Chef's Special Cocktail Bar
Chef's Special Cocktail Bar
Galdones Photography
By Amanda Topper / January 30, 2020 8:49 am

To keep tabs on every Chicago restaurant and bar 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). Bon appétit.

Brunch spread at Boqueria (Rey Lopez)

Boqueria
West Loop

You’re here because: You have to plan a group dinner for a bunch of picky eaters.
You’re dining on: Spanish tapas, wines and sherry in a stylish Fulton Market building. This D.C. and New York import is the perfect spot to share cheese, charcuterie, paella and modern takes on classic Spanish tapas and mains. Standouts include the Crispy Sweet Potatoes (with mojo verde, spicy yogurt and cilantro), Gambas Al Ajillo (a dish of shrimp, garlic, brandy, pepper and olive oil) and the addicting croquettes with mushroom or Serrano ham. Stop by on weekends for the popular brunch, complete with unlimited sangria or mimosas and a breakfast paella with eggs and pork belly.

807 W. Fulton Market (map)

Kostali at The Gwen (Jen Spears)

Kostali
River North

You’re here because: You’re a fan of James Beard award-winning chef Carrie Nahabedian of Naha and Brindille.
You’re dining on: Chef Nahabedian’s newest concept can be found inside River North hotel The Gwen. Kostali, meaning “coast” in Maltese, focuses on Mediterranean cuisine from the coasts of Morocco, Spain, Italy, France, Israel, Greece, Tunisia and Lebanon. It’s a true family affair, with cousin Michael as restaurateur and cousin Tom as interior designer of the gold- and blue-hued space. Start with hummus studded with spiced lamb, shaved radish, walnuts, cinnamon and mint, or feta cheese turnovers with dates, pumpkin and za’atar. The whole roasted sea bass is another standout dish. Kostali’s wine menu is meant to encourage exploration, with bottles available by the glass and listed by region rather than grape varietal, while a simple cocktail menu focuses on Mediterranean ingredients like Cyprus salt and sumac gin.

521 N. Rush St. (map)

The turbot at Porto (Neil Burger)

Porto
West Town

You’re here because: You’re nostalgic for that trip you took to Portugal or you’re planning a Portuguese getaway.
You’re dining on: Seafood in many forms from Black Bull chef Marcos Campos and Bonhomme Hospitality. No design detail is forgotten at Porto, from the gold-trimmed handles on the chef-counter seats to the grand crystal chandelier. Seafood lovers will delight in the wide variety of imported conservas (tinned fish) served in creative small plates as well as wood-grilled fish and seafood. The imported turbot is served whole with fermented garlic, vino verde and grilled lemon, while the chargrilled octopus is accompanied by smoky romesco and potato ash. Winos will delight in the Iberian wine flights.

1600 W. Chicago Ave. (map)

Insalata Cesarona at l’Aventino (Brad Danner)

l’Aventino
Streeterville

You’re here because: You’re not about to complain about another pizza joint opening in Chicago.
You’re dining on: Pinsas, aka Roman-style pizzas made with a unique blend of flours resulting in an airy and crisp crust, which means you won’t leave feeling like you ate an entire pizza. L’aventino is the type of neighborhood spot you secretly hope no one finds out about it. Mix and match starters like antipasti (the red wine mushrooms impress), imported meat and cheeses, and an umami-rich Caesar salad made with kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, pinsa croutons, Parmigiano and house Caesar dressing. Share a couple of pinsas (or eat your own). We recommend the Colli Albani with Fior di latte, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, prosciutto di Parma, burrata, arugula and Parmigiano. You’ll also find wine and beer by the glass plus Italian-inspired cocktails.

355 E. Ohio St. (map)

Harbor in the South Loop (Harbor)

Harbor
South Loop

You’re here because: You worked up an appetite after visiting the nearby museum campus.
You’re dining on: The best of the Great Lakes region, including pizzas with local ingredients, and fresh seafood. Grab a seat at the raw bar for a cocktail and oysters on the half shell or snow crab claws, or settle into a table in the cozy dining room for a full meal. Highlights include the don’t-knock-it-till-you-try-it fried chicken and pickle pizza and the walleye with cashew pesto and red grape grastique. Regional beers plue wines and cocktails on tap offer a tipple for every budget.

1312 S. Wabash Ave. (map)

Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar in Bucktown (Galdones Photography)

Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar
Bucktown

You’re here because: You’re a fan of the team behind popular Logan Square spot Giant.
You’re dining on: Fun cocktails and familiar and creative takes on American-Chinese fare. The retro-inspired space is a great place to chow down on classics from fried rice and cashew chicken to beef and broccoli and mapo tofu. The “Chef’s Special’s Specials” section of the menu provides modern takes like the Clams and Pork Belly with five spice broth and kohlrabi. Belly up to the large center bar for a cocktail from one of three sections: Spritz, Mixed and Stirred. Cocktails feature unique ingredients like chrysanthemum honey, green tea gin and orange blossom. Weekday happy hour and daily late-night menus are also available.

2165 N. Western Ave. (map)

Tortas at Tortazo (Tortazo/Facebook)

Tortazo
Loop

You’re here because: You’re in need of a quick and delicious Loop lunch beyond your current rotation.
You’re dining on: Tortas, bowls, chilaquiles and more from chef Rick Bayless in a fast-casual format. The colorful space can be found inside Catalog, Willis Tower’s new five-level dining and shopping experience. You can’t go wrong with a hearty tortas like the Crispy Chicken Milanesa with cotija cheese, cilantro crema and pickled jalapenos and onions, or the lighter Taqueria Salad. Save room for fresh-fried churros or smaller-format churro bites. Tortazo’s full bar also includes margaritas, mezcal cocktails, craft beer, wine and non-alcoholic options like fresh agua frescas.

233 S. Wacker Dr. (map)

RPM Seafood in River North (John Stoffer)

RPM Seafood
River North

You’re here because: You want to sea and be seen.
You’re dining on: The team behind RPM Steak and RPM Italian are at it again with an upscale concept right on the Chicago River. This is the final concept to open in the waterfront building that also houses Pizzeria Portofino and RPM Events. Across two floors and 11,000 square feet you’ll find contrasts of cream and dark wood, plus views of the Chicago River. The massive menu is divided into easy-to-navigate sections like crudo and tartare, warm bites like prawns in olive oil, seafood steaks including a tuna au Poivre, and so. Much. More. Despite the name, you’ll find plenty of steaks (including a 100-day dry-aged olive beef from Japan) and pastas, both a nod to RPM’s sister concepts. Save room for the Insta-worthy Platinum Coconut Cake, a devil’s food, coconut cream and white chocolate glitter bomb. A Burgundy-heavy wine list and agave-focused cocktails round out the offerings.

317 N. Clark St. (map)