Chicago Is Experiencing a Culinary Revitalization

Lena Jackson

With a flurry of ambitious new restaurants, Chicago’s chefs are defying the odds.

Opening a restaurant at any time requires skill, focus, investment, and gumption. Plans get made. Delays occur. Dates get set and then moved. That’s in normal times. Planning a new restaurant during a global pandemic adds an entirely new level of stress and uncertainty— it might even require a tinge of insanity. Luckily for Chicago, a number of highprofile (and brave) chefs and restaurateurs are thinking beyond the COVID era and opening new establishments to give the city’s culinary scene fresh hope just when it needs it most.


Squab with guajillo, raspberry, and sorrel from the tasting menu at Ever. Michael Muser


Those who mourned the 2017 closure of Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser’s Michelin three-star Grace will be dazzled by the duo’s stylish new spot in the Fulton Market District. Duffy’s tasting menu focuses on seasonal produce like burgundy oxalis and red-ribbon sorrel, along with rich ingredients like osetra caviar and king crab. The design is especially relevant for 2020, with sleek wooden divider walls that carve out semiprivate space for each table. If two months of sold-out reservations are any indication, more Michelin stars may be in Duffy’s and Muser’s futures.


Husband-and-wife partners Tim Flores and Genie Kwon (both alums of the Michelin two-star restaurant Oriole) have realized a lifelong dream with the opening of this multiuse West Town restaurant, whose name means “together” in Tagalog. In the dining room, Flores’s modern Filipino-American fare breathes new life into traditional dishes like lumpia Shanghai and mushroom adobo. Kwon’s pastry talent shines in the daytime bakery with savory sweets like ube-and-huckleberry Basque cake.

Related: Restaurant Etiquette in the Coronavirus Era: 10 New Rules


Set to open this fall inside the historic Railway Exchange Building, this farm-to-table restaurant will mark the return of acclaimed chef Brian Huston to Chicago’s culinary scene. The 6,000-square-foot space will also be a return to the pre-pandemic heyday of eating out, with an atrium hosting live jazz and chamber music, a coffee-and-pastry takeout window, two clubby bars, a 20-seat private dining area, and a listening café where DJs spin records for a hushed audience. The all-day menu will include the soufflé omelet and the leg of lamb with olives and mint.


From left: The 12-seat Tales of Carlos Gaytán tasting room, located within Tzuco; Fresh oysters at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Alabama. From left: Diego Padilla; Caleb Chancey


This 12-seat tasting room from Gaytán, the first-ever Mexican-born chef to lead a Michelin-starred restaurant (his now-shuttered Mexique), is expected to open in late fall in a jewel-box space inside his critically acclaimed River North restaurant, Tzuco. The ever-changing menu will showcase Mexican-French haute cuisine, with dishes like “Fondo Marino,” a seafood dish paired with yuzu, that recount stories of the chef’s life and rise through the food world.


Aldo Zaninotto, owner of the renowned Piedmontese restaurant Osteria Langhe, surprised Chicago foodies when he suddenly opened this Roman-inspired spot in July. Most of executive chef Jacob Solomon’s menu makes good use of the wood-burning oven with Mediterranean spreads served with za’atar focaccia, larger plates like Moroccan chicken and whole branzino with Castelvetrano olives and braised greens, and pasta classics like cacio e pepe and tajarin carbonara. A well-curated collection of Italian cocktails and Mediterranean wines rounds out the experience.


The team behind West Town’s acclaimed Porto introduced this ornate Spanish restaurant in June with a sherry bar and market fashioned from the remnants of an imported antique Belgian pharmacy. Guests can shop small-production wines and gourmet conservas and sit at the 30-foot marble bar to sip fino en rama while eating Cinco Jotas jamón ibérico. In the dining room—furnished with burgundy tweed banquettes and antique Persian rugs—chef Marcos Campos blends tradition with molecular techniques. There’s even a section showcasing Valencian family recipes such as paella with free-range chicken and rabbit with gigante beans.


Diners will find classic French dishes at this cozy Northcenter nook named for chef-owner Robert Shaner’s father (the moniker translates to “Robert and son”). For his five-course meals—currently available for takeout only—Shaner draws on his own experience growing up in Paris but adds modern techniques and Japanese influences through umami ingredients like kombu and miso.