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Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy is Time Out Chicago's restaurant and bar critic and a freelance food, drink and travel writer. Her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Food & Wine, Salon, VinePair and more. She's spent nearly her entire adult life covering Chicago's food scene, save for an 18-month sojourn to the high desert of southern New Mexico, where she feasted on Hatch green chiles with reckless abandon. She is composed of roughly 85 percent pasta, and likes cozy restaurants and real neighborhood bars. When she's not eating, cooking or talking about food out loud or on paper, she's probably biking or riding transit around our beautiful city, en route to explore its 77 glorious neighborhoods. Find her on Instagram.

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Articles (16)

The best soups in Chicago

The best soups in Chicago

When the weather outside turns unbearably cold, there’s no better way to warm the belly—or the soul—than with a comforting cup of soup. Chicago’s restaurants offer a diverse range of options, including lemony avgolemono, steaming bowls of pho and plain old fashioned chicken noodle soup. These flavorful broths are made with TLC and come loaded with fresh seafood, grilled steak, huge matzo balls and much more. And you’ll find them all over the city, from Uptown to Chinatown. So whether you’re feeling under the weather or just want to heat your body up, check out our guide to the best soups in Chicago. RECOMMENDED: Discover the best ramen in Chicago

Destination-worthy restaurants where women run the show

Destination-worthy restaurants where women run the show

Initially, I called on the women behind these seven extraordinary restaurants a little sheepishly. Do we really need one more tokenizing roundup of “badass” female restaurant owners and chefs, when many elbowed their way to the table with the sole aim of being judged on their abilities, without asterisks or qualifiers? But as the conversations unfolded, I forgot about that and instead basked in the weight of their achievements—sometimes because or in spite of their gender, though just as often not. I saw the intentional and unforeseen ways being women—and mothers—informs running a business and impacts workplace culture. I absorbed the parallel journeys of Chicanas like Dominica Rice-Cisneros and Black women like Mashama Bailey to internalize the significance of their culinary heritages in an industry that long prized Eurocentric haute cuisine. As Monteverde executive chef-owner Sarah Grueneberg mused: “For so long, [co-owner] Meg [Sahs] and I weren’t really shouting about being a women-run restaurant—we were fighting that ‘cute’ stigma and wanted to just be considered real business leaders and restaurateurs. But I’m so proud. I wouldn't be the same chef if I was male—how I cook and how I think about the history and heart of a dish.” Many of these women arrived on the shoulders of women mentors before them, be they Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters or Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray of London’s legendary River Cafe or the matriarchs of their home kitchens. Seeing someone like the

One of Chicago’s best pastry chefs is making THC-laced edibles inspired by her favorite desserts

One of Chicago’s best pastry chefs is making THC-laced edibles inspired by her favorite desserts

Before recreational weed was legalized in Chicago earlier this year, the only edibles we could get our hands on were dodgy pot brownies and stale rice krispies treats with an unsavory, hempy aftertaste. While the rest of us muddled through off-market treats, award-winning Chicago pastry chef Mindy Segal was concocting a line of edibles that would raise the bar. In partnership with local cannabis company Cresco Labs, her dream manifested into Mindy’s Chef Led Artisanal Edibles, a line of THC-infused gummies, hard sweets, chocolates and fruit chews. Rather than invent in a sterile laboratory stocked with flavor extracts, Segal invited the Cresco team to her storied Bucktown restaurant, Mindy’s HotChocolate, where they sat around the time-worn communal table and embarked on a Willy Wonka-style tasting of her favorite desserts, from kiwi-tinged key-lime cheesecake and chocolate-peanut butter brittle to macerated melon sorbet. Eventually, 20 flavors dwindled to six, which the group workshopped into their final gummy forms, featuring a flavorless cannabis distillate and low (5mg) and micro (2mg) doses of THC and CBD—meaning you don’t have to divvy them into 12 pieces, or pop one and pray. “I wanted Cresco to really understand where each flavor comes from, how it began and how my flavor journey happens,” Segal says. “I’m so, so proud of what we created.” Seated at the same table where it all began, I too took the flavor journey through the beloved desserts that inspired these one-of

