To keep tabs on every Chicago bar and restaurant opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Do it to it.
Photo: Hugh Galdones
Originality in design and simplicity on the menu are among the impressive things going on at this nondescript West Loop hideaway. Manning the kitchen: former Sepia chef Charles Welch. This one’s all about atmosphere. In a neighborhood where big bustling restaurants — both in concept and size — have become the norm, the Honey’s crew has managed to create an unstuffy white-tablecloth’d dining experience that seduces you slowly and steadily. You don’t have to get the swordfish, but someone should. And then you should eat off that someone’s plate whenever they’re distracted.
At this Downtown tri-level rooftop, the views reign supreme. Nothing else matters. Really. And while they’ve done more to accommodate walk-ins, your best bet is to round up a large group and snag a reservation via Tock. Not since Cindy’s at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel has an aerie provided more impressive looks at the city below. Take note of the “Champagne and Oysters” ticket, because once you’re up here, all you will want is Champagne and oysters.
If you’re looking at Federales by concept alone, this is basically the West Loop’s answer to Big Star. And like Big Star, it’s been crowded ever since it opened, which probably has to do with the big front patio and retractable rooftop that makes the whole place feel like one big al fresco dinner party. Tacos help. Here they’re served in fours, with your choice of meat on a platter and all the fixings.
Yes, it’s a Hawaiian restaurant. Yes, they went full tilt with the island vibes. And yes, they have a killer oasis of a rooftop right in the heart of Wicker Park. This is Mahalo, the restaurant offering a neighborhood that seemingly has everything something entirely new. Start with the spam meatballs before diving into the Kau Kau Ribs, which are served up proper with macaroni salad and white rice. Pina Colada? It’s only right. Or go with the Big Kahuna, a zinger of a cocktail meant for two and served in a fresh whole pineapple.
Photo: Anthony Tahlier
The motherlovin’ sexiest ping pong club around. That’s what you get at AceBounce, the London import that swung its doors wide earlier this month. More than just a beautiful space with no less than 16 ping pong tables, the food and drink is rock solid thanks to chef Rick Gresh (David Burke’s Primehouse) and barman Peter Vestinos (Sparrow). When it comes to the world of ping pong bars, this is our pick by a long shot.
From the team that brought you Osteria Langhe — one of the sleepiest sleeper Italian eateries in the city — comes Animale, a new casual sibling concept right at the base of the Western Blue Line stop. Italian is the still the name of the game, but decidedly more approachable. However, adventurous eaters will find comfort in the Deep Cuts section of the menu, which includes toothsome dishes like the bacon-wrapped sweetbreads and a blood sausage puff pastry.
FireFin Poké Shop
And all of a sudden, Hawaiian poke has landed on the shores of Chicago. We recently highlighted the boons of the poke trend here, and you would do well to give this place a shout every now and then. Expect lines. And options; you’ve got many. You could stick to the in-house creations, but real poke pros go DIY. Here’s your order: start with a base of purple rice and go with Ahi for your protein. Hit it with that Ono sauce and top with onion, jalapeño, cabbage, shallot, sesame, furikake and hijiki.