Springtime is bringing to Chicago and the North Shore a lot of new places to dine, from new outposts of tried-and-true favorites to boundary-pushing newcomers. From familiar bites to exotic eats, plus a new spot for skincare, here’s what’s new in town in Chicago and on the North Shore.
Restaurants & Bars
Asador Bastian is one of the few Basque restaurants in the Midwest. The partners behind this project include the owners of Andros Taverna, who purchased the 140-year-old Flair Building, a gallery space that previously hosted private events. The property has been renovated to house a Spanish steakhouse like those you might find in the Basque country of northern Spain.
The menu at Asador Bastian is, shall we say, unremittingly meat-forward, with spectacular dishes such as dry-aged Holstein, Spanish beef from Galicia and 100% Japanese Tajima beef. Doug Psaltis of Eat Well Hospitality explained in Chicago Food Magazine, “We’re focusing on a lot less that means a lot more to us. We’re excited to provide opportunities for our team while bringing this historic townhouse back to life, reinvented as an exciting new asador in the heart of Chicago serving the world’s best boutique beef without compromise.” In case you’re wondering, an “asador’ is a rod or spit upon which meat is grilled.
214 W. Erie, Chicago
Merlo’s marks the return of John Merlo to the same space where he operated Dewey’s burger and hot dog shop until 2015. Now, “I love the idea of operating back in town and being close to home,” Merlo told the Record North Shore.
That homey feeling might be just what many diners find at Merlo’s, which specializes in familiar Italian comfort food in “family friendly, big portions.” You’re going to find a lot of your favorites on the menu, including house-made ravioli, rigatoni Bolognese, and everyone’s favorite, spaghetti, and meatballs. Somewhat more innovative dishes include artichoke fritters — artichoke hearts with lemon aioli — and eggplant stack — hearty slices of eggplant with mozzarella in a balsamic reduction. Whatever you decide to have for dinner, Merlo’s offers you comfort from food that satisfies to intimate surroundings.
667 Vernon Avenue, Glencoe
Daisies, the small yet mighty Logan Square restaurant, has long been recognized for its superb vegetable-forward, pasta-centric offerings, which earned a Jean Banchet Award for “Best Neighborhood Restaurant,” as well as Bib Gourmand recognition. Daisies onsite market made it a source of comfort and deliciousness during the pandemic. Now, they’re venturing into a second location in a new, expanded space.
Scheduled to open its doors in 2023, the new Daisies in Logan Square will offer a full coffee and pastry counter, a new pasta and pastry production room, a private dining and event space with plenty of room for collaboration dinners and charity or community events, as well as a studio kitchen and photography room. Owner and Chef Joe Frillman recently announced the formation of the Radicle Food Group, explaining, “There’s always been so many different things we’ve wanted to try with our restaurant over the years — retail, wholesale, collaborations, events, programming. The pandemic showed us there’s no reason why we can’t do all of it.”
2375 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
Roundhouse is one of the newest sports bars in Chicago, a city known to have its fair share of sport-focused eateries. What sets them apart, according to the Roundhouse website, is that this is a “kick ass sports bar with 20+ TVs, cold beer, specialty cocktails, live games and not your average bar fare!”
“Not your average bar fare” turns out to mean dishes like Cheeseburger Egg Rolls — black angus, onion, peppers, American cheese, thousand Island dressing and hot mustard sauce; Italian Beef Fried Rice — jasmine rice, garlic, onions, JP Graziano giardiniera, Italian beef with jus and fried onions; and Mongolian Beef Nachos — we’re pretty sure you can guess just what this dish is like. Of course, there are many sports bar standards, like chicken wings and burgers, and a wide selection of beers to inspire cheering on your team. According to Block Club Chicago, “The bar’s beverage program includes 12 beers on tap, with a special focus on local breweries, along with Japanese whiskey, sake and on-theme cocktails, such as the Black Belt with Toki Whisky, demerara syrup, black walnut bitters and orange bitters.”
2535 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
Famous TacoBurger is a name that might conjure images of, um, maybe a hamburger in a tortilla? There is nothing like that offered at Famous TacoBurger, though there is a ground beef taco, which is about as close to a “taco burger” as you will find at this new Evanston outpost of a larger chain.
Famous TacoBurger seems like kind of an old-timey hamburger joint … with tacos. You won’t go to Famous TacoBurger for a breakthrough dining experience; you will go for the kind of comforting lunch or after-school bites that seem likely to appeal to the young and hungry. There are the standard pork, chicken and beef tacos and burritos — including a vegetable version — and pretty much the standard line-up of burgers — get ’em single, double or turkey, with a choice of cheeses. The fries are one area that steps out of the usual: fresh-cut fries are done up in Buffalo, Mexican and spicy styles — watch out for this last one, amped up by Buffalo sauce, Tabasco, jalapenos and “home spicy sauce”.
2901 Central Street, Evanston
312 Chicago is a name that’s probably familiar to many — it’s been around for over a quarter century — but for the past three years, it’s been closed due to the pandemic. Now, 312 Chicago is opening up again for business in a renovated space and a kitchen headed up by Chef Marcello Florio. Located next to the Cadillac Palace within the theatre district, 312 Chicago is in the perfect spot to enjoy pre- or post-show dinner and drinks. With 280 seats in the dining and tasting rooms, bar and mezzanine, guests will likely have no trouble finding seats. Note: you really should call ahead for reservations, especially on nights when shows are going on all around the neighborhood.
Chef Florio is known for his modern interpretations of traditional Italian classics, and his culinary creations are complemented by a wide and deep Italian wine list, as well as a signature cocktail program. Though the 312 Chicago menu leans Italian, Chef Florio is aiming to serve dishes that will appeal to many with spaghetti stracciatella and tagliatelle Bolognese comfortably presented side-by-side with a burger of ground chuck, smoked bacon and provolone.
136 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago
Soulé has a new location. Bridgette Flagg opened her original soul food restaurant in Ukrainian Village, but now she’s moved to West Town. The Chicago Tribune’s Louisa Chu explains what it’s like to step into Bridgette Flagg’s newly constructed restaurant: “The crisp dark structure opens up in front with floor-to-ceiling windows. Glass garage doors can open fully when weather permits. For now, a long modern fireplace warms the lounge area. A full bar lines the wall alongside. An airy dining room leads up to a mezzanine, with a neon sign that radiates the message: Believe in Yourself.”
So, what’s being served? Creole-inspired creations like Fried Salmon Jerk Pasta with Shrimp — fettucine noodles tossed in homemade jerk cream sauce with fish and seafood — and Blackened Catfish — served with shrimp over dirty rice. Flagg’s new location serves cocktails, including Polk Street — tequila, Chambord, pineapple juice — named in honor of the street where Flagg first started selling plates of fried catfish.
3615 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago
River North Bistro is where you want to stop when you’re simply looking for a delicious meal — breakfast, lunch, or dinner — in a comfortable restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere in one of Chicago’s busiest neighborhoods. While State Street buzzes outside, diners at River North Bistro tuck into meals that are simply prepared and deeply satisfying.
The homepage of the River North Bistro website features a photo of a big, beautiful cheeseburger, and we couldn’t think of a more fitting image for this self-proclaimed “American Eatery.” These are the foods we all know: the burgers, mac n’ cheese, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwich, grilled pork chop, pasta Bolognese — with few exceptions, not a single dish on this menu is something we’ve never eaten before. And that seems to be the idea behind this comfortable restaurant: you come here for the familiar feel of dishes you’ve known and enjoyed your whole life — and perhaps one of the signature cocktails, too.
660 N. State Street, Chicago
Helmand is a restaurant that serves “Fine Afghan and Mediterranean Cuisine” — we’re pretty sure you’ve had the latter though few of us have sampled the former. Afghani food has never had a strong presence in Chicago, and Helmand may change all that. There are some familiar dishes on the menu, like hummus and baba ghanoush, but there are also many dishes that sound delicious but that we’ve never had before. Borani is a flatbread stuffed with onion and potato, perked up with a tomato-based sauce; Kadu is a young squash with yogurt-mint sauce and honey; and Ashaak is a kind of ravioli-dumpling filled with scallion and leek. There are also some delicious lamb preparations on the menu, including a beautifully crusty and lush rack of lamb.
One huge advantage of living in a diverse city like Chicago is that you can take advantage of many foods from other cultures, like that of Afghanistan. Take that advantage.
4661 N. Kedzie Avenue, Chicago
Atelier is the most recent of the many French-focused restaurants to open in Chicago during the past few years. Bon Appetit lists Atelier as one of the most anticipated restaurants, adding that James Beard-nominated Executive Chef Christian Hunter, “a native of Lexington, Kentucky, is bringing his Southern heritage to Atelier and wants to highlight the ability of African American chefs to cook amazing food of any cuisine or genre.”
What you can expect to see and eat at Atelier, which now occupies the former space of Elizabeth Restaurant, is a tasting menu that offers some dishes that leap over national boundaries to create new and unusually delicious flavor combinations. Pozole is composed of cranberry bean, clam chorizo and tripe; white fish is prepared with charred potato, pepita salsa verde and brown butter; and 72-hour short rib gets fixed up with pastrami spice, root vegetable giardiniera and allumettes. Atelier promises to be something special.
4835 N. Western Avenue, Chicago
Wild Fork Foods is the place to go for some tasty proteins. Besides the usual beef and salmon, Wild Fork Foods carries some unusual gifts from the land — such as elk medallions, alligator tenderloins and bone-in goat cubes — and the sea — try Peruvian bay scallops, fully cooked octopus tentacles and Spanish coquina clams.
The mantra of Wild Fork Foods is “Frozen is Better,” meaning that the meat and seafood is flash frozen at the peak of freshness. There are also prepared foods, like eggplant Parmesan and chicken tikka masala, as well as items packaged with other ingredients, like skin-on sockeye salmon with blackened butter, and herb & olive oil seasoned pork tenderloin. With grilling season almost upon us, you will find a lot you’ll want to cook up from Wild Foods…and why not mix it up a little? Instead of the usual steaks, consider serving your guests something just a little out of the ordinary, like duck legs or whole quail.
1401 Waukegan Road, Glenview
Health & Wellness
Aesthetic Skin Winnetka is now open and ready to help you put your best face forward with services, including regenerative medicine, laser treatments and hair restoration. According to the Aesthetic Skin website, “Dr. Anil Shah brought his practice from New York City to Chicago in 2008. And when he did, he saw a market that was missing high level plastic surgery. Many of the doctors used to, and still do, use mallets and outdated techniques when doing rhinoplasty, lifting faces and lifting necks. Dr. Shah wanted to bring the state-of-the-art to Chicago and … as his practice grew, one of the biggest requests from his patients was to put an office in the North Shore area. We now have an office conveniently located in the heart of Winnetka.”
For those seeking simply better skin, Aesthetic Skin offers a full line of products to rejuvenate the skin and help enhance any treatment you receive. Off-the-shelf products include a branded line of products such as exfoliators, antioxidants and skin brightening creams.
44 Green Bay Road, Winnetka
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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.