The Reader's Choice: The Publican
This year a newbie barreled onto the scene to vie with the Hopleaf, the Map Room, and Quenchers—and if nothing else the Publican deserves credit for its sweeping ambition. Overseen by passionate "sommelier" Michael McAvena, the beer program at Paul Kahan's Fulton Street pub aims to showcase beer's still-underrated capacity to pair with food just as well as the finest wines.
McAvena's not going for novelty, though he's excited by brews like Three Floyds' Dwarven Hammer—a brown ale made with Intelligentsia coffee. Rather, he's out to champion the local guys and give some love to small producers in Belgium and Britain whose products are masterful interpretations of classic styles like farmhouse ales and lambics—as opposed to the 12-percent hopaholic knockouts popular among the extreme beer set, which'll burn your palate off by the second course.
The restaurant's new monthly Brewmaster's Series offers a four-course dinner ($45) with beer pairings from a regional superstar ($15-$25) on the last Sunday of each month. Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall kicked things off in January; the March installment featured beers from Three Floyds, including a dark wheat dopplebock cooked up with Kahan and McAvena. Offerings from Saint Feuillien and Jolly Pumpkin are in the chute for April and May. 837 W. Fulton, 312-733-9555, thepublicanrestaurant.com. —Martha Bayne
&Our readers' choice: Hopleaf
5148 N. Clark, 773-334-9851, hopleaf.com.