It's not often that you run into a wine bar that takes its food so seriously. From the generous tartines (including the amazing pickled pork one), to the terrific seafood options, Telegraph would have been one of my favorite joints even if it didn't have wine. Luckily, that wine list is distinctive and always fascinating.
It wasn't that it was impossible to get an exceptional bowl of Takashi Yagihashi's ramen around town, it was just that it was a pain. The noodle brunch at Takashi was only on Sundays, and Noodles by Takashi was only open until 3 p.m. But Slurping Turtle is much more than just a noodle joint with better hours. All the seafood items are also especially good.
I thought I knew what to expect from Next. As the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2011, every detail about it's opening was covered in detail, and the Paris 1906 menu seemed to exceed any of the expectations placed on it. (As you may have read, I still think about that duck.) But what was more unexpected was how the restaurant made the transition into the Tour of Thailand, trading in the fine China for newspapers and ornate serving trays. Since it changes so dramatically every three months, I suppose Next could make this list every single year.
Seasonally inspired restaurants are all the rage these days, but few are as unexpected as this rebooted Lincoln Park joint. What's fascinating is how Paul Virant can make seemingly boring sounding dishes, like Werp Farm Lettuces or Salad of Apple and Roots, come out dynamic and distinctive.
Homaro Cantu's latest venture opened as an impossibly complex concept, with the futuristic and the very traditional supposedly coexisting. It was exciting, if a little spotty. But then the restaurant hit its stride by focusing on the taste-altering Miracle Berry. What was once a laboratory is now a culinary playground where you can't wait to see what comes up next.
Tony Hu has a bunch of restaurants in Chinatown, most of which attempt to capture the cuisine of a different region of China. While Lao Sze Chuan still seems to be the standard, Lao Hunan is the first one that seems to legitimately have its own DNA.
Pleasant House Bakery
I wasn't walking around last year demanding that someone open up a distinctive English pie shop, especially one located in Bridgeport. But one taste of Art Jackson's exquisite little pies is enough to convert anyone. Plus, the bangers are some of the best I've ever tasted.
During an intense three-day eating spree, I wondered at some point whether I'd eaten anything that wasn't on a stick. Which is a way of saying that Yusho wasn't the first yakatori-inspired joint to open this year. But it is the most comfortable, precise, and delicious one I encountered.
Maude's Liquor Bar
Here's a place for everyone: for the Francophiles with a need for a cassoulet; for the cocktail geeks in love with the over-garnished Smashses; and for the scenesters looking for an ornate darkened room to hang out in. There wasn't a restaurant I recommended more this year.
Tony Mantuano doesn't do anything half-assed. So when he decides to create an Italian wine bar with pizzas, he creates an enormous temple to simple Italian food. I've become a little immune to average wood-fired pizzas over the years, but the light and crusty offerings coming out of here are reason enough to trek down to the Magnificent Mile.