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Happening In Chicago Right Now: New Restaurant Intel

PHOTO: Neil Burger

You already have the Hit List, our regularly updated guide to the best new restaurants in Chicago. But based off our recent restaurant experiences, here’s our newest intel:

12/22/2016 Update

  • WonFun Chinese is a cool and high-end Chinese restaurant in the West Loop. It might sound exactly like Duck Duck Goat on the surface, but there are differences. The first thing you’ll notice about WonFun is that it’s a weird space for a restaurant, but the narrow rectangular shape makes each booth feel like it’s only private little space. The food leans heavy on Sichuan classics, which means you should expect things pork wontons and spicy dan dan noodles. Speaking of spice, most things here bring a lot of heat, so you’re going to want a beer to wash it all down. And when you’re finished eating, head to the upstairs bar 2Fun Chinese to hang over more drinks.

  • Close your eyes and think of The Publican. Now imagine the Publican was a lot smaller and wanted to be more of a casual neighborhood tavern to hang for food and drinks. Now put that place in Wicker Park, and welcome to Publican Anker. It’s a great place to post up at the bar or a high-top and eat a burger, wings, or even an excellent whole fish. We just did inception, right?

  • Not long ago, The Budlong Hot Chicken was a Nashville fried chicken spot in a small space in Lakeview. There wasn’t really anywhere to sit, but the fried chicken was great (and hot), and sides like collard greens and mac & cheese were good too. Well that Budlong closed down and has since re-opened in a bigger space at the corner of Sheffield and Armitage. The hot chicken is still good and now it’s a better place to sit and hang over drinks.

  • Eden is an upscale Mediterranean restaurant in the West Loop. It claims to be “chef-driven,” which leads us to believe all other restaurants are driven by elves. We haven’t been yet, but menu items like an umami doughnut with striploin and raclette cheese plus a Roman gnocchi have us very interested.

  • True Food Kitchen is a health-food chain that opened in River North, but it has some serious situational use. Instead of the typical fast-casual chains that are taking over, this is a massive sit down restaurant on the corner of State and Erie. The menu has a great selection of salads, sandwiches, entrees, and even pizzas, and they’re all on the healthier side, but it’s also nice enough to sit comfortably and have a glass of wine. All of these things together make True Food a useful place in the neighborhood.

  • HB Home Bistro is far from new, and after eating here recently we can tell you absolutely nothing has changed. And that’s exactly why it seemed like a good time to remind you of this BYOB restaurant. HB serves quality comfort food with something for everyone like pork shank and bolognese pasta and mussels with truffle fries. And they do it in one of the coziest and homiest settings around. You’ll want to take your shoes off and make yourself at home. Get it in your BYOB rotation if it’s not already.

  • Moody Tongue is one of our favorite local breweries in Pilsen, and now they have an awesome tasting room that’s really just a bar where you can drink their excellent beers. There’s also a tiny food menu that consists of two things: oysters and chocolate cake. And if you don’t want to drink a sliced nectarine IPA with a dozen oysters or take down a piece of dense chocolate cake with a caramelized chocolate churro baltic porter then we can’t be friends. Honestly, we mean that.

  • Here’s what we know about Elske: It’s the former chef of Blackbird and his pastry-chef wife from The Publican who’ve teamed up with a place of their own. Safe to say we’re intrigued. It appears to be on the fancier side with a small menu, including an $80 tasting option if you choose (+$40 wine option). Are duck liver tart with buckwheat and salted ramps or whole roasted mushrooms with pear cream any good? Let’s find out together.

11/10/2016 Update

  • Breaking news: the West Loop has another great restaurant. Shocking, we know, but El Che Bar is actually really good. We’ll go as far as to say this trendy take on an Argentinian steakhouse deserves more attention, and we’re surprised there’s not a PR army shoving it down all of our throats. No complaints, though. Make sure there’s at least some meat involved in your meal, but everything on the menu is worth trying. Expect a full review coming soon.

  • Duck Duck Goat isn’t new, but Stephanie Izard’s high-end Chinese restaurant recently added a carry-out window to the mix. It’s a great option if you’re looking for Chinese food but don’t want to dine in, which we like to take advantage of when we're feeling lazy. The limited menu keeps things simple and easy with a few familiar options like pork buns, spring rolls, noodle dishes, and more.

  • Another day, another fancy steakhouse. GT Prime is the meat-centric restaurant from the GT Fish & Oyster squad, and both restaurants are within a couple blocks of each other on Wells St. in River North. As far as whether it’s any good or not, we aren’t ready to take an official stand. The space is gorgeous, but there are mixed feelings on the food. We plan on checking it out again soon to figure out the deal. For now, we’ll say GT Prime is definitely worth a try, and hit us up if you have any specific feelings to share.

  • Bad Hunter is a new veggie-focused restaurant in the West Loop, and the name says it all. It’s not fully vegetarian, there are a couple of meat and fish options on the menu, but the goal is to make veggies cool and delicious. Instead of beef tartar you can try beet tartar, and instead of pork dumplings there are butter dumplings with corn, shiitake, and asian pear. The team behind it owns some of our other favorite spots like Pub Royale and Sportman’s Club, so we’re curious to see how the whole eat your vegetables thing plays out here.

