Cheers to Chicago’s culinary scene! It’s never boring. This year, two of the city’s established restaurants took home James Beard awards for emerging chef of the year (Damarr Brown of Virtue) and best chef Great Lakes region (Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, Kasama). As those chefs celebrate the recognition they deserve, Chicagoans should keep an eye on the many new spots that have opened in 2023. Representing the city’s diverse cultures and cuisines, you’ll find new Mexican, Caribbean and Italian restaurants, not to mention vegan and soul food spots revamping classic dishes. If you’re a vegetarian, you’re in luck. Even meat-forward spots like Smoque Steak are providing tasty plant-based menu options. Finally, several spots (GG’s Chicken Shop and Daisies) are adding surcharges to final bills so they can offer their employees living wages and benefits. We’ll toast to that. Here are the best new restaurants in Chicago worth checking out this summer.
The 9 Hottest New Restaurants in Chicago
Best for Happy Hour
- Neighborhood: West Loop
- Cuisine: Mexican
This new restaurant in the West Loop is Bodega’s first location outside of Florida. The taqueria opened this past spring with a classic Chicago twist: there’s a sultry speakeasy space with tufted couches and sassy marquee lights. We recommend stopping by during happy hour for $4 tacos and $8 margaritas. Their menu is chock full of authentic Mexican fare like carne asada tacos, alongside fresh takes like jalapeno brisket quesadillas and cauliflower rice. You can also build your own bowls. Love it but can’t make it to the West Loop? Bodega plans to open another Chicago location in River North this summer.
912 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607
Best for Pasta Lovers
- Neighborhood: Logan Square
- Cuisine: Italian-American
The team behind Daisies in Logan Square wants patrons to imagine the Midwest as a region of Italy. This means locally sourced ingredients (Executive Chef Joe Frillman’s brother owns a farm) and seasonal dishes that change as the weather turns. Current highlights include parsnips with mint salsa verde and bone marrow, and grilled beef tongue with cabbage, dill and clam vinaigrette. Don’t be fooled though—Daisies is “vegetable focused and centered around house made pasta,” according to Scott Goldstein, one of the restaurant’s four partners. “Meat is a tertiary product for us.” The menu features 11 of the most unique and titillating pasta dishes we’ve ever heard of. Plus, pastry Chef Leigh Omilinsky makes sweet and savory croissants (“The triple chocolate is a dream,” Goldstein says) and cookies every morning. Get in line now, because Daisies hopes to start serving lunch soon, too.
2375 N Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647
3. Soul Prime
Best for Brunch
- Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
- Cuisine: Southern American Soul Food
Soul Prime calls its cuisine “elevated soul food,” and it’s easy to see why. Take the seafood pot for example: Roasted lobster tails and gulf shrimp in an herbal cream sauce with honey cornbread and potatoes is a decadent take on a classic southern seafood boil. We’re salivating over Soul Prime’s brunch menu most of all. Lobster avocado toast, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles! Reviewers are obsessing over the homemade lavender lemonade, which is the perfect upgrade to the best refreshment for this type of food.
1969 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614
Best for a Summer Picnic
- Neighborhood: West Town
- Cuisine: Puerto Rican, Caribbean
As its name suggests, Empanada Mama is a woman-owned and operated empanada shop inspired by the owner’s mother, Rosita. Though Inez Melendez grew up in Chicago, her parents were from Puerto Rico and taught Melendez how to facilitate community through great cooking. Mix and match from the extensive empanada menu, featuring handmade empanadas filled with guava and gruyere, shredded beef, chorizo and more. Salads and shrimp ceviche make delicious side dishes. For dessert, there’s coconut flan and Florecitas Ice Gem Cookies by Royal Borinquen, which Empanada Mama calls, “the little cookie that brings back memories.” We adore the woven light fixtures and foliage dangling from the ceiling in this brightly colored spot.
