In 2017, I had the opportunity to visit a lot of area restaurants, ranging from fast-food places to very upscale spots. Below are some of the ones that stood head and shoulders above the others ( listed in no particular order ).
The Barn ( Rear 1016 Church St.; TheBarnEvanston.com ): This Evanston restaurant is called a "modern meaterie" for good reason, although there are options for vegetarians and vegans. Also, the decor is pretty cool; there's a supper club/speakeasy vibe to the place.
Mr. Brown's Lounge ( 2301 W. Chicago Ave.; www.mrbrownslounge.com ): There is the spot in the Loop as wellbut it takes a back seat to the big-brother West Town restaurant that's been around for almost a decade. The Jamaican restaurant's jerk chicken and rum-raisin ice cream ( both made in house, of course ) are fabulousand weekends are full-on parties, complete with a dance floor.
Kal'ish Vegan ( 1313 W. Wilson Ave.; KalishVegan.com ): Being a hardcore carnivore, I had my suspicions about this placebut was more than satisfied when I left.
The Florentine ( 151 W. Adams St.; The-Florentine.net ): I've been to this Italian restaurant ( located inside the J.W. Marriott hotel ) several times, and have always been impressedeven though Chef Zachary Walrath rarely brings back dishes once a new season's in play.
Maple & Ash ( 8 W. Maple St.; MapleAndAsh.com ): This Gold Coast spot probably had one of the most enjoyable brunches I had in 2017, thanks to top-notch food and a nonstop flow of '80s/'90s dance music. ( Yes, you read that correctly. )
Chromium ( 2444 N. Elston Ave.; www.midtown.com/chicago ): This restaurant is actually part of Midtown Athletic Club, and is only available to members. However, Executive Chef Amanda Barnes is all about innovation and the use of every part of an animalhence the addictive salmon-skin chicharrones and wagyu-and-beef heart meatballs.
Lawry's the Prime Rib ( 100 E. Ontario St.; LawrysOnline.com ): Lawry's is as old-school as it getsand that's a good thing. Prime rib with salad, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and whipped-cream horseradish? Yes, please.
Portsmith ( 660 N. State St.; www.portsmithchicago.com ): This River North restaurant"named for the idea that seafood is common in most port towns and that a chef is a food 'smith,' or craftsman"is delicious decadence as its best.
Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar ( 2700 W. Chicago Ave.; heritage-chicago.com ): Those who may be intimidated by caviar shouldn't be, thanks to the helpful staff and delicious offerings. ( There's even vegan caviar. ) However, Heritage has much more than caviar, from baby-back ribs to baked Alaska.
Runners-up: Sable, Mesa Urbana, Italian Village Restaurants, Nick's Pizza, Revival Social Club, State & Lake, Streeterville Social, Apogee
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.