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The 38 Essential Chicago Restaurants, October 2014

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every few months, we'll add pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months) or have stepped up their game. And keep in mind, this list is presented in no particular order.

For the fall 2014 update, Hot Doug's comes off the list after it (sadly) closed, while Balena and Pequod's are removed to make room for new blood. Neapolitan pizza institution Spacca Napoli, Sodikoff's sultry French-influenced steakhouse Bavette's Bar & Boeuf, and world-renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio's Tanta come aboard.

For those of you readying the pitchforks because your favorite restaurant isn't on the list, wouldn't it just be more productive to nominate it for inclusion? State your cases for (or against) restaurants in the comments or in the tipline.

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The Bristol

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The Bristol Chef Chris Pandel does things with animal parts and local produce that most others wouldn't dare and the experience is heightened because of it.

Frontera Grill and Topolobampo

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Rick Bayless' Mexican haven, including Xoco on the corner, is a Chicago institution spawning spinoffs around the globe of south of the border fare from street food to high end.

Lula Café

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Before Logan Square had Longman & Eagle, it had Lula Café. More than a decade on, it's easy to see why people flock for its locally sourced menu, Sunday brunch and Monday night farm dinners.

Even though chef Koren Grieveson left and Erling Wu-Bower moved to Nico Osteria, avec and chef Perry Hendrix remains one of the most consistent—and packed—spots in town.

Charlie Trotter's vet Matthias Merges took a massive departure from fine dining and opened this yakitori-inspired Japanese street food spot. Whether you go for dinner (get the crispy chicken skin, quail eggs and sweetbreads) or for the $20 three-course Sunday noodles, you'll wonder why Merges didn't do this sooner.

Lao Sze Chuan

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The crown jewel in Tony Hu's ever-growing empire, the focus here is on Szechwan dishes, ranging from the basic to the downright adventurous.

Smoque BBQ

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With two smokers to prep meaty St. Louis-style ribs, tender brisket, apple-and-oak-smoked pulled pork and more, this 'cue joint ain't no joke.

Piccolo Sogno

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Even if you can't sit on the city's best patio all year, chef Tony Priolo's pizzas, housemade pastas and grilled meats make a trip worth it even in the dead of winter.

Tank Noodle

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Uptown's Argyle Street is also known as Little Saigon and Tank Noodle is the crown jewel for its authentic Vietnamese cuisine, especially the various steaming bowls of pho.

Fat Rice

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Former underground chef Abraham Conlon has reached the big time with his creative take on Macau cuisine. Try the pickle assortments and namesake "fat rice."

Big Jones

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This Southern-inspired spot has been around a while, but its new Boarding House lunch (with juicy fried chicken) hearty brunch platters and dishes culled from decades- and centuries-old recipes has given it new life.

In a neighborhood filled with big splashy openings, it's nice to know there's a cute spot where you can go for a quick glass of Sherry or wine at the bar or have a romantic dinner over Spanish small plates.

Au Cheval

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Some may decry this as a hipster diner, but the quality of food—crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy; foie gras, scrambled eggs and toast; and those damn tasty griddled burgers—with great cocktails and draft-beer list, puts this spot in a new category.

Calumet Fisheries

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When you need your fried seafood or smoked fish fix, hit this James Beard-recognized, Anthony Bourdain-endorsed classic Chicago fish house on the Far South Side. Want an adventure? Then get in the car for some good take out.

Nightwood Restaurant

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Although chef Jason Vincent is is gone, Nightwood still is another reason to travel to Pilsen: impeccably prepared rustic seasonal fare and a cool, modern Kevin Heisner-designed room to eat in.

GT Fish and Oyster

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If it were just fish and chips and chowdah, we'd still be won over. But everything—the hamachi crudo, lobster roll, the ponzu mignonette for the oysters, plump mussels in a steaming red sauce, brandade croquettes—is so incredibly fresh, you'd think you're on one of the coasts.


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Past, present and future come together in exquisite culinary techniques and ingredients, cocktails, coffees, fascinating design and a bustling bar inside an old bathhouse on a blossoming stretch of North Avenue in Wicker Park.

When you want more than spanikopita and gyros, David Schneider's authentic regional Greek fare (and amazing Greek wine list) beckon you to this beautiful dining room in Wicker Park.

Ruxbin Kitchen

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The BYO policy and a chef who cooked under Thomas Keller preparing a globally influenced menu was already great, but now that Ruxbin is finally taking reservations, it's that much more accessible.

Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

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When we want to eat with our hands and sop up spicy Ethiopian sauces and tender doro wat and vegetables we head north to Uptown. Tip: they roast their own coffee, too.

Curtis Duffy's inventive (and expensive) fine dining has been wowing diners, and media, from its inception. A glass-enclosed kitchen, spot-on wine pairings, and fascinating backstory only add to the draw.

The Publican

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A few years in, Paul Kahan's temple to pork and shellfish remains strong, with chef Cosmo Goss taking over for Brian Huston in the kitchen.

Pleasant House Bakery

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Where else can you get Brit-style flaky, buttery crust pies filled with beef, chicken or mushrooms and kale? BYO or better yet, order it to be delivered to Maria's next door and get a drink at the bar. Oh yeah, fish & chips Fridays start at 5:30.

Throughout chef changes and evolving menus, Sepia continues to be one of the most consistent restaurants in Chicago. Andrew Zimmerman's menus paired with a cutting-edge beverage program makes it a complete experience.

As Americanized Japanese restaurants continue to come and go, Katsu continues to churn out uncompromising high-end sushi in an unassuming building on the Far North Side for the last quarter-century and counting.

Coalfire Pizza

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Coalfire changed the way we think about thin crust. If you like it super crispy with a little bit of char, this is your new haunt.

Authentic Indian south of Devon can be tough to find. Throw in Nepalese, an array of curries, platters, and cocktails and you might not go back up north.

Sticky Rice

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Chicago features an abundance of Thai food, and Sticky Rice may be the best of the lot. Go further then Pad Thai and get adventurous with Northern Thai specialties like gang hung lay and housemade sausage, with sticky rice on the side. There's also a second location in Bucktown.

La Sirena Clandestina

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Chef/owner John Manion continues to crank out empanadas and other chef-driven Latin fare among the big boys on Fulton Market. A fresh remodeling and inventive cocktails, even without opening beverage director Just Anderson, completes the experience.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate

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While the savory food and the drinks are very good, the sweets and the hot chocolates are predictably not to be missed from an owner with a James Beard award for best pastry chef.

Edzo's Burger Shop

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While a second location is open in Lincoln Park, the first in Evanston remains a cult destination and the gold standard for griddled, no-frills burgers.

Whether tackling one of the best burgers in town at the bar, embarking on a journey through a decadent eight-course menu, or satisfying a sweets craving with a creative dessert tasting menu, chef Ryan McCaskey and team is doing it all at Acadia.

Cemitas Puebla

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No matter who you are and where you're from, broad swaths of food-loving humanity make the trip to Humboldt Park for Tony Anteliz's authentic cemitas sandwiches and spit-roasted meat. Check out the second location on Fulton Market too.


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Leave to people who brought you Longman & Eagle to rehab a landmark Bohemian building in Pilsen into a creative beer-themed restaurant, a basement punch-focused bar and a concert hall. Don't miss the "Juicy Lucy and the General Tso's sweetbreads.

Girl & the Goat

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Four years in and Stephanie Izard's restaurant row flagship continues to be among the busiest - and best - restaurants in town.