At the end of every year I always ask myself, “Where did the time go?” As the world slowly gets back to normal one past-time I was in a hurry to get back to was dining out. The restaurant industry truly needs us! It was sad to see some of my favorite spots close down as a casualty of the pandemic (RIP Zed451).
I don’t want anymore of my favorites closing down on my watch (lol). There’s still so many restaurants I need to make it to (I’m looking at you Rosemary, Jaleo, and Holu 🙂 ) My dining out has slowed down a bit, but I was truly impressed with a plethora of places I dined at this year. Check out my top 12 recommendations below (in no particular order) and keep scrolling down for my list of honorable mentions.
157 W Ontario, Chicago IL
So I’m starting this list with a restaurant I went to recently (November to be exact). As most of us do now, I found this spot while scrolling through Instagram. I was intrigued by the pictures of the interior and the theatrics. I chose to have our girls night out/Friendsgiving at FAME in Chicago and that was the smartest idea.
First off this place screams SEXY right when you walk in. We were impressed with the service and loved where we were seated. We had a birds eye view of the live entertainment and the crowd. I must mention I loved the diversity. I saw all races, ages, and people seem to be either on dates or having a good time with friends.
I would recommend coming with a group because this place is pricey. The American cuisine served here is delicious and we ordered so much stuff to share. Highlights would be the bread service, spicy tuna crispy rice, truffle parmesan fries, lamb chops, risotto (both variations), and the Lobster Mac. Least favorite would be the grilled broccolini ( a little too overcooked) and the mash potatoes (too bland).
You’re also in for a treat with the cocktails. My friend and I ordered the Manhattan and it was brought to us table side in a smoky contraption. It was quite spectacular! We ended our meal with a performance of the Pina Colada Baked Alaska for dessert. Absolutely mesmerizing! Now the fun part of the night was guessing how much it costs for the four of us having one drink a piece with the food. Our total came to $398. Mine you most of the drinks are $20 or more. Splitting the cost though wasn’t bad. We were glad since we came as a group we got to try a large portion of the menu. I’ll definitely be back!
4729 N Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL
My next delicious discovery takes me to an area I haven’t ventured to often. Cafe Selmarie is located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. If you’re familiar with Lincoln Square you know it’s one of Chicago’s most vibrant neighborhoods with small businesses galore.
Cafe Selmarie is a restaurant gemstone. They’ve been in the Lincoln Square neighborhood since 1983. The contemporary American restaurant and bakery is inspired by European cafes and coffee houses. There’s a cute little patio where you can sit back and relax while enjoying some of the best pastries, soups, and sandwiches.
I love that there’s a rotating menu and I was just in time to try the newest rotating flatbread. I would mention the one I tried, but it’s no longer a menu item, but definitely check out the flatbreads. Another big winner are the desserts. I was so full at the time and had to take my dessert to go. Fast forward to midnight I went to grab a bite and ended up eating the whole thing!! The Matcha cream puff and Lemon Meringue desserts were delicious! Make sure you have time afterwards to check out the surrounding neighborhood shops. Most have been operating in the area for decades.
1644 E 53rd Street, Chicago IL
Take me to the islands!! Or at least let me pretend this winter. (Lol) If you’re looking for a Caribbean-fusion inspired eatery – 14 Parish in Hyde Park is the spot. Not only is the food good, but you’ll be supporting a black and woman owned business.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the owner, Racquel Fields, earlier this year. The restaurant was previously located in the South Loop area back in 2016, but they relocated to the Hyde Park neighborhood in 2020. They survived the pandemic thanks to their delicious cuisine and the community.
I love the coziness and the intimate appeal of the restaurant. I have to start by telling you about the rum selection. There’s over 100 types of rums to choose from! I’m a whisky lover and they were able to select a rum for me based on the whisky’s I love. I highly recommend the Ron Cihuatan – Gran Reserva. Food wise I enjoyed the island crab cakes, red snapper escovitch, and coconut shrimp. This spot is definitely an escape to the islands!
1177 N Elston, Chicago IL
When I find a restaurant I truly love I go back over and over and over again! I LOVE Azul and have gone back on numerous occasions. The Latin-Inspired seafood restaurant along the river caught my attention for several reasons. There’s indoor/outdoor dining, a rooftop terrace, a DJ, and did I mention the food is FANTASTIC!
