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Chizakaya Harold Jurado’s izakaya project requires a bit of translation. Whom to bring: a big group—the concept is shared plates ranging from $3–$12, and you’ll need about three or four per person to leave feeling full. Where to sit: in the back—we found the communal tables there livelier than the front room. What to order: The expansive menu has hits and misses, but crispy pork belly, corn fritters and housemade tofu are must-haves. And finally, what to drink: These small, rich plates are drinking food, so order liberally from the sake, beer and especially the cocktail list, which is designed by the boys behind Wisonsin’s Bittercube Bitters. 3056 N Lincoln Ave (773-697-4725). Lunch, dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average small plate: $6.
Mizu The experience sometimes includes indifferent service and bad music, but if you’re looking for yakitori, give this place (which claims to have been the first yakitori spot in the city) a shot. Generous sushi tastes flown-in fresh (especially the buttery salmon), the yakitori includes grilled skewers of guilty pleasures like crispy chicken skin and meaty gizzards, and good-for-you eats from asparagus to eggplant mingle with unusual finds of bacon-wrapped tomato and chicken-stuffed portobello. Bonus: You can use the pointy skewers to end your misery when Tupac’s “Dear Mama” is played. 315 W North Ave (312-951-8880). Dinner. Average nigiri: $3.
Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar Friends Mike Schatzman and former Sushi Wabi chef Worachai Thapthimkuna have opened what they’re calling “Chicago’s first American-Japanese restaurant.” There’s little offered here to really love, but there’s plenty to like: accomplished cocktails, juicy chicken thigh and jumbo shrimp skewers, and duck fat yaki soba noodles slick with mustard sauce, topped with shreds of perfect, fatty duck and tossed with crunchy cabbage. The raw stuff is generally less successful (stay away from the tuna tartare, which is soaked in truffle oil), including the underwhelming sushi. Stick to the cooked fare. 230 W Erie St (312-662-4888). Lunch, dinner. Average main course: $11.
Wasabi The sushi is hit-or-miss. But there’s still hope for this Japanese spot if you bring a bottle of chilled sake. That’s because Wasabi’s standouts are drinking foods: juicy chicken drumettes dusted in seasoned cornstarch and fried crisp, chicken skin yakitori threaded onto a skewer, soft Japanese sweet potato coated in crunchy panko and a genius fried spring roll that pairs luscious Berkshire belly with tart kimchi. The perfectly grilled yellowtail collar is also a standout. Of course, when the best execution of fish in a sushi restaurant is a cooked scrap cut, the owners might want to think about recasting the concept. 2539 N Milwaukee Ave (773-227-8180). Brunch (Sat, Sun), dinner (Tue–Sun). Average small plate: $9. BYOB.