How Garrett Popcorn became an indisputable Chicago institution

How Garrett Popcorn became an indisputable Chicago institution

The unmistakable aroma of toasty, buttered caramel hits your nostrils on certain Chicago streets—rounding the corner at Ontario and Michigan in Streeterville or emerging from the Blue Line station at Jackson and Dearborn in the Loop. Most locals can promptly identify the intoxicating scent as CaramelCrisp, the flagship flavor of Garrett Popcorn Shops, the beloved confectionary chain that opened in Chicago 70 years ago. Today Garrett is a bonafide popcorn empire, with locations in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Korea, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Malaysia. But to most Chicagoans, the brand is still intrinsically local—the sort of delicacy we proudly tout to out-of-towners. “We make it the exact same way,” says director of consumer engagement Megan Chody, who, with CEO and husband Lance Chody, bought the brand from the Garrett family 13 years ago. “Nothing has changed, and it will not change.” Whenever she’s in one of the brand’s 48 shops, Chody greets customers as they walk through the door, whether they’re from Toronto, Macedonia, Tokyo, Madrid or the Chicago suburbs. As soon as I leave the Michigan Avenue flagship store that day, she’ll host a delegation from China. “What made you come in today?” she asks a man from Charlotte, North Carolina. “This is my first time in Chicago,” he replies. “I was told I had to come here.” Sweet beginnings Garrett opened in the Loop in 1949, but the recipe that launched the brand was born in Milwaukee—the result of a family

The 50 best dishes and drinks in Chicago in 2018

The 50 best dishes and drinks in Chicago in 2018

We’re officially stuffed. Throughout 2018, we sampled our way through some of Chicago’s best restaurants—both newcomers and mainstays—to hunt down knockout dishes and drinks that left us feeling inspired. We ended up with a collection of menu items that is as diverse as the city itself, from lobster dumplings and vegetarian sushi to a surprisingly awesome apple martini and a stack of lemon-blueberry pancakes. Better yet: Most of the dishes and drinks on this year's list ring up under $15. Check out the amazing morsels and tipples that top this year's list and plan your upcoming dining adventures accordingly.

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Desserts

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Desserts

Call us gluttonous, but we'd never pass on dessert. There's something special about capping off a scrumptious meal with a sweet treat—even when we're nearing food-coma territory. Chicago's best pastry chefs whipped up pies, cakes, brownies and tarts that delighted our senses in 2017. But these are a few of the most decadent bites we got our hands (and mouths) on this year. RECOMMENDED: 100 best dishes and drinks 2017

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Entrees

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Entrees

This year, Chicago chefs showed off their skills through a slew of diverse dishes. From January to December, we noshed on pizza, noodles, tamales, tacos and so much more. Along the way, we found some truly spectacular entrees that wowed us. Take a look at the plates that kept us coming back for more in 2017.  RECOMMENDED: The 100 best dishes and drinks in Chicago

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Appetizers and sides

The 100 best dishes in Chicago 2017: Appetizers and sides

We'd argue that appetizers and sides are crucial elements of the quintessential Chicago meal. Ordering small allows diners to order more—something we'll always support. This year, we loved that chefs played around with their deep fryers, creating oil-dappled green tomatoes, massive onion rings and the best fried pickles we've ever had. Don't worry—we tossed in a few healthy-ish options, too. Take a look at the top sides and apps we tasted this year. RECOMMENDED: The 100 best dishes and drinks in Chicago

