InsideHook | Amanda Topper | October 31, 2019
Including the first themed restaurant that doesn’t suck since … forever?
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.
JIAO | Loop – 18 South Wabash Avenue
You’re here because: You’re down for dumplings, especially the soup dumplings from the team behind Chinatown’s beloved Qing Xiang Yuan (QXY) Dumplings.
You’re dining on: QXY Dumplings’ sister restaurant just opened in the Loop, and we’re pretty sure it’s the first fast food restaurant in the US to serve soup dumplings. Jiao focuses on steamed and pan-fried dumplings with eight filling options: pork, lamb, vegetables, crab and truffle, plus rotating seasonal specials. Order dumplings online via Jiao’s proprietary app, or dine in amid the sleek East-meets-West dining room.
Gadabout | Andersonville – 5212 North Clark Street
You’re here because: You self-identify as a “gadabout,” aka a habitual, pleasure-seeker who loves exploring international cuisine in a fun, approachable way.
You’re dining on: Non-traditional street food divided into five sections: Raw & Lightly Cooked, Vegetables, Skewers, Seafood and Meat. Mix and match plates across the menu for a wide variety of global influences. Standouts include Sweet Corn & Poblano Empanadas with a blueberry peach salsa, and a pork belly and kimchi stew with tofu, clams and bok choy. Pair with cocktails made from small-batch spirits, like the Purple Flame featuring sotol, poblano, lingonberry and lime — note the eye-catching violet hue.
Stockton | Gold Coast – 1009 North Rush Street
You’re here because: You’re looking for an upscale escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The sleek bar and restaurant offers plenty of plush seating to enjoy everything from a round of cocktails to a full group dining experience.
You’re dining on: A seafood-focused menu complete with shellfish towers, a raw bar, sushi and small plates like tuna tartare and jalapeno hamachi, plus an extensive variety of hot shared plates including Asian bao, kebabs and three varieties of dumplings. Larger plates are also globally inspired, like the Jack’d Up Fried Rice with teriyaki steak and hoisin chicken. Sip on the Sweet ‘N Spicy cocktail with mezcal, ginger, grapefruit and Thai chili ice cubes, plus beer, wine or sake options. A separate space, The Lounge at Stockton, is set to open with live music in November.
Papa Cenar | Logan Square – 2445 North Milwaukee Avenue
You’re here because: You’re a sucker for themed restaurants, and also happen to be an Ernest Hemingway fan. Papa Cenar’s menu is inspired by Hemingway’s travels to European cafes, with influences from the Mediterranean and Spain. The large yet warm space features several seating options including areas for enjoying cocktails at the bar, lounge tables and traditional dining tables.
You’re dining on: Shared plates are separated into three sections: The Land, The Sea and The Butcher. Highlights include halloumi cheese with eggplant caponata, scallops with saffron and carrot puree, and albondigas (Spanish meatballs) with cipollini onion agrodolce. The dinner menu is rounded out with a selection of large grilled plates including a pork chop with brown butter squash puree and whole grilled branzino with mole rojo. All wines are available by the glass or bottle, plus Papa Cenar offers a selection of classic and house cocktails, including two varieties of sangria and a selection of bottled beers.
WoodWind | Streeterville – 259 East Erie Street
You’re here because: You’re intrigued at the thought of an upscale restaurant inside a hospital.
You’re dining on: Odd location aside, WoodWind is a fine-dining destination 18 floors up with serious culinary chops and serious cityscape views. Executive Chef Donald Young (formerly of Temporis) is leading the execution of the whimsical menu. Dishes are fun and playful, including the Buffalo Chicken Chicharrón and the Foie Gras “Bao Mac,” an upscale take on a Big Mac with bread-and-butter pickles and fancy sauce, plus the Bloomin’ Maitake, a mushroom version of a Bloomin’ Onion with sesame caramel and bonito flakes. The cocktail menu is equally as playful, with ingredients ranging from activated charcoal and butterfly pea flower, to beets and dark chocolate. Weekday happy hour is also available, featuring a condensed menu of discounted bites and drinks.
Centre Street Kitchen | Lincoln Park – 1224 West Webster Avenue
You’re here because: You want to dine out for a good cause. Centre Street Kitchen plans to raise seven million dollars for pediatric cancer patients and their families via diner donations.
You’re dining on: Owned by Erik Baylis, a cancer survivor himself, this concept is all about embracing hospitality and giving back. The menu takes a better-for-you approach by limiting use of heavy ingredients like butter and cream, and emphasizing veggie-forward dishes. Shareables include grilled squash with za’atar, feta and shallot-tahini vinaigrette, char-grilled octopus with lentils and potatoes, and gochujang cabbage wraps with heirloom pork shoulder, plus a variety of salads. Larger dishes focus on proteins like the NY strip, grilled snapper or smoked chicken for two. Beverage options include a build-your-own whiskey flight, more than 20 draft beers, and a sizable wine and cocktail list.
Claudia | West Loop – 540 West Madison Street
You’re here because: You loved Claudia when it was a pop-up restaurant, and are ready for the next phase of chef Trevor Teich’s career.
You’re dining on: The elegant dining room houses only 16 tables, with dinner seatings offered at 5:30 PM and 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Claudia features a 10-course tasting menu for $185 and is currently BYOB, with plans to offer wine pairings in the future. Courses take inspiration from chef Teich’s culinary credentials — including stints at L2O and Acadia — and include surprises like a crab lasagna with passion fruit and snails served with truffles and pine.