1703 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622
Best for Plant-based Fast Food
- Neighborhood: Bridgeport
- Cuisine: vegan, American
Whether you’re looking for a new take on your guilty pleasure Big Mac or you’re a vegan who craves a juicy burger every now and again, Herbivore is for you. This vegan spot started as a pop-up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers loved the 100-percent plant-based menu so much, Chef Max Musto was able to open up a permanent location in Bridgeport this past March. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, Chef Max has been serving up Impossible patties in a special sauce to very happy customers ever since. One reviewer wrote, “I'm far from vegan, but I love seeing what kind of magic a skilled vegan cook can whip up and Chef Max is just brilliant.” Branch out of burger territory with their Sweet Chili Chik’n Sando or their Cheezy Gordita Crunch. This is a super casual place with a come as you are vibe.
964 W. 31st Street, Chicago, IL 60608
6. Smoque Steak
Best for Meat Lovers
- Neighborhood: Avondale
- Cuisine: steaks and martinis
The whole premise behind Smoque Steak is modesty. Going out for a high-quality, well-prepared steak doesn’t have to be extravagant. Yet, Smoque Steak has every reason to throw modesty out the window. Their thoughtfully seasoned and oak-smoked steaks are seared in butter just before serving, so they come out with a “perfect-edge-to-edge doneness,” according to the website. Top your NY Strip with bleu cheese butter or your rib eye with confit egg yolk. (Unlike some steak spots, Smoque Steak also offers a cauliflower steak if your party includes a vegan, which we appreciate!) Choose a classic or signature martini from their extensive drinks menu. All this in a laid-back establishment in Chicago’s up-and-coming Avondale neighborhood.
3310 N. Elston Avenue, Suite 400, Chicago, IL 60618
Best for Date Night
- Neighborhood: Wicker Park
- Cuisine: Mediterranean
Elia, the Greek word for “olive tree,” is the perfect name for this modern Mediterranean spot in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. The dining area and private event rooms are as gorgeous as the dishes themselves, which are stylish, updated versions of your favorite French, Spanish and Italian fare. We like Elia for date night because it offers something for every eater. You can order a rack of lamb, tagliatelle pasta made in-house, or grilled octopus, among countless other mouth-watering dishes. Lots of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Choose from 10 signature cocktails (including a Twisted Negroni) or one of their Gruvi non-alcoholic wines or beers.
1938 W. Division, Chicago, IL 60622
Best for Family-friendly Dining
- Neighborhood: Lakeview, Southport Corridor
- Cuisine: Fried chicken
You cannot go wrong with fried chicken and coleslaw. Somehow, GG’s Chicken Shop has developed an even more vibrant version of this tried-and-true combo. Whole, half or quarter chickens are available slathered in one of GG’s sauces (garlic ranch, BBQ, honey mustard or chimichurri). Their slaw is broccoli-based with dill and lemon poppy seed dressing. Pair their sweet corn elote with the chicken burger (substitute the chicken with cauliflower if you’re not a meat person). Plus, this summer, kiddos can get a free Worms & Dirt dessert cup if they read 40 books. Track your kids’ reading with one of GG’s bookmarks available at their Lakeview location. (Offer not available for adults, no matter how nostalgic their Worms & Dirt dessert cup makes you.)
3325 N. Southport Avenue, #2 Chicago, IL 60657
Best for Bold Foodies
- Neighborhood: Hyde Park
- Cuisine: Creole, Cajun
If you’ve never eaten alligator meat, now’s your chance. Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern serves up an alligator po’boy sandwich at their Hyde Park location. Not into gator? Try the fried oyster po’boy instead. Daisy’s describes itself as an “up-South po-boy shop that evokes the vibrancy of New Orleans.” This means fried shrimp and chicken, Cajun spices and Mardi Gras punch (coconut rum, peach Schnapps, pineapple and orange juice). The name comes from Chef Erick Williams’ late Aunt Daisy who loved to have a good time, which is exactly what you’ll get at Daisy’s. Casual and fun, you may even hear some live music as you indulge in the house-made pecan banana bourbon toffee cake (drooling). Vegan options are also available at this black-owned restaurant.
5215 S. Harper Avenue, Chicago, IL 60615
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