Covid numbers are currently declining, and sloooowly, Chicagoland businesses are coming back…especially restaurants, which have been hit so incredibly hard during the last two years of the pandemic. If you’ve been hesitant to go out to eat, shop or workout, now is the time to venture back into the world (some places listed here may require masks and a vaccination card, so call first to check requirements).
Food & Drink
Buck Russell’s Bakery & Sandwich Shop is Ballyhoo Hospitality’s new venture in Winnetka, opening this spring, joining Ballyhoo’s Pomeroy and Sophia Steak. The tagline for this new one-stop-shop for breakfast, lunch, takeout, and catering is “Health food sucks, eat at Buck’s.” Though Buck’s baked goods and pastries could in no way be confused with health food, you can be sure they’ll be delicious. Pastry Chef and Managing Partner Jenny McCoy gained a name for herself – and her desserts – at internationally recognized restaurants like Emeril’s, Charlie Trotter’s, and Blackbird.
“After the last couple of years, we’re excited to bring the North Shore something light-hearted and comforting—a place to simply enjoy,” says McCoy. “We want Buck Russell’s to be a place that feels like home – the local after-school hangout, or where you take the team after a big win; the go-to for a coffee and pastry before your morning commute; your lazy Sunday morning breakfast. And we will definitely be the best bakery in town for layer cakes.” For those who lean more toward the savory, there will be Ouilmette Cheesesteak (shaved ribeye, provolone, A1 mayo, and caramelized onions) and the Ragin’ Cajun (Cajun-spiced turkey, Alpine Swiss, slaw and homemade chow chow relish).
1137 Greenleaf Ave., Winnetka
Elephant + vine is owned by CD Young, who made a big impression in Winnetka with the all-vegan Spirit Elephant, and it carries the motto “Eat plants, feel beautiful.” From this first location, a fast casual mini-chain is being born with stores opening this month in Lincoln Park and Evanston. These new elephant + vine locations will offer counter-service restaurants that continue the veg-centric menu options offered at Spirit Elephant, including Impossible Barbecue Burgers and Meat-Free Wings.
“Plant-based eating is a direct way that we as individuals can help improve the health of the planet and everyone on it,” says Young. “According to the Vegan Calculator, which uses research from Scientific American and other academic sources, one plant-based meal saves 360 gallons of water, 13 pounds of grain, 10 square feet of forest, and 6 pounds of CO2 and, of course, helps animals. Anyone who enjoys a meal with us not only has a wonderful dining experience but can also feel good about its ripple effects.”
719 Church St., Evanston
Lyra Restaurant is part of the new generation of twenty-first century Chicago Greek restaurants that build on tradition while breaking new ground with creative takes on time-honored favorites of the Greek islands. For instance, the Lyra menu lists longtime popular choices like spanakopitakia (spinach and feta in phyllo) and moussaka (beef ragu, grilled eggplant, potato and bechamel), dishes we all know from many Greek restaurants. Lyra, however, runs changes on the classics with dishes like Hummus & Charred Beets (with pomegranate, toasted pine nuts and 60-second pita) and Deconstructed Pastitsio (with short rib ragu and black truffle bechamel). It’s fun to taste-test classic dishes with a contemporary twist.
ABC 7 in Chicago says, “Expect simple dishes with bold flavors that rely on the quality of their ingredients rather than overly complicated sauces.” To complement the traditional as well as the more innovative food options, there’s an exceptionally good selection of red and white wines from Santorini, the Peloponnese and Macedonia.
905 W. Fulton Market, Chicago
5411 Empanadas is a brick-and-mortar location for the local makers of distinctive Argentinian hand pies that many Chicagoans first encountered when 5411 Empanadas was a simple food truck that showed up at street festivals, sporting events, and other outdoor activities. In case you’re wondering, the website explains 5411 is “named after the international dialing code for Buenos Aires, Argentina.” The food trucks started up in 2009, “when the three founders decided they wanted to bring a piece of their country to Chicago.”
