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Updated: The 38 Essential Chicago Restaurants, July '13

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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.


This installment of the Eater 38 features two openings within the last year and one Chicago icon. Curtis Duffy's Grace reminds Chicago diners that fine dining isn't dead, Mark Steuer's Carriage House reinforces that Chicago can elevate Southern cuisine and cocktails, and Hot Doug's draws attention and stomachs from around the world.

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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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. The Bristol

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2152 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 862-5555
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The Bristol Chef Chris Pandel does things with animal parts most others wouldn't dare and the experience is heightened because of it.

2. Frontera Grill & Topolobampo

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445 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 661-1434
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Rick Bayless' mexican haven is a Chicago institution spawning spinoffs around the globe of south of the border fare from street food to high end.

3. Telegraph Wine Bar

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2601 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 292-9463
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Rustic fare paired with esoteric Old World wine in a well-designed intimate neighborhood spot make this a super hot destination.

4. Urbanbelly

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3053 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 583-0500
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Bill Kim turned noodles and dumplings on their head when he opened this downscale joint with incredibly flavorful food in a middle-of-nowhere strip mall.

5. Nightwood Restaurant

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2119 S Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 526-3385
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Jason Hammel and Jason Vincent give us another reason to travel to Pilsen: their impeccably prepared rustic seasonal fare and a cool, modern Kevin Heisner-designed room to eat in.

6. Balena

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1633 N Halsted Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 867-3888
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Between Chris Pandel's rustic Italian fare, Amanda Rockman's heavenly desserts, a fantastic amaro-based cocktail list a veritable Italian wine bible, this partnership between the Bristol and Boka groups doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

7. Avec

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615 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 377-2002
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Even though chef Koren Grieveson left and Erling Wu-Bower took over (he came back from the Publican and had worked under Grieveson), avec remains one of the most consistent—and packed—spots in town.

8. Yusho

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2853 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 904-8558
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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.

9. Au Cheval

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800 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 929-4580
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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.

10. Kuma's Corner

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2900 W Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 604-8769
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If you can stand your big, fat gourmet burger with headbanging pulsating metal music, go get in line now. There aren't many better burgers in Chicago.

11. Lula Cafe

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2537 N Kedzie Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-9554
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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.

12. Lao Sze Chuan

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2172 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 326-5040
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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.

13. GT Fish and Oyster

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531 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 929-3501
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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.

14. Irazu Costa Rican Restaurant

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1865 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-5687
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Authentic Costa Rican fare in a casual mom-and-pop BYO setting with some of the best chicken burritos around. Experiment with the casado and an oatmeal shake.

15. Vera

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1023 W Lake St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 243-9770
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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.

16. Anteprima

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5316 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 506-9990
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Seasonal ingredients, a constantly morphing rustic menu and an adorable back patio make this Andersonville spot one of the best Italian joints in the city.

17. Smoque BBQ

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3800 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 545-7427
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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.

18. Ruxbin Kitchen

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851 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 624-8509
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Normally we'd pass on a tiny, no reservations spot, but when there's a BYO policy and a chef who cooked under Thomas Keller preparing a globally influenced menu, we'll gladly make the exception.

19. Longman & Eagle

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2657 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 276-7110
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Logan Square's hipster gastropub, with a kick-ass whisky selection, has made national headlines and even got a Michelin star. Like a nose-to-tail approach? So does chef Jared Wentworth.

20. Piccolo Sogno

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464 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 421-0077
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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.

21. Trenchermen

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2039 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 661-1540
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The Sheerin brothers have outdone themselves with a polarizing menu of upscale charcuterie. Everyone has an opinion on this spot.

22. Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

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4801 N Broadway St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 334-8787
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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.

23. Sun Wah BBQ

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5039 N Broadway
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 769-1254
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Sure the massive Chinese menu is daunting as hell, but go with a group and you only need to know about one thing: the roasted Peking duck served tableside. OK, and some seriously tasty fat egg rolls.

24. Taxim

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1558 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 252-1558
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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.

25. Pho Xe Tang

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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.

26. Coalfire Pizza

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1321 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL
(312) 226-2625
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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.

27. The Publican

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837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-9555
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A few years in, Paul Kahan's temple to pork and shellfish remains strong, especially with chef Brian Huston overseeing the kitchen.

28. Big Star

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1531 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 235-4039
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Where else can you get a beer, a taco and a shot of whisky for under $10? Leave it to the Blackbird team, with chef Justin Large, to make it happen.

29. Pleasant House Bakery

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964 W 31st St
Chicago, IL 60608
(773) 523-7437
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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.

30. Davanti Enoteca Chicago

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1359 W Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 226-5550
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With Scott Harris behind the wheel, Davanti quickly became a well-worn classic. Rustic Italian fare seems like it was cooked in the countryside and somehow transported to your plate pairs seamlessly with full-bodied red in your glass.

31. Sepia

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123 N Jefferson St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 441-1920
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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.

32. Three Aces

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1321 W Taylor St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 243-1577
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Matt Troost's refined bar menu in a rock 'n' roll-vibed neighborhood spot with a killer beer list and fantastic parking lot patio is a great reason to hit Taylor Street.

33. Big Jones

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5347 N Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 275-5725
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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.

34. Cumin

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1414 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 342-1414
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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.

35. Calumet Fisheries

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3259 East 95th Street
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 933-9855
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.

36. Hot Doug's

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3324 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 279-9550
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There's little doubt that Hot Doug's is the preeminent hot dog and "sausage superstore" in Chicago, perhaps even the country and world. The release of the Hot Doug's book, not to mention the seemingly neverending lines, only cement that.

37. Carriage House

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1700 W Division St
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 384-9700
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Mark Steuer's Carriage House has brought thoughtful Southern cuisine, and cocktails, to the Division Street bar scene. Stop in anytime now that they've begun brunch and lunch service.

38. Grace

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652 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 234-9494
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Curtis Duffy's inventive 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.

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1. The Bristol

2152 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60647
The Bristol Chef Chris Pandel does things with animal parts most others wouldn't dare and the experience is heightened because of it.
2152 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647

2. Frontera Grill & Topolobampo

445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60610
Rick Bayless' mexican haven is a Chicago institution spawning spinoffs around the globe of south of the border fare from street food to high end.
445 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60610

3. Telegraph Wine Bar

2601 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Rustic fare paired with esoteric Old World wine in a well-designed intimate neighborhood spot make this a super hot destination.
2601 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

4. Urbanbelly

3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
Bill Kim turned noodles and dumplings on their head when he opened this downscale joint with incredibly flavorful food in a middle-of-nowhere strip mall.
3053 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60618

5. Nightwood Restaurant

2119 S Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60608
Jason Hammel and Jason Vincent give us another reason to travel to Pilsen: their impeccably prepared rustic seasonal fare and a cool, modern Kevin Heisner-designed room to eat in.
2119 S Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60608

6. Balena

1633 N Halsted Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
Between Chris Pandel's rustic Italian fare, Amanda Rockman's heavenly desserts, a fantastic amaro-based cocktail list a veritable Italian wine bible, this partnership between the Bristol and Boka groups doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
1633 N Halsted Ave
Chicago, IL 60614

7. Avec

615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
Even though chef Koren Grieveson left and Erling Wu-Bower took over (he came back from the Publican and had worked under Grieveson), avec remains one of the most consistent—and packed—spots in town.
615 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60661

8. Yusho

2853 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago, IL 60618
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.
2853 N. Kedzie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618

9. Au Cheval

800 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607