THE BLOG
12/07/2010 03:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Battle of the Local Restaurant Empires

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Rob Katz (from left), Giuseppe Tentori, Stephanie Izard, Ryan Poli and Kevin Boehm of the Boka Restaurant Group (Photo: Boka Restaurant Group)

Time for a year-end poll!

This time it's all about the shot callers, the trendsetters, the culinary collectives responsible for putting Chicago on the map with their various restaurant ventures.

You cannot pick up a restaurant section without reading something cool about what one of these guys is doing, and their names in the food community are just as valued as Tom Ford, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton in the fashion industry.

But when it comes to the battle of the local restaurant empires, who comes out on top?! Here's your chance to decide (take the poll through Dec. 31 at 312 Dining Diva):

Is it the hard-working team behind the Blackbird Group? More than 10 years ago, they ignited Randolph Restaurant Row with Blackbird, immediately attracting a celebrity and food-obsessed crowd. It was followed up with the equally successful avec restaurant, the cocktail-oriented Violet Hour and pork-focused Publican. Now the word is that an innovative butcher shop is in the works across the street from Publican.

It sort of feels like the Boka Restaurant Group came out of thin air. Partner Rob Katz started out owning frat boy bars, while Kevin Boehm specialized in fine-dining establishments. After a few years of knowing one another, they clicked with Boka in Lincoln Park. Next came Landmark and Perennial, but it was their collaboration with Top Chef season four winner Stephanie Izard that positioned them on the fast track to fame. Girl & The Goat was an instant sensation, and they're looking to do the same with its exec chef Giuseppe Tentori and GT Fish & Oyster Bar when it opens in 2011.

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Scott Harris (left) of Francesca's Restaurants; Blackbird partners Paul Kahan and Donnie Madia (Photos: Francesca's Restaurants and Michael Stryder)

No single local restaurant makes more money in Chicago than Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse in the Gold Coast. That's because the Gibson Restaurant Group has a stronghold on the area, and has established itself as a name that attracts the highrollers. Whether it's for the Gibsons or RL steaks, seafood at Hugo's Frog Bar or even casual fare at Quartino and Luxbar, their daily numbers are a force to be reckoned with.

Scott Harris of Francesca's Restaurants apparently comes from the mindset if it's successful "do it again and again and again!" After the first Mia Francesca in Lakeview, he followed up with 20 more in the city and 'burbs. And while he has mastered the trendy Italian dining scene, he's constantly on the move with new ventures, including the award-winning Purple Pig, Nella Pizzeria Napoletana and Davanti Enoteca.

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LEYE's Rich Melman, with wife Martha (Photo: via Crain's Chicago Business)

Considered one of the pioneers of Chicago's dining community since 1971, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) has more than 70 restaurants ranging from ultra-casual to super high end. Three starred Michelin rated L2O, of course, is this outfit's crowning glory, but heaps of praises have also been lauded to the likes of Everest, Tru, Mon Ami Gabi and Osteria Via Stato.

And Levy Restaurants, which has been around more than 30 years, also has more than 70 locations around the world, including operating catering facilities at Lincoln Park Zoo, U.S. Cellular Field, United Center and Wrigley Field. Gold Coast gem Spiaggia tops the list in Chicago, followed by Bistro 110, Cafe Spiaggia and Jake Melnick's.