Another year has come and gone, the restaurant scene in Chicago has continued to be robust with many openings big and small. There were a few fan favorites that closed, most notably Hot Doug’s that made more than a few camp out as if life itself would end if they didn’t get one, last bite. Chicago continues to be a restaurant city that can support many different concepts.
Last year, I was challenged by a friend to rank our cities restaurants from best to (insert number you think you should stop at.) I chose 85 because it felt like a good round number - not too cliché like 100 nor was it too few like 50. The list offers a wide range of styles, price points and locations in and around the city. I was lucky enough in 2014 to wrangle the same five friends to play my game one more time. The group has a diversity based on age, gender, location in the city, relationships status, those who have and have not worked in the industry but most of all they have a passion and love of eating out.
There were places we discussed that made the list or didn’t after the first pass. Was it service, food, concept, location that mattered most? It varied and I think that’s important but these are all people I would trust to take a recommendation from, hence they’re in the group. They also didn’t bias their rankings on cheap eats, specific ethnicities or only fine dining. These food fanatics eat out often and they eat everywhere.
I asked the same question this year as I did last – tell me your top 85 restaurants in Chicago? As benign as that sounds, it has no ulterior, motive influence behind it other than give me your best!
I took each of the six lists and ranked them alphabetically. I then created an average score from the six lists. The restaurants scores were then ranked from lowest to highest and the ranking was cut off at 85. From the six lists, I actually got 161 uniquely named restaurants. If one person listed a restaurant but others did not, the score of ‘95’ was entered in each of the lists not ranking that restaurant. Everyone got the chance to revise their list after this first pass. Each of us had at least one "Holy Crap! How did I forget (insert restaurant name) moment."
For example, I list "Restaurant A" at 60 and no one else has them listed. A score of 95 is listed among the other lists for a total score of 95+95+95+95+95+60 = 535. That is then divided by 6 for a final ranking score of 89.166 This year I went out to the fourth decimal to try to avoid ties. That final score is then ranked amongst the other 161 restaurants to get our final rankings below.
Note: We excluded restaurants that have had closure announcements or recently had a chef change with no succession plan.
Key to the List
The first number to the left is the Restaurant’s Rank. The next number will be their score to the fourth decimal. Then the name of the restaurant. For those receiving first place votes, you’ll find that number next to them in parenthesis.
83. 80.6667 Publican Quality Meats
82. 80.1667 Belly Q
79. 78.3333 Table, Donkey and Stick
78. 77.5000 Trenchermen
77. 77.3333 The Gage
74. 76.8333 Davanti Enoteca
73. 76.5000 Ada St
72. 75.0000 Travelle
71. 74.8333 Embeya
70. 74.5000 Wood
69. 74.1667 Jam
66. 73.1667 Lillie’s Q
65. 73.0000 Green Zebra
64. 71.6667 Gilt Bar
63. 71.5000 Smoque BBQ
62. 70.6667 Dove's Luncheonette
61.70.5000 Kai Zan
60. 70.1667 La Sirena Clandestina
59. 69.3333 Katsu
58. 68.8333 Everest
55. 67.0000 Perennial Virant
54. 65.3333 Tanta
53. 64.5000 Cafe Spiaggia
52. 63.5000 A10
51. 63.3333 Mexique
50. 62.6667 The Purple Pig
49. 61.6667 Big Star
48. 59.8333 Found Kitchen and Social House
47. 57.8333 Nico Osteria
46. 56.5000 Parachute
45. 53.6667 Les Nomades
44. 53.5000 Frontera Grill
43. 50.0000 Au Cheval
42. 49.8333 Mott Street
41. 49.5000 Moto
40. 47.6667 Lula Cafe
39. 47.5000 Maudes Liquor Bar
38. 46.8333 Piccolo Sogno
37. 45.333 Ruxbin
36. 43.6667 Longman and Eagle
35. 42.6667 Tru
34. 41.1667 Bavette’s
33. 40.5000 Sumi Robata Bar
32. 39.8333 mfk
31. 39.0000 MK
30. 38.6667 Nightwood
29. 37.1667 GT Fish and Oyster
28. 36.0000 North Pond
27. 34.8333 The Bristol
26. 34.6667 Vera
25. 34.0000 Brindille
24. 33.6667 Goosefoot
23. 33.3333 Elizabeth
22. 31.6667 the Publican
21. 31.3333 Girl and the Goat
20. 31.1667 Juno
19. 29.6667 Avec
18. 26.3333 Yusho
17. 23.8333 Naha
16. 23.0000 Topolobampo
15. 21.6667 Momotaro
14. 20.6667 Acadia
13. 20.0000 Fat Rice
12. 18.0000 Balena
11. 16.1667 Sepia
10. 13.6667 El Ideas
9. 12.6667 Spiaggia
8. 12.5000 Boka (1)
7. 10.6667 Blackbird
6. 7.1667 Schwa
5. 6.0000 next
4. 5.0000 42 Grams
3. 3.8333 Sixteen
2. 2.8333 Alinea (5)
1. 2.6667 Grace - Despite getting no #1 votes, Grace took the top spot. For me personally, they were number 2 and I can't find any fault in them being the Top of the list. The restaurant is fantastic from every angle you could critique it from. Save your pennies and go!
