Wine, Bon Appétit and other publications scouting out the best regional chefs for awards. I was part of the machinery, with my pen and my palate, that helped chefs achieve the fame and recognition they deserved.

I suppose a traveling restaurant reporter can do some of that work when they parachute into a city. What they can’t do is become that mediating influence pushing back, calling out chefs who oversalt, or spread themselves too thin across restaurants, or kowtow to a perception of conservative local tastes instead of cooking from the heart. Local critics see how well places perform vis-à-vis their goals and how much they merit going out of one’s way to visit.  It’s that level of criticism that is so lost now.

Though honestly, I’m not convinced that most of the genuine local-viewpoint writing like that ever penetrated to outside awareness. But hey—there’s a new guide to Chicago restaurants from France!


Enthusiasm for jerk egg rolls? That’s so last week, says Mike Sula, or at least Ricardo Blake of St. Bess Jerk in Burbank, and on Northwest Highway:

“We don’t wanna do jerk pizza,” he says. “I just want to be authentic. I want to be outstanding. You gonna go to a Jamaican restaurant, you look for oxtails, curry goat, jerk chicken. We don’t want jerk pasta….

Blake grew up in his mother’s restaurants in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica, and is steeped in this tradition. He’s unimpressed by the jerk taco revolution that swept the south and west sides of Chicago in the last few years. Though he has allowed jerk chicken, shrimp, and catfish tacos on his menus, that isn’t what he’s making his name on.


The prettiest food pics of the week are of the cherry blossom shortbread cookies in Mike Sula’s piece on Maa Maa Dei, which does Asian pastries:

I didn’t catch the sakura blossoms this year but I wasn’t going to miss the sakura boxes put out by baker Jaye Fong who, during the pandemic has been dropping gorgeous Asian and Asian-inspired pastries under the handle Maa Maa Dei.

Cherry blossom season is over already, but more treats will come as the seasons roll by.


No, not Immm Rice and Beyond, but another spot at the back of a Thai grocer in Edgewater, Talard Thai Market. Steve Dolinsky reports on it.


A while back I said the revamping of Brass Heart under Norman Fenton, after his sojourn in Mexico, was one of the best meals in town—and who besides me had said a word about it? Well now it has, believe it or not, an honest to God review, from Brad Cawn at Last Meal Chicago:

If this is a more subtle and less showy approach–without the usual and over reliance on manipulation or luxury tropes–than some other tasting menus in town, it also gifts Fenton and his crew with a significant asset: range. The courses bounce from bite to larger dish and back again; they equally draw from the European repertoire–a foie gras course, a pasta course, that intermezzo–and Mexican regional cuisines, including an early-round aquachile. Often they fuse, most notably in that foie gras course, where a small cut of the liver is right at home with a mole in the style of poblano and dried rhubarb–a peanut butter and jelly for the thinking man.


You’ll feel like one after looking at the offerings Titus Ruscitti turns up in Cleveland:

Cleveland is a classic Midwest city. My trips there have reminded me of visits to other Midwest meccas such as Milwaukee and Detroit, even St. Louis in some ways like each of those cities respective Italian neighborhoods feeling similar. One thing that Chicago is lacking in compared to those cities I just mentioned is old school charm. Chicago looks and feels very different than it did when I was a kid in the 80’s and 90’s. I know this bc visits to places like Cleveland sometimes remind me of the old Chicago I grew up in.


Burger lists—like Michelin awards, they seem so pre-pandemic. (I hear Acadia’s is great!) But I guess people have eaten a lot of burgers in lockdown and so here’s Nick Kindelsperger with the ten best new burgers in town.


Not that many local stories this week so here’s a very good long read about the king of fast food joints. It was the fries that made McD’s a national success. Then they changed them. At Atlas Obscura, a story about the hunt for the original Mickey D fry—fried in beef tallow:

It’s important to note that at the time, few fast-food operations were even attempting fries. According to Adam Chandler, the author of Drive Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom, World War I soldiers returning to the United States from France and Belgium ushered these exotic fried potato strings into the American culinary consciousness. But Chandler says that fries were too labor intensive and difficult to execute in a consistent, commercial manner. While most burger joints made do with potato chips, “the McDonald brothers had a secret,” he says. They used their desert setting to their advantage, curing potatoes for several days in the desert air before processing them. “They had this extra crispness to them that made them better than any fry you’d ever had.”…

As McDonald’s branches crept across the nation, [Ray] Kroc ensured the superlative fries would stay so at scale. As Malcolm Gladwell reported in the New Yorker, Kroc armed field men with hydrometers to ensure the potatoes met ideal water content and solidity levels, developed his own potato-curing method that didn’t require a desert, and even hired an engineer from Motorola to design a “potato computer” that calibrated fry oil temperature to deliver consistently cooked fries. He tinkered with the frying oil as well, developing a secretive, cost-saving mixture of beef tallow and vegetable oil termed “Formula 47” (after the original 47-cent McDonald’s meal).

But then the nutritionists came along—and made the fries less healthy with trans-fats, as well as less good.