Dining

Beard and a Shot

Chefs and tastemakers dish on their best eats and drinks during James Beard Award weekend in Chicago
James Beard Awards
Photos: Courtesy of James Beard Foundation, Galdones Photography & Niraj Rajmohan via Flickr

James Beard Award weekend is notoriously a bit of a blur—and, yes, that does directly correlate to an overabundance of parties and complimentary cocktails.

But when the food and restaurant world's elite descended upon Chicago this past weekend, there was a teensy bit of time between events and the official awards ceremony to check out some of the Windy City's best restaurants (one of which, Alinea, was actually crowned Outstanding Restaurant on Monday night).

We asked some of the tastemakers who spent the weekend eating and drinking about their best bites in Chicago, and here's what they had to say:

"The Momofuku pop-up at Avec was fabulous. I loved the rice cake with pork and spicy creamy sauce. Also, the tamale and margarita I had at the Big Star party after the awards was delicious and a great way to toast the night." —Jonathan Waxman, executive chef of Barbuto in New York City and winner of Best Chef: New York City

"We had a lot of great bites, including the marrow and burger I am currently refueling with at Au Cheval, but the 3 a.m. pork chop sandwich chased by a Polish sausage at Jim's Original, eaten standing up on the rail surrounded by friends on the side of the highway, is impossible to beat. Thanks, Jimmy Bannos, for the recommendation—and the lift." —Mike Lata, chef/owner of double JBFA finalist FIG and The Ordinary in Charleston, SC

"The fish taco at Leña Brava last night. I had fish grilled over wood in a perfect corn tortilla with tomatillo salsa, frisée and radish. Best fish taco I've ever had!" —Anita Lo, owner and executive chef of Annisa and finalist for Best Chef: New York City

"I didn't take an Uber directly to Fat Rice after landing on Saturday but pretty close. The sauce served with the steamed pork and ginger dumplings buzzed with Sichuan peppercorns. It was the perfect thing to wake up both me and my palate." —Karen Palmer, editorial director of Tasting Table

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"The vegetarian chorizo at Topolobampo. Rick Bayless and his team are very inspirational." —Bobby Stuckey, master sommelier at Outstanding Restaurant finalist Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, CO

"Best thing I ate in 48 hours in Chicago: It's a tie between up-and-comer Roister with their weirdly named but gloriously delicious 'rillettes' (aged cheddar, truffle, other stuff with crunchy fry bread) and instant classic Au Cheval burger with gooey drippy egg and pornographically thick-cut bacon. Would happily eat both together every day." —Adam Sachs, editor in chief of Saveur

"Loaded nachos at Little Goat." —Ken Oringer, owner of Toro in Boston and New York City

"Wonderful arrival lunch at Nico Osteria with incredible fish crudo and sweet pea ravioli. Hungover restorative lunch at Frontera with Micheladas, margaritas, shrimp in black bean-chorizo sauce and the banana crepes with caramel and goat cheese ice cream. Yum!" — Steven Satterfield, finalist for Best Chef: Southeast and executive chef at Miller Union in Atlanta, GA

"Erick Williams's salad of roasted baby artichokes, pickled white asparagus, frisée lettuce, quail eggs and white anchovy vinaigrette at MK. That's just spring all up in your face. Best thing I drank was a French 75 with Meyer lemon and absinthe at Spiaggia, because of course." —Kat Kinsman, founder of Chefs with Issues and cohost of the James Beard Foundation's red carpet

"The charcuterie board at BoeufHaus." —Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone, chefs at Best New Restaurant finalist Wildair and Contra in New York City

"Before we went to Big Star last night, we went by Rootstock Wine Bar, and I think the french fries paired with a bottle of Frank Cornelissen Susucaru rosé brought me back to life. Natural wine and fries apparently is my ticket to a second wind." —Justin Vann, owner of Public Services in Houston, TX

"The cheese and Chablis the Frasca team shared post-awards in the beautiful circle room." —Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, executive chef of Outstanding Restaurant finalist Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, CO

"The roast pig at Roister's after-party, ripped right from the carcass, as well as the lobster roll at GT Fish & Oyster and the margarita at Big Star." —Anna Weinberg, restaurateur and owner of Marlowe, Park Tavern, The Cavalier and Leo's Oyster Bar in San Francisco

"At the reception at the Lyric Opera House: morels and crispy quinoa from State Bird Provisions, beef brisket from Franklin BBQ and dumplings from the Slanted Door." —Jose Garces of the Garces Group and executive chef of Amada in New York City

"While we had amazing meals around town, the smoked and cured fish, all done in-house, at this tiny little spot we hit up on a coffee tour of the city called Snaggletooth honestly blew us away." —Sam Lipp, managing partner of Union Square Cafe in New York City

"Those nachos at Little Goat were so dope—or the Lay's sour cream chips in my room at 3 a.m." —Jamie Bissonnette, chef/owner of Toro in Boston and New York City

"Does a cocktail count? If it has a salad's worth of garnishes? Lost Lake's eponymous drink was everything I'd hoped it would be—plus a neon bendy straw—and the perfect thing to help me forget the pouring rain here on Saturday." —Kenzi Wilbur, managing editor of Food52

"Jose Enrique brought fresh conch from Puerto Rico for the Don Q party on Sunday, and his conch salad with lime, sour orange and sesame seeds was bright, refreshing and just what the doctor ordered." —Scott Baird, partner of Trick Dog in San Francisco

"At Nico Osteria, the soft-cooked egg with chile-marinated anchovy, bone marrow and capers. Total unami moment. And at the awards celebration, hands down the brisket at Franklin BBQ. Did I have more than my fair share? Why, yes, I did." —Sarah Robbins, chief hospitality officer of 21c Museum Hotels (a sponsor of the James Beard Foundation's Women in Culinary Leadership program)

"The Peking duck at Duck Duck Goat. Everything at Duck Duck Goat honestly. The duck was the highlight: the most tender and delicious meat with a fatty and crisp skin." —Chad Michael George, president of the Colorado Bartenders' Guild and owner of The Way Back in Denver, CO

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