Acclaimed restaurateur Kevin Boehm’s 10 favorite Chicago restaurants

Photo credit: Kevin Boehm
Restaurateur Kevin Boehm

Kevin Boehm was just 10 when he told his mother he wanted to open a restaurant. “There was something about the social aspect that drew me in—like wow, I can just throw a party every single night, a bunch of people come, they make a mess, we clean it up, and do it again the next day?” he says. “I wasn’t that far off.”

In the last 30 years, Boehm has opened a whopping 40 restaurants across America. As co-founder of the Boka Restaurant Group (along with partner Rob Katz), he’s the force behind acclaimed chef-driven places like Boka, Girl & the Goat, and Alla Vita. The OpenTable advisory board member and James Beard Foundation Award winner is also a writer and speaker, having delivered keynote speeches for the National Restaurant Show, New York City Food & Wine Festival, and more. 

Even though Boehm spends time in Los Angeles and New York City, where the Boka Restaurant Group has expanded in recent years, he lives—and eats—in Chicago. Here are 10 of his go-to restaurants in his hometown. 

OpenTable Advisory Board members are compensated for their time and expertise, but all the restaurant selections are their own.

Juno (Lincoln Park)

Chef B.K. Park works his knife magic on fresh fish at this intimate Japanese restaurant on Chicago’s North Side. The move here is the seasonal omakase experience—20 bite-size pieces including sashimi, warm plates, nigiri, and more.   

Why Kevin loves it: “My family and I probably had dinner every Sunday here for five or six years. After awhile, we stopped discussing it, we just got in our car and drove ourselves there. I think 60 percent of my meals are Japanese. Chef B.K. Park doesn’t do too much—just a simple brush on the fish. He also does really incredible one bites: king crab, smoked salmon, and just a little bit of honey sitting on a piece of rice. They do it just right.”

Kumiko (West Loop)

The latticed bar at Kumiko in Chicago
The latticed bar at Kumiko is one of the many cues the spot takes from Japan. | Credit: Sammy Faze

Co-owner and cocktail maven Julia Momosé once described Kumiko as “a cocktail party with the world’s best hors d’oeuvres,” which just about sums up the unforgettable experience at this next-level drinks den. Order an award-winning cocktail, graze on Japanese fried chicken, and take in the elegant wood-and-brass interiors. 

Why Kevin loves it: “The sake pairings that Julia Momosé is doing at Kumiko are some of the most elevated and interesting pairings of any restaurant on earth. It’s one of these great places that’s on a list of World’s Best Bars and also one of the world’s best restaurants. She’s doing stuff like wagyu katsu sandos that seem casual, but with really elevated [drink] pairings.”

Indienne (River North)

Chicago’s first MICHELIN-starred Indian restaurant stands out for adding French flair to South Asian classics. Indienne’s first-of-its-kind tasting menu could include masterpieces like lobster-topped bisi bele bath (an aromatic rice and lentil dish) and grilled lamb marinated in hemp seed and pine nut paste. 

Why Kevin loves it: “I think this town was primed, ready, and eager to embrace MICHELIN-starred Indian food. And it’s in this beautiful, glowing jewel-box of a restaurant. It expands the offerings of tasting menus in Chicago. A lot of the tasting menus in this town are American.” 

Mott Street (Bucktown/Wicker Park)

Funky Asian American dishes headline the menu at Mott Street. | Credit: Vicki Kim

Mott Street is a fun and funky Asian American spot serving progressive plates like mentaiko kimchi udon and a signature burger topped with hoisin aioli—dishes that have earned it MICHELIN Bib Gourmand cred and nods from Bon Appétit and Eater.

Why Kevin loves it: “Mott Street might have the best burger in Chicago. [Mott Street’s owners] take fun little chances with design in their spaces—they’re loud and boisterous and fun. They like little surprises in their restaurants. I first started going to Ruxbin [from the same team] after service. They were open late, and [the menu] had heady chef items, but there were also casual items like a burger.”

Sepia (West Loop)

Sepia has walked the line between special-occasion restaurant and neighborhood gem since opening in 2007, even landing a MICHELIN star in the process. Go for chef Andrew Zimmerman’s stunning but unfussy four-course menu, which has previously featured venison shabu-shabu with hon-shimeji mushrooms, and crispy ricotta gnudi with celery root giardiniera.

