To keep tabs on every Chicago bar and restaurant 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). Do it to it.
Photo: Anthony Thalier
Duck Duck Goat
You know the drill. Boka Restaurant group means a damn beautiful setting. And Stephanie Izard in the kitchen means the food matters. She’s making craveable Chinese food by successfully towing the line between tradition and imagination. Start with the char siu baos and scallion pancakes before diving into the beef slap noodles, one of eight noodles being made in-house daily. Then hit the crispy frog legs with potatoes. Then Chongqing-style dry-fried chicken. Then the duck fried rice. Then the … you get the point. You can’t get everything — in one visit, anyway.
Photo: Mezcaleria Las Flores
Mezcaleria Las Flores
Greasy spoon breakfast joint Johnny’s Grill has added agave distillations to the mix, and it’s reason to pay the spot a nighttime visit. You’ll find them at the festively low-key companion bar next door, where owner/chef Sarah Jordan has opened Mezcaleria Las Flores with Jay Schroeder, the former bev director to the Rick Bayless empire. In addition to pouring shots of smoky goodness, Schroeder is drumming up rousing mezcal-centric creations, including our favorite: the Magnetic Pole Reversal, a lip-smacker of Sotol Por Siempre, Suze, cucumber, coriander, fresh lime and basil.
Photo: Clayton Hauck
One of two surprise openings from 16” On Center (Dusek’s, The Promontory) — the other being St. Lou’s Assembly, a meat and three sides cafeteria one door over — Moneygun was something of a mystery for, oh, about a day. This is a dive bar with good taste. That’s basically all you need to know here. Fancy cocktails? Not so much. Classic cocktails done right? More like it. We made friends with the bar food earlier this month, and we highly encourage you to do the same.
Add another tally to Chicago’s carb-lovin’ affair with Italian joints. Il Porcellino’s dining room channels an era of old-school trattorias, which makes its tightly curated menu — supplemented by daily specials — all the more clever. The restaurant’s namesake dish, a Tuscan-style slow-roasted pork plumped atop chicheria beans, is must-try on your first visit, but it’s the toothsome pastas that’ll have you coming back often (get the black pepper pasta). The cocktail menu is also worth noting, an exceptional first showing from West Coast transplant Julian Cox, the man responsible for some of LA’s best bar programs and named one of the top 10 mixologists of the last 10 years according to Food & Wine, a title he shares with hometown hero Charles Joly (formerly of The Aviary). We call that pedigree.
Oriole, the new fine-dining destination tucked away on a quiet side street in the West Loop, will go down as one of the most ambitious restaurant openings of the year. The chefs are Noah Sandoval, who led the now-closed Lakeview restaurant Senza to two Michelin stars, and pastry chef Genie Kwon, who earned a Jean Banchet award for her time at Boka and GT Fish & Oyster. Understand this is not a concept for the casual foodie, but rather a reminder that high-end tasting menus still have their place. $175 for 16 courses, with a commitment to creative New American (menu here). Extra for drink pairings. The price tag may keep some away, but that’s your gain.
As Indonesia-based Imperial Group’s first U.S. concept, Imperial Lamian is among the most splendid restaurants in the city with its earth-toned mix of wood, steel and mosaic tiles. With respect to two new elevated Chinese restaurants opening in a month: we say the more, the merrier. In the end, it’s the food that matters, and the focus here is on lamian, or hand-pulled noodles, that you can order up several different ways — the beef brisket nestled atop noodles with bone marrow broth and Chinese rose wine being our early favorite.
Photo: Nick Murway
From the team behind the Fountainhead comes Chicago’s first ever bona fide cider bar. The northside spot has all the makings of a classic Chicago pub, except behind the pine you’ll have your pick of 18 ciders on draft and two firkins. So expect something for all, especially for those interested in exploring the brave new world of cider beer.