Best restaurants of 2014: Seasonal cuisine, steaks please reviewers
The farm-to-table movement has moved into the mainstream. No longer menu catchphrases at just the trendy new spots around, "farm-to-table," "locally sourced" and "sustainable" define the culinary philosophy adopted by restaurants around the suburbs -- from the fast-casual spot you visit at lunch to the gastro pub where you meet up with friends.
So it shouldn't be a shocker that many of the restaurants on our reviewers' best-of 2014 list have menus that follow the seasons. Yes it's comforting to order a longtime favorite off the menu, but keep in mind as you read about these standout places that the dishes we crow about have likely evolved. I encourage you to give these places another visit and find a new favorite this season.
475 S. Route 45, Lindenhurst; (847) 245-7328, adlibgeocafe.com
Ad-Lib in Lindenhurst quickly became one of my favorite spots. The baby kale salad is easily the best thing I've eaten all year, with its blueberry vanilla goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts, prosciutto and roasted blueberry dressing. Chef Rick Starr's menu is seasonal so if that exact salad isn't available you can bet something equally exciting will be. -- Jennifer Billock
1341 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove; (630) 852-2333, barbakoa.com
Jerry Kleiner's Nuevo Latin hot spot is a welcome departure for the neighborhood, with funky, mismatched wallpaper, multihued leather chairs, paper mâche animal heads on the wall and an expansive, fireplace-frocked patio. With chef Dudley Nieto (Zocalo, Zapatista, Adobo Grill, et. al) in the kitchen, the food (especially the guac trio) is every bit as lively. The cocktails are appropriately hip, so don't skip sips. -- Jennifer Olvera
Elio's Pizza on Fire
445 W. Lake St., Addison; (630) 628-0088, eliopizzaonfire.com
Dough made daily, fresh ingredients and imaginative flavor combinations made me a believer in thin-crust Neapolitan pizza. From simple margherita to complex combinations with arugula, artichoke hearts and prosciutto, you can't go wrong. Don't pass up on the bruschetta or focaccia! Elio's has built such a following that it recently opened a second spot at 2360 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago and plans to open in Oak Park in the spring. -- Martin Cusack
15 E. Wilson St., Batavia; (630) 406-3009, gaetanosbatavia.com
Chef Gaetano DiBenedeto's contemporary yet classic Italian cuisine fits into the last-century brick storefront like it's been there forever. House specials reflect what's in season, as does the full menu. If after reading the menus and discussing options with your server you can't decide, put yourself in the hands of the chef with one of two tasting menus. And cross your fingers his gnocchi makes the short list. -- Susan Stark
Grillhouse by David Burke
1301 American Lane, Schaumburg; (847) 517-1600, dbgrillhouse.com
Grillhouse is sure to be a suburban go-to for fans of the celebrity chef's famed dry-aging process for top notch steaks, but look for fresh seafood, duck, pork and much more rounding out David Burke's contemporary American fare with a farm-to-table emphasis. Don't pass up his signature Cheesecake Lollipops with bubble gum whipped cream to bring the meal to a sweet close. -- S.S.
6641 Grand Ave., Gurnee; (847) 856-0270
For some of the best sushi, head to Hayashi. My favorite is the asparagus-beef maki. There's just something so comforting to me about crisp asparagus wrapped in steak, doused in teriyaki sauce. Oh, and if you like eel, you won't find a better or more tender cut anywhere in Lake County. Trust me, I've looked. -- Jennifer Billock
14 S. Third St., Geneva; (630) 262-1000, nichegeneva.com
Niche has seen three executive chefs in its eight years and chef Chris Ayukawa (who was on the opening crew) continues the acclaimed restaurant's tradition with a well-executed menu of seasonal American dishes splashed with global accents. His pork belly with shrimp appetizer ranks as one of my favorite bites of 2014. Head to Niche for dinner with friends, a special date, or burgers and craft cocktails after work. -- Deborah Pankey
Sweet Berry Café
720 N. McLean Blvd., South Elgin; (224) 238-3057, sweetberrycafe.net
Breakfast gets elevated to a special meal at Sweet Berry Café, where the scratch kitchen whips up all manner of omelets, frittatas, eggs Benedict, French toast, waffles and crepes. I have already gone back twice just for the beignets, hot from the fryer and dusted with powdered sugar. The family-friendly place also offers a variety of paninis, wraps, sandwiches and salads. -- Thomas Witom
1 W. Illinois St., St. Charles; (630) 945-3740, toptablestc.com
Top Table's arrival this fall brightened the Fox Valley dining scene. The new high-end establishment quickly made a name for itself with its delectable steaks, chops and seafood. Its veteran chef, Josef Yurisich, brought to the position 22 years of experience running Pheasant Run Resort's four kitchens. -- T.W.
112 S. Washington St., Hinsdale; (630) 537-1459; vistrorestaurant.com
The latest venture from Michelin-starred, James Beard Award-nominated chef Paul Virant, Vistro is a comfortable, approachable and family-friendly joint. Hyper-seasonal, locally sourced ingredients skip the name-checking in favor of simple, satisfying and familiar preparations that are pretension-free. House made sodas and seasonal soft-serve that can be customized with umpteen toppings top that list -- I did say family-friendly, right? -- J.O.
680 Mall Drive, Schaumburg; (847) 995-0188; chefvinceszeal.com
Popular chef Vince Pecora puts his twist on Italian-leaning fare at his latest suburban venture, Chef Vince's Zeal. His signature sausage and broccoli-stuffed ravioli and meat-stuffed meatballs are not to be missed. Sharing plates is encouraged, but keep your hands off my orange and fig Clemenza cocktail. -- D.P.