Our El Niño December has been kind enough to usher in borderline T-shirt weather and a flurry of openings that includes a new Italian-beef-everything eatery, a suburban arcade gastro diner, and spin-off projects from local favorite restaurants. Have a look at the best of what the month had to offer.
The team behind BRGRBelly has established a potential Italian beef mecca on Chicago’s Northwest side, and while the opening menu brandishes eight variations, including a classic version to satisfy purists, of the beloved Chicago staple -- a one trick pony, this place is not. With atypical toppings like Sriracha cream, charred Polish sausage, and chipotle broth, choose whatever beef speaks to you and pair it with an adult (read: boozy) Italian ice -- because you can.
After a successful run with Carriage House, the team behind the lauded Southern concept decided to convert the Division St. space into Buck’s, a neighborhood-y hangout that gives off a decidedly more casual vibe than its predecessor while still maintaining an appropriate level of Southern charm. The playful menu spotlights fried chicken and biscuits in all their glory, as well as a selection of down home favorites like shrimp and grits, pimento cheese, and beignets with espresso butterscotch -- basically, everything that plays well a glass of bourbon or some suds.
A Bostonian accent isn’t the only thing Lettuce Entertain You is borrowing from the East Coast with its latest venture: the seafood resto also features more than a few enticing New England-style dishes, like a massive lobster roll, clam chowder, and quahog stuffies with celery and chorizo. And since it’s really all about the oysters, the restaurant sources between eight and 12 cold-water varieties daily that are shucked to order.
Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff (Au Cheval, Bavette's Bar & Boeuf) likes to keep us guessing, and his latest surprise opening, a coffee shop collaboration with renowned latte artist Hiroshi Sawada, is no exception. The 15-seater seemingly popped up overnight in the Green Street Smoked Meats and High Five Ramen building, and pours specialty drinks like spiced bourbon hot cider and a Benedictine and chai boozy steamer, as well as a selection of classic coffee beverages and teas; as an added bonus, you can also score a small variety of Doughnut Vault donuts.
The Four Corners Tavern Group (Ranalli’s, Gaslight) has transformed the former American Junkie space into what promises to be River North nightlife’s next big thing, complete with a retractable roof a la Benchmark so that the party doesn’t have to stop when inclement weather hits. The restaurant’s creative menu centers around sharable items, such as jumbo lump crab dip, pepperoni, and whipped ricotta flatbread, and a massive lamb chops platter, that pair well with a round or three of Sidecars and Sazeracs.
Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality successfully pulled off restaurant inception with this quirky, casual seafood concept within Swift & Sons. Though it shares an address and executive chef Chris Pandel with the behemoth steakhouse, Cold Storage boasts a separate kitchen and operates independently. Score seafood towers, salmon skin chicharróns, beer-battered smelts, and the epic eight-scoop "Narwahl" sundae.
Three floors of bowling, shuffleboard, arcade games, cocktails, upmarket bar fare, and more await at Illinois’ first Punch Bowl Social location. The suburban outpost offers plenty of reasons to make the trek outside of Chicago’s city limits, not the least of which are panko-breaded chicken and malted waffles, a "Very Serious Grilled Cheese" (poached pear, Gruyere, goat cheese, and quince on grilled ciabatta), and large format libations like the Monty Python-inspired "You Must Bring Us... A Shrubbery" made with vodka, house cardamom syrup, watermelon shrub, lemon juice, and red wine float.
River North’s preeminent burger and boozy shake purveyor heads west with its Wicker Park expansion. Expect the same gourmet burgers you know and love, as well as two exclusive new additions: Number Five (lamb patty, tzatziki, feta, roasted tomatoes, and red onion) and Number Six (two beef patties, mustard, pickles, caramelized onions, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and Thousand Island), and all the whiskey and RumChata spiked Cinnashakes you can handle.
The Saigon Sisters step outside their Vietnamese wheelhouse to conquer Thai cuisine with their latest concept, a BYOB joint that delivers big on street-inspired eats. The sleek, minimalist digs boast pops of art along the walls, but ultimately remain modest enough to let bold dishes like krabi pad Thai, papaya salad, and coconut sticky rice do the talking.
1. Beefbelly4800 N. Central, Chicago
2. Buck's1700 W Division St, Chicago
3. Oyster Bah1962 N Halsted St, Chicago
4. Sawada Coffee112 N Green St, Chicago
5. Fremont15 W Illinois St, Chicago
6. Cold Storage1000 W. Fulton Market, Chicago
7. Punch Bowl Social1001 National Pkwy, Schaumburg
8. Pork & Mindy's1623 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
9. Bang Chop Thai Kitchen605 W Lake St, Chicago
Get your inner fat kid on at this Jefferson Park munchery. Double down on sandos and fries (we like the Garlic Parmesan with butter poached beef, roasted tomatoes and fresh basil cream), then go nuts at the do-it-yourself ice cream sundae bar.
Buck's is a warm, friendly rustic-chic Southern eatery that specializes in the two B's: biscuits and booze. We are partial to their amazing brunch menu, but you can't go wrong with any meal you eat here.
This Lincoln Park restaurant from Lettuce Entertain You is all about New England seafood. Oyster Bah serves Cape Cod classics like clam chowder and lobster rolls, plus more region-specific specialities like shrimp & grits and Maryland-style crab cake. It’s really all about the oysters though, and the restaurant sources between eight and 12 cold-water varieties daily. The multi-level space is decorated like a shabby chic seafood shack and has two bars serving oyster-friendly wines, cocktails, and local draft beer.
Au Cheval chef Brendan Sodikoff's recently opened Sawada Coffee, created in collaboration with Japanese latte artist (yes, there's such a thing) Hiroshi Sawada, celebrates the humble coffee bean and elevates it to a thing of beauty-- think silky smoothy lattes and signature "boozy steamers," coffee infused alcoholic drinks, like iced coffee over shochu.
This River North cocktail bar-slash-restaurant is part nightclub, part swanky brasserie. The menu revolves around shareable small plates (oysters, fries, flatbreads) and larger platters (shout out to the fried chicken). The drink menu is full of remixed classic cocktails and features equally shareable Moscow Mules made with your choice of vodka. The two-level space has a retractable rooftop on the second floor and a stage where DJs turn Fremont into a dancing destination.
This casual but refined seafood concept inside Swift & Sons specializes in shellfish towers, seafood items both large and small, fish sandwiches, and best of all, ice cream sundaes. The 60-seat space is equally chic but more laid-back than its steakhouse sibling.
Party on at this friendly, congenial neighborhood cocktail spot and entertainment lounge. Here, you can play arcade games, drink craft cocktails (servings range from by the glass to the punch bowl, natch) and munch on New American style eats.
Did you just say Mork & Mindy? Nah, I think you mean Pork & Mindy's, an all bacon everything sandwich shop that's recently arrived in Bucktown (not to be confused with the 70s' Robin Williams sitcom).