Phil Vettel reveals his Critic’s Choice Awards for 2018

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CHICAGO, Ill. -- Every year, my Critic’s Choice Dining Awards recognizes outstanding work by Chicago chefs and restaurateurs. Honorees range from newcomers to veterans, and, together, they defined Chicago dining in 2018.  Following are six of the award winners.

The chef of the year is Diana Davila, whose Logan Square restaurant, Mi Tocaya Antojeria, won recognition from the James Beard Foundation, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. In addition to producing memorable food, chef Davila emerged as an important voice in the restaurant community.

My rookie of the year is Jennifer Kim, who opened the intriguing restaurant Passerotto in Andersonville. Passerotto combined Kim’s Korean heritage with the Italian food she enjoyed as a child, creating a restaurant that was as unique as it was indefinable.

I gave the whimsical title of Homecoming Queen to chef Debbie Gold. Gold, who left Chicago 20 years ago, earning fame and a James Beard Award in Kansas City, returned last year to open Tied House in Lakeview, where her contemporary food somehow managed to be as nurturing as a Sunday supper.

Erling Wu-Bower had a compelling story in 2018. The original chef at the acclaimed Nico Osteria announced his intention to create an independent restaurant, and his former employers were so impressed with his talent that they signed on as financial partners. The result, Pacific Standard Time, brought a California-focused menu to River North.

Stephen Gillanders arrived in Chicago with the intent of gathering experience before opening his solo project in Los Angeles. Instead, he and his wife fell in love with Chicago, and so opened S.K.Y. in Pilsen instead. Gillanders’ label-defying food, such as a Korean bibimbap made with foie gras, made S.K.Y. one of the most intriguing restaurants of 2018.

The team at Bar Biscay, including owners Scott and Sari Worsham and chef Johnny Anderes, explored the culinary treasures of the Bay of Biscay, which forms the west coast of Spain and France’s Basque region. Dining at Bar Biscay is like attending a lively party with a parade of fascinating small plates.

Congratulations to all these winners --- whose restaurants you definitely should patronize.

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