- The point different between first and second was .1667 – razor thin!
- Last year the point difference between 2, 3 and 4 was the closest difference at .333 – this year that gap between those rankings grew to 2.1667.
- Restaurant Groups Represented
- One Off – 7
- Boka - 6
- Sodikoff – 4
- LEYE – 2
- Highest ranked steakhouse is Bavette’s, AGAIN, moving up 5 spots to number 34
- There were 5 ties on the list for the second year in a row.
- The first restaurant ranked but not on all 6 lists was Avec.
- Tru was ranked on only 4 of the 6 and had the furthest fall by 27 spots.
- Tanta made the list despite being on 3 of the 6 lists.
- Wood made the list even though only 2 people had them in their Top 85.
- No restaurant made the list being on only one list for the second year in a row.
- Big and Little was ranked again on 4 lists but did not make the Top 85.
- If you're wondering who was 86 in 2014? It was a three way tie between, Big & Little’s, Pleasant House and The Aviary by 0.1667 of a point from the last spot in!
- Math Geeks! - Biggest score change by RANK - #49 last yr was Hot Doug’s with a score of 54.5 and this year Big Star was ranked 49th with a score of 61.6667.
- Restaurant No 17 had the exact same score both years 23.8333 - 2013 Acadia and 2014 Naha
- 2013 Rankings came from a pool of 140 unique restaurants. The 2014 list had 161 names.
- The following restaurants fell out of the rankings for 2014 – Billy Sunday, Coalfire, David Burke’s, Mastro’s, Pleasant House, RL and Urban Belly.
- Four restaurants had the exact same rank in both years – Girl and the Goat, Jaipur, Schwa and Sixteen.
- There were fourteen new restaurants added to the list – 42 Grams, A10, Dove's Luncheonette, Embeya, Jam, mfk, Momotaro, Nico Osteria, Parachute, Salero, Table, Donkey & Stick, Tanta, and Travelle.
I still don’t feel there is an easy answer, like marketing, location, for why certain restaurants are ranked high or low. I think the distribution of fine dining restaurants throughout the list can come from a variety of basic business reasons but honestly they’re all very unique restaurants even though they’re grouped as “fine dining.” The personality/style of each is completely different and may be why some rank higher than others. Regarding the list as a whole, I think the group looks at value for what they’re getting along with experience.
Before anyone starts trolling the list and complaining, “these people all suck and don’t get it.” I would ask you to first go through the exercise yourself - rank from 1-85 your top restaurants in Chicago. Then get one to two friends to do the same ranking - asking them to rank their top 85 Chicago restaurants - then compare. You’ll find it isn’t that easy to do and you won’t agree as much as you think. Some may complain, “only expensive places are at the top, how fucking lame?” My reply would be, “If you asked a car enthusiast - what are your top 3 favorite cars? I bet they wouldn’t be putting a car that costs less than $30k in their list.” While price isn’t indicative of performance, the restaurants at the top of this list are just as amazing as a fine tuned sports car that goes from 0-60, quicker than the blink of an eye, and one that envelopes you in luxurious components making you love the feel of the ride as much as you're in awe of the pace to which you're moving.
I have to give a big thank you to those who helped with my reindeer game – Rebecca Skoch - @RebeccaSkoch, Destiny Thompson - @Dest138, Ari Bendersky - @aribendersky, Eric Chmiel - @echmiel, and Huge Galdones @hugegaldones. You all did a great job. You should follow them on twitter for a variety of entertaining insights not only on food but life.
For the record, I do appreciate the irony the last ranked restaurants tied and are number 84! Hooray, Math!
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter or instagram @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at email@example.com
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