Creative pandemic pivots have changed the game
by Naomi Waxman and Ashok Selvam Dec 28, 2020, 12:00pm CST
Chicago’s restaurant writers dish on favorite new opening of 2020 as part of Eater’s ongoing tradition of polling the city’s experts for their year-end takes.
Aaron Oliver, Seasoned and Blessed: It isn’t technically a restaurant, but Afro Joe’s Coffee and Tea (@afrojoes) in the Auburn-Gresham Neighborhood is my pick.
Michael Nagrant, michaelnagrant.com: Like my cocktail consumption during the pandemic, I can’t just have one, so: Gaijin, Lao Peng You, Ever, Taqueria Chingon, Big Kids, Cat-Su Sando, Pizza Friendly Pizza. (ed. note: Gaijin opened in November 2019)
Audarshia Townsend, WGN Morning News: This is a difficult question because with the state of the world, I don’t believe new restaurants operated at their peak. All restaurants that opened this year should get a gold star because of the extreme difficulties they faced in 2020.
Mike Sula, Chicago Reader: Dinkey’s Lucky Rolls, inside Bobby’s Video Poker and Slots.
Morgan Olsen, Time Out Chicago: Every restaurant that opened in 2020 deserves a medal of honor, but Kasama stands out as a particularly special place. All of the pastries are otherworldly—especially the ham and cheese danish—and the Filipino breakfast with tocino is how I want to start every morning. I’m looking forward to the day when I can while away an afternoon in Kasama’s beautiful dining room.
Michael Gebert, Fooditor: Chez Mike? I did so much cooking this year, tried new grocery stores I’d never been to, busted out the cookbooks I’d bought and never cracked, taught my kids how to make things so they wouldn’t live on Five Guys at college. It makes me wonder, will I go to restaurants as much when all this is over? Or do I live in a new world where I mostly cook for myself (in which case, why don’t I move to a cabin in the woods if proximity to 83 kinds of cuisine doesn’t seem to matter like it used to? Believe me, I’ve thought about it!). But then I realize that I can cook for so many days, but suddenly I have to have something that somebody else made—that doesn’t taste like my cooking.
That said, I did just publish a whole piece on new restaurants, so I do have answers. Let’s pick one... Testaccio, one of my last meals outside, lovely simple Italian food actually inspired by a place I’ve eaten in Rome — Roscioli. Some more: Kasama, Mis Moles (do not miss Geno Bahena whenever he shows up cooking some of the best food in Chicago c. 1998), Evette’s, Flour Power, and any place beginning with “Pizza Frie—.”
Dennis Lee, the Takeout, Food is Stupid: Having been in the industry for around four and a half years and through a great deal of this pandemic, I barely went out to begin with due to either my schedule or budget, so I am sort of ashamed to say I don’t think I went to any brand new restaurants this year. That sounds depressing. I am going to say, however, that I’m delighted Hanbun briefly made a comeback. In better conditions, it wouldn’t be so bittersweet, but damn, it was beautiful having that food again.
Titus Ruscitti, ChiBBQKing: Because of the circumstances that Covid brought upon us I really enjoyed the three daily changing pastas that Flour Power offered for takeout. Other 2020 openings I was able to check out that also deserve a mention include wonderful Filipino breakfast and top shelf pastries at Kasama, Tan Tan Men at Menya Goku, Brazilian coffee and savory snacks at Pinipico Coffee Co.
As 2020 threw the world a curveball, Eater Chicago this year has expanded its end-of-year panel to include other members of the city’s media.
Natalie Moore, WBEZ: Doughboy’s Chicago. The owners, my friends Chris and Nicole Fryison, had been doing pop-ups and catering but this year they opened a takeout spot on 71st Street in the Park Manor neighborhood. The signature dish is “spaghedough,” a sweet take on spaghetti that my 4-year-old especially loves. Doughboy’s has delicious combos and family-style meals that you can eat on for a couple of days.
Chicago Party Aunt, @ChiPartyAunt: Tamale Guy Chicago! Now we can get em before 4a.m.!
Exavier Pope, Forbes, the Athletic, Al Jazeera English: NOBU on Randolph Row in West Loop. Everyone was excited for it.
Sarah Spain, ESPN: Bloom Vegetarian Kitchen
Janice Scurio, Sports Illustrated and South Side Sox: The only new-in-2020 restaurant I got to try this year was Taste of the Philippines, in the Chicago French Market. I’m very easily influenced by things I see on Instagram, so I saw a new spot to purchase lumpia, so I drove downtown to pick some up. I had a nice conversation with the chef, Kathy, about tattoos, the availability of ube (there was a shortage back then due to the pandemic, it’s still scarce now), and the timelessness of pancit bihon. I’m happy to see Filipino food in Chicago become more ubiquitous.