Now, with a wide selection of baked pockets stuffed with deliciousness, 5411 is aiming to open soon in Evanston. Favorites include empanadas filled with shredded Angus beef, slow roasted in a red wine reduction with onions, carrots, and rosemary; and empanadas plump with crispy applewood smoked bacon, sweetened with thinly sliced dates and goat cheese. There’s also an all-vegan Impossible empanada, as well as other vegan and vegetarian offerings.
809 Davis St., Evanston
Tribecca’s Sandwich Shop rides the post-pandemic wave of restaurants focusing on comfort foods, beautifully executed. Co-owner Becca Grothe started serving her sandwiches in a pop-up location with Honey Butter Fried Chicken, her previous place of employment. Grothe told Block Club Chicago, “…when people think about sandwich shops in Chicago, they immediately go to the Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs, and I think we’re bringing more options. … We’re bringing things to Chicago that people up here may have never heard of, like the [Maid-Rite] and the Horseshoe.”
In case you’re wondering, the Maid-Rite is a franchise brand of loose meat sandwich, usually dressed only with mustard and onion, very big in Iowa. Pretty tame, we agree, but the Horseshoe, a favorite in our state capital of Springfield, gets a touch wilder: two slices of thick Texas Toast, topped with meat (frequently a ham slice though sometimes beef), mounted with a pile of crispy fries and drenched in the kind of cheese sauce you might find on a Welsh Rarebit; it is, ahem, filling.
2949 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Con Todo Cantina y Cocina is the most recent effort from Chef-Partner Johnathan Zaragoza, who got his start preparing the supremely delicious goat birria at his family’s restaurant, Birrieria Zaragoza. At Con Todo (“with everything”), Zaragoza is working in the culinary tradition of Mexico City, though he has said to Louisa Chu of the Chicago Tribune, “We’re not sticking to traditional stuff. We’re just expressing ourselves.”
Proving popular, and a perfect example of how tradition and innovation come together at Con Todo, is the Pamburguesa, a smashed (i.e., flattened on the grill) cheeseburger dipped in spicy red sauce, as is the pambazo, the sandwich dipped in tomato sauce, a familiar favorite in Mexico City. The hot chicken sandwich is a traditional, and beloved, Nashville standard, and Zaragoza does his D.F. Hot Chicken Torta, a sandwich in the style of Mexico City’s federal district, a spicy chicken breast served in telera bread (a traditional vehicle for a Mexican sandwich), ladled with black beans and Chihuahua cheese.
2853 N. Kedzie
DeSalvo’s Pizza is a unique purveyor of pizza in the Chicagoland area: they offer pizza by the slice, which although far from unheard of in the Midwest, has traditionally been more of a New York thing. Of course, you can get whole large or small pies, and there are some intriguing toppings. The Raccoon pizza is sausage, pepperoni, goat cheese, caramelized onions, pickled peppers, and hot honey; Green Dreams has a garlic oil base, with spinach, green olives, fresh mozzarella, pesto swirl, and the ubiquitous caramelized onions. You can modify pizzas with many of the usual toppings, as well as balsamic glaze, roasted eggplant, and other less common add-ons.
To drink, there’s soda as well as beer, wine, and hard cider. Says DeSalvo’s, “We are passionate about building community, and we want to serve you great food in a warm and inviting space.”
1945 Central St. Evanston
Dak Dak Korean Wings is surfing the twin trends of chicken wings and the growing recognition of Korean food and flavors in the U.S. Now operating as a pick-up and delivery concept, Dak Dak Korean Wings was the brainchild of Elmhurst native Joey Cornell who developed the idea for such a restaurant when he was advancing his culinary education at Johnson & Wales. Then that culinary school, like so many others, went dark during the pandemic, so Cornell had time to refine his dream.
