New In Town: French, Ethiopian and Wood-Fired Food, First-Ever Cannabis Dispensary with a Café, and a Fun Bar to Drink with the Fishes

“Midwinter spring is its own season,” wrote T.S. Eliot, and the unseasonably warm weather during the early months of 2023 seems to have helped sparked some life into Chicago and the North Shore. People are revisiting old favorites – some of which have new locations or looks – and they’re checking out cool new places that are bringing fresh energy and opportunities for shopping, dining, and recreation. Have fun!

Restaurants & Bars

Pizza by Sal


Pizza by Sal is connected to next-door neighbor Buck Russell’s Bakery & Sandwich Shop in downtown Wilmette, another project of Ballyhoo Hospitality. “We’re excited to expand our offerings in the North Shore and provide our guests with this new concept,” said Ryan O’Donnell, Ballyhoo’s founder. “Pizza by Sal is a place the community can … grab a slice after school or a quick take-out dinner to feed the family.”

Pizza by Sal is headed up by pizzaiolo Salvatore “Sal” Lo Cascio, formerly of Chicago’s Coda di Volpe. Born in Palermo and specializing in Neapolitan and Sicilian-style pie. Sal is serving up many of the traditional pies, like the Neapolitan Margherita and straight-up Italian sausage, but also some unfamiliar combinations. Somewhat more inventive pizza toppings include caramelized onion and chili flakes, mushroom with razor-thin garlic and ricotta, and sweet pepperoni with hot pickled peppers. Pizza by Sal offers ‘za by the slice, which is a good way to go if you want to sample a few varieties before committing to a whole pie.

1133 Greenleaf, Wilmette



Kindling is a new restaurant in Willis Tower — or do you still, like us, call it Sears Tower? — and at the helm is James Beard award-winning chef Jonathan Sawyer, who is all about cooking with fire. “My career led me to wood fire,” says Sawyer, adding that cooking over live flames “allows [Kindling] to really represent where I’ve lived and trained.” 

If it can be cooked over fire, Sawyer will cook it over fire. There are many seafood options, including wood-fired oysters and scallops, and as you might expect, there are a lot of fantastic looking meat options on the menu, like USDA prime rib eye and New York strip. Guests have several dining areas to choose from, and Kindling seems like a good spot for a business lunch-dinner or just a casual weekend hang with friends. To support all these and other social functions, there’s a well-curated cocktail, wine and beer selection. The Tower, incidentally, boasts the last reported sighting of the Mothman in Chicago — so it’s also got that going for it.

202 S. Franklin Street

Lost Reef


Lost Reef from CPG Restaurant Group — Whiskey Business, Cheesie’s Pub and Grub — is an “ode to coral reefs around the world, [featuring] high-end cocktails and delectable small bites in a peaceful, underwater-themed lounge featuring exotic fish and coral … in addition, the lounge is a regular benefactor of the Coral Restoration Foundation, the largest reef restoration organization in the world.”

Block Club Chicago describes Lost Reef as a “high-end cocktail lounge with more than 2,500 gallons of salt water in tanks” of fish and other aquatic livestock you’d have to scuba dive on the other side of the world to see in person. The drinks menu pulls through the nautical theme with Great Barrier (Four Roses small batch, rosemary syrup, lemon juice and egg white) and Gold Coast (Santa Teresa Solera Rum, banana liqueur, allspice, demerara syrup, pineapple and lime). There are a lot more drinks but Lost Reef is a lot more than drinks: the bites are first class, too. Particularly tempting are small plates like tomato crudites and filet mignon carpaccio. 

964 W. Belmont, Chicago

Le Select


Le Select is one of the newest restaurants from the Boka Restaurant Group. Le Select is a stunningly beautiful space — housed in a thoroughly renovated Sushi Samba — centered around a spacious dining room, lined with plush banquettes, lamps and fixtures that seem plucked out of an Impressionist painting. 

Traditional brasserie starters include duck rillettes and vol au vent, two light ways to get into the serious eating. Salads are solidly in the Gallic tradition, with salade Niçoise and salade Lyonnaise, two classics. Of course, you may want to ease into dinner with the traditional oysters, here all East Coast and served with mignonette. Steak au poivre — a twelve-ounce New York strip with green pepper corns, cognac and cream — is getting a lot of attention, as has the choucroute Strasbourgeoise, a traditional and delicious combination of pork, sausage and potatoes. As you might expect, Le Select maintains a wonderful wine list with many available by the glass.

