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 get it.
Veggies get their seat at the table at Bad Hunter, the new vegetable-focused restaurant in the West Loop located in between Lone Wolf and Au Cheval. Understand, you will be immediatley impressed as you enter this place. Interiors? Gorgeous. Heisler Hospitality — the crew behind Bad Hunter and favorites like Pub Royale and most recently Estereo — has a knack for building the prettiest restaurants in town. Cocktail list is just as impressive (get the Mermaid Water). But the main attraction here is indeed the food, and how chef Dan Snowden is making vegetable cooking exciting. He's essentially created two menus: one of staple items, and the other a "market" menu that changes daily. You'll wanna sample from both. You must get the butter dumplings. Also the fry bread. The endives and little gem salad. Oh, And the tempura-fried lemons and winter squash. That's not to say he's left carnivores hanging. But with veggie dishes so flavorful, why even bother?
Photo: Matt Meschede
After helming the kitchen at the Saved By The Bell pop-up diner, former Schwa chef Brian Fisher taps into his finer dining roots with a new project with Arami owner Ty Fujimura. Entente (pronounced “ahn-tahnt”) occupies the old Ani space, a risky endeavor for an elevated fine dining concept given that no-man’s-land stretch of Lincoln Ave. has little else to offer. But Fisher and Fujimura, along with pastry chef Mari Katsumura (Grace, Acadia) are betting on making Entente a destination. Fisher is honing techniques to create dishes a step above “accessible,” but done honestly and creatively with good intention that a high-quality meal doesn’t have to come with pretense. All in, the menu reads simple and refined, while our early favorites include the pork belly served up with apple, celery root and pecan streusel and the Carolina gold rice with truffle and duck egg. Do note they'll be rolling out a reservation-only chef’s menu soon — we’ll be back for that.
The walls at Willow RM. (short for “room”) are filled with art we’d gladly have in our home, but that’s not the only good thing this new Lincoln Park eatery has going for it. Get the charcuterie, and take special note of the nduja and duck prosciutto. They’re both reason for a return visit. Supplement the meats and cheeses with a bottle of wine and a bibb salad and you’ve got a solid dinner option for the neighborhood, especially if you’re catching a show at nearby Steppenwolf Theatre. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to fuel up before heading over.
Myron Mixon's Smoke Show
What’s a nationally acclaimed, four-time barbecue world champion doing in Chicago? Don’t ask questions, just eat. New in Wrigleyville by way of Georgia, BBQ pitmaster Myron Mixon plants his flag to take the city’s top honors for best ’cue. Dude’s got a reputation. A good one. Ribs. Pulled pork. Brisket. It’s all here. Plus, he’s got a thing called cupcake chicken. And since the Smoke Show is a hop and a skip away from Wrigley Field, you’ll wanna make this your new go-to spot before or after games. But unless you love madding crowds, wait till the Series is over to pay ’em your first visit.
West Fulton Market
Those who love the coffee at Lula Cafe and Arbor will be happy to know the indie coffee roaster behind them has opened its own brick-and-mortar. Metric Coffee — the sister establishment to Chicago coffee institution Caffé Streets — has opened up a micro walkup cafe attached to its West Fulton Market roastery, and while there are just few bartop seats and not much else, they make up for it by brewing some of the most interesting coffees in the city. While extensive bean-education programs are in the works, you can grab a coffee a la pourover, espresso or Metric’s signature Hellion cold brew; there are also juices from Time Machine Juice Co. and a selection of daily pastries.
For a city that’s basically run by steakhouses, Knife, the second offering from the crew behind the popular gastropub Fork (see what they did there?), proves we can pack in a few more. Because every neighborhood deserves its own laid-back chophouse, and that’s Knife to Lincoln Square. Showstoppers (menu here) include the 28-day dry-aged ribeye for two, carved tableside. Bring a buddy. Get that. Also: savory oxtail doughnut holes. Need we say more?
Terra & Vine
One of the city’s most respected culinary talents has brought her exquisite palette north, to Evanston, and it’s only taken a short time for Northsiders to embrace it. Terra & Vine has the appearance of a restaurant you’d find in Evanston: elegant, spacious and inviting and stocked with enough wine glasses for a small army. Impressive bottle list? Of course. This is an Alpana Singh joint (Boarding House, Seven Lions). Singh, if you may recall, being the former host of Check Please! and the city’s most well-known master sommelier. As for food, the game is Italian Mediterranean, and you'll wanna kick things off with some polenta croquettes and plate of mushroom orecchiette before moving onto the heartier dishes from the wood-fired oven. Get the roast salmon, you won't lose.