photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Wazwan has had several locations over the past five years. It’s been an underground supper club in Lakeview, a stall in the abruptly closed Politan Row food hall, and a spot operating out of a ghost kitchen in River West.
Now this South Asian restaurant has a permanent home in Wicker Park. And while the dark, narrow space loaded with barstools feels more like it should be hosting ‘80s trivia nights instead of serving food, we don’t care. This BYOB spot could set up shop in the airport and we’d be grateful.
Wazwan is a dive bar serving South and Southeast Asian street food that isn’t divey at all. Delicately wrapped Nihari momos arrive cradled in a steamer basket, filled with shredded beef and topped with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns to add just the right amount of numbing spice. A mound of shaved black truffle tops the savory mushroom korma—a tangle of wild mushrooms sitting in a silky cashew gravy spiced with coriander, garlic, and ginger.
Truffles also blanket the paneer-filled kulcha, which is served with a rich, sweet compound date butter that really does make our eyes roll into the back of our head. When we pull the flatbread apart we realize we’re not, in fact, in a luxurious garden lounging in a reclined position. We’re on a puffy bar stool sitting in a windowless room that we’re 99.9% sure is a bar except for the fact that the only alcohol is what we brought in our purse.
Wazwan doesn't take reservations, but gets crowded fast, and stays that way for the rest of the night. It’s very small, and the BYOB policy makes it easy for guests to linger. So do the charming servers and friendly head chef, who will often come out to say hi, and tell you why a certain dish is on the menu and the techniques used to create that compound butter. From the spice blends roasted in-house to the halal sourcing, the attention to detail is obvious with every single plate.
Like a great TV show that gets prematurely canceled, then bounces around from CW to SyFy to Netflix, Wazwan deserves an audience. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend your Friday night than showing up with a six-pack and an insatiable appetite for momos. Or, you can just get takeout and eat those dumplings on your couch. And if you want to have an elevated experience with similar food, book a table at The Coach House. It’s their fine dining spot located behind the restaurant, where they serve an eight-course, $150 tasting menu that’s inspired by season one of Wazwan: The Supper Club. Either way, the important thing is that Wazwan has a forever home.
There are always a few versions of the kulcha on the menu, and our favorite flatbread is the one filled with paneer and topped with a mountain of shaved black truffle. They all come with achar, onion jam, and a compound date butter whose sweet and rich destiny is to be smeared on bread. Make sure you order this.
Welcome to the platonic ideal of a dumpling. Each one is folded with precision, filled with juicy beef, and topped with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn to add some mouth numbing spice.
Wazwan’s menu mainly takes inspiration from South and Southeast Asia, but Japanese okonomiyaki also makes an appearance. There’s nothing wrong with the savory pancake, but the richness of the Kewpie aioli, the sweetness of the unagi sauce, and the flavor of the bonito flakes doesn’t really go well with the other dishes. Only order this if the only thing you want to eat is okonomiyaki.
The THC (tandoori honey chicken) Sando is an outstanding combination of sweet and heat with a fried, tandoor-spiced chicken thigh topped with a gochujang aioli and honey on a squishy brioche bun that goes smoosh when you bite into it.
If the chef hadn’t told us, we wouldn’t have suspected that this is a vegan dish. The cashew butter sauce is creamy and rich, and flavorful thanks to the mushrooms, garlic, and ginger. We also appreciate the generous amount of shaved black truffle.
The chettinad masala has enough heat to let you know you’re alive, and unbelievably tender pieces of chicken. The complex curry is packed with all the spices—coriander, cumin, fennel, to name a few—you could ever desire.