Chef's Table: AJ Walker

Chef's Table: AJ Walker

AJ Walker, the former sous chef of the Publican, moved down the street last year to hone his butchery craft as chef de cuisine of sister butcher shop/café Publican Quality Meats. When he’s not behind the butcher block, you’ll often find him outside with a daiquiri or (after a particularly long shift) a shot and a beer. We checked in with him to find out his top picks for eating al fresco, spots for new and classic Chicago dining, plus a few tips on what to grill this summer. Favorite patio spots: When Walker is off the clock, you’re likely to find him at Costa Rican BYOB favorite Irazú in Bucktown. Other favorite al fresco picks include Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Logan Square for fried fish and fowl and outdoor ping-pong; Matchbox in West Town for the margarita with powdered-sugar rim; and La Sirena Clandestina for Latin American eats and stiff drinks.  Trying something new: Walker suggests hitting up Pub Royale for inspiring bar food done at a high level. In the mood for old-school: Shaw’s Crab House, River North. “It hasn’t changed in 30 years,” Walker says. The chef loves the restaurant’s stalwart dishes, from massive seafood towers and classic Caesar salad to king crab legs with a side of creamed spinach and hash browns. Grilling tips: Walker’s current favorite grilling cuts are beef flap steak and pork coppa, which both benefit from hot, fast cooking, he says. “Flap steak is good as is—salt, pepper and maybe porcini powder to add a little depth,” while a pork coppa chop

Chef's Table: Iliana Regan

Chef's Table: Iliana Regan

When the chef-owner of Michelin- starred Elizabeth, Bunny, the Micro Bakery and the in-progress Kitsune, a casual Japanese spot in Lincoln Square goes out, it’s often to an old favorite. “On a day off, I'm usually with my partner and we visit a restaurant we haven't been to before,” she says. “We try to think of ones that have been around awhile rather than hitting all the new places. One of our last date nights in the city was at Boka, and it was great.” Most of the time, she slurps down bowls of her mom’s weekly batches of homemade soup, like miso, mushroom and tofu. But for her other favorite picks, check out the other places the star restaurateur and Midwest forager extraordinaire likes, including hot dogs from Home Depot. In Andersonville: You’ll find her at Anteprima for the octopus salad appetizer or fresh pasta; the mostly vegetarian Kopi A Travelers Cafe for breakfast; and Sabor a Cafe for empanadas. Outside the 'hood: She goes to Strings Ramen for ramen and rice tea bowls; the food court at King Spa & Sauna for authentic Korean; Lazo’s Tacos in Bucktown for tacos; Au Cheval for a burger; Katsu in West Rogers Park for sushi; and, yes, Home Depot for hot dogs. Favorite old school, classic Chicago spot: “I love Lou Malnati’s—great deep dish,” she says. “Sausage and giardiniera is my favorite.” Favorite newer restaurant: MFK “for the ceviche or fish collar,” she says. For a pick-me-up: “I drink coffee in the morning and tea in the evening,” says Regan. “In the eveni

New Year's Day brunches and hangover cures

New Year's Day brunches and hangover cures

We all strive to begin a brand-new year in a positive way, but unfortunately, hungover is often the first thing many of us feel on January 1. If you find yourself suffering from the aftereffects of bidding 2015 farewell, drag yourself out of those pajamas (or maybe stay in them, no judgment here) for one of these 10 deep-fried, sauce-smothered, detoxing, caffeinated or hair-of-the-dog hangover cures, with Bloody Marys, eggs benedict and more. You can worry about those New Year’s resolutions on January 2. RECOMMENDED: New Year's Eve Chicago

Chef's Table: Rick Bayless

Chef's Table: Rick Bayless

With his Cruz Blanca brewpub set to open in the West Loop next spring, chef Rick Bayless continues to show us why he’s one of the city’s hardest-working chefs. When he’s not brewing cervezas, helming one of his Mexican restaurant concepts, including Frontera Grill, Xoco and Topolobampo, teaching Mexican cooking on TV or appearing at one of countless events each year around the country, his favorite place to be is his home kitchen. “I don’t get out as much as people probably think I do,” he says. “I love to cook at home. Nearly every Sunday, I visit the Wicker Park Farmers Market and bring back ingredients for brunch.” When he does dine out, he often craves Asian cuisine, but he also knows where to get his fill of the city’s best authentic Mexican. Check out his Pilsen pick for mouthwatering carnitas, along with his favorite time-honored and new Chicago eateries—and where he stands on tequila versus its smokier cousin mezcal. Authentic Mexican: Don Pedro Carnitas in Pilsen for “real-deal” carnitas. “They are just so amazingly, unapologetically juicy and crispy,” he says. “Wrap the carnitas in a fresh tortilla, spoon a little salsa on there, and you can see why I get so excited.” New restaurant: Momotaro in the West Loop, which is “doing some amazing things with Japanese cuisine;” and Parachute in Avondale, for “turning people on to the wonders of Korean food,” he says.  Longtime Chicago haunt: Margie’s Candies for homemade ice cream “because it’s just so quaint and charming.”

