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.
Off Color Brewing’s spiffy new taproom caps off a flurry of exciting beer-centric debuts this year from the likes of Half Are, Jolly Pumpkin and Metropolitan. Expect 16 brews on tap, including perennial faves like the Apex Predator farmhouse ale. Mousetrap’s exclusive brewing arm is dedicated to experimental projects and small-batch brews made with wild yeasts — a project Off Color had put on hold while it ramped up production (get the full story from our friends at the Reader). Here for a daytime visit? There’s coffee. Feeling a cocktail instead? Consider the Extra Fancy, a dill aquavit and fino sherry martini complete with a spoonful of caviar. There’s no food, but fear not: excellent blistered pies from Pizzeria Bebu are half a block away, for pickup or delivery.
1460 N. Kingsbury St.
If you’re at all tuned in into the food scene, Stephen Gillanders’ solo restaurant debut has been on your radar for months — probably in part because of ongoing anti-gentrification dustups with local activists. Welp — S.K.Y. has arrived, rounding out a stretch of higher-end eateries on 18th St. (see: Hai Sous and Dusek’s). The former chef-in-residence at Intro and a 10-year Jean Georges Vongerichten disciple, Gillanders gets personal (starting with the name, for his wife Seon Kyung Yuk, and a menu inspired by his travels). We suggest starting with Tokyo-inspired hamachi sashimi with black sesame ponzu, then heading to Korea for indulgent foie gras bibimbap with mushroom bulgogi. With lower price points (entrees $27 and under, beers for $6 and wines starting at $9), team S.K.Y. hopes there’ll be something for everyone.
1239 W. 18th St.
Lettuce Entertain You’s sexy remake of the storied Pump Room at the Ambassador Chicago has already jumped to the top of our list for impressive date nights spots. Named for the celebrities-only table at the original Pump Room, Booth One exudes both classic Chicago decadence and youthful vibrance across the cream- and gold-accented dining room and bar/lounge beneath those silvery orb lights. Chef Doug Psaltis’ food mimics the theme of iconic reinvention. We’re digging the cheeky caesar salad with mini twinkie croutons, followed by the juicy broiled lamb chops with mint risotto. It’s worth a note: there’s still a namesake “Booth One” table in the lounge reserved for actual A-Listers, if your ideal date night includes celeb-spotting.
1301 N. State Pkwy
Across the street from the gin bar that started it all, the team behind Scofflaw debuts its most casual concept to date with Moonlighter. You’ll find a smattering of cocktails spanning tart, bitter, savory and bright (oh, and $2 rosé shots), but this spot’s really about beer, with 20 taps pouring plenty of sour and lower-octane brews. And with OG Scofflaw chef Mickey Neely back at the kitchen’s helm, it’s all about the food — headlined by six double burgers. Our fave? The blackened Pittsburgh with blue cheese, ranch and pickled red onion. We’ll take a side of loaded fries, too. The space is industrial yet cozy, with exposed brick and plush leather seating. Garage doors open up to a 200-seat beer garden complete with twinkle lights and built-in fireplaces. For the next few months, you’ll find us by the indoor fireplace, cold brew in hand.
3204 W. Armitage Ave.
Does two Roman pizzerias make a trend? Mere months after al taglio storefront Bonci landed in the West Loop, Bar Cargo brings airy focaccia-style pies to River North with the help of world pizza champ Massimo “Max” Moresi. Your correspondent’s preferred order is half margherita (blistered mozz and basil atop a slick of tangy tomato sauce) and half boscaiola (sausage and champignon mushroom) — two classics done right. She’s washing it down with a palate-tickling frozen aperol spritz with Stiegel topper. This sporty 125-seater gets its name from the bygone days of using container storage facilities to house Italian sundries and actual cargo containers used as the structure for the space.
605 N. Wells St.
The long-vacant Graham Elliot storefront on Randolph Row may have finally found a concept that sticks. Chef BFFs Matthias Merges and Graham Elliot (who met at Charlie Trotter’s 20 years ago) have brought us a lighthearted concept that boasts a refreshing Pop Art vibe with oversized white light fixtures illuminating vivid murals, and white benches draped in Navajo blankets. Here you’ll eat naschen style — a parade of oft-changing, globally inspired small plates, many of which will be trotted to your table on trays. If you see a crispy potato spiral with sour cream and onion pass by, grab it. As for what to drink, cooler temps have us craving the autumnal mezcal, sotol and barley bitters-based Round Two from Alex Bachman’s (Billy Sunday) superb list. Gideon Sweet’s pouring drinks until the wee hours (and serving food till 1 a.m.), so you’ll see us here after hours, winding down with bone marrow croquettes and a vintage amaro pour (Bachman’s also the man behind rare booze purveyor Sole Agent).
841 W. Randolph St.
The dream team behind such relentlessly popular spots as Lost Lake and Longman & Eagle takes on all-day Tex-Mex with this sunny storefront on California Ave. Starting at 7 a.m. expect to-go breakfast tacos, juice and coffee, which give way to borderlands hits like chilaquiles, carne asada al pastor and Baja fish tacos and a double-stack chorizo burger from lunch till the kitchen closes at 1 a.m. (the bar closes an hour later). Speaking of the bar, Land & Sea cocktail maven Paul McGee is behind the agave-heavy drinks menu. Might we nudge you toward the bright and easy desert prairie paloma, with tequila, grapefruit, fernet, campari and Topo Chico? The airy space oozes desert-chic feels via blonde wood banquettes, a concrete-poured bar and an abundance of succulents — aka the kind of feels we’ll need in spades come January.
2101 N. California Ave