1 BAD HUNTER
While vegetables are all the rage, no other place in Chicago comes close to celebrating the delicious possibilities the green kingdom offers as this West Loop restaurant. Inside the light- and plant-filled space, chef Dan Snowden uses his experience at Nico Osteria and The Publican to create nonmeat dishes that even the most devout carnivore would approve, including a 'Bolognese' pasta dish made with root vegetables. There's a smattering of terrific meat, chicken and fish dishes should the desire present itself, although we've never felt the need to go there. INSIDER'S TIP Beverage Director Michael McAvena is one of the city's natural wine pioneers. Let your server know to take advantage of his expertise. 802 W. Randolph St.
2 EL CHE BAR
When John Manion went looking for someone to create his napkin drawing of the wood-burning hearth of his dreams, he knew just the person to call: a motorcycle builder. "I went to a bunch of steel guys," he says, "but no one was as into it as I wanted them to be." That passion and clear vision is all over Manion's second restaurant, which, like his first, heads to South America for inspiration. That hearth does amazing things to oysters, spiced quail and sweetbreads, but Manion's gnocchi with a romesco is terrific too. In other words: He's on fire. INSIDER'S TIP Book the chef's counter, and you'll get a 10-course tasting menu and an up-close view of all the fiery action. 845 W. Washington Blvd.
There's a lot to love about this modern American restaurant beyond its name, which means love in Danish. The synergy of husband-and-wife chefs David and Anna Posey—he handles the savory and she the sweet—can be seen in the harmony of the West Loop spot's Scandinavian-inspired interior design and on its beautiful, constantly changing plates, which might include soft scrambled eggs with confit chicken thighs and kaffir-lime custard with sunchokes. A plant-filled outdoor courtyard with a fireplace and inviting benches adds to its charm. Ain't love grand? INSIDER'S TIP In addition to its a la carte offerings, Elske offers a perfectly portioned eight-course tasting menu. 1350 W. Randolph St.
You might assume its limited menu makes ordering easy at this casual Lakeview spot from restaurant vet Ty Fujimura (Arami). Instead, the 11 or so savory items from chef Brian Fisher's (Schwa) changing menu—perhaps a cool riff on a wedge salad beautifully plated in a circular pattern, housemade fettuccine with maitake, and lobster in green curry with fermented coconut—are all must-orders. The three dreamy desserts from pastry chef Mari Katsumura (Acadia, Grace) make it even tougher. Our suggestion? Come hungry and bring friends. INSIDER'S TIP Entente keeps the creativity going with its mocktails, which feature ingredients such as English pea, mint and cocoa nib. 3056 N. Lincoln Ave.
Despite what its name might lead you to believe, Logan Square restaurant Giant is anything but. What this 44-seat spot lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm and wonderfully flavorful food from chefs Jason Vincent and Ben Lustbader. Their time together at beloved Nightwood is all over this unpretentious spot and its menu, which ranges from an uni shooter (deep-fried goodness at its best) and sweet-and-sour eggplant to Sortallini, the duo's playful twist on tortellini with guanciale, pine nuts and a light tomato broth. INSIDER'S TIP It's not easy creating a wine list that can nimbly go from Chinese spices to barbecue ribs, but the one here from Avec alum Josh Perlman does just that. 3209 W. Armitage Ave.