Chicago's Best New Restaurants: 2015 Edition

By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 21, 2015 4:14PM

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The steak at Boeufhaus. Photo via Facebook.
Another year of restaurant openings has come and (almost) gone, and it's time to look back at our favorites. 2015 has been an interesting year, with much of the attention going to the ridiculous number of big money, meat-focused restaurants opening downtown. If I had to eat another steak, it might have been the end of our soul and cardiovascular system.

Luckily, lots of innovative, non-beef restaurants opened this year to keep all of us interested. They restored my love of fine dining, introduced me to a new kind of modern Mexican fusion, took me back to the glory days of dining at the turn of the century, reminded me of my Italian grandma and mixed up cocktails with ingredients that I'd never even heard of before. In no particular order, these are my 9 favorite restaurants that opened in 2015.

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Antipasti at Formento's (Photo by Kailley Lindman)

Formento's

This red sauce Italian spot that opened in the West Loop utterly charmed me from the moment I sat down. From the classic decor to the gorgeous relish tray, Formento's combines old world charm with up-to-date cuisine in a way that feels just themed enough to keep you entertained without inviting snickers. Their orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe was one of my favorite dishes of the year, while their pork neck Sunday gravy made me feel like I was a little Italian kid again. If it wasn't cheating to give a spot two entries on the list, I'd add Nonna's, the sandwich shop next door, which makes the second best classic Italian sub in the city (the #1 spot would be nearby J.P. Graziano, but it's nice to mix things up).

Rural Society

Not everyone loved this meat-focused spot from Chef Cory Morris, but in a year of repetitive steakhouses with a million variations on shrimp cocktail and caesar salad, the Argentinian-inspired menu kept me interested. Plus, who doesn't like giant steaks that arrive on boards with knives stabbed through them? This place, from the decor to the food, is filled with drama and I secretly adore it. The big surprise of Rural Society was that the non-steak dishes (like an amazing octopus carpaccio and beets roasted in the embers from the grill) were even better than the steaks. Plus, their red wine and cola cocktail, taken straight from the bars of Spain, is my new favorite pre-dinner drink.

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The tomato and melon course at Intro. Photos provided by the restaurant.

Intro

I had the audacity to call Intro the best fine dining restaurant in Chicago, and I'm sticking by that assessment. Lettuce Entertain You's take on the rotating concept restaurant goes the whole distance by swapping out chefs every 3 to 4 months, and every single menu has been outstanding. It's a chance to see some up-and-coming chefs play with their food, the prices are incredibly reasonable, and it won't take all night to get your food. It's hard to mention specific dishes, since it changes so often, but trust me - take a chance on Intro.

The Blanchard

No restaurant impressed me more this year than The Blanchard. It opened without a ton of fanfare in an unlikely spot off the main drag in Lincoln park, offering a menu of French classics that didn't seem like they were going to make me sit up and take notice. But from the very first bite of the tiny, delicate oeuf outhier (filled with caviar), I was hooked. From the steak frites to the foie gras to the dover sole, this is French bistro food done right.

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Walleye ceviche. Photo by Anthony Todd.

Cantina 1910

While they may have just lost their opening chef, I have faith that the team behind Cantina 1910, the massive new modern mexican restaurant in Andersonville, will keep it together. Cantina 1910 is the kind of ambitious restaurant project that you don't often see outside of downtown, with a rooftop garden, multiple dining rooms and a whole preservation kitchen designed to making it easier to use local foods out of season. Plus, their arroz negro with squid ink is in the running for the single best dish I had this year.

Boeufhaus

At a recent taping of the Fooditor Podcast with a bunch of other food geeks, all of us were asked to name our three favorite openings of the year. Practically everyone included Boeufhaus on their list, which is an interesting commentary on the year in restaurants that we've had. Boeufhaus is the anti-steakhouse, a tiny, intimate spot on the West Side that sits right on the border between hip and classy. They serve the best crudite plate in the city (which is a phrase I never thought I'd utter), their wine list is outstanding, and the 55-day dry-aged ribeye is the best piece of beef I had this year. Even better, in a city rapidly pushing the price of steak past $100 a plate, it's only $60 and easily serves two.

Cherry Circle Room

The Chicago Athletic Association is certainly the most exciting hotel project of the year, but it's primary restaurant, the Cherry Circle Room, didn't get as much love as the rest of the place. Critics thought the restaurant had something of a rough start, but as the year has come to an end, i've completely fallen in love with it. The beautiful wooden bar, which wraps around the entire dining room, is one of the best places for a quiet conversation in the city, their cocktail program is outstanding (including drinks mixed tableside) and their grilled octopus, escargot and brussels sprout slaw are the best examples of each that I had this year. Pretend you're a member of a club you could never afford, order a bottle of champagne and sink back into a happy place.

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A selection of cocktails at GreenRiver. Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid.

GreenRiver

I was very skeptical of GreenRiver when it was announced, since New York fanciness doesn't always translate into Chicago realness. But I've been blown away each time I've been there. Their voluminous cocktail menu is worth spending an hour or so to read, and the Peace Frog was probably the strangest drink i've had all year. But I ordered it again, and again, so something must be working. Their whitefish toast wins my award for best appetizer of 2015, and while I haven't yet gotten a chance to try their whole roasted duck for two, it's on my 2016 bucket list.