CHI

Happening Right Now: New Chicago Restaurant Intel

You already have the Hit List, our regularly updated guide to the best new spots in Chicago. But based off our recent restaurant experiences, here’s our newest intel. Scroll down to get all the info on the places we’re adding to our Hit Lists, the spots where we’ve been eating recently, and the next round of restaurants that we’ll be checking out.

12/11/2017 Update

NEW TO THE HIT LIST:

  • It’s hard to definitively classify the food at S.K.Y. (or to know if it’s pronounced “Sky” or “S” “K” “Y” - we’ve heard staff members refer to it as both), but most of it is Asian-fusion-ish, and everything we’ve tried has been excellent. You can expect things like lobster dumplings in a buttery lemongrass broth, foie gras bibimbap, and a fried chicken dish that comes with hot sauce that’s like the core of a nuclear reactor. In that it’s very hot, not toxic. The space has an industrial feel, with exposed ductwork and brick, and plays the kind of low-key indie rock music you’ll want to discreetly Shazam and listen to later. They’re still waiting on their liquor license, so for now it’s BYOB.

  • A neighborhood sushi spot with low-ish prices and high-quality fish can be hard to find - so we’re excited to say that Raisu fits that description. It’s a small, low-key space in Albany Park, and its fish offerings vary depending on what’s been flown in that day. Order the omakase, which they’ll tailor based on your budget, starting at $50. When we were there they had incredible toro, as well as some of the best scallops we’ve ever eaten. If you’re into rolls, they have a few of those, too (the Omega maki with fried salmon and shrimp tempura is great), but we suggest opting for the nigiri and sashimi.

  • Bellemore is a new restaurant in the West Loop from the same group that runs Boka. The space is large and looks a little like a nice furniture store, in that there are desks and tables scattered around. (There are also a number of stuffed birds, so maybe think of it as a furniture store with a taxidermy popup going on.) The open kitchen and rock music make it feel relaxed, but the service and dishes are fine dining quality. Everything we’ve tried here - from an outstanding sheep’s milk agnolotti to a strikingly plated pork belly dish - has been great, but it is on the pricier side, so be prepared.

  • Pelmeni, or little Russian dumplings, are what you’ll be eating at Hugo’s Pelmeni in Lincoln Park. It’s a small counter service operation selling several different dumpling varieties - beef and pork, potato, lamb, and chicken - as well as different dipping sauces to go with them. You can decide if you want your pelmeni boiled, sauteed, or fried, and we recommend opting for the boiled variety. A full order comes with 20+ dumplings in all, so it’s a good thing they’re as delicious and addicting as they are (you can also get two different flavors in the same order, which is a good move). Come here for a quick and cheap lunch, or get takeout and see how many you can fit into your apartment.

OTHER SPOTS WE’VE RECENTLY CHECKED OUT:

  • We’re big fans of Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse in the Gold Coast, so we were curious about Gibsons Italia, its new sister spot that’s trying to be a trendy Italian restaurant. “Trying” being the key term. The menu actually has both cuisines - steakhouse selections as well as Italian options like housemade pastas, crudo, and meatballs - but commits fully to neither. It feels disconnected, and the steaks are better than the pastas by a mile. The space is more impressive than Gibsons Steak, with multiple levels, gorgeous views, and a retractable roof - and predictably, it’s expensive. For now, when you really want Italian food, go somewhere else.

  • The Moonlighter is the new spot from the same folks who own Scofflaw, and it’s located right around the corner in Logan Square. Scofflaw has limited options for food, but Moonlighter has an extensive menu of things like waffle fries, nachos, and burgers. The appetizers here are good as far as drinking food goes (just greasy and cheesy enough, but maybe a little too salty), and the burgers also happen to be excellent. The indoor and outdoor fireplaces will be great throughout the winter, and the gigantic outdoor area is an ideal summer hangout. It’s not worth a special trip, but it’s perfectly fine for what it is.

  • Gideon Sweet in the West Loop is doing globally-inspired small plates - just like the 8,932 other restaurants that have opened this year. The menu is eclectic, with goat tostadas, crispy sweet potatoes in a curry broth, and sweetbreads. It has some hits and some misses - the tostada and the sweet potato dish are fantastic, but the sweetbread dish includes “root beer stewed prunes” that seem unnecessary and taste terrible. Everything is affordable enough, though, that if you order a couple of clunkers, you won’t be devastated. Plus, the menu seems to be changing often. There aren’t a lot of casual small plates places like this in the West Loop, and we suggest checking it out for drinks and a light bite if you’re in the neighborhood. But walk, don’t run.

