New in Town: Matcha, Tacos, Ramen and Sushi, a Bakery and Spa for Dogs, Psycho Bunny, Fabio Viviani’s Latest, and More

With the dawning of a new year, Chicago and suburban neighborhoods are welcoming new restaurants and bars, retail and health and wellness spots — perfect for escaping the winter chill and combatting those seasonal blues. Fend off the cold with a steaming bowl of ramen in Evanston, check out Fabio Viviani’s latest endeavor on the Gold Coast, and give your prized pooch the star treatment at Le Barkery, a bakery, spa and boutique for dogs. Here’s what’s new in town and on the horizon around Chicago and the suburbs.

Restaurants & Bars

Curfew

Curfew, steps from the Mag Mile on Chicago’s Gold Coast, is the latest effort from Fabio Viviani (Siena Bar, Prime & Provisions, and around 30 other restaurants nationwide). Now open for lunch and dinner, Curfew focuses on shareable plates as well as traditionally sized appetizers, entrees and sides. Throughout, you’ll detect Viviani’s playful inventiveness in dishes like smoked steak tartare, shrimp and watermelon ceviche, Moroccan chili wings with citrus dressing, taleggio, and truffle mustard. Cocktails have been created by mixologist Marko Milunovic to both complement Viviani’s food — of course! — and to stand on their own as delicious and refreshing après workday refreshments.

Curfew is housed in the Hotel Saint Clair and their site explains, “Curfew is the perfect fusion of a classic American lounge with a distinct elevated dining experience with Spanish, American, and Italian flair, unrestrained by conventionality. Bold ingredients blend seamlessly with welcoming decor, helmed by a team dedicated to culinary and hospitality excellence.”

162 E. Ontario, Chicago

Matcha Cita

Matcha Cita is Chicago’s first matcha-focused café, and it has now opened a second location in River North. David Blitz, CEO, Co-Founder of Studio Three, has said “We are pleased to welcome Matcha Cita to Studio Three River North. Bianca [Pierson, founder] and her team have cultivated a loyal following with matcha-based drinks, smoothies, fresh baked pastries and more. With a well-thought-out signature menu and a bright, welcoming space — not to mention the pre- and post-workout benefits of matcha — it is going to be a hit with our community.” 

If you’re not familiar with matcha, the whisked green tea from Japan, has been trending for years as an energy booster, stress reducer, body detoxifier and, not incidentally, a delicious sip of green warmth. Matcha Cita — with retro, geometric and highly Instagrammable décor — offers a welcome change to coffee with, devotees tell us, no lack of stimulation.

648 N. Clark Street, Chicago

Solita Tacos & Margaritas

Solita Tacos & Margaritas proves, once again, that Chicago is always ready for a new Mexican restaurant. What makes Solita Tacos & Margaritas a little different is that their tacos are wood-grilled, providing new dimensions of flavor to these popular South-of-the-Border bites. Their Margaritas, the most popular of all Mexican cocktails, push the envelope with creations like Spicy Piña, made with a dizzy combination of pineapple, fresh mint, tequila blanco, green chile liqueur, lime juice and agave nectar, all topped with Jarritos pineapple soda – there’s a lot going on in this cocktail.

For all their wildly delicious food and drink, Solita Tacos & Margaritas reflects the laid-back vibe of Baja California. The space will include a patio fire pit and spacious dining room, “designed to evoke the industrial feel of an old tequila distillery.”

431 N. Wells Street Chicago

Hokkaido Ramen & Sushi

Hokkaido Ramen & Sushi proves that even though you may think the Chicagoland area already has enough ramen joints and sushi bars, new ones always come along and gain an enthusiastic following. This new Evanston restaurant also proves that restaurants that serve ramen — and ramen bowls make up much of the menu — are not going out of style anytime soon.

On a cold North Shore evening, a steaming bowl of ramen is just the thing for lunch or dinner, and at Hokkaido Ramen & Sushi, you can enjoy a wide range of ramen bowls for under $15. Popular favorites are Spicy Beef Ramen, with braised beef brisket and large beef back rib, and the Tonkatsu Shoyu Ramen, with generous slices of marinated pork. There are also some vegetarian and several gluten-free options. If you’re more in the mood for just a snack, the izakaya portion of the menu offers nibble-worthy deep-fried marinated chicken, octopus dumplings, edamame, and veggie spring rolls.

