In today’s world of eagle-eyed reporting, it’s rare for a high profile restaurant to pop up with no advance notice. But that’s precisely what the team behind Second Generation managed to pull off this past summer. It began with the shuttering of Logan Square burger joint Mini Mott, which was itself a spin-off of Asian fusion hotpot Mott Street. After a quick remodel, the space became home to an entirely new concept—a neighborhood bistro—and quietly reopened for service.
As the name suggests, Second Generation pays homage to its owners’ heritage. Siblings Vicki and Edward King and their business partner Nate Chung are all second-generation Asian Americans, and the menu is a reflection of the food they ate growing up. The dining room sports a nod to their roots as well with family photos lining the area up front.
Although the long and narrow layout remains the same as before, the interior has received a modest facelift. Verdant plants, walls painted a dark shade of green and hanging lights that illuminate nearly every table go a long way toward making things feel fresh. The elevated section in the back doubles as a semi-private dining room, featuring privacy screens and shelves stocked with literary works. And the kitchen is open, allowing guests sitting at the bar to get a front row view of the action. On my visit, I saw Chung composing plates while Vicki Kim took on the role of expeditor.
Second Generation might have launched with little fanfare but it’s clear the word is out. The house was packed when I arrived, with some folks opting to dine on the heated patio on a cool October night instead of waiting the hour-plus for a table inside. Once seated, the meal started with a play on avocado toast. A three-layer dip of avocado, ssamjang (spicy Korean paste) and crème fraîche is served in a small jar and alongside slices of radish and griddled sourdough. Like a stereotypical millennial, I’ve spent my fair share of dollars on avocado toast. None have ever been this smooth, though, and I would gladly drop $14 on it again.
The campfire greens are another starter worth your attention. It’s a pleasant medley of contrasting flavors; the smoky cauliflower and bitter radicchio balanced out by sweet golden raisins and a citrusy vinaigrette. Scallops are cooked perfectly and arrive bathing in a miso butter sauce with sweet corn, cotija cheese and a sprinkle of chili flakes. After the bivalves were gone, I gleefully scooped up the remaining corn and butter—it was like eating movie theater popcorn, except exponentially better. My date and I both agreed that we wished there were more than three pieces of scallops as we could’ve easily finished two orders of the dish.
The larger plates are similarly terrific. The Midnight Pasta is an Asian take on carbonara consisting of al dente spaghetti tossed in soy sauce and topped with anchovy breadcrumbs, bits of pork belly, shaved parm and an onsen egg. Just like the Italian classic, crack the egg open and mix it all up for bites of rich umami goodness. The priciest item on the menu, steak frites, sidesteps expectations by marinating the beef in Korean barbecue spices. The result is a slightly sweet, nicely seared skirt steak that mirrors kalbi short ribs. It’s accompanied by chimichurri, skinny fries and garlic aioli.
Burger fiends saddened by Mini Mott’s closure shouldn’t get too down because Mott Street’s much-hyped burger appears in all its glory here. Double chuck patties get dressed with miso butter onions, sweet potato shoestrings, pickled jalapenos, hoisin aioli, American cheese and dill pickles. Mott Street’s popular Everything Wings have also found their way over to Logan Square.
For dessert, Second Generation makes good use of the soft serve machine that previously produced ice cream for Mini Mott’s taiyaki cones. There are two sundae options and though both please, I kept going back to the Grasshopper and its minty soft serve and chocolate brownie until I tapped out.
On the beverage front, the restaurant keeps things simple with a fairly short list of affordable choices. The steak pairs well with a dry and powerful 2018 red blend from Martúe while straightforward cocktails, including a refreshing spicy margarita and a negroni made with Meletti 1870 Bitter Aperitivo in place of Campari, are solid sips as well. But the focus at this new neighborhood gem is squarely on the food and providing a spot for locals to stop in regularly—something I foresee myself doing a lot in the future.
The vibe: The interior has been redone to make it more stylish and cozier. It’s suitable for a lazy weeknight dinner, date night or a celebratory occasion with friends.
The food: Classic dishes with Asian-inspired twists, such as steak frites marinated in Korean barbecue spices, plus an outstanding burger and soft serve sundaes.
The drink: A small selection of wines, almost all of which are available by the glass, draft beers and tried-and-true cocktails.