South Side restaurant Virtue was a near-instant hit when it first opened in Hyde Park in November 2018. Chef Erick Williams’s upscale take on Southern classics lured President Obama into the restaurant within a week of opening, and quickly accumulated rave reviews from critics. Williams’s skillful ability to highlight the sophistication of Southern American regional cooking that defies stereotypes of heavy, fried fare deemed the restaurant the sole Chicago representative on Eater National’s Best New Restaurants of 2019.
Virtue’s busy, welcoming space is packed with art paying tribute to African American cultural icons like Langston Hughes, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and civil rights firebrand Ida B. Wells. Eater staff praised the complexity of Williams’s treatment of ingredients and contextual sensibilities in adding Virtue to the list: “At the ambitious Virtue, veteran chef Erick Williams honors his family’s Southern roots, drawing as much from his experiences as a born-and-bred Chicagoan as from his grandmother’s recipes, which come by way of Mississippi.”
Staff were particularly struck by an apparently humble braised cauliflower steak that’s finished on the grill, noting the addition of cashew dukkah (an Egyptian spice blend) and vegetables disguised as iconic Chicago giardiniera. “The dish shows Williams’s layered approach to cooking, taking culinary inspiration from many of the Southern states, from Chicago, from his fine dining background, from his family history, and from the world.”
Formerly of MK the Restaurant, Williams’s efforts made Virtue one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago this summer. He began offering brunch in April, with offerings including fried green tomatoes with shrimp and chicken and waffles. There’s also a playful happy hour (staff calls it “pot liquor time”) with original cocktails and bar snacks like pork cracklin and pig foot fritters.
Last year, Pacific Standard Time was the only Chicago restaurant on the list. Elske in the West Loop made the list in 2017, and Monteverde was selected the year before. Dove’s Luncheonette in Wicker Park was named in 2015. Read this year’s entire 16-restaurant list on Eater National.