812 Church Street, Evanston

sweetgreen

sweetgreen in Lincoln Common joins a growing number of other sweetgreen locations across the region and the country. The Wall Street Journal reports, “With a devoted following and a recent valuation of over $1 billion, the fast-casual salad chain sweetgreen seems to be doing things right.” So, what does “doing things right” look like? Well, many sweetgreen restaurants are designed with clean lines and lots of light, with all the food coming from sustainable sources. The menu itself offers a lot to like with specials, some unique to individual locations. Regularly available dishes include Chicken and Brussels Bowl, Garlic Chili Shrimp Bowl and a Buffalo Cauliflower side. The cauliflower, for instance, is 100% organic from Norman Miller Farm, a Midwest farmstead that follows sustainable farming practices.

This new 2,769-square-foot location is in a former 1930s boiler house, rehabbed and renovated to maintain its industrial era design. The indoor dining area has a double high ceiling and handmade tile as well as an art gallery that celebrates sweetgreen’s farmers and partners.

2361 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago

Retail

Le Barkery

Le Barkery, recently opened in Buena Park on Chicago’s North Side, is a bakery, spa and boutique for dogs, and it guarantees “dog’s happiness.” The dogs have gotten the idea and are now barking at the doors. “The dogs push their owners over here. I love dogs. This is just the best business in the world,” says bakery owner Danielle Papakanelou, a classically trained pastry chef.

Le Barkery offers all-organic dog treats, as well as pet toys and accessories, and there’s an on-site grooming station that dog owners can rent to wash down their pooches with all-natural soaps and shampoos. There’s also a pet-pleasing array of accessories including leashes, collars, and seasonal items like coats and Christmas outfits. Cats are not forgotten, and Le Barkery carries cat toys and products like organic shampoo. And for hungry humans, this new shop is located next door to Klein’s Bakery & Café. The neighborhood humans love their dogs, in fact, Papakanelou chose her Buena Park location because, according to census data, the neighborhood has the most dogs in the city.

4151 N. Broadway, Chicago

Psycho Bunny

Psycho Bunny, opened in Old Orchard Shopping Center during the run-up to the holidays, promises to bring their brand of stylish, evelope-pushing fashion to the North Shore. Psycho Bunny will “reinvent classic menswear styles by combining an uncompromising commitment to quality in everything they do with an unconventional logo, vibrant colors and unexpected detailing.”

Geared primarily toward men of any size, the distinctly casual apparel offered at Psycho Bunny has a certain eccentricity, a bold and slightly aggressive out-there-ness that will appeal to any person who is ready for something different. Colors tend to be somewhat subdued; the attitude is anything but.

4905 Old Orchard Shopping Center, Skokie

Health & Wellness

Eversee Boutique Eyecare

Eversee Boutique Eyecare helps you see just how beautiful our world is with what they say is “the highest quality, compassionate optometry care.” When you’re protecting and preserving the health of your eyes, you want to leverage the best that modern medical science has to offer. Eversee Boutique Eyecare offers the most advanced technology coupled with the highest levels of professional expertise.

Eversee Boutique Eyecare provides comprehensive eye care, including neuro optometry, which can become the foundation of an individualized treatment program for patients with visual defects that result from physical disabilities, concussion and traumatic brain injury. In support of optometric therapy, Eversee Boutique Eyecare offers a range of contact lenses, both disposable and toric. Luxury eyewear options include eye-catching — see what we did there? — frames from Masunaga, Blackfin, and Carolyn Abram, all professionally fitted on-site to ensure that you’ll walk out of Eversee Boutique Eyecare with frames and lenses that help you look great and see better than ever.

