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The Finalists for Chicago's Local Food Awards Have Been Announced

Daniel Hautzinger
Christian Hunter against a colorful background
Christian Hunter of Atelier is a finalist for Rising Chef of the Year. Credit: Lauren Kinkade

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While the James Beard Awards and Michelin Guide get all the attention in the food world, there are some homegrown awards that sometimes recognize talent in Chicago that's overlooked by the big national or international awards. The Jean Banchet Awards, named after the chef of the legendary Le Francais in the suburb of Wheeling, which helped cement Chicago's status as an exceptional dining city, have announced their finalists. The winners will be named in a ceremony held on January 28, 2024.

The Banchets are this year partnered with Chicago Chefs Cook, an organization that has rasied money for Ukraine, Tigray, Puerto Rico, and other places that have been wracked by war or natural disaster. Once partnered with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, this year the Banchet Awards will send proceeds from the ceremony to Erick Williams' Virtue Leadership Development Program, which helps train people of color in the restaurant business, as the beneficiary of the awards. (Williams, the chef and owner of Virtue and other restaurants, was the 2022 Banchet Chef of the Year.) 

Former longtime Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel will receive the Culinary Excellence Award.

Here are the finalists in the twelve categories of the 2024 Banchets. 

Restaurant of the Year

Kyōten - This tiny omakase spot in Logan Square from Chef Otto Phan is recognized as one of Chicago's standout sushi counters, and opened a less expensive counterpart next door this year.

Jeong - Chef Dave Park has been quietly serving a Korean tasting menu inflected with French technique at Jeong in West Town for several years. 

Galit - This Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park has a Michelin star, and its chef, Zachary Engel, has a James Beard Award from his time at the acclaimed New Orleans restaurant Shaya. 

Daisies - Although this pasta- and vegetable-focused Logan Square restaurant opened several years ago, it moved into a larger space and now offers pastries from Leigh Omilinsky throughout the day before dinner service. It was named a best new restaurant of 2023 by the New York Times and received a Green star from the Michelin Guide for its environmentally friendly practices (Chef Joe Frillman sources much of his produce from his brother's farm.)

Chef of the Year

Paul Fehribach of Big Jones - The heritage Southern restaurant Big Jones has been a stalwart of Andersonville for years. Paul Fehribach is not just a cook but also an author, whose Midwestern Food, which came out this year, explores the cuisine of the middle of the country. He spoke to us about the book.

Genie Kwon and Tim Flores of Kasama - The wife and husband team of Genie Kwon and Tim Flores have won a long list of plaudits, including Best Chef: Great Lakes at this year's James Beard Awards, for their groundbreaking Filipino bakery and restaurant, which has a Michelin star.

Stephen Gillanders of S.K.Y., Valhalla, and Apolonia - Gillanders offers Asian-inspired food at S.K.Y. in Pilsen, Mediterranean food at Apolonia in the South Loop, and an inventive tasting menu at Valhalla in West Loop's Time Out Market. 

Paul Virant of Vie, Vistro Prime, and Gaijin - Paul Virant is a fixture of Chicago's dining scene, known originally for his fermentation- and produce-heavy Western Springs restaurant Vie. Gaijin in the West Loop focuses on the savory Japanese pancake known as okonomiyaki.

Best New Restaurant

Indienne - This Indian tasting menu restaurant in River North from Chef Sujan Sarkar has received plenty of attention, including a Michelin star and a best new restaurant mention from Chicago magazine. 

Valhalla - This is Stephen Gillanders' tasting menu restaurant, unusually located in the West Loop food hall Time Out Market. It was named a best new restaurant by Chicago magazine

Warlord - Avondale's Warlord is this year's underground hit, with lots of media attention for its late-night, industry-friendly hours, media aversion, lack of reservations, and of course always changing food, which makes use of an open fire.

Obélix - This French-ish restaurant in River North has been on seemingly every best new restaurant list, including being nominated for best new restaurant at the James Beard Awards

Rising Chef of the Year

Margaret Pak of Thattu - Chef Margaret Pak and her husband Vinod Kalathil opened this Indian restaurant that spotlights the abundant cuisine of Kalathil's native state of Kerala in Avondale this year, but have been serving food under the name at pop-ups and at a food hall for years. It was named a best new restaurant by both Eater and the New York Times. It hosts a unique feast every year in honor of the harvest festival Onam, and Kalathil explained to us the traditions surrounding it.

Trevor Fleming, Emily Kraszyk, and John Lupton of Warlord - The three chef-partners behind Avondale's Warlord have plenty of experience at acclaimed Chicago restaurants between them.

Christian Hunter of Atelier - Christian Hunter just moved to Chicago this year to head the kitchen at Atelier, which opened this year in the Lincoln Square space once occupied by the unique Elizabeth. Atelier was just awarded a Michelin star and Hunter won Michelin's Young Chef Award. He spoke to us when he first opened the restaurant. 

Damarr Brown of Virtue - Damarr Brown, a near-winner of Top Chef last year, won Emerging Chef at the James Beard Awards this year. He is a protege of the admired Erick Williams, whose charity is the beneficiary of this year's Banchets. He shared his story and a recipe for jambalaya with us. 