504 N. Wells Street, Chicago

The Board Room by My CharCUTErie 

Bar at The Board Room | Courtesy of The Board Room


The Board Room by My CharCUTErie in Libertyville bills itself as “a small plate style restaurant and sensual environment for the experience of a lifetime,” with artisanal charcuterie, imaginative small plates, full entrees and desserts. Charcuterie selections include dry aged angus beef carpaccio, and if you’re in the mood for a cold entrée, there’s heirloom tomato burrata Caprese and smoked salmon tartare — and all look incredible. Luscious pan-seared U10 scallops, The Board Room Signature Sirloin Tips and pan-roasted wild salmon are a few of the popular entrees. There are also many, many flatbreads including wild mushroom and black truffle, quattro formaggi Margherita and BBQ chicken. 

The space that formerly housed Tommy’s Pizza & Sports Bar has gone through a major metamorphosis, with a basic black-and-white-and-brown palette enlivened with dashes of color. Designer Hillary Spencer told Libertyville Patch that “we need to make this a space that stood out, and I think we achieved that. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t too intimidating. Color was a big part of this, but we wanted to give it punch.”

137 Lake Street, Libertyville



Boonie’s is the latest in a tsunami of Filipino restaurants to wash over Chicago in recent years, and it’s showing a lot of promise. The Infatuation reports, “When Boonie’s announced that they were closing their Revival Food Hall space, we were devastated. But this Filipino restaurant opened a brick-and-mortar spot transformed from a counter-service operation into a cozy, low-lit spot but more importantly, the food is still fantastic.” 

It’s become a cliché to say, “Filipino food is having a moment” — Filipino food is now established and widely enjoyed in Chicago. Boonie’s prepares many of the Filipino favorites you may have spotted in other Chicago restaurants, menu items like lumpia (thin, fried eggrolls), sisig (pork hash) and pancit (stir-fried ramen noodles). There are, however, some intriguing dishes less commonly found on local menus, like sugpo (Skull Island colossal prawns in bagoong butter) and sinigang (steelhead trout, tamarind, and burnt tomato broth). Chicago Eater says Boonie’s is “poised to join Kasama as Chicago’s next great Filipino spot.”

4337 N. Western, Chicago



Demera has for many years served outstanding Ethiopian food from its location on Broadway in Uptown. Now, Demera is moving downtown, with a new location at the Time Out Market. Owner Tigist Reda says, “To expand our cuisine to a new area of the city, through Time Out Market Chicago and alongside some of the best chefs, is truly exciting for us. Our food is known for its deliciously unique, fragrant, and spicy flavors, exotic traditions, and ‘family-style’ hand-eaten meals shared among family and friends. The Market’s communal vibe is the perfect setting for this experience.”

If you haven’t enjoyed it yet, Ethiopian food is one of the most sociable, nutritious and fun cuisines in the world. In the traditional manner, diners sit at small tables, close to the floor, and use their hands to scoop up vegetables, pulses, legumes and meat. The scooping is done using the soft and pliable Ethiopian injera (bread), and although this way of eating may be unfamiliar to many of us, it’s great fun to give it a try.

916 W. Fulton Market, Chicago


Bookends & Beginnings


Bookends & Beginnings has long held a place in the hearts of book-loving North Shore neighbors, and at the end of January, the owners closed in preparation for a move from their original “alley” location to a new storefront on Orrington in Evanston. Bookends & Beginnings is an independent bookstore opened by Nina Barrett, the author of several books, including I Wish Someone Had Told Me: A Realistic Guide to Early Motherhood. Barrett’s Fear of Frying series on WBEZ earned three James Beard Award nominations, and she won one in both 2012 and 2013.

Building on their traditional promise to deliver “books, gifts and local color,” Bookends & Beginnings has attracted a lot of local love. To help them make it through their move to new digs, they set up a Go Fund Me page that pulled in over 1,200 donors who raised $102,000 toward a goal of $250,000.