My first time at Azul was for dinner. I was blown away by their special that evening of lobster ravioli (which is now a staple menu item). I cemented my love for Azul when I went back again for brunch. It was my first time experiencing the Patron tower. Those margarita cocktails are so refreshing! This particular time for brunch we pretty much had the entire menu. My favorite would have to be the grilled king crab legs. There served with a delicious butter sauce.
When I say you can’t go wrong with the menu here I mean it! Other items I’ve had for brunch and dinner I enjoyed are: Camarones tacos, Platillo de Arrachera, loaded waffle fries, and churros. I also love that this spot gives you a welcome drink sample when you come in. So far every time I’ve been it’s been the Paraiso cocktail (captain Morgan dark rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, expresso bean rim). The complimentary tasting always wins me over and I order the full size. Mission accomplished! This restaurant has turned into my home away from home.
4156 N Kedzie Avenue, Chicago IL
It’s always nice to go as someone’s plus one to a dining establishment! My friend invited me to a fine dining meal at Arun’s Thai restaurant. I haven’t had too many experiences with Thai cuisine. I was however intrigued though when I read this particular restaurant is featured in the New York Times best seller, “1,000 places to see before you die.” You gotta accept the dinner invite when you see that!
Walking into the restaurant your eyes immediately gravitate to the artwork on the walls. Such bright and beautiful colors! The intricate details of the characters also stood out. When we inquired about the artwork we were told the owners brother painted the walls by hand and it took him 9 months. I was impressed already even without the food.
The best way to go is their 9 course prix-fixe dinner. As I said my experience with Thai food is limited and I was surprised with all the unique flavors. My favorite courses were the Tom Yum, Tum Kha-noon (jackfruit salad), garlic lobster, and the green curry Amish chicken.
The dessert course was even impressive. Note the desserts rotate. On the evening we went we enjoyed the house made poached pear that was accompanied by Lychee hibiscus sorbet. I have to say I hadn’t had a meal in a long time that introduced me to so many unique flavor profiles. I will definitely be back!
4801 N Broadway Street, Chicago IL
Women’s history month is in March and this past year it coincided with Choose Chicago Restaurant week. We made it a girls day and ventured to the north side to checkout the woman and minority owned Ethiopian Restaurant Demera.
Demera definitely does NOT lack in flavor. Get ready to excite your taste buds and get your hands messy as you dive into the hand-eaten meals. The family style served meals are traditional and hearty. There’s plenty of meat to consume, but this restaurant also has many choices for Vegetarians as well.
On my visit we shared an assortment of dishes. I would recommend getting the sambussa platter (combination of all 5 sambussa options), shrimp tibs, and the messobs combination platter. Also checkout a cocktail! Your taste buds will thank you. 🙂
820 W Randolph Street, Chicago IL
Our next sweet experience leads us to Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard bakery Sugargoat. Again, this is one of those spots I stalked on Instagram. I was hella curious what a Cheez-it cupcake would taste like and knew I had to go find out!
As you can already tell Sugargoat is not your average bakery. The ever changing flavors of cakes, cupcakes, pies, and cookies are unique. Also, you’re in luck gluten-free peeps. There’s plenty of items for you to choose from.
My first visit to Sugargoat was very intentional. I walked the two miles from my home there. I enjoyed the desserts at the adjoining Little Goat diner, so I knew Sugargoat would be a delight. After about 20 minutes of pacing back and forth and asking several questions I went with the “Chocolate Tahini cupcake.” I was told that selection was quite popular. YES to how moist this cupcake was! I only ordered one item because I lack self control. My next walk to the Westloop will involve me stopping by to try more. I want a cookie!!!
444 W Fullerton Parkway, Chicago IL
I cover so many restaurant grand openings and I remember covering Casati’s grand opening back in August of 2018. Fast forward this is still one of my favorite Italian spots. I think I made it here at least 3 or 4 times this year.
This is definitely the place to be in the summer time. I love the elevated patio that allows for some old fashion people watching. I usually start with a cocktail as I scroll through the menu to decide which hand made pasta I’m going to get. One of my favorites I share with my Pescatarian friend each time I come is the Scott’s Cappallacci (Homemade shrimp ravioli, shrimp ragout, and lobster broth).
Other must try items are the Arancini balls, fried calamari, grilled octopus, sausage gnocchi, roasted salmon, and the truffle fries. One of these days I’ll save room for dessert. I’m sure it’s delicious!
1931 W Chicago Avenue, Chicago IL
Without even trying I’m loving that a lot my favorite dining experiences have been at minority and woman owned restaurants. That’s the case with Soule. I visited during Women’s History month for the first time and I was treated to delicious soul food!
