Chicago’s 50 best restaurants, according to critic Phil Vettel
Time for another Phil’s 50, my semi-regular list of the most interesting and important restaurants in Chicago.
Befitting a city with a dynamic dining scene, this list contains quite a few changes. I’ve added nine new names to the list, eight of them appearing for the first time. George Trois, which was dropped off the May list because it had closed for a three-month remodel, is back at No. 7. The newbies are the Kumiko/Kikko duo (debuting at No. 14), Galit (No. 15), Mako (No. 16), Cabra (No. 21), Tzuco (No. 25), Rooh (No. 28), Wherewithall (No. 39) and Cafe Cancale (No. 43). I’m sure they’re happy to be here.
But because the list is called “Phil’s 50,” not “Phil’s 55” or “Phil’s Whole Bunch of Restaurants He Admires,” every addition means a subtraction. Two restaurants on the May list closed (Twain and Jade Court, the latter due to the tragic death of owner Eddy Cheung), but the other 48 are still with us, requiring some tough choices.
In lateral moves, Proxi and Parachute were dropped to make room for their sister properties, Sepia and Wherewithall. Chef changes kept me from adding Pizzeria Portofino to the list. Other restaurants were victims of my number limit, and my need to keep the list varied.
Because, although readers understandably view it otherwise, Phil’s 50 isn’t intended as a “very best” list of Chicago restaurants. I confess to a certain inconsistency in that regard; the list’s first 10 truly are my picks for the best of the best. After that, I start including restaurants that are important to me.
I impose a little balance to the mix, embracing multiple cuisines, different price ranges and some geographic range. I definitely look to the new and exciting; in addition to the eight first-timers on this list, there are 10 restaurants that were first-timers on the previous list.
Which, doing the math, means that 18 restaurants on the Phil’s 50 list in 2018 aren’t here now. That’s a lot of turnover, but change, I think, is what keeps the list interesting.
I spend a great deal of time second-guessing my picks, but why should I have all the fun? Suggestions, objections and what-the-hell-were-you-
Ratings key: ★ ★ ★ ★ outstanding; ★ ★ ★ excellent; ★ ★ very good; ★ good; no stars: unsatisfactory.
$ up to $50; $$ $51-$74; $$$ $75-$150; $$$$ more than $150.
(Down from 27) One does not simply arrive at Everest; one ascends, taking elevators 40 floors to enter a cream-toned dining room with splendid views. Chef/proprietor Jean Joho was the first to introduce a degustation (tasting menu) to Chicago, but then, as now, it’s never the only option. His French food, with nods to his Alsatian roots, is superb, backed by an encyclopedic wine list. More than 30 years since its debut, Everest maintains its figurative and literal lofty status. Read Phil Vettel’s full review of Everest here.
Chef CJ Jacobson already had a successful restaurant in Ema in River North, but Aba, in the heart of mega-hot Fulton Market, is popular beyond belief. The fight for coveted tables (or at least a high spot on the wait list) begins when the doors open, and the outdoor patio, which overlooks the Fulton Market scene, is prime real estate (and now it’s partially covered, so that less-than-ideal weather is no deterrent). Like Ema, Aba is Mediterranean (there are a few dishes in common), but has a bit more protein focus. Read Phil Vettel’s full review of Aba.
Tribune rating: ★ ★ ★ | Address: 302 N. Green St. | Phone: 773-645-1400 | Website: abarestaurantchicago.com | Open: Dinner daily | Prices: Main courses $15-$39 | Reservations: Available here (no reservations for patio)