It’s time to announce the winners of the 2018 Eater Awards for Chicago after an intense week of reader voting. This is the ninth time Eater is celebrating the top talent from 24 cities around the country (and globe).
These chefs and restaurants are the cream of the crop, the ones that best represent the unique culinary and dining culture of Chicago. Thank you to everyone who voted. Find out more about the editor’s choice winners below, which are all receiving the iconic Eater tomato can.
And stay tuned for upcoming features on all the winners.
Restaurant of the Year
Chicago’s food scene has been trending away from meaty gut bombs and towards lighter fare in recent years, and arguably no restaurant in recent memory has done it better than Pacific Standard Time. The California-inspired spot, helmed by former Nico Osteria and Avec chef de cuisine Erling Wu-Bower, in partnership with mentors and Chicago hospitality icons Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia, overcame obstacles to help Chicago diners fall in love with an outside-the-box menu that draws from an array of different cultures inside a breezy space in River North.
Combined with informed, professional service and pinpoint kitchen execution reminiscent of his One Off Hospitality training, Wu-Bower and team churn out Middle Eastern-inspired large-format duck, flavor-popping pitas that utilize ahi tuna and beef tartare, and zig-zag palates with Chinese dumplings, spins on Italian pizzas and pastas, seafood from crudos to tempura-fried rockfish, even to chicken wings good enough to make a sports bar blush. All these factors created a smash hit inside a long-dormant revolving-door space and weathered the pre-opening loss of planned chef-partner Cosmo Goss to become one of Eater National’s Best New Restaurants in America.
Restaurant of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Aba
Chef of the Year
Jennifer Kim, Passerotto
Jennifer Kim doesn’t like being pigeonholed. Earlier this year, Kim unleashed Passerotto, a restaurant that challenges diners on what they know about Korean cuisine. While she may serve her mother’s kimchi, alongside a hefty portion of kalbi — one of the most beautifully plated dishes of meat in the city — Kim pushes beyond tradition in Andersonville.
A veteran of One Off Hospitality’s Avec, Blackbird, and Nico Osteria, Kim — like 2017 Chef of the Year winner Diana Dávila (Mi Tocaya Antojería) — fused what she learned on the job with what she learned growing up. Kim’s travels were also an influence. They took her to Italy and she takes a bit of a European approach with Korean dishes such as rice cakes that are served with a lamb ragu. For fans of her shuttered Lakeview restaurant, Snaggletooth, there’s also cured fish.
Kim, a daughter of immigrants from suburban Schaumburg, knows her experience growing up differed from other first-generation children. Thus the experience at Passerotto differs from experiences at other Korean restaurants. It’s about time Chicago had that kind of culinary diversity.
Chef of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Chris “CJ” Jacobson [Aba]
Most Beautiful Restaurant of the Year
Three things that Chicago has plenty of: steakhouses, Italian restaurants, and rooftop bars. These aspects come together in a sparkling multi-floor space that offers some of the most picturesque views of the Chicago River and skyline the city has seen yet.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the owners of Chicago’s most profitable independent restaurant would pull out all the stops for their first new restaurant in the city in many years. But Gibsons Italia’s eye-popping look is the result of more than just money — in some ways it’s a visual love letter to the city’s beauty. No matter which floor a patron is on, whether indoors or out, whether at one of the bars or the sparkling multi-layer main dining room, whether digging into a steak or gold-extruded pasta, one feels on top of the city. The design alone makes it another home run for the Gibsons Restaurant Group.
Most Beautiful Restaurant of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: TAO Chicago
Bar of the Year
Cubs fans have an ugly reputation for pounding Old Styles and walking near Wrigley Field like they are zombies from the Walking Dead. But the team’s ownership is determined to redefine Wrigleyville. Mordecai is the most intriguing of the new options, situated on two floors inside the Hotel Zachary across from the stadium.
Named after former Cub Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, the bar has subtle nods to the game. Customers will take one step inside and know this isn’t a boring sports bar. The design feels luxurious, yet approachable. This is a palace of whiskey, with a rare and pricey list curated by Folkart Management’s Alex Bachman. He’s procured an awesome assemblage of Pappy Van Winkle and other spirits. Folkart founder Matthias Merges (Yusho, A10, Old Irving Brewing) is a restaurant veteran and he’s worked on a menu that can satiate sports fans (the burger is tremendous) or someone looking for a nice dinner (the black truffle ricotta agnolotti is a winner).
No, Mordecai shouldn’t ever be a stop on TBOX, the long-running annual Christmas bar crawl that courses through Wrigleyville. But when the ugly sweaters and cheap beer grow stale, it’s a wonderful place to seek refuge.
Bar of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Eris Brewery and Cider House
Saddest Shutter of the Year
Grace, one of the city’s best restaurants, closed due to a riff with ownership, and the news was felt nationally. After the December 2017 shutter, gossip slowly leaked about the broken rapport between owner Michael Olszewski and the duo of chef Curtis Duffy and GM Michael Muser.
The discontent grew despite running one of Chicago’s only two restaurants with a full three Michelin stars. Duffy and Muser’s attempt to buy grace from Olszewski failed, and there were reports that both had quit before only to return to their posts. Many in the court of public opinion sided with the chef and general manager, fueling the narrative that they were the ones to do the “real” work, and Olszewski was only a money man. Lawsuits were filed fueling more acrimony. Duffy and Muser have non-compete clauses in their contracts barring them from opening a restaurant in or near Chicago until mid-2019. Olszewski has gone on to open Yugen, a contemporary Japanese restaurant, in the Grace space. While it’s a new direction in the kitchen, the same artwork and furniture remain.
For Chicagoans who love fine dining, the shutter was a bummer right before the New Year had arrived. Duffy’s fans will now wait for his reported new West Loop restaurant. Details are scarce, but he’s reportedly signed a lease.
Saddest Shutter of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner: Grace