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 ride.
The dudes behind the teensy hotspot Giant have sized up with their sprawling all-day eatery inside the gorgeous new Ace Hotel. But don’t be fooled by the decidedly grown-up, modernist-Chicago decor awash in brass and hunter green. The name of the game here is whimsy. Fried artichokes get a comfy partner in pork ragu with crisp breadcrumbs, and tagliatelle ribbons are tangled with olive-oil fried tomatoes and anchovy. In a particularly genius move, brunch is available seven days a week. We’d suggest the gas station sandwich — egg, hashbrown, sausage and grape jelly perfectly contained between an English muffin. Also grab a quenching celery- and lime-infused paloma no matter the day. Because, y'know, brunch.
Photo: Jason Little
Banh mis aside, Chicago’s been starved for authentic Vietnamese options for far too long. No longer, thanks to the much-fanfared opening of Thai and Danielle Dang’s Pilsen spot, HaiSous. Thai, who dazzled us with pan-Asian dishes at Embeya before its unfortunate demise, gets back to his roots in the best way. That means open-flame clay pot grilling you likely won’t find outside Vietnam, in dishes like peppery braised duck (Vịt Kho Gừng) and spare ribs with quail eggs (Sườn Heo Kho Trứng). Open-flame cooking gets it due, too, via garlicky whole grilled squid and sticky, tamarind-glazed grilled pork belly. You’ll want to pair that with something bright and sparkly or bold and boozy from Danielle’s drink menu. The wood and brick interior exudes the kind of warmth you’d expect from a couple inviting you to their home for a family-style meal.
Award-winning chef/prolific restaurateur Michael Mina has finally come to the Windy City, bringing 1920s Paris to the third floor of the Waldorf Astoria. A follow-up to companion cafe Petit Margeaux, Mina’s stylish brasserie — dressed in marble with black and gold accents — has date night written all over it. Cocktails lean classic and Hemingway-esque, like the brazen absinthe-tinged Death in the Afternoon. Executive chef Brent Balika’s (The Dawson) menu is a master class in decadence, starting with dual roving carts bearing French cheeses and bubbles, right on through dishes like escargot with porcinis, steak frites with bearnaise and creme brulee tarts with creme fraiche sherbet. Romance aside, rolling yourself home after such a meal makes booking a room an enticing, if pricey, finish to this date night.
In a first for Table Stakes: we bring you a restaurant with no restaurant. The second delivery-only spot from Team Lettuce Entertain You (following Seaside's at Oyster Bah), ASAP Poke’s bowls and rolls built around sushi-grade tuna, salmon, yellowtail hamachi and pickled beets have us fully on board with the virtual restaurant trend. The spicy, tangy, so-very-fresh Maui crunch bowl with silky Atlantic salmon, pickled veg, watermelon radishes and ponzu sauce is already a likely contender for the regular workday lunch rotation. So if you’re in threeish-mile radius of ASAP’s LP kitchen, consider staying in rather than going out for poke.
For delivery only
Because Chi City’s steakhouse cup will forever overfloweth, we present the latest from the former owners of Mastro’s. This bilevel spot isn’t just about 28-day wet-aged steaks served on sizzling, 500-degree plates with indulgent toppers like foie gras or burrata, however. There’s a strong seafood component (including an impressive raw bar and over half a dozen oceanic entrees from lemony scallops to rare ahi tuna), and a wide spectrum of dining experiences. Hang with a crowd in the vibrant first-floor bar or upstairs on the 800-sq.-ft. patio overlooking Wabash. Or keep it intimate in one of several jewel box-like dining rooms.
Though we’re still mourning the loss of Perennial Virant at the Hotel Lincoln, we’re already digging newcomer The Kennison’s more accessible bistro approach. The reno’d space is handsome and roomy, with an expanded bar, inviting banquettes and easier-access entry near Clark St. Veg-fluent executive chef Bill Walker (Green Zebra) is simply crossing the street to Green City Market to get inspired. The results? Smoked pastrami-spiced carrots with burnt bread puree; and gnocchi with ricotta, rabbit, rhubarb and lavender honey. The name homages 1800s neighborhood fixture and colorful character, David Kennison. For more on Kennison, order a Hidden Truths cocktail and ask why it’s called that, as our friends at Zagat suggest here.
Bonchon Korean Fried Chicken
Question: Why should you wait 30-plus minutes for fried chicken when you can get a decent battered bird in eight-odd minutes just about anywhere that serves food? Answer: Cult-favorite Bonchon has finally brought crackly-sticky Korean fried chicken to the Third Coast. Doused in spicy or soy garlic sauce, alongside bright, piquant daikon radish pickles — this is the Korean take on Buffalo wings you didn’t know you needed. With four more locations planned for Chicagoland in the next couple years, soon enough 30-minute wings could be the new rule around here.
Main Photo: Margeaux Brasserie