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Revival Food Hall in the Loop was literally Chicago's biggest opening of 2016, in size and scope
Revival Food Hall in the Loop was literally Chicago's biggest opening of 2016, in size and scope
Marc Much

Chicago's 15 Biggest Restaurant Openings of 2016

2016 was a year for the ages in the Chicago restaurant world

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Revival Food Hall in the Loop was literally Chicago's biggest opening of 2016, in size and scope
| Marc Much

Chicago's new restaurant scene once again raised the ceiling on the city's dining in 2016. While many older spots sadly went away and some new spots didn't last long, most of the ones with staying power didn't jump on trends — they came with originality, gumption, imagination, and some of the best food, drinks, and chefs that the country has ever seen.

2016's common dining threads in Chicago included the evolution of steakhouses, a return to beautiful and progressive fine dining, wood-fired cooking, and throwback neighborhood bars. Don't expect any of those themes to die down soon. But the following 15 restaurants and bars started something new and did it their own way, which is why they're the most important openings of the year. It's why they should have staying power and if any sadly don't, they've already made their mark on Chicago dining.

So read through them via the map below and plan your outing if you haven't been to them yet. Listed in alphabetical order.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Bad Hunter

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Heisler Hospitality is known for standout bars such as Sportsman's Club, although the group has churned out some delicious food in the past at Trenchermen, Nightwood, and Pub Royale. Those efforts have culminated in their most unique restaurant yet, the veggie-focused Bad Hunter, which defies many diners' preconceived notions of eating plant life — it's fulfilling, satiating, delicious, yet sprinkled in with enough meat to comfort hardcore carnivores. Don't be surprised to see copycats jump on this concept in the future.

Marc Much

El Che Bar

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The follow-up to John Manion's beloved La Sirena Clandestina takes much of what eaters love about that restaurant and raises the bar on his delicious and unpretentious South American-inspired food. Manion's vision is fully realized here, with help from a large wood-burning hearth, a larger, beautifully-designed space, and top-notch staff and operations.

Marc Much

Entente

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When owner Ty Fujimura decided to reconcept Ani, his follow-up to the sushi stalwart Arami, he didn't just go through the motions — he went all in with one of the most ambitious, creative, upscale restaurants of the year. Helped by chef and former Schwa staffer Brian Fisher, will the critics' darling achieve long-term success on a desolate stretch of northwest Lakeview?

Marc Much

After taking time away from professional kitchens, Jason Vincent, one of Chicago's most beloved chefs, delighted the masses by opening his first restaurant in Logan Square and reminding the city what they missed — unpretentious, spot-on, chef-driven yet crowd-pleasing food that focuses on only one thing: deliciousness.

Marc Much

GT Prime

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2015 and 2016 may be remembered as the period when a slew of new Chicago restaurants broke the mold on the classic steakhouse concept. This year's star was GT Prime, where acclaimed chef Giuseppe Tentori and the Boka Group serve standout shareable steaks, but have blown away critics and the dining public with everything else on the menu.

Anthony Tahlier

Imperial Lamian

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Imperial Lamian was a leap of faith. An Indonesia-based group picked the most touristy district in Chicago for its first restaurant in America, building a sparkling space in the heart of River North to serve soup dumplings, hand-pulled lamian noodles, and other Chinese dishes on the same block where Chicago's most acclaimed Chinese chef, Tony Hu, only lasted six months. While not everyone has been happy with the kitchen's execution or pricing thus far, Imperial Lamian's overall success in year one deserves recognition.

Marc Much

Leave it to perhaps the South Side's most beloved bar, Maria's in Bridgeport, to expand with one of the most creative fast-casual fusion restaurants Chicago has ever seen with Kimski. Korean and Polish are two cuisines that may not have ever been mashed up, and eaters and drinkers around the city are better off because of it.

Aron Gent

Leña Brava / Cruz Blanca

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The venerable Rick Bayless' first new concept in many years has been predictably the toughest reservation of the year, as Bayless has once again expanded Chicago's Mexican food palette with the twin superstars Lena Brava and Cruz Blanca on Randolph Row. Baja-inspired raw and cooked seafood, perhaps the greatest mezcal selection in the Midwest, and a Mexican-inspired brewpub and taqueria have brought Bayless' legend to new heights.

Mezcaleria Las Flores

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Chicago's first dedicated mezcal bar and Eater Award-winner for bar of the year, Mezcaleria Las Flores has packed in the Logan Square customers while simultaneously educating them on the many wonders of mezcal, sotol, and other lesser-known spirits from south of the border. And don't forget about the adjoined chef-driven neo-diner revival of Johnny's Grill either.

Marc Much

Chicago's progressive fine-dining spirit was back with aplomb in 2016, highlighted by Oriole, which amazingly garnered two Michelin stars off the bat. Chef-owner Noah Sandoval rose from relative obscurity to gain one star for the shuttered gluten-free restaurant Senza, won Chicago's chef of the year Eater Award in 2016, and now he and his new restaurant are one of the best success stories in recent memory.

A low-lit dining room with lots of wood and white tablecloths. Marc Much

Revival Food Hall

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This is what the Loop dining scene needed — 15 of Chicago's best restaurants under one roof. Revival isn't the first food hall here, but the ambition, all-star lineup, and operation make it undoubtedly the best.

Marc Much

Roister

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Grant Achatz and co.'s first casual restaurant was one of the biggest stories of the year before it even opened and the buzz has not gone away for the purposely-loud space and Andrew Brochu's delicious a la carte hearth-cooked dishes in a prominent open kitchen.

