Four new Japanese and omakase restaurants earned stars this year.

The 2020 Michelin stars just came out, meaning the Guide’s “famously anonymous” inspectors have dined their way through Chicagoland and passed judgment on our dining scene.

Last year at this time, a lot of people (myself included) complained that Michelin appeared to have gotten a bit stagnant, and not much had changed from the 2018 list to the 2019 list. No one is going to say that this year, as there are a number of significant changes, including five new restaurants with stars and two restaurants that lost their rankings.

First, the obvious news from the top of the list — the glittering two- and three-star restaurants that make up the alleged best of the best of the city’s dining scene. Well… nothing changed. Alinea still is the only 3-star restaurant in Chicago, and Acadia, Oriole, and Smyth retained two-star status. I can’t say I’m particularly het up about that, as there are no obvious candidates to join this portion of the list and none of those four restaurants appear to have decreased in quality.

Chicago got more stars overall this year than it had previously, and the anonymous inspector that I spoke with was impressed with the scene: “Overall, the city has been really exciting this year. There’s been a lot of evolution; it’s been a great place to dine out.”

As always, the real drama (especially for diners who aren’t made of money) is on the one-star list, the outstanding places where normal people can actually get reservations and dine without cashing in their 401ks. First, the losers: Dusek’s and Roister both lost their stars this year. This isn’t entirely surprising; though I love Dusek’s, it hasn’t ever been quite the same since Chef Jared Wentworth left, and Roister has been struggling to find its footing after Chef Andrew Brochu left at the end of last year.

The overwhelming trend in the new Michelin stars: Japanese omakase. Of the five new starred restaurants, three are new omakase restaurants, a style of restaurant that’s popping up everywhere. Mako, chef B.K. Park’s omakase joint, and Omakase Yume, the eight-seat West Loop restaurant from Chef Sangtae Park, both got stars. So did Kikkō, the omakase component of nationally acclaimed Kumiko. “The single thing I would hone in on [this year] is the representation of Asian cuisine, especially Japanese cuisine,” says the inspector.

Notably absent? Kyōten, the other fancy omakase place in town. This will particularly irk chef Otto Phan, who confidently opined on Instagram earlier a few days ago that he was “going to get a Michelin star by the end of the week.” Talk about jinxing yourself! Unfortunately, “after repeat visits [Kyōten] wasn’t a meal we looked at and said it met the criterion very strongly,” says the inspector.

Those aren’t the only surprise additions on the list. After many, many years of being ignored, Next has popped up on the Michelin list. The previous complaint from a litany of Michelin inspectors and executives was that Next was too “inconsistent” to get a star, which isn’t entirely surprising given that its operating principle is, to some extent, inconsistency (or at least constant change). The Inspector confirmed this had been a problem in the past, but insisted that at this point, “the consistency issue is not a concern.”

In addition, Yūgen, a Japanese spot from Chef Mari Katsumura, got a star. This is the big shocker, because Yugen hasn’t gotten particularly good reviews (our own Jeff Ruby only gave it two and a half stars) and rumor has it that Yugen is basically empty most of the time. Maybe the new star will help turn the restaurant’s fortunes around.

So what restaurants didn’t make the list that should have (aside from my constant griping about Avec)? I’m somewhat surprised to see Jeong didn’t manage to get a star, given that it already seems to be beloved. Wherewithall is too new, though I’d keep my eye on them for next year. I’m utterly mystified how Fat Rice and Passerotto don’t have stars, especially given the inspectors’ apparent obsession with Asian cuisine in Chicago. Plus, Michelin continues to entirely ignore Monteverde and S.K.Y., which have neither Bib Gourmands nor stars. Oh well, that doesn’t stop us from loving them anyway.

As always, it’s worth remembering that this is only one particular view of Chicago dining — a useful one, for sure, given its rigorous standards and anonymity in a world where that is becoming rarer among critics. And it’s heartening to know that, after it seemed last year that Michelin had kind of forgotten about Chicago, the list is still being rigorously updated.

The complete list of stars is below.

THREE STARS

Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

  • Alinea, Lincoln Park

TWO STARS

Excellent cuisine, worth a detour

  • Acadia, South Loop
  • Oriole, West Loop
  • Smyth, West Loop

ONE STAR

High-quality cooking, worth a stop

  • Band of Bohemia, Ravenswood
  • Blackbird, West Loop
  • Boka, Lincoln Park
  • EL Ideas, Douglas Park
  • Elizabeth, Lincoln Square
  • Elske, West Loop
  • Entente, River North
  • Everest, Loop
  • Goosefoot, Lincoln Square
  • Kikkō, West Loop
  • Mako, West Loop
  • Next, West Loop
  • North Pond, Lincoln Park
  • Omakase Yume, West Loop
  • Parachute, Avondale
  • Schwa, Bucktown
  • Sepia, West Loop
  • Spiaggia, Gold Coast
  • Temporis, Noble Square
  • Topolobampo, River North
  • Yūgen, West Loop