Today we announce the seventh annual Eater Awards for Chicago, celebrating the chefs and restaurants that truly made an impact in 2016. We recognize restaurants, bars and chefs that have taken the Chicago food and drink scene by storm, created something unique and lasting in Chicago, and have changed the game. Read on to learn more about this year’s best of the best as well as those that have sadly left us in 2016.
Restaurant of the Year: Monteverde
Yes, Chicago has been inundated with Italian restaurants in recent times. But Monteverde — the first restaurant from former Spiaggia chef and Top Chef runner-up Sarah Grueneberg — has managed to do what most restaurateurs cannot: make Italian food feel adventurous and new yet balanced with tradition. The result is that Monteverde has been so busy, has so many innovations, and so many accolades that it has nearly transcended the food genre that it’s built on.
This is most apparent in Grueneberg's pastas — which she termed the "vehicle" on opening day and diners can watch being hand-made on a stage behind the bar — that span Italy as well as the depths of her own imagination. Eater critic Bill Addison described the restaurant as "an unrepentant celebration of pasta" while naming it one of the 21 best new restaurants in America, and every local critic, GQ, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Eater Chicago agree.
Restaurant of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Lena Brava and Cruz Blanca
Chef of the Year: Noah Sandoval
Noah Sandoval accomplished something nearly unthinkable when he turned a gluten-free restaurant (Senza) into a Michelin-starred destination in East Lakeview. After going out on his own — with a highly-acclaimed team by his side — Sandoval accomplished a very rare feat again: he gained two Michelin stars right off the bat for Oriole, a secluded blink-and-you’ll-miss-it operation that one Chicago critic said "belongs on Chicago’s restaurant Mt. Rushmore."
Chicago is seeing a new wave of experimental fine-dining restaurants in 2016 — starting with Oriole — and we have Sandoval to thank.
Chef of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Sarah Grueneberg
Design of the Year: Duck Duck Goat
When New York-based superstar design firm AvroKO first teamed with Chicago superstar restaurant group Boka, the result was Momotaro — one of the most stunning eateries Chicago has ever seen. This time around the duo may have topped their own high bar with Duck Duck Goat, Stephanie Izard’s Chinatown-inspired perpetually-packed hotspot on Fulton Market.
While many restaurants strive to bring diners into another space and time upon entering their establishment, AvroKO and Boka have accomplished that and more. Duck Duck Goat feels like you’re on a mid-20th Century movie set, perhaps starring Jack Nicholson, one that replicates an American Chinatown street or outdoor market with Chinese storefronts. Chicago has rarely seen a restaurant that feels like this.
Design of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Saved by the Max
Bar of the Year: Mezcaleria Las Flores
When owner Sarah Jordan decided to reconcept the bar area at Johnny’s Grill in Logan Square, Chicago drinkers eventually received something many didn’t know they needed: the most dedicated agave-focused drinking establishment and cocktail bar in the city to date. "I want to differentiate—do something no one else is doing and go all in on it," mastermind Jay Schroeder said in February. The decision proved to be a great choice, as buzz grew and crowds flocked to Schroeder’s baby since it opened.
And while business and buzz are great, the bar gave people something more lasting: education on a spirit and its cousins — most notably Sotol — that previously held mystery to many. The buzz has already spawned multiple more other agave-focused bars in the city, and don’t be surprised to see more in the future.
Bar of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Moneygun
Saddest Shutter of the Year: The Parthenon
Chicago lost a great many restaurants and bars in 2016 — far too many — yet only one created flaming saganaki cheese. Greektown landmark The Parthenon was in business for 48 years on Halsted Street and lifted the strip to prominence nearly all by itself before sadly closing in September.
One of the saddest aspects of the story, however, is that ownership owed nearly $500,000 in back taxes and bills for the Chicago icon in addition to sagging business amidst neighborhood changes. At least there are plenty of other Greek restaurants in Chicago that are worth a visit.
Saddest Shutter of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: The Parthenon