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Chicago’s Media Names Its Top Restaurant Newcomers of 2021

These restaurants have made big impressions despite enormous pandemic obstacles

A spacious restaurant dining room with light wood furniture and green plants hanging from the ceiling.
Rose Mary became one of the toughest tables in town when it opened in April 2021.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Chicago’s food and beverage writers and other media dish on their favorite new restaurant in 2021 as part of Eater’s ongoing tradition of polling the city’s experts for their year-end takes.

Sarah Spain, ESPN: Gioia Ristorante & Pastificio! Beautiful space, outstanding pastas!

Janice Scurio, Sports Illustrated and South Side Sox: Though I live a little far away, I’m not above making a trip to Little Italy for some wonderful soft-serve. But when Kurimu opened their Wicker Park location this year, those driving minutes converted into more precious time to consume ice cream. When available, I like to get what I call the “goth cone”: Earl Grey tea and taro swirl soft serve in a charcoal vanilla cone, topped with boba.

Taqueria Chingon was another new favorite this year. I was also happy to see the resurrection of an old favorite, Isla Pilipina at Urbanspace, after they shuttered their Lincoln Square location last year.

Mike Zoller, Porch Drinking: Joe Flamm’s Rose Mary was so good. Of course, being at Spiaggia and then winning Top Chef, Flamm has made a name for himself so it was really exciting for him to open his own place. Rose Mary did not disappoint. It was delicious. The cocktails are so well done, but since Flamm is a fan of Miller High Life, as am I, having cold High Life bottles on the menu as well was a nice touch.

Amy Cavanaugh, Chicago magazine: There are a lot of great newcomers that I plan to make part of my regular rotation. Dear Margaret just makes me feel warm inside. Verve Wine + Provisions is fun and delicious. I can’t wait to get back to Sochi Kitchen. Ditto Testaccio. I’m obsessed with the house-made charcuterie program at Lardon. Also, I can’t tell you how often I think about the calamari bocadillo at Bocadillo Market.

Jay Westbrook, local craft beer professional: I know it’s probably on 90 percent of these replies, but there’s a very valid reason why Rose Mary is the hardest reservation in town to get. Chef Joe Flamm’s menu is a literal murderer’s row of culinary greatness. Do yourself a favor and order your table an extra serving of the mafaldine with lamb ragu because you are not going to want to share yours.

Brenda Storch, WKRS radio: Seeing Rubi’s Tacos go from a stall at the iconic Maxwell Street Market to an established restaurant in Pilsen, particularly during the pandemic, was poetic.

Lillian Stone, The Takeout: I’m really stoked about Cultivate, Forbidden Root’s new outpost in the old Band of Bohemia space. Either that or the NEW CULVER’S ON MONTROSE SORRY I LOVE IT.

Titus Ruscitti, ChiBBQKing: I’ll pick Habrae Cafe in Forest Park because it’s not just new but it’s bringing something new to the local scene in terms of a spot focusing in on the amazing world of Thai-style desserts. Plus they serve some real good Thai comfort food and are really nice people.

Michael Nagrant, michaelnagrant.com: Esme for sure, but since it’s also my best meal of 2021, let me give props to George’s Deep Dish pizza here, which has somehow, in a city of a million pies, found a way to create a style of deep dish that I revere and long for every Friday night above all other comers. I mean the knobs of saah-siiidge and snap of green pepper on the Halas special is in the words of every person who has ever reviewed a restaurant on Check Please!, “to die for.” And, I guess, given enough cheese and carbs in your bloodstream, anything is possible, but, oh, what a glorious way to perish.

Isla Pilipina

15 W. Washington, Chicago, IL 60602 (773) 271-2988 Visit Website

Gioia

1133 W. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60607 773-672-8955 Visit Website

Rubi’s Tacos

1316 West 18th Street, , IL 60608 (773) 318-9526

Rose Mary

932 West Fulton Street, , IL 60607 (872) 260-3921 Visit Website

Dear Margaret

2965 North Lincoln Avenue, , IL 60657 (773) 360-8213 Visit Website

Lardon

2200 North California Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 697-4444 Visit Website

KURIMU

1159 West Taylor Street, , IL 60607 (312) 877-5227 Visit Website

Urbanspace Washington

15 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602

Verve Wine + Provisions

2349 North Lincoln Avenue, , IL 60614 (773) 904-8536 Visit Website

Bocadillo Market

2342 North Clark Street, , IL 60614 (773) 857-0331 Visit Website

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen

1358 West Belmont Avenue, , IL 60657 (773) 904-8511 Visit Website

Taqueria Chingon

2234 North Western Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 687-9408 Visit Website

Forbidden Root

1746 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622 (312) 929-2202 Visit Website

Testaccio

2456 N. California Avenue, Chicago, IL Visit Website

Esme

2200 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614 Visit Website

George's Deep Dish

6221 North Clark Street, , IL 60660 (773) 801-1551 Visit Website

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