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Maxwells Trading

  • Restaurants
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4
  1. Maxwells Trading dining room
    Photograph: Courtesy of Jeff Marini
  2. Maxwells trading bar area
    Photograph: Courtesy of Jeff Marini
  3. A person putting a spread on bread
    Photograph: Courtesy of Sandy Noto
  4. A clay pot rice dish
    Photograph: Courtesy of Sandy Noto
  5. A bowl of suzuki tartare
    Photograph: Courtesy of Sandy Noto
  6. A variety of dishes on a table
    Photograph: Courtesy of Sandy Noto

Time Out says

This far-West Loop restaurant captures our moment in big-city cooking with joy and witty nuance.

It’s both silly and totally understandable that we human beings require tidy descriptors to sum up what kind of food a restaurant serves. Southeast Asian. Midwestern. Northern Italian. But how should one categorize the bold, veg-heavy, anything-goes dishes at handsome newcomer Maxwells Trading? In many ways, this singular menu synopsizes what it’s like to live and eat through major American cities right now—where cuisines, heritages and identities cram together and intermingle. Indeed, Maxwells Trading self-describes as “a Chicago restaurant by children of the city”—the children being Underscore Hospitality partners Erling Wu-Bower (Pacific Standard Time, Nico Osteria) and Josh Tilden (Pacific Standard Time) and executive chef Chris Jung (Momotaro). 

Yet even this descriptor feels a little self-serious for what’s in store once you take your seat in the sprawling, urban-chic dining room. Here Chinese soup dumplings collide with pasta traditions of Bologna, Italy; Thai chili sauce dances with bitter greens and rare steak; and edible kelp whisks beurre blanc to the foamy seashore. Maxwells Trading is fresh, fiery and downright fun; I was unsurprised to learn that Tilden and Wu-Bower were inspired to create the kind of place where they’d want to hang out, where upbeat, free jazz spins on the turntable and martinis get their own menu subsection. After all, who said likable means unimaginative? 

As this 80-seater is seemingly booked into oblivion*, my date and I walked in moments after opening at 5pm on a Thursday. We were fortunately slotted into a table before the next available reservation at 7:15pm, though I’d have gladly taken one of the 20 ample barstools at the long, concrete bar. 

A honeyed sazerac was rounder and gentler than the standard issue, thanks to a splash of warmly spiced squash liqueur. Delicate, almondy manzanilla sherry likewise softened citrusy gin’s heat in the glacially cold Tuxedo. 

The menu breaks out into smallish beginnings, a carby double midsection of breads with spreads and starches, plus sturdier grilled mains and desserts. When I fretted aloud about my tendency to over-carb, a server promised “to write me a prescription plan” for balance: namely, sticking with one bread and dip and one starch, good advice for any twosome. (Did we end up getting two starches anyway? Yes, and I’m sorry, server/unofficial life coach Jonny.)

Suzuki (striped bass) tartare announced itself with intoxicating aromas of lemongrass, peanut and sweet coconut. The fish betrayed piquancy from raw onion and fiery chilies, tamed by milky coconut shreds and floral nasturtium leaves. A griddled, scallion pancake-naan mashup was crisp-edged and buttery, lending even more oniony dimension to the luscious, sweet French onion dip that whispered of truffle beneath a glorious pile of grassy chives. 

As our cocktails diminished, Wu-Bower dropped by in a blazer to—as he affably puts it—peddle the wine. He works closely with Jung on menu evolution, which nods to their respective immigrant upbringings and globetrotting work lives. But he’s clearly relishing a turn at the front of the house, circulating the room to pop bottles and take customers to their tables. He offered up an herbaceous and bright chilled red from California winemaker Ruth Lewandowski, a beautiful red-white bridge to suit the wide-ranging food.

It was savvy that the already-famous bruléed sweet potato, which came next, arrived all alone. It’s a flavorsome statement piece to be sure: slow-steamed sweet potato edged in burnt sugar, nestled in a thick pool of fragrant, Chai-like Thai curry. 

Inside-out soup dumplings masqueraded as gingery pork tortellini in earthy maitake broth—a simple, yet brilliant reimagining of the northern Italian classic, tortellini en brodo. Kombu-infused beurre blanc enveloped cod-like turbot and bitter chard in a whippy blanket of butter-enriched sea foam, which reinvigorated the argument for this oft-staid French sauce. Perhaps my favorite dish snuck up on me in the wholesome guise of a simple bavette steak salad. A cleansing, almost cheeky foil to the nappéed sweet potato and rich turbot, the salad mingled richly beefy bavette slices with prickly escarole, torn herbs and grapefruit segments—all soused in sour-sweet, umami-rich Isan-style vinaigrette with fish sauce and fiery Thai chiles. 

Not every element here triumphed. I found that the desserts, a custardy Basque cake with cider sabayon and a tea-infused tiramisu with chocolate and hazelnut, struggled to punch through with so much boldness and prominent sweetness permeating the savory side of the menu. Meanwhile, service grew increasingly unreliable as the space filled to its buoyant brim by 7:30pm.

But to end on Maxwells Trading’s few shortcomings would be misleading. What lingered for me long after our meal ended was the exuberance of experiencing something as deliciously original as it is accessible; of both feeling seen and softly nudged out of my city kid element over and over. That, and the gentle, intoxicating burn of fresh chilies on my lips. 

The food: Confident, likable cooking pulls from a vast larder spanning Asian, Mediterranean, West Coast and Midwestern flavors. Don’t miss the suzuki tartare, French onion dip, bruléed sweet potato or steak salad. A rooftop garden in collaboration with The Roof Crop supplies herbs and greens mainly for garnishes plus a soothing, forest fruit-esque digestive tea that’s a great meal ender. 

The drink: Beverage manager Kristina Magro presides over refreshed classic cocktails (think a coffee-infused rum Negroni) and a lineup of sneakily complex martinis, including the Vesper with vodka and black tea-scented gin and bittersweet Italian aperitif. Wu-Bower’s hand-picked wine list packs a mix of fresh Old World and New wines; don’t sleep on the exciting small California and Oregon producers featured. 

The space: Muted tones like distressed brick, concrete and soft wood lend sophistication to this roomy converted walkup flooded with natural light, which is perched on the eastern edge of the Kinzie Industrial Corridor. 

*Time Out tip: Maxwells Trading has a 30-day booking window, and prime-time reservations are usually scooped up within 48 hours of coming online. Also consider signing up for Resy’s Notify option, then pouncing when it alerts you to an opening. 

Maggie Hennessy
Written by
Maggie Hennessy


1516 W Carroll Ave
Opening hours:
Tue-Wed 5pm-9pm, Thu-Sat 5pm-10pm
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