7 Chicago restaurants worth the wait

Hot Doug’s

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

Doug Sohn’s homage to encased meat is packed with suits, students and blue-collar lunch-breakers, all of whom wait in longer-than-long lines and put up with limited hours to get classic Chicago dogs and brats served with Doug’s untouchable flair for flavor. Doug has veggie dogs for vegetarians, bagel dogs for kids and specialties like cranberry-and-cognac chicken sausage for high-brow hot-doggers. But his famous fries cooked in duck fat are only for his customers who come out on Fridays and Saturdays.

  1. 3324 N California Ave, (between Henderson and Roscoe Sts)
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Kuma’s Corner

  • Price band: 2/4

The servers here sport more ink than a Bic factory, and the metal is cranked up so loud you can’t hear yourself talking, but therein lies the charm. Squeeze through the ass-to-elbows crowds and up to the long bar, where you might be in for a lengthy wait. What’s the draw? Well, the Slayer burger, for one—a pile of fries topped with a half-pound burger, chili, cherry peppers, andouille, onions and Jack cheese on a pretzel bun. That, and the extensive menu of craft beers, including plenty of limited-edition local brews to get before they’re gone.

  1. 2900 W Belmont Ave, (at Francisco Ave)
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The Violet Hour

  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

This hip cocktail lounge is exactly what you’d expect from a bar named after a line of T.S. Eliot poetry: pristine (the carefully constructed cocktails are excellent), pretentious (you won’t find a sign on the door—just look for the long lines) and, ultimately, completely and unarguably gorgeous.

  1. 1520 N Damen Ave, (between Le Moyne St and Wicker Park Ave)
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XOCO

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Through no fault of his own, Rick Bayless was making my life difficult. It’s not that I didn’t want to eat at XOCO. I did. Really. A lot. But to do so was going to take a healthy chunk of time. Granted, XOCO being the most tweeted opening that Chicago has ever seen—due in part to Bayless’s own assiduous tweeting—I at least knew what I was in for, wait-wise. And I’d no more criticize Bayless for being incredibly talented and personable than I would blame him for the hordes of fans lining up down the block, desirous not so much of a torta as a glimpse of the chef-star. It’s not Bayless’s fault he won Top Chef Masters. So it must have been in a fit of frenzy and perhaps insanity that I made the last-minute decision to head over to XOCO one weekday around noon, thinking I would just grab a torta and get back to the office in an hour. No sooner did I survey the line than I promptly did a 180. (Well, not before unsuccessfully checking for a bar seat at Frontera Grill. A girl can hope.) I subsequently returned multiple times, but never on a whim. No, each later visit was planned in advance, with accompanying diners briefed on the possibility of a multi-hour meal. And it’s that planning, deliberation and buzz, that feels, ultimately, at odds with what Bayless is trying to do here. XOCO is intentionally, expressly casual: Much of the seating is bar stools that stare smack-dab into a wall. (A generous interpretation of this setup: It’s one of the most comfortable places in the city to

  1. 449 N Clark St, (at Illinois St)
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Doughnut Vault

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 1/4

“Excuse me, do you know what this line is for?” “It’s for doughnuts,” I said, humiliated. I was waiting in a line 50 deep for a food most often preceded by the word Dunkin’. “Are they that good?” Before I could answer, the lady in front of me brushed aside her long blond hair and turned to face us with a look of exasperation: “They are.” This was Doughnut Vault: the minuscule, chandeliered vestibule (capacity: approximately four) from which doughnuts appear Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30am, only to disappear just as ephemerally approximately 12 tweets and 90 minutes later. Currently, 750 are made each day, 900 on the weekend. There is no question the rounds of fried dough that emerge from this shoebox—the creation of the restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff (Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar)—are as good as any doughnut being made in Chicago. The problem is they’re better. “Stupid!” The Dance editor of Time Out Chicago is not one to raise his voice. “Stupidly good. The über–Krispy Kreme.” He held a chestnut-glazed doughnut, as fresh as one has ever come. I waited exactly 56 minutes for it. After the first 15 of those minutes, the couple behind me left for Sprinkles. The rest of us read novels. We played with dogs. We pretended we knew this was worth it. I, for one, did not know. Not until I took my box of doughnuts to a bench and let my hands and face fall prey to the sticky, airy perfection that is a Doughnut Vault glazed doughnut. Do I wish the glazed doughnuts were less grotesquely

  1. 401 N Franklin St, (at Kinzie St)
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Big Star

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

One of this city’s most worshipped chefs opens a new place…and tells you not to pay attention to the food. He teams up with the folks who operate the Violet Hour and presents a volume-driven cocktail list…that the crew says isn’t really the point. So what are you supposed to do? One of this city’s most worshipped chefs opens a new place…and tells you not to pay attention to the food. He teams up with the folks who operate the Violet Hour and presents a volume-driven cocktail list…that the crew says isn’t really the point. So what are you supposed to do? Listen to them. There are some things the owners have no control over, true. They did everything in their power to present the place as downscale, but have you ever been to a dive bar where you have to hover for an hour to get a seat, then spend half an hour trying to flag down a slammed bartender? Thought not. Can’t blame Big Star for the fact that people want—desperately—to go there. And I’m one of those people: I’ve been to Big Star—ahem—four times, and while I’ve fallen hard for the surprisingly inviting atmosphere (good music and Christmas lights do a lot to warm up the minimalist space), if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the owners’ warnings are spot-on. The tacos: They’re good…if you pretty much ignore them. If you go in ready to ponder the al pastor, you’ll spend the night wondering, “Does all this pineapple make this too sweet?” or “This tortilla, although fresh, isn’t that great,” or “This is probably cheaper than

  1. 1531 N Damen Ave, (between Wicker Park and Milwaukee Aves)
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Ruxbin

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Like a real-life incarnation of Ellen Page’s character in Inception, Davide Nanni (of the design firm Alter Ego Form) seems to slowly and steadily be building fantastical architectural worlds in Chicago. As a side project to his Alter Ego work (on display at Simone’s and the Boiler Room), Nanni has brought this compact, crowded, no-reservations Noble Square restaurant—and the diners who fill it—into his shared dream-space.   Like a real-life incarnation of Ellen Page’s character in Inception, Davide Nanni (of the design firm Alter Ego Form) seems to slowly and steadily be building fantastical architectural worlds in Chicago. As a side project to his Alter Ego work (on display at Simone’s and the Boiler Room), Nanni has brought this compact, crowded, no-reservations Noble Square restaurant—and the diners who fill it—into his shared dream-space. Ruxbin’s design mantra is “refurbished, re-purposed, and reclaimed,” and sure enough each design element at Ruxbin can be broken down into its sources: A bench is part movie-theater seat, part seatbelt; a booth is part church pew, part leather jacket. That orange wall giving the room its warm glow: apple-juice shipping crates. Upstairs you’ll find the city’s most surreal bathroom: I’d describe it, but that would kill some of the fun. Plus it’s not necessary to dissect Ruxbin into its raw materials to appreciate it. The overall effect emanates youthful energy and serious creativity. That energy spreads quickly to the crowds filling the b

  1. 851 N Ashland Ave, (at Pearson St)
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