Listings and reviews (62)

John's Food and Wine

John's Food and Wine

Walking into John’s Food & Wine on a busy Thursday night, I spotted a couple of open seats at the long marble bar. Normally, I’d make a beeline for this increasingly rare walk-in’s gift, but having just entered the back of the line at this upscale, fast-casual bistro, I hesitated. Was such self-serving behavior frowned upon?  Bar seats are indeed fair game for walk-ins at John’s, as I learned when a group behind me snagged the stools and commenced the ritual of dining out as we’ve all traditionally known it. But if you’re after a table at this Lincoln Park newcomer, you’ll queue up in front of a countertop tablet where (the night I was there) beverage director and sommelier Jonas Bittencourt takes your coursed, dinner order in one nerve-wracking go, then leads you to your table, where you choose your own pairing adventure by snapping a QR code and scrolling through Toast. There are no designated servers. Rather, a small crew helmed by co-owners and chefs Adam McFarland and Thomas Rogers breathlessly does a little of everything—hence the 20 percent service charge automatically applied to every check.  I acutely felt the lack of human touch throughout my meal—not just because this is a wine-focused restaurant full of cool, ever-changing pours that warrant a little storytelling. It also manifested in the harried pacing of courses and disconcerting sense that the main shepherd of our experience was the restaurant’s POS system. I longed for those small leisurely moments, like peru

Anelya

Anelya

Leave all preconceived notions about borscht at the door! I feel compelled to shout this, because at Avondale newcomer Anelya, the borsch (no “t” in Ukrainian) upends the thin, staunchly utilitarian soup you or I may have known. Homaging the style of Poltava in central Ukraine, it’s lush and harmonious, gently sour yet bearing sweet campfire notes from charcoal-dried pears; the addition of rich, gamey duck tames its telltale earthiness.  Like the rest of the menu at Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim’s exceptional restaurant, this humble dish both nourishes and teases with the thrill of discovery, less a chef’s reimagining of Ukrainian cuisine than a chef-led illumination of what’s long been there—and long suppressed—now joyously released. It makes Anelya the sort of restaurant you can’t wait to see evolve, but also one you want to greedily take in while it’s exuberantly new, and tell all who’ll listen to do the same. Anelya opened in October, born partly of misfortune, as chefs/co-owners Clark and wife Kim closed its casual prix-fixe predecessor Wherewithall last May following a collapsed sewer line—after barely surviving a prolonged, Covid-era closure. But it afforded them a blank slate of sorts to unpack Clark’s Ukrainian cooking roots, which he’d begun researching during the pandemic. Chicago is home to only a handful of Ukrainian restaurants, despite being the city with the second-largest population of Ukrainian immigrants.  Clark’s grandmother, Anelya Ochatchinskiya, was born

Lilac Tiger

Lilac Tiger

Before my sister and I dined at Lilac Tiger, we each spent some time perusing the menu in advance, as is our strategic custom, in the hope of stemming our tendency to over-order (this never works). During that time, she became convinced that the “Ferrani Special” crispy THC nuggets actually comprised small balls of weed fried like chicken. I assumed it was a play on words, but didn’t rule out the weed nuggets idea.  The real story is far more wholesome. THC stands for tandoor honey chicken; the name dually homages executive chef/partner Zubair Mohajir’s son Ferran, whose favorite snack is his dad’s chicken nuggets, sauced with honey featuring Mohajir’s 15-spice tandoori blend. Maybe more important for Time Out readers’ purposes, though, is how utterly mouthwatering these morsels are—tangy, warmly spicy and savory-sweet with a juicy interior and exterior sporting a softened crunch like gobi manchurian, dunked in gochujang aioli that tastes like supercharged fry sauce.  Still, there’s an undeniable coolness to this low-lit Wicker Park storefront with its punchy, South Asian street food and neon vibes that makes you not want to give yourself away with a square question like, “Um, is there weed in these nuggets?”  Lilac Tiger’s (formerly Wazwan) trendiness owes in part to its indie roots, beginning as an underground tasting-menu supper club in Lakeview, then a quick-service stall in the hastily shuttered Politan Row food hall and a ghost kitchen in River West. Wazwan found a phys

