Features 2 minutes 27 November 2023

Why America's Newest 3 MICHELIN Star is Worth the Hype

One writer breaks down her love of Chicago's Smyth.

Chicago Editor's Pick Three Michelin Stars

Earlier this month, The MICHELIN Guide announced the newest Three MICHELIN Star spot in the United States. Chicago's Smyth joins less than one percent of restaurants globally to have received the illustrious distinction. Below, we get the dish from one astute writer on what sets Smyth apart from the rest, but click here to find out what our Inspectors had to say and also discover their favorite dish from Smyth here.

When I consider the restaurants that, to me, represent the pinnacle of dining in the U.S., just a few places—with especially memorable dishes—come to mind. San Francisco chef Corey Lee of Benu and his red chili oil-glazed caviar remains embedded in my memories, as do the ethereal, tissue paper-thin dumpling skins that bundle chef Trevor Moran’s seasoned potpourri of unctuous free-range pork at Nashville’s tiny Locust. Not necessarily wed to a specific dish (but maybe if I had to choose, I’d call out the salted licorice-cured egg yolk dessert), but up there amongst my tops is—and has been since my first meal there five years ago—chef John ShieldsSmyth, the sort of Nordic, sort of Japanese, ingredient-driven, fermentation-rich restaurant he runs in Chicago with his wife and pastry chef Karen Urie Shields. 


I’ve felt that Smyth has always, unjustly, sailed a bit under the radar. Sure, it’s not in one of the country’s top two dining cities, New York or San Francisco, but Windy City restaurants do end up on the global map. Having dined all around the word, and also all around this country, I’ve been surprised that, for so many years, more people haven’t taken note of a kitchen that has continued to consistently execute an exceedingly high caliber of both creativity and deliciousness.

Whenever I have friends visiting Chicago, I always tell them, quite enthusiastically, that a meal at Smyth is a must—it’s the best restaurant in Chicago. Often (and despite the fact that most of my friends love food), my suggestion (or, really, order) seems to come as a surprise, with most people never having heard of it. This never ceases to amaze me, especially for a place that had maintained Two MICHELIN Stars consecutively since 2018. But earlier this month, the team nabbed a third, and as an ever-long admirer—and an accolade that I believe was long-overdue—I couldn’t be more thrilled for them. Smyth is now one of only two Three MICHELIN Starred restaurants in Chicago.

Jon Zulu/Smyth
Jon Zulu/Smyth

The face of “fine dining” is changing. As a restaurant, you don’t need polished silver and a white tablecloth. These days, you might just eat with your hands at a (hinoki wood) counter. Or even join a group of friends at an oversized booth over galbi and stew-y kimchi jjigae. 

Smyth nails the sweet spot of an unbuttoned, yet thoughtful and dialed-in experience (with an amazing wine list and pairings, I might add) via a warm dining room with a living room-style feel and an open kitchen. There’s an earthiness to the space as there is to the food. 

Galdones Photography/Smyth
Galdones Photography/Smyth

Is there some Noma inspiration here? I’d say yes. 

But, I’ve never tasted a dish here that reminds me of one I’ve had anywhere else (which often happens). Instead, I am surprised by Shields’ consistent union of unique and unexpected flavors, matched with unsung technique. When was the last time you tried slices of Asian pear glazed with grape, fig oil, walnut and duck garum? Or how about lobster claws with bee hive and bee pollen miso with a beeswax hollandaise?

Executing a consistently delicious tasting menu with zero failed dishes is challenging, and it’s rare that I sit through one that doesn’t have some courses which fall short. Smyth is one of the tiny handful of restaurants that come to mind (along with nearby Alinea when my husband was the executive chef there, and San Francisco’s Saison during Joshua Skenes’ tenure) with flawless execution wherein every plate is a winner.

Ditte Isager /noma
Ditte Isager /noma

I’ve dined at Smyth five times. I lived in Chicago for a number of years, which is how I first discovered the place, and after moving back to Manhattan, my husband and I would occasionally fly back with the main incentive to dine there. Because it’s that good.

Smyth continues to impress me with the honest creativity coming out of the kitchen. And I can’t wait to visit again. 

John Shields/Smyth
John Shields/Smyth

Hero image: Jon Zulu /Smyth


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