Chicago’s restaurant writers dish on their biggest surprises of 2020 as part of Eater’s ongoing tradition of polling the city’s experts for their year-end takes.
Titus Ruscitti, ChiBBQKing: Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill in Juno Beach, Florida (best seafood in the state).
Michael Gebert, Fooditor: Oddly, I can’t remember the last movie I saw before movie theaters went away — probably 1917, which is a little too on-the-nose — but I remember my last meal out exactly. I took my car to a mechanic on the northwest side and, knowing I might be confined to my house for weeks, walked the neighborhood of midcentury brick houses. Light snow was falling. I snapped these pics of cozy houses. I found myself at the corner of Central and Lawrence — a space I’ve written about many times as different restaurants over the years, now a Colombian restaurant called El Asadero Colombiano. I took the corner seat right by the window looking at the intersection, at the world that was about to change forever, and dug into a hearty plate of simple South American food as the snow fell. On the way out, I bought a whole rotisserie chicken, and used it to inaugurate my new life fixing most of our meals at home.
Aaron Oliver, Seasoned and Blessed: I had a fried catfish po’boy from Ina Mae Tavern in Wicker Park on March 8.
Mike Sula, Chicago Reader: Just days before lockdown I ate with a large group at Mrs. Gu Skewers and Hot Pot in Chinatown. I then scribbled an argument that Tony Hu’s serve-yourself hotpot spot might be the ideal restaurant model to visit in a pandemic. I’m relieved that review never published, but also happy that Mrs. Gu is still alive doing carryout and delivery.
Morgan Olsen, Time Out Chicago: I was in New York for work just before everything shut down, and my last meal was at Atoboy in Flatiron. I’ll never forget the anxious energy that filled the dining room that night. Before I left for that trip, my final feast in Chicago was at Virtue — an evening I look back on fondly.
Michael Nagrant, michaelnagrant.com: Mr. D’s Shish Kabobs, for the unimpeachable steak sammie. While there, a dude in the dining room was talking very loudly with the owners about how he’d just gotten back from Italy where everyone had some sickness called coronavirus.
Audarshia Townsend, WGN Morning News, Esquire contributor: Daisies. A colleague had been raving about it for months, so we finally checked it out for brunch.
Dennis Lee, the Takeout, Food is Stupid: Wow. For an actual sit-down meal together? Not counting counter service, my fiancée and I had to sift through our own social media archives to remember. We think it was Great Sea back in January. I remember what we had, too: Two bowls of jjajjangmyun, sweet and sour Korean-Chinese style pork (tangsuyuk), and their famous chicken wings. January. I can’t believe this.
As 2020 threw the world a curveball, Eater Chicago this year has expanded its end-of-year panel to include other members of the city’s media.
Janice Scurio, Sports Illustrated and South Side Sox: I live in Evanston, so the Joy Yee’s on Davis Street. I had the pineapple fried rice, and a passionfruit boba which might have had an entire cut mango inside of it.
Exavier Pope, Forbes, the Athletic, Al Jazeera English: You’re asking me that question in 2020? It’s a blur.
Chicago Party Aunt, @ChiPartyAunt: Triple Cheezborger, Chips, Coke at the Billy Goat.
Sarah Spain, ESPN: This Little Goat at the United Center
Natalie Moore, WBEZ: I looked in my calendar and I ate dinner at Ascione in March!