Predictably the menu is simple and focused, with a range of bone-in and boneless thighs, four different sauces, pickled chilis and radish, and, of course, the wings, which Cornell tells us is “all about the technique. Our Korean wings are brined for 12-hours, coated in a very thin batter, fried once, and oh yeah, fried again. The double fry is what makes our Korean wings unique and simply better than Buffalo.”
321 E. Saint Charles Rd, Villa Park
Milly’s Pizza in the Pan, which began as a virtual restaurant in Logan Square, has moved to a permanent brick-and-mortar space in South Edgewater. Robert Maleski started the virtual restaurant after the pandemic caused him to lose his job as a server. His pies got great reviews, and now he’s ready for something more permanent. “I can’t believe I’m at this point,” Maleski says. “It’s been a year-long process to get the shop up and running.”
Burt Katz, the namesake of Burt’s Pizza, the legendary little place that helped Anthony Bourdain understand and appreciate deep dish pizza, is the inspiration behind Milly’s, and in the tradition of Burt’s, Milly’s turns out some outstanding pies. Favorites include Untitled #1 (pepperoni, topped with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes), and Clickbait (Castelvetrano olives, red onion, mushrooms, mini-peppers, Kumato tomatoes, jalapeno and Calabrian chilies, and fresh ricotta). Pro-tip: as Maleski is still getting up to speed (and can only make so many pizzas every day), it’s strongly recommended that you reserve a pie through TOCK or at least call ahead to see if there are any extra pies you might snag.
1005 W. Argyle, Chicago
Zymi Bakery is owned and operated by Ioannis Tasopoulos, who came to Chicago from his homeland of Greece about eight years ago, vowing, he said, “to give people …the flavors I took from my family and my home.” Attending baking schools in Chicago and Georgia, Tasopoulos was just named a certified pastry chef by the World Association of Chefs’ Society.
We all know baklava, but Greece has a few thousand years of making many sweets. At Zymi Bakery, there are many traditional Greek sweets, including baklava (of course!), but also galaktoboureko, a Greek custard pie; crunchy, powdered-sugar covered kourabiedes and paximadia cookies, along with a broad selection of European-style cakes. Also available are more American favorites like red velvet cupcake, but it’s the Greek favorites that are going to draw the most attention, and they will open your mind to the range of baked sweets that have come out of the Greek Islands over the millennia.
5806 N. Milwaukee, Chicago
Health & Wellness
Life Time Work is coming to River North this spring, and it promises to be “the first and only coworking concept that combines exceptional spaces with a world-class health club experience.” Membership in Chicago’s Life Time Work provides access to the River North location as well as over 150 Life Time luxury health clubs across North America. Each club boasts constantly updated fitness equipment, innovative studio classes, deluxe amenities in the locker rooms and a child center to park the kids while you get a little exercise.
Work zones are either private or open-plan spaces, with conference rooms and separate phone areas. Organic networking is a big part of Life Time Work, which also sponsors professional development sessions, digital forums, and remote speakers, as well as health and wellness panels. So, in one location, you can get to work, get a workout, and work your social network.
750 N. State, Chicago
Delos Strength in Winnetka, the second location for this health and wellness center provides workouts, guidance, and recovery to help clients achieve the two critical components of muscular health: pliability and strength. Clients can take advantage of pre- and post-workout treatments designed to maintain loose, pliable muscles so they can come back and keep building muscle and making progress in sessions designed to last only thirty minutes. These brief, yet focused and intense, workouts are meant to help busy clients achieve results quickly and, just as importantly, safely. According to Chicago Social, this approach supports the “most killer workout…focused on form and speed…tailored, efficient and full body.”
The mission of Delos Strength, as explained on their website, is to “tailor your strength training sessions to help you engage muscle groups through eccentric and hypertrophic exercises [to] build strength and power effectively.” Varying the workout is usually a good idea, and as summer approaches, now is a good time to start getting in shape (right?).
547 Lincoln Ave., Winnetka
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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 Maria Oxcatlan, Oaxaca.