To put a bow on dining in 2019, Eater Chicago editors Daniel Gerzina and Ashok Selvam chose their four favorite new restaurants in the city this year, plus each of their favorite places to eat sandwiches. Their picks are listed below in alphabetical order.
Lincoln Park’s homogeneity breeds boredom. For years, DePaul University, out-of-state transplants, and million dollar brownstones have combined to make the neighborhood a black hole for restaurants. But 2019 provided a few beams of light. The brightest ray of hope comes from Galit, a destination-worthy restaurant from a James Beard Award-winning chef and a Chicago restaurant veteran.
Chef Zach Engel expertly weaves together Israeli, Middle Eastern, and American flavors. Together, with general manager Andrés Clavero, they’ve created a charming and welcoming atmosphere that offers sophistication and simplicity. The four varieties of hummus that greet diners at the start of the menu may best exemplify their philosophy, as the options satisfy omnivores with chunks of brisket and vegans with trumpet mushrooms.
They’re building a community based on the spirit of inclusion, and dining together family-style only bolsters that feeling. The falafel with funky mango, shakshukah, and lamb chop are other stand-out items at one of the most sought reservations of 2019. Galit, 2429 N. Lincoln Avenue, Lincoln Park — Ashok Selvam
Many Chicagoans didn’t notice Hermosa, a small counter-service restaurant featuring a scrumptious array of sandwiches from chef Ethan Lim, before 2019. It opened four years ago, but only this year, thanks to the influence of social media, did Chicago really start to pay attention. Taste classic cheeseburgers, french fries with gourmet dipping sauces, and hot dogs that are executed perfectly. Those alone make Hermosa worth a visit — those and a collage of 1980s-era Marvel Comics panels.
However, the real treasure is Lim’s Pan Asian sandwiches. He adopts the same philosophy as West Coast spots like LA’s Roy Choi (Kogi Korean BBQ) where diners find fusion sandwiches such as bulgogi cheesesteaks. Hermosa’s moo ping sandwich takes the beloved Thai appetizer and stuffs it on a French roll. Lim recently began serving a Cambodian fried chicken sandwich as a response to the buzz surrounding Popeyes’s offering. He said he wants to start a Cambodian pop-up at the end of January/early February where he’ll serve more than sandwiches. The chef is also a big fan of World of Warcraft, and he will review the cookbook and make sandwiches inspired by the computer game.
Chicago is still playing catch-up to New York and Los Angeles when it comes to international flavors. It’s a kind of flavor segregation. But chefs like Lim are here to help the city gain ground, ready to cook for customers who don’t want their flavors dialed down. Sure, Hermosa didn't open in 2019, but the food’s so good, it’s worth breaking the rules for this list. Hermosa, 4356 W. Armitage Avenue, Hermosa — Ashok Selvam
South Asian cuisine has had a problem with perceptions in America, especially in Chicago where few successful Indian restaurants have opened near downtown. That’s why Rooh, a spin-off of a San Francisco restaurant, is important.
Rooh sits with confidence in an elegant two-floor space in Chicago’s most prestigious dining district, Randolph Restaurant Row, which has been devoid of an upscale Indian option since 2011. But Rooh is more than a symbol. Novices will love the butter chicken, but more interesting dishes include a tandoor-smoked pork belly, a vegan jackfruit kofta, and a beef short ribs curry.
Chicago’s Michelin inspectors fell for Japanese restaurants in 2019, and shining a spotlight on international cuisine is always welcome. Likewise, Rooh’s success in the West Loop is inspirational to the next generation of chefs eager to experiment with Indian spices, as well as diners who have been patiently waiting for a restaurant with a kitchen willing to cater to their tastebuds. Rooh, 736 W. Randolph Street, West Loop — Ashok Selvam
Many of Chicago’s old-school Italian delis sit on a strip of Grand Avenue in River West, yet it’s a newer spot that’s serving perhaps the best sandwiches — and much more — in Chicago. Tempesta Market marries the best aspects of a timeless Italian deli — terrific meats, toppings, breads, house-made retail items, tradition, ambience, and care — with modern ideals, technique reminiscent of a fine-dining restaurant, and more that advance the genre into the 21st Century while paying respectful homage to tradition.
Old-school deli fans can get top-notch sandwiches made with creative care such as the classic Dante that ups the ante on a traditional Italian classic that adds porchetta and ‘nduja aioli. Other must-trys include the hash brown sandwich dubbed “The Potato’ Nator” that hits all the pleasure centers. But a terrific brunch, amazing retail section, lines out the door during peak hours, and fantastic charcuterie highlighted by its ubiquitous ‘nduja and other meats that other restaurants are starting to use, add up to a restaurant with long-term staying power in the city. Tempesta Market, 1372 W. Grand Avenue, River West — Daniel Gerzina
Carlos Gaytán was the first chef of Mexican descent to earn a Michelin star for a reason. And after he closed the restaurant that earned that star he came back to Chicago with a new restaurant that’s amazingly even better than its predecessor.
It takes a lot for a new Mexican restaurant to impress a dining scene that’s already chock full of terrific south-of-the-border food. Gaytán’s Tzuco does that and more by marrying his classical French training and ingredients with his Mexican heritage, creating showstopping dishes such as the fried whole fish pictured above and the restaurant’s signature item, the pork pibil pictured at the top of this story. Add in Eater Award-winning design, an attached bakery, and a forthcoming tasting-menu room and this restaurant has a chance to be Chicago icon. Tzuco, 720 N. State Street, River North — Daniel Gerzina
Pleasure-inducing Southern American food and fine dining technique come together on the South Side to make perhaps the most impactful new Chicago restaurant of 2019. Chef-owner Erick Williams has a home run on his hands, one that has the chance to mentor the next generation of South Side culinary hopefuls.
Dishes such as the short rib, gizzards with dirty rice and gravy, and green tomatoes with shrimp and remoulade fly around the buzzing dining room while soulful music enchants customers. The warmth inside the space is palpable, creating an operation that exceeds the sum of its parts. Virtue is Eater Chicago’s Restaurant of the Year and one of Eater National’s Best New Restaurants in America for all of these reasons. Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd Street, Hyde Park — Daniel Gerzina