Why Kevin loves it: “Chef Andrew Zimmerman emphasizes technique over flash in this beautiful little restaurant on the hidden and quiet side of West Loop. Andrew does great things with meat, and there’s not that many restaurants anymore that are just traditional American. Emmanuel Nony is one of the great front-of-the-house guys in Chicago. He’s got tons of style, is super friendly, and wants you to have a great experience.”

Piccolo Sogno (River West)

Chicagoans flock to this Italian faithful for its prolific wine list and rustic dishes like braised beef short ribs and string-cut black spaghetti with seafood. But the restaurant’s MVP is its lush garden patio—one of the prettiest outdoor spaces in the city.

Why Kevin loves it: “This is our Christmas Eve spot. Chef Tony Priolo cooks authentic Italian cuisine in the greatest outdoor space we have in Chicago. He’s cooking traditional Italian well and cooking it right, and, sometimes, that’s not newsworthy to people. But for people like me, doing something fundamentally right every single time gets sexier as I get older. I don’t need something to be set on fire to be excited.” 

avec (River North, West Loop)

A chorizo-stuffed date dish on an orange bowl with a thick slice of bread next to it at Chicago restaurant avec
The sensational small plates at avec include bacon-wrapped dates. | Credit: Kelly Sandos

This West Loop spot sparked Chicago’s small-plates craze in 2003 and now has MICHELIN Bib Gourmand status. Expect inventive Mediterranean cuisine like roasted baby carrots with smoked almond harissa and crisp short rib with sumac, plus an excellent wine list that leans southern European. 

Why Kevin loves it: “avec is one of the most legendary places in Chicago. Donnie Madia [one of the restaurant’s owners] is one of the most stylish people in the city. I think a lot of people have copied the look that avec has, which is this cozy little sauna space. Every iteration of chef that has been through this place has cooked some of the best small plates in Chicago.”

Le Colonial (Gold Coast/Streeterville)

Le Colonial has dished up French Vietnamese food in a palm tree-filled row house since 1996. But there’s nothing old-fashioned about it—the stately spot is loved for its bold curries and complex oxtail-broth pho, plus bustling Oak Street views from its expansive terrace. 

Why Kevin loves it: “French Vietnamese is a cuisine that’s not that well represented in Chicago, and this one is right in the middle of Oak Street and has a different feeling than any other restaurant in Chicago. It’s both opulent and comfortable at the same time. It’s sceney, and it’s one of those menus that hasn’t changed much in 25 years. But it’s always delicious.”

Elske (West Loop)

All the dishes at Elske have Scandinavian accents. | Credit: Huge Galdones

MICHELIN-starred Elske has a sophisticated Scandinavian vibe that runs through its decor and menu. The outdoor fireplace and drop lights channel Copenhagen and are a charming backdrop to seasonal dishes like duck liver tart with salted ramp and toasted buckwheat.

Why Kevin loves it: “Elske is a romantic, cozy dining room [run by] David Posey, a chef with great pedigree. Every time I’ve gone there, I’ve had something that was interesting. I had such a good meal the last time I was there—salt-cured anchovies with fennel pollen, lemon, and grilled sourdough. I love great balance in dishes.”

Smoque Steak (Avondale)

Barry Sorkin ditched luxe steakhouse rules when he opened this rustic meat market in 2023. At Smoque, steaks get the oak treatment followed by a low-and-slow cooking technique, and are seared to order with garlic butter in a cast-iron skillet. 

Why Kevin loves it: “They bill themselves as an affordable steakhouse. Steaks don’t always have to be about filet, rib-eye, [and] New York strip. We have plenty of expensive steakhouses in Chicago—I should know, I have two of them. I love it when people sit around the whiteboard and say, what are the core competencies of what I can do? And where can I bend it? These guys bend it a little bit. It’s fun and joyous and delicious, but just less expensive.”

Aarti Virani is a writer and editor who has covered South Asian arts and culture for publications like Vogue India, The Wall Street Journal, and The Juggernaut. She edits OpenTable’s blog content, working closely with local writers and industry experts to produce top-tier restaurant guides.

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