Maman Zari

Maman Zari

Kuku sibzamani, the first dish of our nine-course tasting menu at Albany Park newcomer Maman Zari, tasted familiar enough—a delicate, frittata-like potato and egg cake laced with tender zucchini shreds. But the accompanying sweet, paper-thin pickle coins and a shockingly green dab of herbaceous dalal, a north Iranian condiment affectionately known as “green salt,” seemed to shake us gently by the shoulders as if to say, “I’m not quite what you think!” A honeyed, dry sparkling German riesling pairing heightened the delicate contrasts, making me giddy for what lay ahead. Persian cuisine as Chicagoans typically experience it—a few paces down Kedzie Avenue at the terrific restaurants Noon-O-Kabab and Kabobi Grill, betrays the Iranian penchant for seasoning via nourishing heaps of fresh herbs; streaks of sweet, meaty pomegranate molasses; and warming, vintagey saffron. These restaurants likewise demonstrate a mastery of buttery, crisp-edged rice, soft charred eggplant and succulent grilled lamb and poultry—all in more casual, family-style guises of juicy kabobs served over heaps of saffron-stained rice dotted with plump dried fruit. At Maman Zari (named for owner and former flight attendant Mariam Shahsavarani’s grandmother, who taught her to cook), Shahsavarani reimagines these preparations in more thought-provoking formats, leaning on the culinary prowess of Italian chef/partner Matteo Lo Bianco (Coco Pazzo, Volare, Francesca’s, Rosebud) and her own deep knowledge of Persian foo

Diego

Diego

It’s not every day that a neighborhood tavern serves standout food that transports you elsewhere without feeling contrived. Leave it to a place that self-describes as a dive, I suppose. Of course, breezy, colorful Diego—in the former G&O Tavern space in West Town—is anything but a dive, dressed in blue and white tile, beachy woods and pale yellow walls accented by clusters of framed contemporary art and puffy graffiti. The food, chef/owner Stephen Sandoval’s loving nod to the street fare of Tijuana and his hometown of San Diego, centers around a terrific lineup of Baja-inspired tostadas and tacos.  Said tostadas shatter with a satisfyingly greasy crunch, by the way, indicating they’re fried to order from fresh corn tortillas. We broke off shards to scoop up bites of tangy snapper ceviche in coconut milk with tomatoes, avocado, onion and lime, while sipping our first round of drinks. A crisp September breeze floated in through the garage-style doors, which were thrown open to expose the spacious, wedge-shaped patio full of potted palms and revelers wrapped in colorful serape blankets.  Diego represents the casual companion to Sandoval’s forthcoming fine-dining restaurant Sueños, which will open at 1235 W. Grand Avenue early in 2024. The chef, who worked with Rick Bayless at Leña Brava, laid the groundwork for both concepts through his popup Entre Sueños, which morphed into a lengthy, beloved residency at Soho House dubbed Sueños.  It’s hard to pick a wrong tostada on Sandoval’

