Chefs Michael Kornick and Erick Williams at MK
Chefs Michael Kornick and Erick Williams at MK Credit: Maria Ponce/Hidden Valley via AP Images

Yes, Charlie Trotter’s legacy hangs over Chicago. But even if his restaurant were still around today, you might not want to spend that kind of scratch to find out what exactly that legacy is. The comparable places these days (Alinea, Grace) have transcended what Trotter set out to accomplish, and his proteges all seem to want out from under his high-end influence (see: Belly Q, Yusho). So where can you get a meal that explains that moment in dining when Chicago became important?

Michael Kornick came up through Gordon, just like Trotter, and his 16-year-old MK, freshened up in the last year and run by chef Erick Williams (who started as a dishwasher), has always had a similar ethos—capturing the simple, direct flavors of superior locally grown things without fussing with them too much. The key difference is that MK always aimed for three stars rather than four—and both the price and the running time of dinner are more accessible as a result. The same older, blue-blazered crowd haunts it, but, really, it’s too good a place to be left to them alone.