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). Let’s eat!
After Elizabeth Regan’s Micro Bunny Bakery abruptly closed, it didn’t take long for Budlong and its Nashville-style hot chicken to move in. And the neighborhood seems to dig it. How could you not? A tiny joint that serves up freshly fried, cayenne-bombed hot chicken over white bread with sides of soul food like buttermilk biscuits and collard greens. This style of bird is like its native Nashville: not over-eager to please. It’s just right. Salty, satisfying crunch? Yes. Insatiable heat not unlike the late night bidding of an ex-lover? Call us romantic. “X-hot” will do you in; “Classic” is the safe bet.
Raised An Urban Rooftop
This year, you won’t be wanting for downtown rooftops. While just this past month the city saw a whirlwind of aeries make their sky-high debut, it’s the rooftop closer to the ground you wanna make time for. Don’t let Raise’s location on the third floor of the Renaissance Hotel deter you. Altitude isn’t everything, and Raise offers the most delightfully inviting space to Happy Hour this side of the river. Drinks are good enough to warrant another round, and wait, is that a peanut butter and jelly push pop? Definitely a peanut butter and jelly push pop.
Photo: Galdones Photography
Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca
Rick Bayless has been busy. His Randolph Street dual concept is wasting no time claiming its spot among Chicago’s best, freshest seafood. On one side, there’s Leña Brava, where the food channels the palate of Baja California, a region that knows a thing or two about taste. You’ll begin to understand what Bayless is up to with dishes like the aguachile clásico, a plating of sashimi-grade diver scallops nestled atop a bright cucumber-lime-cilantro broth and finished with avocado, red onion and fresh serrano chillis. It’s all in the balance. And at the bar, mezcal is the juice of choice, natch. You’ll also wanna pop in next door at Cruz Blanca, a casual spot that not only has tacos (best in the vicinity), but a 10-barrel brewing system headed up by former Goose Island head brewer Jason Sembrano. So, beer and tacos. You’ve got your work cut out for you.
It’s impossible not to root for Kimski, a restaurant that can seen as an expansion of Maria’s, the no-frills liquor store with a backroom bar that’s long been a Bridgeport staple. Kimski’s gone and classed the place up a bit with a distinctly modern feel and a bar that spills onto a back patio (pro tip: to get there, order first, then enter through Maria’s) where you can enjoy chef Won Kim’s Korean-Polish street food. Highlights include the kimchi fried rice, meat potskis and the Maria’s Standard, basically a dog with soju mustard, scallions and kraut-chi — a sauerkraut-kimchi mashup. This’ll be some of the most adventurous stuff you eat all summer.
From the crew that brought you the Peruvian eatery Tanta comes Arbella, a sexy new cocktail lounge with a thing for wanderlust and global flavors. Add this spot to your list of before or after dinner go-tos in River North. We dig it because we can order a Singapore Sling and know it won’t feel cloyingly ironic. That goes for their inventive drinks as well, among which we recommend settling into a La Coqueta, a delicious concoction of mezcal, ginger syrup, grenadine and yuzu.
Looking for a new riverside spot to take clients? A date? Beacon Tavern can do both. If you’ve been to Billy Lawless’s other restaurants like Acanto and the Gage, this River North bar may seem familiar: you’re having a fantastic meal in a neighborhood where you’ll find more tourists than locals. Times, they are a-changin’, and a lot of that has to with Lawless and his group.
Left Coast Food + Juice
Here’s the truth: Chicago needs more places like Left Coast. Occupying the old Muskie’s space in Lincoln Park, this health junkie’s paradise actually makes a case for healthy fast-casual eating. It helps that Chicago’s chef of chefs Paul Kahan consulted on the menu. Greens, grains, wraps — you got all that. You even got something for the kiddos. As for your first taste, you can’t go wrong with the Chronic — a seven-minute egg, steak, carrots, red onion, avocado, spinach and chimichurri wrapped up in a whole wheat wrap.