Warlord

Warlord

What is the function of dining out? Most literally it restores, providing something delicious we didn’t have to make, which we eat in the company of people we love, or at least find interesting. It can surprise us, by pushing creative boundaries; it can be a place to see and be seen, and even offer a kind of cultural currency, like following a certain band or artist.  Lately this diversion has gotten increasingly costly for everyone involved; its working conditions are being scrutinized like they should have been all along. All of this throws the question of what restaurants are for into a harsher light.  I thought about this question on a recent Saturday at Warlord, a hipster fine-dining restaurant in Avondale that serves some of the city’s most exciting food. My two companions and I were being aurally pummeled by a dark-synth song called “Humans Are Such Easy Prey” while eating a transcendent bite of 12-day aged fatty ora king salmon paired with a perfectly ripe rectangle of cantaloupe. We’d waited two-and-a-half hours for that bite, a sensual yet restrained harbinger of the spectacular food to follow.  Was it worth it? I’m still not sure.  Chef-partners Trevor Fleming, Emily Kraszyk and John Lupton—who’ve worked in acclaimed places like Kasama and Table Fifty-Two—debuted Warlord in April and quickly soared to critics’ darling status on the back of their bold, elemental cooking, which changes constantly. Every choice, from the name and enigmatic online presence to the first

Boonie's Filipino Restaurant

Boonie's Filipino Restaurant

On a recent Friday night at Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant, the conversation came to an abrupt halt when the sizzling pork sisig topped with raw egg hit our table. The four of us sat, transfixed, as a server methodically worked the egg into the citrus-scented hash of minced pork belly and caramelized sweet onions, which sputtered their approval like applause. Tangy, sweet, unctuous and textural, such gestalt cooking merits a moment of speechlessness. At the very least, promise me you’ll start your meal with it every time you eat here, if you’re a meat eater that is. Boonie’s sisig doesn’t just elicit awed silences; in fact, it was the subject of much chatter when chef/owner Joseph Fontelera’s pandemic popup, Boonie’s Foods, landed at Revival Food Hall in 2020. Since debuting his brick-and-mortar storefront five months ago, the former executive chef of Arami has come into his own with Filipino-inspired cooking that honors his Philippines-born grandmother, Estefania Bondoc Clarito, and his forebears who immigrated to Chicago starting in 1970.  Boonie’s hugs like a metaphorical grandmother in all sorts of ways, starting the moment you walk in and see bowls of individually wrapped Hongyuan guava candies in the entryway and on the host stand. The diminutive, low-lit space—warmly dressed in blonde wood accents and framed family photos and whimsical prints—offers a cozy contrast to the sprawling, airy restaurants that have punctuated Chicago’s buzzier openings of late. And, oh, that f

Bokeh

Bokeh

3 out of 5 stars

“Did it just get darker in here?” asked my date as we squinted at our menus in contemplation of our second round of drinks at Bokeh, a moody new cocktail den in Albany Park. It was entirely possible, as we seemed a few blown-out votives away from total darkness. Aside from the pesky matter of deciphering the menu (“Does that actually say cabbage simple syrup?”), we appreciated the flickering, low light of this sexy bar that fills a void for laid-back late-night watering holes near Kedzie and Lawrence. Named for a Japanese term that describes the quality of the blurry parts of a photograph, Bokeh is the debut solo venture of former professional photographer and hospitality vet Rick Weber. An understated photography theme permeates the bar’s design and 10 signature cocktails, with kitschy names like Lens Flare, Crop Factor and Aperture. Weber’s professional background may also explain why each cocktail (dreamed up with help from lead bartender Noah Kort) drinks like seeing something familiar from a brand-new angle. The namesake Bokeh elevates Fernet-Branca to a starring role in a minty, frothy suppressor sour with lemon and lime juices. Perhaps my favorite sipper, the Focal Length, pairs vegetal mezcal with tart and jammy cherry liqueur, a wine-based aperitif and grapefruit juice; a splash of cava lightens the load, lending the drink a lovely fuzzy texture. Two regulars posted up at the bar lamented the imminent phaseout of the Depth of Field, a surprisingly good cabbagey gimle

