Michelin Guide released its prestigious Chicago star list Thursday morning, the travel guide’s first updated ranking since the pandemic. It consists of 24 restaurants, including three new ones: Ever in Fulton Market (two stars), the Bar and the Dining Room at Moody Tongue on the Near South Side (two stars), and Porto in West Town (one star).
The stars focus on fine dining, mostly upscale restaurants with tasting menus that skew pricey. Michelin has another ranking, the Bib Gourmand list, that focuses on more casual restaurants.
The tire company began awarding stars to Chicago restaurants in 2011, and the guide is also in other major markets, including New York, Washington, D.C., and LA. Michelin last announced stars for Chicago in September 2019, and that list contained 25 restaurants. Since then, a trio of starred Chicago restaurants have closed: Band of Bohemia, Blackbird, and Everest.
Chefs from around the world covet the stars, embracing the notion that the 95-year-old rankings represent the pinnacle of culinary achievement. However, the COVID-19 pandemic led many municipalities to shut down indoor dining for long stretches of time. That complicated the jobs of Michelin inspectors, anonymous agents who visit and evaluate restaurants, and pushed Michelin to develop pandemic policies. For example, restaurants that have remained closed through the pandemic won’t have their stars removed. In Chicago, Entente (one star) in River North and Acadia (two stars) in South Loop kept their status.
Alinea in Lincoln Park remains Chicago’s only three-starred restaurant. The full three stars is a rare honor that’s been bestowed on about 130 restaurants worldwide. There was speculation that Smyth (two stars) in Fulton Market would join chef Grant Achatz’s restaurant, but that didn’t happen. In a rare move, Michelin did award two stars to a pair of new restaurants during their first year of eligibility: Ever and Moody Tongue.
For Curtis Duffy, this is a return. The Ever chef is a perennial Michelin favorite thanks to his work at Grace, a West Loop restaurant that closed at the end of 2017 with a full three stars. Duffy and former Grace general manager Michael Muser plotted a comeback after their departure, and after a noncompete agreement with Grace’s owner (a clause that barred them from opening another restaurant in Chicago) expired, they announced Ever. The restaurant opened in July 2020, a $5 million project a mile west of Grace on Fulton Market, with a goal to earn a Michelin star. Of course, the opening wasn’t what Duffy and Muser envisioned, with customers required to wear masks and extra safety precautions like pared-down offerings.
Still, Michelin inspectors wrote about Ever, “Chef Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser have triumphantly returned, and now preside over a bespoke room where the chef’s vision of fine dining enchants palates with complex flavors, stirring textures, and visual fireworks.”
Meanwhile, near McCormick Place, Moody Tongue effectively replaces Band of Bohemia as Chicago’s only Michelin-starred brewpub. Moody Tongue relocated from Pilsen, not only moving its brewing operations but also adding a full-service restaurant with a tasting menu. The brewery also brought over Jared Wentworth, a chef who presided over Longman & Eagle in Logan Square during its Michelin-starred days.
Porto shows that Chicago can deliver premier seafood offerings, according to Michelin. This lively and intimate restaurant on the corner of Chicago and Ashland gives the Midwest a taste of the Spanish coast. It’s also a restaurant meant to be enjoyed in person, as the interaction with chef and customer is integral.
“Young chef Marcos Campos’ style is anchored by his Spanish heritage and explores the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal through its conservas, seafood, and specialty rice dishes,” Michelin writes.
There was one removal: Kikko, the omakase sushi counter in West Loop, in the basement of all-world cocktail lounge Kumiko. Chef Mariya Russell became the first Black woman to preside over a Michelin-starred kitchen after inspectors awarded Kikko a star in 2019. Russell left Kikko in June 2020, and while the restaurant has shifted to Japanese comfort food — think curry and dumplings — inspectors decided to make a change.
A Michelin spokesperson says this about the decision: “Although the cocktail lounge, Kumiko, is open, the omakase counter, Kikko, has been closed since the departure of its chef last year.”
The future of two restaurants on this year’s list remains murky. Chef Brian Fisher’s Entente remains in limbo in River North, with ownership still trying to figure out if they’ll reopen. And the reputation of Acadia in South Loop, a two-starred restaurant, has been tarnished by workers alleging a toxic environment. Chef and owner Ryan McCaskey remains in court as a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a former employee continues. McCaskey has kept the restaurant closed since last year but says he wants to reopen eventually.
Check out this year’s full list of Chicago’s Michelin-starred restaurants below.
*Denotes new for 2021