Bar of the Year

Meadowlark - This Logan Square cocktail bar comes from the team behind Lardon and Union, and is known for elaborate themed menus, like one inspired by the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. 

Cherry Circle Room - The Cherry Circle Room is located in the lavish Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on Michigan Avenue and references historic dishes and cocktails in its wood-paneled setting.

Best Intentions - This Logan Square bar is known for being unpretentious and beloved as a laid-back dive bar. 

Scofflaw - Another Logan Square bar, Scofflaw spotlights gin in its cozy space. 

Pastry Chef of the Year

Tatum Sinclair of S.K.Y., Valhalla, and Apolonia - This is a big year for the trio of restaurants from Stephen Gillanders and pastry chef Tatum Sinclair, with Gillanders and Valhalla being nominated in other categories. 

Maya-Camille Broussard of Justice of the Pies - Maya-Camille Broussard is not just a baker; she also embeds a social mission in all her work, as she told us. (She also shared a recipe.) She runs workshops teaching children from lower-income neighborhoods about nutrition and kitchen skills; her cookbook features profiles of activists; and her new bakery in Avalon Park was designed with accessibility in mind. 

Valeria Socorro Velazquez Lindsten of Loba Pastry - Valeria Socorro Velazquez Lindsten had a long road to opening her bakery in Roscoe Village (she turned to regulation crowdfunding to fund it), but her unique pastries have won loyal devotees.

Erin Kobler of Sepia and Proxi - Sepia and Proxi in the West Loop often fly under the radar but are well-respected in the culinary world; Sepia is Michelin-starred and a perennial contender for James Beard Awards. 

Sommelier of the Year

Daniel Bennett of Sushi-San - Sushi-San is a River North sushi spot from the hospitality group giant Lettuce Entertain You. 

Alex Cuper of El Che Steakhouse & Bar - El Che is an Argentinean-influenced steakhouse in the West Loop that touts its all South American wine list. 

Amber Pike of Andros Taverna - Andros Taverna is a Greek restaurant in Logan Square. 

Christian Shaum of Bazaar Meat - Bazaar Meat is the celebrity chef José Andrés' steakhouse downtown.

Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year

Pompette - Named a best new restaurant by Chicago magazine, this Bucktown wine bar from some industry veterans is open throughout the day, serving brunch, lunch, happy hour, and dinner. 

Boeufhaus - A local favorite, this German-influenced chop house is in Ukrainian Village. 

Torchio Pasta Bar - River North might seem like an unusual place to have a "neighborhood" restaurant, but the under-the-radar Torchio's is casual and smaller than many nearby restaurants.

Daisy's Po-Boy and Tavern - Daisy's is another Hyde Park restaurant from the hard-working Erick Williams, more casual than his nearby Virtue. 

Heritage Restaurant of the Year

Boonie's Filipino Restaurant - Chef Joe Fontelera started Boonie's at a food hall downtown but opened his own location in Lincoln Square earlier this year, and has been winning rave reviews.

Rubi's on 18th - For years, Rubi's tacos were served at the Maxwell Street Market, winnning fans such as Rick Bayless. Now they're at their own brick-and-mortar in Pilsen, where they were featured in Netflix's Taco Chronicles

Tuk Tuk Thai Isan Street Food - This new Lakeview restaurant focuses on the food of northeastern Thailand and has garnered stellar reviews. 

Thalaiva's Indian Kitchen - Thalaiva's is the only suburban restaurant among the Banchet finalists, and is located in Park Ridge. 

Best Counter Service

Omarcitos Latin Café - This restaurant between Logan Square and Hermosa features Latin American street food from the son of Cuban and Ecuadorian parents.

Loaf Lounge - This bakery and cafe in Avondale has received a lot of attention because owner Sarah Mispagel-Lustbader made the famous chocolate cake featured in the acclaimed FX series The Bear. Yes, you can buy the cake at Loaf Lounge.

Flour Power - This small pasta restaurant in West Town grew out of a pandemic project. 

JT's Genuine Sandwich Shop - This shop in Irving Park serves homey Midwestern dishes like Frito pie, and a Made Rite sandwich.

Best Hospitality

Bronzeville Winery - This wine bar in Bronzeville recently took on Lamar Moore as executive chef, and he shared his passion for hospitality and a recipe with us. 

Dear Margaret - This Lincoln Park restaurant has won national acclaim for its Canadian food; no, it doesn't serve poutine. 

Smyth - The West Loop tasting menu spot Smyth just became Chicago's second restaurant to win three Michelin stars, an achievement shared by only thirteen restaurants in America. (Chicago's other is Alinea.)

DeNucci's - This Lincoln Park Italian restaurant from Ballyhoo Hospitality only opened a few months ago. 

Best Restaurant Design

Fioretta - This West Loop restaurant is an Italian-inflected steakhouse that opened this year features a luxurious, old-school interior.

The Omakase Room at Sushi-San - This tasting counter spot in River North is located above Lettuce Entertain You's Sushi-San, and has a dramatic entrance: the doors only open once every guest is there. 

Bistro Monadnock - Located in the historic Monandnock building in the South Loop, this French restaurant features lots of dark wood to match its architecturally significant exterior.

Warlord - Another nomination for Warlord, which is small and spotlights a live fire.