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). Let’s eat.
Photo: Galdones Photography
This corner spot on Grand, Halsted and Milwaukee avenues in River West (or is that West Town?), is a warm, casual burger joint with a bar and enough room to seat 40. To unknowing first-timers, it might seem like a perfectly fine no-fuss place for delicious griddled patties, which is the appeal. But we know (and you know) it comes from the crew behind the acclaimed Italian restaurants Piccolo Sogno and Nonnina. You’re here for the burgers, and you’ve got plenty of options. The namesake Maillard burger features double 4-ounce patties with crispy onions, bacon and onion jam, pickles, dijon mayo and melty cheddar. There’s also duck fat fries. And milkshakes. What more could you ask for?
The Pink Squirrel
Located on an increasingly buzzy corner in Logan Square, the Pink Squirrel has fun rewards for the seeker of good drinks in kitschy places. For one, there’s two lanes of duckpin bowling. And yes, you should reserve them. But that’s not the only thing worthy of your attention — this whole place is drenched in severe ‘50s schmaltz. On a recent Sunday, cool locals and neighborhood tenderfoots, all wearing knit beanies, filled the vinyl booths and lined the pink walls. The drinks — from barman Dustin Drankiewicz — takes inspiration from Wisconsin (hence The Pink Squirrel), but with a decidedly elevated approach. Order up something sweet and boozy and soak up the nostalgia.
Marchesa — River North’s new, opulent and most polished champagne bar — is eager to please. Occupying the old Crofton on Wells space, the tri-level spot features a European-leaning food menu. The ground floor includes a chef’s table and there’s a private dining space on the second floor, dubbed “The Apartment.” Meanwhile, the lower level is a boho-chic basement bar named The Cave. If one thing is for sure, you've got options.
Bar A Vin
Red and White, the 10-year-old natural wine store (one of the first natural wine retailers in the U.S.) on the border of Bucktown and Wicker Park, has finally opened its new wine bar that aims to cater to the beginner and discerning natural wine fans alike. Expect a deep list catered for the thoughtful drinker, but don’t be intimidated. This is a wine store, after all. Ask questions. Learn. But above all else, drink. As for bites, there is a small food menu centered around charcuterie and cheese, natch, plus rotating weekly specials.
Half Sour presents itself as an “all-day cafe with a deli influence.” A more precise classification might be the delicious new Jewish deli you need to visit, stat. The latkes are crowned with charred scallion, creme fraiche, apple sauce and hot honey. The Pastrami is stacked high on rye, simply, with mustard and onion. Plus: there’s house-baked bagels. And you’ll find us wherever there are delicious house-baked bagels.