Chicago’s Biggest Dining Surprises of 2023

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Chicago’s media dish on their favorite spots in 2023 as part of Eater’s ongoing tradition of polling the city’s experts for their year-end takes. Here, the panel shares their biggest dining surprises of the last year.


Danny Shapiro, founding partner of the Scofflaw group; co-host of the Joiners podcast: Meat Moot

Sarah Spain, ESPN writer, TV and radio host: Adorn. The trompe l’oeil “raw eggs” that were actually mango-coconut-passion fruit in a candy shell were wild. And the meal ended with another surprise — indoor s’mores served on a rustic wood slab that spun like a lazy Susan, with a flame in the center for toasting.

Brenda Storch, contributor, Eater Chicago; freelance writer: It was Don Bucio’s for me. Who would’ve known that plant-based tacos al pastor could be that good?

Monica Eng, Axios Chicago: The pineapple bun with a chilled slab of truffle butter for Hong Kong afternoon tea (editor’s note: They’re available at Ken Kee at Chinatown and at Matt Bakes at Gangnam Market in West Town).

Alex Jewell, Best Food Alex: The opening of Smoque Steak was such a pleasant surprise! Expanding the Smoque footprint from reliably good barbecue to an impressively fresh steakhouse experience is the kind of pleasant surprise that makes you sit back in your chair and make satisfied meaty noises. Some honorable mentions here are Coach House and Lilac Tiger coming out of Wazwan, and the long-awaited Warlord saga culminating in the unique and delicious concept it is.

Jeffy Mai, editor Time Out Chicago: A year after we got an Indian fine dining restaurant (editor’s note: Indienne recently scored a Michelin star), an even unlikelier concept emerged: Persian fine dining (Maman Zari). I feel there’s a stigma around certain cuisines — that they have to be inexpensive — and I would love to see more upscale experiences that break the mold.

Michael Nagrant, author of the Hunger, a Substack newsletter; former Sun-Times and RedEye dining critic: Khmai. Legit heartwarming homestyle Cambodian was not in my crystal ball last December.

Janice Scurio, South Side Sox and CHGO Sports: Chinatown’s Nine Bar graciously hosted a horde of thirsty (and hungry) librarians this past summer. While libations were top priority (conference speaking certainly does a number on your vocal cords) the book jockeys were pleasantly surprised by the small plates — crab rangoons, mapo hot fries, dumplings, chicken sandos, and more restored our weary party to full HP.

Smoque

3800 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60641

Scofflaw

3201 West Armitage Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 252-9700 Visit Website

Wazwan

1742 West Division Street, , IL 60622 (312) 722-6911 Visit Website

Gangnam Market

1001 West Chicago Avenue, , IL 60642 (312) 929-2204 Visit Website

Adorn

120 E. Delaware Place, Chicago, IL 60611 Visit Website

Lilac Tiger

1742 West Division Street, , IL 60622 (312) 722-6911 Visit Website

Smoque Steak

3310 North Elston Avenue, , IL 60618 (773) 219-1775 Visit Website

Warlord

3198 North Milwaukee Avenue, , IL 60618 Visit Website

Indienne

217 West Huron Street, , IL 60654 (312) 291-9427 Visit Website

Wood

3335 North Halsted Street, , IL 60657 (773) 935-9663 Visit Website

Nine Bar

216 West Cermak Road, , IL 60616 (312) 225-4081 Visit Website

Maman Zari

4639 North Kedzie Avenue, , IL 60625 (773) 961-7866 Visit Website

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