910 Green Bay Road, Winnetka

Coming Soon

Napolita Pizzeria & Wine Bar

Napolita Pizzeria & Wine Bar builds on the success of its Wilmette location, with a new spot in Northbrook. Scheduled to open in early spring — at long last! — the handcrafted pies from Napolita are receiving a warm welcome. During a recent board meeting, Village President Kathryn Ciesla pronounced it “the most anticipated business in Northbrook.”

Gearing up for a piping hot introduction to Northbrook, Napolita Pizzeria & Wine Bar installed a brand-new Stefano Ferrara brick pizza oven, imported from Italy just last December. These ovens are also used at other first-rate pizza emporia like Paulie Gee’s in Brooklyn and Un Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco. At Napolita Pizzeria & Wine Bar, expect to see a full Italian menu of primi, insalata, pasta and risotto, secondi, and about twenty red and white Neapolitan pizzas, including uncommon pizza creations like Speck e Spinaci (smoked prosciutto, spinach and provolone) and a beautiful pie loaded with grilled vegetables. To complement all this deliciousness, there’s a well-curated wine cellar — and if you’re a fan of grappa, you must check out their admirable collection of this fiery Italian brandy.

1349 Shermer Road, Northbrook

EvaDean’s Bakery & Café

EvaDean’s Bakery & Café is now scheduled to open later this year in Wilmette. Owners Jordana and Garrett VanBergen are moving into the space vacated by Lad & Lassie, the children’s boutique. EvaDean’s Bakery & Café will feature a bakery on the right side and breakfast-lunch-brunch service on the left side of the space. 

Garrett is currently executive chef at Farmhouse, a self-titled “farm to tavern” restaurant, and Jordana is a Wilmette native and pastry chef who has worked for the past 10 years at Evanston’s Bennison’s Bakery — her grandmother, Eva Dean, was also a baker and, apparently, a big influence on Jordana. Garrett will handle the restaurant/café side of the business, and Jordana will oversee the bakery. The VanBergen’s are seeking a liquor license to enable them to serve wine and cocktails at brunch and lunch, and they’re also seeking formal approval to use part of Veteran’s Park, along the eastside of the building, for outdoor dining.

1115 Central Avenue, Wilmette

Briny Swine

Briny Swine in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, opening early this year, bills itself as an “Edisto Island Smokehouse and Oyster Bar.” In case you’re wondering, Edisto Island is a quiet community of a couple of thousand people located between the mouths of the North and South Edisto Rivers in Charleston, South Carolina. Brandon and Kathrine Rushing own and operate this original Briny Swine, and now they’re bringing their brand of southern seafood and barbecue to Chicago.

“We have always appreciated the city as a cultural destination, but [a recent trip] sealed our decision to bring Briny Swine to Chicago,” remembers Katherine. “We were inspired by the unique feeling of each neighborhood, the quality of restaurants, the friendliness of everyone we met. And we see parallels between Edisto Island and Chicago. Both places have a tight knit community that’s hospitable, good-natured and loves nothing more than coming together over a great meal.”

2577 N. Clark, Chicago

No Vacancy

No Vacancy is opening as an “elevated dive bar” in River North, which means that despite the sleek black and silver décor, and a distinct modern and sexy feel, the No Vacancy concept, we’re told, is “a neighboring watering hole where people can come and enjoy each other’s company over delicious drinks.”

The extensive beverage program includes craft cocktails, as well as beer and wine, and there are also menu items that are gaining much favorable attention. Chef Zenas White has said he plans to present diners with classic American food made with seasonal ingredients — not exactly a novel approach, but Zenas promises to exceed expectations with The Braised Pork Shoulder Egg Rolls served with red birria consommé for dipping, the Chicken Tenders dusted with pickle-brined pretzel dust, and Pork Belly Pigs in a Blanket that diners tell us are just as delicious as they sound. Really, though, to call this place a “dive bar” seems like kind of an underestimation — it’s much more than that. 

509 N. Wells Street, Chicago


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David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded LTHForum.com, the 15,000 member food chat site; for several years he wrote weekly “Food Detective” columns in the Chicago Sun-Times; he writes weekly food columns for Wednesday Journal. He has written extensively about the culinary traditions of Mexico and Southeast Asia and contributed several chapters to “Street Food Around the World.”

David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca.