New in Town: An Eatery With Robotic Servers, a Pour-Your-Own-Beer Spot, Decadent Hot Dogs and More

The beginning of the new year is usually a slow time for restaurants and other businesses, but you wouldn’t guess that from the number of places that are opening up as the temperatures go down. Of course, the pandemic means delays and shutdowns are always a possibility, so before you visit, please call ahead to confirm that these places are, indeed, open. Stopping by to check out new restaurants and other retail establishments, even if you’re just window-shopping, is the best way to welcome them to the community.

Food & Drink

Cultivate by Forbidden Root

Cultivate by Forbidden Root

Cultivate by Forbidden Root in Ravenswood is a new location for food and the popular brews from one of Chicago’s most innovative breweries. Forbidden Root has made its name with beers that lean into “adjuncts,” the herbs, spices and other natural ingredients added to perk up traditional beers. These herbaceous brews work extremely well with the menu created by Chef Carlos Cruz. In the old Band of Bohemia space, Cruz has developed dishes like Twice Fried Cauliflower and Grilled Salad that blend beautifully with the earthy yet bright flavors of the beer.

“When I first started talking with the owners, they wanted ‘upscale bar food,’ but we didn’t want to be too pretentious,” Cruz says. “And we wanted to focus on vegetarian options: we’re aiming to get 50% of our menu vegetarian.” However, if you’re a meat lover, fear not: one of the best dishes we had at Cultivate was the Grilled Short Ribs with Walnut-Date Pesto, a killer version of this now very popular “fifth-quarter” cut.

4710 N. Ravenswood, Chicago

BWB Shakes


BWB Shakes opened mid-December, a perfect time to serve shoppers upgraded fast food like grilled mahi-mahi, Asian Kale Salad, and Wagyu beef. Richard Korner, Executive Chef at BWB Shakes and Ravinia Brewing Company, says he will be using “only the highest quality proteins, such as our 100% Aussie Wagyu Beef burgers and hot dogs; our Smashburger is a combo of Angus short rib and brisket; our chicken is all free range.” Also on the menu are currently trending *bowls* and the locally famous wings. To drink, there are sodas, malts, and shakes (of course), and BWB has come up with some intriguing options for everyone’s favorite quick-service side: fries. Korner is frying up the spuds with truffle, Merkt’s cheese, and carne asada for what’s known as “The ‘bomb’ of all fries.”

586 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park

Tapville Social

tapville social

Tapville Social has opened a new spot in Evanston, and as with their other locations in Naperville and North Aurora, the shiny new space near the Northwestern campus offers beer (surprise!), mixed drinks, and food that’s a lot better than what you’ll find at your average cocktail bar. Shrimp and Chick Bites, with toasted sesame-ginger drizzle, is our ideal of drinking food: easy to pair with almost anything and made for casually nibbling with your fingers. If you’re in the mood for more than just a snack, entrees like Butternut Squash Ravioli and the Short Rib Sandwich are hearty and comforting on a chilly midwinter evening. For drinks, well, there are lots of “craft libations,” including many beers you’ve probably never heard of (but that you’ll for sure want to quaff), ciders and wine, and some spectacular cocktails. There’s a self-pour option available, so you can insert your card and tap off the beer of your choice, no contact, no problem. With the warmer months, Tapville Social will roll out a “mobile taproom” that also enables imbibers to buy and pour themselves a glass whenever they feel the urge.

810 Grove St., Evanston

The X Pot

the x pot

The X Pot as described by Eater Chicago, is “a mostly Chinese restaurant that promises an immersive experience with art projections, music, and robotic servers that bring out food.” The “mostly Chinese menu” focuses on seafood and beef, and the signature dishes are creative takes on the hot pot, a classic East Asian dish in which raw ingredients, including meat and vegetables, are cooked by diners who dip the food into boiling pots of broth. A phalanx of robotic servers, table-tending automatons, will help human servers tend to diners. The X Pot also features interactive experiences like a noodle dance that lets diners watch hand-pulled noodles being created before their eyes. There are also performances of traditional “face-changing,” in which characters from Chinese opera alter their appearance to represent different inner states. With locations in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, The X Pot in Chicago is putting a unique spin the on whole “dinner and a show” concept.

1147 S. Delano Court East, Chicago

Chipotle Mexican Grill

steak burrito from chipotle
Photo courtesy of Beth Galton

Chipotle Mexican Grill newly opened in Skokie and Naperville, will feature the innovative Chipotlane Digital Kitchen. Smaller than a traditional Chipotle, without dining room access (though there will be patio seating), Chipotlane Digital Kitchen accepts digital orders placed through the Chipotle app and, as well as those of marketplace partners. Guests and delivery drivers pick up their digital orders through the drive-thru or walk-up windows. “Chipotlanes are a key growth strategy for the brand,” said Tabassum Zalotrawala, Chipotle’s Chief Development Officer. “Our portfolio of approximately 300 Chipotlanes perform with the highest margins across the board, so we continue to evolve our restaurant design.” In addition, Skokie and Naperville-area guests can now support The Farmlink Project, a nonprofit that connects farms with food banks to feed those in need while supporting essential jobs; to contribute, guests simply opt to have their bill rounded up to the next highest dollar through the Round Up for Real Change feature on the Chipotle app or website.

3654 W. Touhy Ave, Skokie

Yasotorn Thai Cuisine


Yasotorn Thai Cuisine cut the grand opening ribbon in early December, and this comfortable Southeast Asian restaurant now serves warming — yet light and tropical — dishes from Thailand. As the owners explain on the restaurant website, “Our unique and very special Thai flavor comes from our traditional heritage…in the Northeastern Province of Thailand.”  The menu reveals some familiar Thai favorites, like the very popular Chicken Satay and Pad Thai, but also lesser known Thai preparations like Fried Marinated Pork in spicy Thai sauce, Kang Omm (cabbage and herbs), and Hot Tod, a pancake of New Zealand mussels, egg, green onion, bean sprouts and cilantro. Though you can order many of these dishes with low or no chili heat, recipes for some dishes have a little chili pepper added, providing a welcome warming to the body during these cold months. 

809 Dempster St., Evanston

Bar Goa

Bar Goa

Bar Goa prepares food in the traditional style of the state of Goa, on the southwestern coast of India. Goa was once a Portuguese territory, so the food reflects both native Indian and European influences. One ingredient you’ll find on the menu that’s rarely seen on other Indian menus is pork, and you’ll enjoy it in dishes like the Pork Vindaloo Sliders. Located on the Arabian Sea, the food of Goa leverages the availability of excellent fish and seafood, which are featured in dishes like the Goan Fish curry with Spanish mackerel and fiery chili in a coconut-based stew, as well as in the Portuguese-influenced Prawn and Chorizo Fried Rice. There are many vegetarian and gluten-free options, and you’ll want to try some of the cocktails, some mixed with Feni, the Indian spirit produced from the distilled outer sheath of cashews. On some weekend evenings, DJs are on hand to spin tunes for River North revelers.

116 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago

The Graceful Ordinary

the graceful ordinary
Photo courtesy of Matt Reeves

The Graceful Ordinary in St. Charles is described on their site as “a traditional tavern with a fresh twist: new, and yet familiar, which also describes our menu; prepared on an open hearth, we call it ‘rustic refined.’” In the kitchen is Chris Curran (Fulton Market Kitchen, Seven Lions, Blue 13), who told us that he wants his restaurant “to be comfortable yet very refined — a place where people can gather and enjoy an elevated experience in a gorgeous setting.”  Few foods are more downhome than roasted chicken, and Curran presents his version with a wood-roasted breast, served alongside a fried leg and thigh, with collard greens and jus upgraded with truffle. His Waldorf salad is enlivened with smoked grapes, pickled apples, candied walnuts, celery, and smoked vinaigrette (this might be the tastiest version of this traditional salad you’ve ever had). The dining room at The Graceful Ordinary is beautiful but not overwhelming, and *ordinary* only in the sense that it does what a dining room should do: it puts you at ease and prepares you to enjoy an excellent dining experience. 

3 East Main St., St. Charles

The Hot Dog Box

the hot dog box

The Hot Dog Box, the self-proclaimed Home of the Steak Dog, made a name for itself in Bronzeville, and now it’s branching out to the Six Corners neighborhood. Run by Bobby Morelli and his daughter, Brooklyn, this new Hot Dog Box is scheduled to open mid-January. The signature menu item is the Bronzeville Bourbon Filet Mignon Steak Dog, with smoky crumbled bacon, bourbon sauce and cabbage/carrot “medley,” which sounds fantastic. The first location in Bronzeville was housed inside a shipping container, and getting an unusual building is key to the success of many now-classic places, like the tiny wood-framed “doghouse” trailer that was the original home of Portillo’s in Villa Park. At the Six Corners location, it will be a store front, and as Morelli told Block Club Chicago, “All of the hard work has paid off. I can’t wait to get open.” Neither can we.

4020 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago


Eli Tea Bar

Eli Tea Bar is the much anticipated LGBTQ-friendly tea store and cafe that opened in Andersonville this past December. Owner Elias Majid announces in his tea “manifesto” that the “total experience of brewing tea is transformative, for your choice of tea is an offering of your personality. You may have made this choice either consciously or subconsciously, but regardless, your tea selection serves as a display of your personality and your inner life philosophy.” That’s a heavy insight into tea, and in support of whatever life philosophy you follow, Eli Tea Bar offers teas on tap and a huge selection of loose leaf teas to take home to help you stay warm this winter. There are many teas here that you will recognize — like Earl Grey and English Breakfast — as well as many you’ve probably never heard of, like Ti Guan Yin, an oolong, and Kenyan Safari White. Explore.

5507 N. Clark St., Chicago

Inspired Indian Cooking

inspired indian cooking

Inspired Indian Cooking opened mid-December to serve warming subcontinental cuisine to Chicago, the North Shore and beyond. Kalpana Waikar (MBA, Northwestern) started her business online by offering subscription boxes of spice kits with exactly the right kind and amount of seasonings to create at-home versions of iconic Indian dishes such as butter chicken, chana masala and saag paneer. Now with a brick-and-mortar base of operations, Waikar offers boxes of pre-measured whole spices, custom-ground spice blends, and easy-to-follow recipes. In an interview with Evanston Round Table, Waikar explains that “I want to inspire people to cook the dishes they know about but wouldn’t attempt on their own. It’s all about making it accessible to as many people as possible.” If you’ve ever found yourself buying loads of spices for a single Indian meal, you’ll find that Inspired Indian Cooking is an economical, super-easy alternative.

812 Dempster St., Evanston

Health & Wellness



Gearhead has moved into the space once occupied by Uncle Dan’s, and like its predecessor, it carries outdoor gear, including shoes, jackets, and equipment for hiking, skiing and perhaps just getting through a rugged Midwestern winter. The stated mission of Gearhead is “to help our customers live active, fulfilling lives by providing quality outdoor-inspired products, backed by deep expertise and remarkable service.” Living more active, fulfilling lives is what we all hope is in store for us as the new year kicks off, and Gearhead is a good place to start getting the gear that will (we hope) help motivate us to get outside, move those legs and stay healthy, even during these sometimes trying times.

1600 Sherman Ave., Evanston

Bar Method

bar method

Bar Method a fitness boutique with locations across the U.S.A., is coming to Northfield. The “barre” is the signature piece of traditional ballet equipment, and you use this bar to leverage your own body weight and create a “transformative workout that results in long, lean sculpted muscles.” All exercises are designed to be low impact/high reward, with classic interval training that helps you lose inches and gain muscle through a well-designed sequence of movements. Bar Method instructors are trained to customize the exercises to you and your needs, and they’re skilled at modifying routines for pregnant women and people with injuries. Catherine James, Bar Method Master Trainer, explains that “The Bar Method is perfect for anyone with chronic pain, back issues…athletes…those with ‘tech neck’ (from staring at screens all day), and anyone looking for a longer, leaner body.” 

301 Happ Road, #5, Northfield

More from Better:

David Hammond is Dining and Drinking Editor at Newcity and contributes to the Chicago Tribune and other publications. In 2004, he co-founded, 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. 

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