The creole-infused restaurant is byob. We brought some wine with us, but we also ordered a round of the non-alcoholic “Soule Punch” (cherry koolaid, lemonade, and sweet tea). It had me reminiscing of drinking sugary koolaid as a kid!
Now let’s talk about the food! You know it’s good when you order more to take home for dinner. I had the shrimp & grits, Mac & Cheese, greens, yams, and fried green tomatoes. My friend got the lamb chops and absolutely loved them. I couldn’t pass up taking home the peach cobbler. My soul food craving was clenched at Soule!
632 N Dearborn Street, Chicago IL
Normally I am one those people that shy away from chain establishments just because Chicago has so many local and family owned restaurants. However, I made an exception for Tao. My first time experiencing this restaurant was in Vegas. I was super excited when they had announced a Chicago location was coming.
My first time at Tao in Chicago was going to the nightclub part. It was such an odd and fun night. I was celebrating my birthday with a couple of friends and we stumbled here. A manager approached us and hooked us up with VIP table service with drinks flowing all night (we had no idea why but it was one of the best nights). Question nothing and accept the blessing. (Lol)
Fast forward I came back to Tao to preview their Chicago Restaurant week menu. The restaurant is gorgeous! It’s fun to dress up and do your best catwalk descending the beautiful stairwell. Definitely a go to be seen type spot.
The Asian inspired menu has numerous items to choose from. My favorite dish of the evening happen to be an appetizer. I love the Spicy Tuna Tartare on crispy rice. The menu items are so good. Hopefully you’ll save time to checkout the nightclub afterwards!
1816 N Clark Street, Chicago IL
Sushi Suite 202 is hands down my most unique and favorite dining experience of 2021. I had never heard of an Omakase dining experience. Basically it’s a Japanese phrase meaning “I’ll leave it up to you.”
The Chef is in charge of your 60 minute, 17 course Omakase sushi dining extravaganza. Chef Jordan took care of us and explained each delicate course. The fresh fish is locally sourced and brought in from all over the world. The high end cuisine is greatly complimented by a craft selection of handmade cocktails, imported sake, and rare Japanese whiskies.
Now what made this experience super unique was the speakeasy type vibe. Sushi Suite 202 is located inside a hotel room turned sushi bar at the Hotel Lincoln. Being a real hotel suite it’s super intimate and only 10 guests are allowed inside at a time. You need to go check this place out for yourself. It’s pricey, but well worth it!
4767 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL
As much as I love dining out I love dining in just as much. I had Artango Bar & Steakhouse on my list of restaurants to try for awhile now. I got my chance during Lincoln Square Ravenswood restaurant week back in March.
We went to the restaurant to pick the food up and I must admit I’m going to need to go back to dine in person. I need to experience the live music & tango shows. For our to go meal we ordered a feast big enough to feed 3 to 4 people (depending on how hungry you are). We got the ceviche trio, steak flight (sirloin, NY strip, rib eye) roasted potatoes, seafood paella, flan, and chocolate cake. Yummy! I can’t wait to go back and experience the food with the live performances.
Thank YOU 2021 for being so delicious!
All meals were complimentary unless otherwise noted. ALL opinions are honest commentary from Tavi J. of the Chicago Lifestyle Blog Chi@Glance.
Storyville – 712 N Clark Street – Classic French Quarter cocktails and New Orleans small bites. Cute spot! My friend and I sat at the bar and had the oyster bites, Cajun crostini, and for dessert we had the beignets. Everything I found to be quite tasty except for the beignets. Sorry no one can do beignets like Cafe Du Monde in Nola. They tasted kinda crispy versus fluffy.
Kitchen + Kocktails – 444 N Wabash – So I will start off by saying the food isn’t exactly something to write home about, but the vibe was dope! This spot is famous in Dallas and came to us at the later part of this year. It’s one of those spots with a hard to get reservation. We even had to wait about 30 minutes with a reservation on a rainy/stormy night. The music, the interior, and the cocktails set the ambience. Like I said food wise I wasn’t blown away. The desserts weren’t good and my favorite item of everything we tried were the black eyed peas. Pork chop wasn’t bad either.
Guest what?!?! You get a bonus! Checkout Avli or STK steakhouse for their happy hours. Thank me later!
Hope you eat well the rest of 2021! Looking forward to new dining destinations in 2022.
Have suggestions for me?
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