Matthew Gilson

Smyth + The Loyalist

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Chef power couple John and Karen Urie Shields tried for years to open a restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area, and Chicagoans are much more food rich that they came back to open their dual powerhouses in the West Loop. The two concepts are somewhat opposite yet intertwined, with a chef-driven bar (The Loyalist) downstairs and a Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant (Smyth) upstairs, an ingenious move by the Shields'.

Marc Much

Snaggletooth

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Snaggletooth provides an unexpected treat along a sleepy stretch of Lakeview. Bill Montagne and Jennifer Kim escaped their downtown restaurant jobs and applied their DIY attitude when creating a restaurant that focuses on cured fish. Delectable bites like trout smoked with jasmine tea and hamachi with lime, cilantro, coriander and mezcal awaken tastebuds. The tea/coffee program is also top notch and once diners understand the deli-influenced concept, they’ll return to try fresh soups and more.

Marc Much

The Northman

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Hard cider now gets the due it has long deserved thanks to Chicago's first cider pub. The long-delayed opening was worth the wait for hundreds of ciders that will surprise, astound, and break many pre-conceived notions of the beverage, plus well-received British-inspired pub food.

Bad Hunter

Marc Much

Heisler Hospitality is known for standout bars such as Sportsman's Club, although the group has churned out some delicious food in the past at Trenchermen, Nightwood, and Pub Royale. Those efforts have culminated in their most unique restaurant yet, the veggie-focused Bad Hunter, which defies many diners' preconceived notions of eating plant life — it's fulfilling, satiating, delicious, yet sprinkled in with enough meat to comfort hardcore carnivores. Don't be surprised to see copycats jump on this concept in the future.

Marc Much

El Che Bar

Marc Much

The follow-up to John Manion's beloved La Sirena Clandestina takes much of what eaters love about that restaurant and raises the bar on his delicious and unpretentious South American-inspired food. Manion's vision is fully realized here, with help from a large wood-burning hearth, a larger, beautifully-designed space, and top-notch staff and operations.

Marc Much

Entente

Marc Much

When owner Ty Fujimura decided to reconcept Ani, his follow-up to the sushi stalwart Arami, he didn't just go through the motions — he went all in with one of the most ambitious, creative, upscale restaurants of the year. Helped by chef and former Schwa staffer Brian Fisher, will the critics' darling achieve long-term success on a desolate stretch of northwest Lakeview?

Marc Much

Giant

Marc Much

After taking time away from professional kitchens, Jason Vincent, one of Chicago's most beloved chefs, delighted the masses by opening his first restaurant in Logan Square and reminding the city what they missed — unpretentious, spot-on, chef-driven yet crowd-pleasing food that focuses on only one thing: deliciousness.

Marc Much

GT Prime

Anthony Tahlier

2015 and 2016 may be remembered as the period when a slew of new Chicago restaurants broke the mold on the classic steakhouse concept. This year's star was GT Prime, where acclaimed chef Giuseppe Tentori and the Boka Group serve standout shareable steaks, but have blown away critics and the dining public with everything else on the menu.

Anthony Tahlier

Imperial Lamian

Marc Much

Imperial Lamian was a leap of faith. An Indonesia-based group picked the most touristy district in Chicago for its first restaurant in America, building a sparkling space in the heart of River North to serve soup dumplings, hand-pulled lamian noodles, and other Chinese dishes on the same block where Chicago's most acclaimed Chinese chef, Tony Hu, only lasted six months. While not everyone has been happy with the kitchen's execution or pricing thus far, Imperial Lamian's overall success in year one deserves recognition.

Marc Much

Kimski

Aron Gent

Leave it to perhaps the South Side's most beloved bar, Maria's in Bridgeport, to expand with one of the most creative fast-casual fusion restaurants Chicago has ever seen with Kimski. Korean and Polish are two cuisines that may not have ever been mashed up, and eaters and drinkers around the city are better off because of it.

Aron Gent

Leña Brava / Cruz Blanca

The venerable Rick Bayless' first new concept in many years has been predictably the toughest reservation of the year, as Bayless has once again expanded Chicago's Mexican food palette with the twin superstars Lena Brava and Cruz Blanca on Randolph Row. Baja-inspired raw and cooked seafood, perhaps the greatest mezcal selection in the Midwest, and a Mexican-inspired brewpub and taqueria have brought Bayless' legend to new heights.

Mezcaleria Las Flores

Marc Much

Chicago's first dedicated mezcal bar and Eater Award-winner for bar of the year, Mezcaleria Las Flores has packed in the Logan Square customers while simultaneously educating them on the many wonders of mezcal, sotol, and other lesser-known spirits from south of the border. And don't forget about the adjoined chef-driven neo-diner revival of Johnny's Grill either.

Marc Much

Oriole

A low-lit dining room with lots of wood and white tablecloths. Marc Much

Chicago's progressive fine-dining spirit was back with aplomb in 2016, highlighted by Oriole, which amazingly garnered two Michelin stars off the bat. Chef-owner Noah Sandoval rose from relative obscurity to gain one star for the shuttered gluten-free restaurant Senza, won Chicago's chef of the year Eater Award in 2016, and now he and his new restaurant are one of the best success stories in recent memory.

A low-lit dining room with lots of wood and white tablecloths. Marc Much

Revival Food Hall

Marc Much

This is what the Loop dining scene needed — 15 of Chicago's best restaurants under one roof. Revival isn't the first food hall here, but the ambition, all-star lineup, and operation make it undoubtedly the best.

Marc Much

Roister

Matthew Gilson

Grant Achatz and co.'s first casual restaurant was one of the biggest stories of the year before it even opened and the buzz has not gone away for the purposely-loud space and Andrew Brochu's delicious a la carte hearth-cooked dishes in a prominent open kitchen.