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.
Photo: Adam Jason Cohen
Instead of building out, several Chicago spots are building up — by opening upstairs eating or drinking concepts with an identity that stands apart from the main floor. One flag-bearer for this trend: The Hive, a bar above West Loop standout Honey’s slinging cocktails in a small space for 30. You'll wanna hit the entrance right next to the host stand. Once upstairs, make things easy with a Dealer's Choice and relax among the mismatched digs.
Mi Tocaya Antojería
Chef Diana Davila (formerly of the now-closed Cantina 1910) just opened the doors on her much-anticipated restaurant in Logan Square. The Chicago native is breaking out family-inspired recipes that include her father’s Caldo de Res, a large-format dish with tongue, short ribs and bone marrow. The colorful yet small dining room is perfect for enjoying one of Davila’s signature dishes with a cocktail by Matt Frederick of Ukrainian Village’s EZ Inn.
Photo: Kyle Flubacker
The Backdoor Saloon
Grange Hall Burger Bar’s upper level is now home to The Backdoor Saloon, and while it’s only open three days a week, the space makes up for it by offering entertainment — including a little burlesque action — on Saturday nights. Enter via the backdoor after 11 p.m.; once inside, admire the saloon decor while you nosh snacks, burgers or a 36-ounce bone-in ribeye. Make sure you bring a partner in crime if you choose the latter route.
Centennial is River North’s new craft-beer mecca. The bi-level restaurant and bar includes a rotating selection of 36 craft beers on tap, plus an elevated food menu from Chef Ben Sheagren (formerly of the beer-centric Hopleaf). Of greatest interest, though: the housemade charcuterie program. The space is also downright handsome, with rich leather booths and iron and wood elements featured throughout the interior as well as on the building’s facade. And heads up: weekend brunch and late night eats are also on deck.
Continuing the restaurant-with-attached-concept trend, Esco Bar is the upstairs neighbor to West Loop’s Ronero. Latin-influenced Esco Bar provides a nightlife vibe, complete with cocktails served in giant rose-gold flamingos and prepped on a custom-made tableside drink cart. And while sharing a larger-than-your-face cocktail, you’ll enjoy music from live bands, DJs and conga players for good measure.
The Polenta Bar is the fast casual concept you never knew you needed. Unsurprisingly, they focus on one thing — polenta, a popular dish in northern Italy. Swap your sad desk lunch for a bowl of warm polenta made in an imported polentere (yes, that’s a thing). Top it off with northern Italian meat and seafood options, such as spicy Milanese sausage or octopus with olives and capers. If you want to play it simple, there’s also the Fonduta option with melted taleggio cheese.