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.
Occasionally, swinging for the fences pays off. Exhibit A: Quiote, the ambitious bilevel cafe/restaurant/mezcal bar from Dan Salls (Salsa Truck, The Garage). A day’s worth of eating and drinking awaits, starting with Sparrow coffee and Mexican pastries for breakfast, and then tortas and housemade (down to the tortillas) tacos at lunch. Dinnertime brings spot-on regional Mexican dishes like chicken en mole and chorizo verde. And after hours, you’ll wanna descend into the golden-hued basement bar, where 80-plus small-batch mezcals are available in cocktails or straight up — as your correspondent would do.
Grab your trunks. You're hitting the hot tub. Surely one of the more outrageous watering holes to open in recent memory, Bunny Slope — located in the basement of the Acme Hotel — is a private-events only bar that can fit up to 18 of your closest ski bunny buds. Taking design cues from the ski resorts of the '60s, reservations will cost ya $150 for two hours. Order up some German mulled wine for the group and get to soaking.
Executive chef Jeff Lutzow — who cut his teeth at Nico Osteria and the Publican — serves up the platonic ideal of a Neapolitan pie: delightfully crisp and chewy from end to end. We’re currently smitten with the elegantly simple margherita, the sunny egg-topped carbonara and the salt/funk lover’s puttanesca, dotted with colorful olives and anchovies. Four of the six rotating tap beers come from Off Color Brewing, which — heads up — is planning a nearby taproom for later this year.
A pair of Les Nomades vets are behind this teensy new tasting-menu spot, where dishes blend youthful imagination with serious French cooking chops. Your only meal option is to fork over $110 for 12 courses, but you’ll revel in each one. Sunflower in five forms offers up the plant’s derivatives in every which way, from glazed sunchokes to salsify chips. A smoke-filled dome lends campfire vibes to a memorable cheese course, and that whimsy extends to the decor, with recessed LED lights that change with your meal and custom-built tables with magnetic compartments that open to reveal surprises (like onsite-grown microgreens!) as dinner progresses. Book in advance; there are only 20 seats.
Kitsune Restaurant and Pub
Iliana Regan’s (Elizabeth) long-awaited Japanese pub has arrived, and it’s just the cozy corner nook we hoped for. First things first: make a reservation. Kitsune’s 20 seats fill up fast. Snackish small and large plates blend homespun Japanese recipes with Regan’s fierce dedication to local products and minimal waste. Read: silky, Midwestern “tofu” made from buttermilk and cream, miso made from English peas and nutty Minnesota wild rice standing in for sushi rice. We’ll be back, possibly weekly, for the mother and child donburi (rice bowl) laced with chicken and soft scrambled eggs, and creamy gomae with skipjack katsuobushi — both killer sake companions. And since all Regan come with a little kitsch, tiny porcelain bunnies share your table setting. The lady will love ‘em.
This low-lit watering hole inside the restored Lawrence House Flats apartment building gives Northerly Uptown a much-needed cocktail bar. It also completes owner Michael Salvatore’s contributions to a stunning rehab (he opened a Heritage Outpost coffee shop across the lobby last summer). Salvatore tapped Heisler vets Wade McElroy and Jeff Donahue for Larry’s drink program, which explains the hodgepodge of cocktails you’ll find here. This writer’s currently crushing on the earthy-yet bright Rainbo, which unites beet juice, scotch, raspberry and ginger beer. But in these temps, the rum and fino sherry-laced Donmoor admittedly goes down like water.
What do you get when you mix the Dante’s Pizzeria team and a Haywood Tavern chef? Simple yet serious sandwiches with a side of thin-crust pizza and a warm, neighborhoody vibe. Chef Rodney Staton’s handheld delights range from cold to panini’d, and veg-friendly to very meaty. We’re fondest of the half-pound Montreal smoked meat (house-smoked brisket) on rye with grainy mustard. Sides are pleasingly cheffy: ruby-colored beet and farro salad; marinated mushrooms laced with lemon peel. Postscript to the lazy: the crisper-than-Dante’s pizzas will stand up beautifully to (eventual) delivery, but this charming, wood- and brick-accented spot is worth putting pants on for.
As its facepalmingly punny name suggests, this West Loop cafe/bar will get you toasted in more ways than one. Chefs/siblings Omar and Brenda Garcia ply us with fancy sweet and savory toasts for breakfast, like buttery brioche with strawberries and basil and deconstructed steak and eggs. Later in the day, expect fermented veg crostini and a killer smoked trout tartine on sourdough rye. As for getting other-toasted here, we’d suggest one of 170 whiskeys on hand. The Makers Cask Strength Old Fashioned on draught (or in a shot, if it’s been that kind of day) is a good place to start. Keep an eye on Tok come March for tickets to Mercurio, the bi-monthly pop-up dinners that will test the Garcias’ creativity beyond glutenous dough.