Elizabeth’s Iliana Regan is at it again, this time with Midwestern-driven Japanese dishes.
After Bunny’s closing, I and many in Chicago mourned a fantastic breakfast spot with some of the city’s best bread (and oh my god, that whiskey-glazed doughnut). So we were excited to hear the news that Bunny’s Iliana Regan was going to open Kitsune (Japanese for “fox”—a theme that appears throughout the restaurant), a Japanese spot with a focus on locally-grown ingredients. As usual, Regan does not disappoint.
The celebrated chef has an affinity for small, minimalist spaces given some life with personal touches (there’s a framed photo of Barack Obama on a shelf at Kitsune next to a stuffed fox). It feels cozy and quaint, with light blue walls and simple ceramic plates from Felt and Fat that make every dish look bright and vibrant.
In terms of food, there are some dishes that are so good they’re mandatory. Start with the wild rice and koji porridge bread with pickles, which will remind you of just how good a baker Regan is. It’s served with a pat of butter shaped like a fox and pickles, including daikon-fermented burdock, salt-fermented purple carrot and beer-pickled eggs. A smoky and citrusy dashi with winter vegetables (on our visit, butternut squash) is filled with “tofu.” It’s made from a dairy and vegetable rillettes that feels firm when you scoop it with a spoon, only to burst in your mouth.
Among the main dishes, the tonkotsu ramen was one of the most savory we’ve had, with a thick broth. (Note: Dishes are made for sharing, but this one is tough to split between two people.) Regan is regularly rotating her menu, with new dishes showing up just days after our visit, like miso honey chicken and a vegetable “hot pot.”
Dessert left us with less of an impression than what preceded it. Our server recommended mixing our bowl of sweet potato, yogurt and Satsuma granite together, essentially melting the granita and watering down the yogurt. Try something else, or do as we did and take a whiskey-glazed doughnut to go.
Regan’s fox-themed Japanese Kitsune plays to all of her strength, serving up comforting food with local flair in an intimate space. It’s top-notch Japanese with homegrown Midwestern execution, and the ever-changing menu will give you an excuse to return again and again.
Atmosphere: The space is set on a diagonal corner, which means it can be a tight squeeze. Big windows make the intimate space feel bright and airy, and the personal touches—hello Barack!—lend some charm.
What to eat: Our current favorites are the house pickles, ramen, dashi and whiskey-glazed doughnut.
What to drink: Kitsune’s food and drink offering follows the same simple, less-is-more ethos, with highlights like sweet sakes and mineral-forward white wines. Pick your poison and have your server help you out if you’re feeling stuck—we got schooled on sake during our visit.
Where to sit: Go for a table near middle of the banquette, far enough from the door and the bathroom to be the best seat in the house.
4229 N Lincoln Ave
|Opening hours:||Tues-Thurs 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 11am-2pm, 5pm-9pm|
|Transport:||El: Blue to Jackson. Bus: 1, 7, 22, 24, 28, 36, 62, 126, 850, 851, 855, 856.|
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