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Chicago Restaurant Experts Remember the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2016

As 2016 fades into 2017, Eater surveyed a group of critics, writers, and all around experts for their take on the past year. We asked them eight questions: from Top Standbys to Top Newcomers, from Best Meals to Saddest Closures. All answers will be revealed—cut, pasted, unedited and unadulterated—by the time we pop the cork on 2017.

Snaggletooth surprised people in 2016
Snaggletooth surprised people in 2016
Marc Much

What was the biggest dining surprise in 2016?

Matt Kirouac, Zagat: Coda di Volpe and Honey's were both spots that were hard to get a read on initially, but both far exceeded my expectations. In particular with Coda di Volpe, it managed to make me excited about Italian food even after being beaten to death with it over the past couple years. The pizza is something special.

Michael Nagrant, RedEyeGT Prime. I was mostly cynical that the Boka group needed another steakhouse. But, then it turned out it wasn’t as much a steakhouse as a damn good Giuseppe Tentori restaurant serving top grade meat.

Penny Pollack, Chicago magazine: Mango Pickle: A cozy neighborhood storefront with a small menu of yummy Indian dishes—not a cliché in the bunch.

Lisa Shames, CS: How the downsizing of pasta portions has become the norm and people have embraced it, which is a good thing. No one needs pasta bowls as big as your head.

That there were so many terrific new restaurants that opened this year — see question No. 1 — and there were so many that broke free of the typical trends and in the process created super personal places. That really resonated with me and, it seems, diners too.

And that a restaurant in a hospital can be pretty and delicious. Thank you, GreenRiver!

Michael Gebert, Fooditor: I love the little place that just does one thing really, really well, and a perfect example of that is Snaggletooth. Two chefs escaping a big budget disaster open a tiny little place making cured fish and it's like Jewish deli at sushi restaurant quality, just wonderful. Who saw that coming?

Chandra Ram, Plate: The speed at which so many restaurants opened and closed. When spots like Bunny, Cantina 1910 and Taverna 750 open and close within months, you need to step back and look at what is happening in the industry and consider if the city can support all these restaurants.

Anthony Todd, Chicagoist: It actually happened a few days ago at Kachka in Portland. I've done a ton of eating this year in Chicago, but nothing was so utterly new to me as the Russian-inspired dishes I had there. It's so rare to jaded me gets to taste a cuisine that I'm almost entirely unfamiliar with, but there it was. If Eastern Bloc fine dining became a trend for 2017, I would be all over it.

Chris LaMorte, UrbanDaddy: It is rare that a restaurant can turn things around, but Ocean Cut somehow found its sea legs, righted its ship, missed the iceberg...or whatever other awful ship metaphor I can come up with.

Morgan Olsen, RedEye: I’m still shocked Monteverde didn’t nab a Michelin star. On a happier note, I was delightfully surprised by the super short, insanely simple menu at Moody Tongue’s Pilsen tasting room. Beer, oysters and German chocolate cake are a winning combination.

Elizabeth Atkinson, Time Out Chicago: Duck Duck To Go, Uncle John's BBQ.

Moody Tongue Brewery

2136 S Peoria St, Chicago, IL 60608 (312) 600-5111 Visit Website

Mango Pickle

5842 North Broadway, , IL 60660 (773) 944-5555 Visit Website

GT Prime

707 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 600-6305 Visit Website


259 E Erie St Fl 18, Chicago, IL 60611 (312) 337-0101


2819 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 773-715-4790

Taverna 750

750 W Cornelia Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (773) 904-7466 Visit Website

Ocean Cut

20 West Kinsey, Chicago, IL 60654


93 Scott Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237 (347) 669-1473 Visit Website


1020 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL 60607 (312) 888-3041

Uncle Johns Barbeque

8249 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60619 (773) 952-6236

Coda di Volpe

3335 North Southport Avenue, , IL 60657 (773) 687-8568 Visit Website

Bunny The Micro Bakery

2928 N Broadway St, Chicago, IL 60657 (617) 936-3464 Visit Website

Duck Duck Goat

857 West Fulton Market, , IL 60607 (312) 902-3825 Visit Website