  • If you’ve ever spent too much time watching Food Network, odds are you once sat through an entire show about BBQ competitions and have come across Myron Mixon’s name. And it looks like he’s trying to take advantage of that by promoting himself in a new Wrigleyville barbecue restaurant, Myron Mixon's Smoke Show Barbecue. We’re always skeptical of situations like this because no matter how many barbecue awards this dude has won, he’s not going to be the one in the kitchen. Hopefully, we’re wrong, because a quality barbecue spot would be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

  • Here’s what we know about Entente, a new Lakeview spot that opened a couple weeks ago: it’s a collaboration between the owner of Arami and the former chef of Schwa that will serve creative takes on American cuisine. That’s it. So what we’re saying is we don’t know a whole lot, but when you have Schwa on your resume it’s safe to say we’re very intrigued.

  • The owners of famous Chicago diners like White Palace Grill and Hollywood Grill decided it was time to open a similar style diner in River North, and now we have Griddle 24. So far we’ve only had brunch here, but we feel pretty good saying it’s exactly the kind of thing the neighborhood needs. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it has a typical diner menu that is entirely too long, and it’s open 24 hours a day. Sign us up.

7/22/2016 Update

  • If you take away one piece of info from us right now, it should be this: Giant is the best restaurant we've eaten at in a while. Every single dish is impressive, from a fried uni shooter appetizer that should be mandatory, to pastas, steak, and even the veggies. It's great for a date night, or really any situation that involves a couple other people you want to spend time with. It's not big, but it has a strong personality and no stupid schtick - just good food. Eat here soon and often.

  • Schwa was one of the original reviews we wrote back in 2014. It's been a while, and they've since lost their main chef. But we're happy to report it's still awesome. In fact, we'd argue the current menu is the best one we've ever had, and still as interesting as ever. Ever sniffed homemade car fresheners while you drink bourbon? We won't even bother explaining, just go and find out for yourself.

  • There are now more Aloha Poke's, and that's a good thing. The new Lakeview location is at Clark and Belmont, which is a pretty prime location if you live nearby. You can get the same great Poke Bowls every day until 10pm, and it's even BYOB.

  • When we heard Pleasant House Bakery was closing, a part of us closed with it. But then we heard they were just moving to Pilsen, so we'll allow it. The move is complete and the new digs are open, and now it's called Pleasant House Pub. We like the sound of a pub.

  • Fat Rice opened a bakery and they serve Chicago style hot dog baos. We can't decide if that sounds awesome or terrible, but we know we need to check it out. We haven't been yet, but we expect it to be pretty good, or interesting at the very least.

  • There's a new Neapolitan pizza restaurant in Boystown called Lark. And there can never be too much Neapolitan pizza in your life. If you've been, please tell us how it is.

6/28/2016 Update

  • Small Fry is bringing late night burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries to Logan Square for around $10 or less. Definitely check it out for an easy meal on-the-go or late at night after the bar.

  • Piccolo Sogno Due always felt like an emotionless copy of the original restaurant. Apparently, the team there didn’t love it either, because they shut it down and changed the whole concept. It’s now called Nonnina, a hybrid sandwich shop, restaurant, and lounge. We're hopeful the sandwiches are good.

  • We’ll never get over the fact Bunny The Micro Bakery closed, but it’s at least somewhat comforting to know there’s a solid replacement in its space. The Budlong is a small, Southern-style fried chicken spot, and it doesn’t disappoint. Review coming soon.

  • Fact: We love Rainbow Cone as much as we hate Navy Pier. Fact: There’s a new Rainbow Cone on Navy Pier. Conclusion: Navy Pier just got a little less terrible.

  • If ‘90s MTV Spring Break could sponsor one restaurant in Chicago right now, it would be Federales. The new West Loop/Fulton Market taco spot is basically Big Star meets Cancun. The patio is great if you’re willing to put up with the party atmosphere and crowd.

  • Speaking of party patios, Parlor Pizza opened a second location on Division in Wicker Park. Same place, different neighborhood.

  • Speaking of pizza, Forno Rosso serves delicious Napoletana-style pizza, and their newer West Loop location has a quiet little outdoor patio. Eat more pizza.

6/3/2016 Update

  • The lines at Aloha Poke in the French Market continue to be ridiculous at lunch. But we have two pieces of good news: 1. Aloha is about to open a second location at Clark and Belmont, and 2. A new poke spot, FireFin, just opened at 10 S. LaSalle. Poke, so hot right now.

  • You may be familiar with Leña Brava, Rick Bayless' new West Loop restaurant, but that's only half of what's going on there. There's also Cruz Blanca, the more casual beer hall side of the new operation that's perfect for grabbing tacos and a drink.

  • Portillo's opened a second downtown location in the South Loop. The more Portillo's the better.

  • The rooftop beer garden at Gene's Sausage Shop in Lincoln Square is officially open. The old-school Polish-style deli serves great sausages and beer, and now you can consume both on their rooftop picnic benches.

  • We ate at Il Porcellino recently, the new Lettuce Entertain You restaurant in the former Paris Club space. It's peak Lettuce, meaning well-run, a little trendy, and good but not great. Worth a visit if you need something reliable.

  • The people behind Hampton Social in River North have now opened Mahalo in Wicker Park. Just like the former is meant to transport you to the Hamptons, the latter is meant to take you to Hawaii. To say we're skeptical is an understatement, but the outdoor rooftop alone makes it worth checking out.

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