1620 Orrington, Evanston

OKAY Cannabis


OKAY Cannabis is the first and only establishment in the U.S. to offer a café, bakery, cocktails and cannabis dispensary under one roof. This is also the first suburban location for Chicago’s Fifty/50 Restaurant Group. OKAY Cannabis and West Town Bakery promise a “experience-based communal destination” in an almost 12,000-square-foot space, the flagship and the first of two additional OKAY Cannabis concepts (in Evanston and West Town) set to open in 2023. Master Baker Chris Teixeira and pastry chef Kaitlynn Johnson have dreamed up a line of new sandwiches, cookies and other baked — get it? — goods and a new menu is promised in early spring. The idea is to encourage customers to hang out as long as they please. There is also an event space that will “be activated with educational and community-focused events.”

OKAY Cannabis is 93% BIPOC-owned: Charles Mayfield, the social equity owner, is a U.S. Air Force vet and lifelong public servant, and he’ll be working with a Chicago-based violence prevention organization to create pathways for employment, career- and wealth-building. 

781 North Milwaukee Ave, Wheeling

Health & Wellness

Cowshed Spa


Cowshed Spa, after two years of their pandemic-motivated members-only policy, has officially reopened in West Loop’s Soho House. They’ve also inaugurated Soho Skin, a new global line of advanced “genderless and intelligent” skin treatments — including liquid cosmetics, exfoliators, cleansers and masks — that are vegan, as well as cruelty- and silicone-free. Cowshed Spa offers a range of on-site services like Swedish-style massage, with light-to-medium pressure to reduce stress and promote full-body relaxation; Bespoke Body Therapies, designed in consultation with your therapist and incorporating different techniques like dry body brushing and exfoliation; and CBD Massage, for better sleep, mood, anxiety and muscle pain relief.

Fodor’s says Soho House “feels like a bohemian artist’s loft. Artists, architects and musicians lounge in the chandelier-decked lobby, which slings cold-pressed juices by day and craft cocktails at night. The contemporary-art collection, featuring pieces by the likes of Damien Hirst, is a draw for art lovers.” After a spa treatment, you might have worked up a hunger, and there are places to eat on-site at Soho House, as well as many bars and restaurants along Randolph Street.

113-125 N. Green Street, Chicago

TruFit Personal Training & Wellness


TruFit Personal Training & Wellness focuses on wellness in a fun, inclusive and safe environment. Since opening the storefront location, TruFit Personal Training & Wellness has provided a variety of special events, including cooking demonstrations, acupuncture and other hands-on classes. There are also opportunities to maintain fitness from your home; several TruFit trainers are available for seeing clients virtually, and like so much of TruFit training, these classes are highly personalized, designed to help you realize your unique personal goals. 

Annie Coakley, Director of Downtown Evanston, has said that “One sector that was hit significantly by the pandemic was in-person training spaces or gyms. The fact that Izzy [Libmann, owner] expanded during this time is a testament to the care she and her team devote to creating a welcoming, safe and clean environment for their clients. And yes, it is a fun and encouraging place to be — I know this from being a client!”

604 Davis Street, Evanston

Family Fun

Lincoln Park Zoo


Lincoln Park Zoo has been open since 1868, one of the oldest zoos in the United States, but it’s always looking for new ways to entertain and educate guests. Entertainment and education are what the Houston Family Play Treehouse is all about. “We are excited to welcome guests to experience the new treehouse. It was time to replace the old climber that had been in this space, and we re-envisioned the tree house to be more inclusive for children with disabilities,” said Bill Green, Hart Prins Fund Accessibility & Inclusion Manager.

Located within the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, the Houston Family Play Treehouse welcomes kids and lets them touch and explore in a new structure featuring a tunnel — wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or canes — and a nature-based play space with tactile elements strategically placed to encourage touching from all guests, especially those who are blind or have low vision. The Children’s Zoo has been a home for many creatures, including otters, turtles and beavers; to ensure the well-being of the wildlife, the treehouse is designed to offer high-activity opportunities while not getting in the way of animal life — features such as the slide are positioned in the center of the space, directed away from animal habitats.

2001 N. Clark Street, Chicago

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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