Every city has its favorite culinary stars. But Chicago could claim a whole galaxy.
Friend-to-farmers chef Rick Bayless won the James Beard Award for "National Chef of the Year, 1995" and in the decades since, hasn't stopped garnering accolades. His two signature restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, have brought the art of authentic regional Mexican cooking to the U.S. and his culinary empire has grown to include the quick casual xoco and airport-must-have Tortas Frontera. With several cookbooks, celebrity appearances and a national TV show, Rick continues to bring new tastes home to Chicago and to audiences around the world.
Chef Paul Kahan, the multi-award winning restauranteur (James Beard credits include "Outstanding Chef, 2013" and "Best Chef of the Midwest, 2004" plus numerous recognitions from Food & Wine Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Michelin Guide & more), is a man of many talents.
He is a master of tacos, all things pork and smokehouse meats... see Big Star, The Publican and Publican Quality Meats for example. He and his teams excel also at modern Midwestern cuisine (Blackbird), rustic Mediterranean (Avec) and Italian-inspired seafood (Nico Osteria). Hard-working and humble, balancing creativity with simplicity, he is a Chicagoan through and through and deserves the praise of the many who claim he is one of America's most influential working chefs.
There's probably no greater star chef practicing modernist cuisine in the world today than Grant Achatz. His first restaurant, Alinea, is often more like a laboratory, with several of his 18-22 course meals served with a few instructions. A mecca to many, it has landed on top polls such as the esteemed San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants list and is one of only two Chicago restaurant to have earned three Michelin stars.
Grant's second restaurant and adjoining bar Aviary are equally innovative. Next Restaurant, James Beard Foundation award winner for "Best New Restaurant, 2012", features a new themed dining experience every three months that will tickle your imagination (the first was Paris in 1906). Tickets, released online at random, are required.
Also at the heights of culinary stardom is Stephanie Izard. America's Top Chef: Season 4 winner in 2008, she opened Girl & the Goat in 2011. Food & Wine Magazine pronounced her "Best New Chef" and the restaurant and chef have since been honored with several prestigious James Beard nominations. Diners have been climbing a steep reservation list ever since, both here and at her latest concept, Little Goat Diner.
Prestigious resumes make not an amazing dining experience but Chef Curtis Duffy does it all with his stellar fine dining establishment Grace. Having worked in the famous kitchens of Charlie Trotter's, The French Laundry, Alinea and Avenues at The Peninsula Chicago, he spent years honing his craft. Now his artistry and modernist techniques are showcased beautifully at his first solo restaurant, which opened in 2012 to glowing reviews for its ambitious menus and thoughtful dishes. In 2016, Grace become the second restaurant in Chicago to earn three Michelin stars.
Holding his own as a MasterChef judge on television — and always recognizable with his trademark glasses and upbeat personality — Graham Elliot Bowles has had his share of on-screen time (he was also on MasterChef Junior, Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters) and stage time (he serves as the culinary director for the mega music festival Lollapalooza). But in the kitchen is where he shines best, having been the youngest four-star chef to be named in a major US city. Head to the West Loop to his namesake Graham Elliot Bistro for a taste.
After winning the Culinary Institute of American's "Escoffier Award," among others, David Burke decided to branch out from his Park Avenue Café in New York. His first stop was Chicago, with David Burke's Primehouse in The James Hotel. Sample his "culinology," an approach to food that combines the culinary arts with food technology.
Latinicity Food Hall + Lounge located on the third floor of Block 37 is the concept of Richard Sandoval: celebrity chef, restaurateur, author, and television personality. In 2014, Richard was named the "King of Latin Fusion" by Modern Luxury Magazine. Now, with over 10 kitchens, a tapas restaurant, coffee café, full bar, market, and lounge, Sandoval brings a twist of Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese flavors to Chicago. Richard Sandoval is also the chef behind three of the most anticipated new Chicago restaurants — il tavolino, Baptiste & Bottle, and rooftop dining at Noyane — in the Conrad Chicago Hotel opening late summer 2016.
For a little sweetness on your Chicago top chef tour, stop into Wicker Park restaurant HotChocolate, an urban cafe that marries contemporary food and desserts inspired by seasonal and local ingredients. Mindy Segal is no stranger to winning accolades and 2012 marked her first James Beard Award for "Outstanding Pastry Chef."
And if you still have any openings in your fine-dining agenda, a visit with the following would make for a perfect dip through Chicago's ever-expanding culinary universe:
Browse for more restaurants on ChooseChicago.com and get the inside scoop on top foodie hotspots from our Chicago Like a Local dining blog.