Gideon Sweet

OPENINGS:

Booth One: Lettuce Entertain You has taken over the old Pump Room restaurant in the Gold Coast and reopened it as Booth One. It’s supposed to be a throwback to the era when the Pump Room had celebrity diners like Frank Sinatra, so expect a sleek, retro, and expensive spot.

Lonesome Rose: A new all-day spot in Logan Square with Mexican small plates and Tex-Mex inspired food, plus creative cocktails from Land and Lake’s Paul McGee.

Small Cheval: There are a lot of Au Cheval lite burgers hiding out in Chicago, and the Small Cheval outposts are a more authentic way to eat one without waiting three hours. This newest location is located in the Loop along the river, and perfect for a weekday lunch.

09/18/2017 Update

Bonci

NEW TO THE HIT LIST:

  • Delta is a new Southern bar and restaurant in Wicker Park that’s great for casual drinking and snacking. They have a long cocktail menu, and their food specialty is tamales that are simmered in a chile broth instead of steamed. There are a few different kinds, like spicy brisket and a hard-to-imagine-it’s-good version with pastrami, lamb, beef, giardiniera, and lots of cheese. But it is, and it’s pretty perfect drinking food, along with the hushpuppies and “animal” fries that have melted pimento cheese and caramelized onions. The space is small and narrow, with an open kitchen and an awesome back patio.

  • Bonci Pizzeria is a new counter-service pizza spot in the West Loop, serving pizza “al taglio,” or cut when you order and sold by weight. It’s very busy right now, but the line moves fast, and the pizza is worth it. Bonci’s crust is airy and thick like focaccia, and the pizza doesn’t have very much sauce, so the toppings really are the focus. You’ll see combinations like potato with rosemary, romanesco with hummus, and ’nduja with ricotta, and even if it sounds strange, it works. There are usually around 12-18 rotating varieties, and we advise trying as many kinds as you can.

  • West Town has a new restaurant and cocktail spot called Beatnik, and they’re doing small plates with a Spanish and Mediterranean influence. The restaurant is big on atmosphere, with areas that will make you feel like you’re in Pan’s Labyrinth or The Darjeeling Limited. You may find yourself having dinner on an ornate daybed from a temple in Bali, which would seem ridiculous if the food wasn’t so good. Somehow, eating rabbit arepa, fried quail, and dumplings manages to make sense in the fun and kind of bizarre space. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re with people who appreciate some strange.

Beatnik

OTHER SPOTS WE’VE RECENTLY CHECKED OUT:

  • Vegetable-centric restaurants have been popping up all over Chicago, and Clever Rabbit, in Wicker Park, is one of the newest. If there were such a thing as a vegetable-themed nightclub, it would probably look like this: the indoor space is dark, with loud music and dangling lights, and overall, you get the sense that they’re really trying to make eating vegetables cool. Unfortunately, the menu is boring, full of predictable dishes like roasted beets with blue cheese, flash-fried brussels sprouts, and kale salads. But there are a lot of gluten-free and vegan options, and even though the food is basic, it’s satisfying, so it’s a good option if you need a restaurant in the neighborhood for people with dietary restrictions.

  • Katana is a sceney Japanese restaurant from LA, and they recently opened in River North. The space is massive, with tall ceilings, huge booths, and tons of private dining areas designed for parties and corporate gatherings. The whole space feels like a gigantic hotel lobby, and the huge number of tourists it attracts only adds to this feeling. Their menu has an assortment of hot and cold Japanese dishes, a robata section, and sushi. Everything is fine, but nothing stands out as particularly interesting or inventive. We can’t really think of a reason to come here unless you’re hosting a huge corporate get-together. It’s expensive and just not that interesting.

  • While doing research for our Lakeview Guide update, one of the best meals we had was at Coda Di Volpe, an Italian spot from the same people who run The Gage downtown. The giant, fairly generic space with large booths feels a little like a chain, but the Neapolitan pies you cut yourself with scissors at the table are excellent - the crust is chewy and crispy in all the right ways. There are also great pasta dishes and mains. It’s in a family-heavy neighborhood, so on any given night you might be eating in a restaurant full of children, or couples desperately trying to squeeze all the value they can out of their babysitter. If you haven’t made it here yet, it’s worth checking out.

Coda Di Volpe

OPENINGS:

Steingold’s of Chicago: A new Jewish deli in North Center doing bagels, sandwiches, and cured meat and fish by the pound. They’re open on weekdays from 7am to 7 pm, and they tend to run out of certain things, so call ahead if there’s something you really want.

Dos Toros: A burrito chain from New York that just opened a location in the Loop. Try it if you’re tired of Chipotle being your best fast casual Mexican option.

Lobo Rey: A new Mexican spot in the South Loop. Expect gourmet tacos, a Mexican cheese board, and stuff cooked on a flattop grill in front of customers.

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