Gaijin

Gaijin

4 out of 5 stars

When I was 26 years old, I indulged in a life-changing bowl of bucatini carbonara made by chef Todd Stein at now-shuttered Cibo Matto in the Wit hotel. Ever since then, I’ve labored obsessively in my home kitchen to recreate the perfect alchemy of fat, salt, chew and heat. After a decade of tinkering, I now claim a derivative sliver of this Roman classic, though I’m not even 1 percent Italian. Questions of ownership and origin become more profound when someone opens a business aiming to profit off of said recipes—a thought that lingered in my mind when I dined at Gaijin, the new Japanese-inspired West Loop restaurant from white chef-owner Paul Virant (Vie, Vistro and bygone Perennial Virant). The focus at this bustling newcomer is okonomiyaki—savory Japanese pancakes crammed full of meat and vegetables and strewn with flavorful sauces. Virant’s wife fell in love with this Osaka-born comfort food while living in Japan as a student, and the chef has spent the past 25 years perfecting home-cooked iterations through his seasonal Midwestern lens. Virant playfully acknowledges that his take is at best that of an enamored outsider—the name Gaijin means “foreigner” in Japanese. “The deeper sentiment is that we’re doing something that’s a super-popular comfort dish in Japan—a place where people really have a reverence for their food and culture,” Virant told me. “Out of respect for them, we’re trying to do it as best we can.” Gaijin slings two expert versions of okonomiyaki that top o

Outside Voices

Outside Voices

4 out of 5 stars

For a long time, the neighborhood joint and wine bar felt like opposing ideals. By definition, the corner bar—with its cheap draughts and worn-in look—is built on approachability, while wine bars historically seemed to ooze with pretense, reserved for those fluent in vino classification tables. Thanks to inviting spots like Rootstock, Income Tax and Red & White, Chicago’s wine scene has grown more inclusive for those of us who don’t know much about the stuff beyond the fact that we like drinking it. New Logan Square watering hole Outside Voices takes that mission a step further, blurring the lines between the neighborhood tavern and a proper wine bar. This delightful storefront is sandwiched between two other beloved spots from the same owners—gin-focused cocktail den Scofflaw and sporty pub the Moonlighter. Like its siblings, vino-centric Outside Voices leans pricier than your everyday pub, but the vibe is unmistakably no fuss. Led by beverage manager Davis Sayer, the bar mostly eschews the pretense that often comes with wine—and not just because the staff has an affinity for flannel button-downs and playing Heart on vinyl. You feel it within 15 seconds of sidling up to the bar to peruse the menu. Rather than putting the onus on the drinker to decide on a style (Whites from France? Cabernets?), the daily-changing menu of whites, reds, rosés and orange, and bubbles focuses on individual flavors and textures in each of the 20-odd available wines. Bartenders take a similar tact

Tzuco

Tzuco

5 out of 5 stars

Beyond the whole eating-for-survival thing, what endears so many of us to food on a deeper level is its ability to tell a story. In Tzuco’s quenching ceviche verde, for example, you can almost taste pure, cold Pacific Ocean in pearlescent slivers of hamachi, which are paired with three expressions of cactus, a plant that thrives in the most unforgiving locales. The prickly flora is served cured, iced and juiced with mint, lime and a whisper of serrano chile. Together, the elements sing of Mexico’s varied bounty. Each bite I savored at Tzuco seemed to smack of deeper meaning, sparking curiosity about the storied place that inspired this restaurant and its name, along with its famed chef/owner who has roared back into Chicago’s dining scene following an 18-month hiatus. Chef Carlos Gaytán hails from Huitzuco, a town in southwestern Mexico aptly named for the Nahuatl word “huixochin,” meaning plants with abundant thorns. When he was 20 years old, he came to the U.S. on a borrowed passport and worked his way up from dishwasher and cook to eventual chef/owner of Mexique, his French-infused Mexican restaurant that helped make him the first Mexican-born chef to receive a Michelin star. Vowing he’d be back again one day, Gaytán closed the award-winning destination in 2018 and left town to open a restaurant in Playa del Carmen. He made his triumphant return late last year with three eateries that showcase the breadth of Mexican gastronomy. Commanding the entire southwest corner of Sup

Papa Cenar

Papa Cenar

3 out of 5 stars

Spanish restaurants are having a moment in Chicago, with the openings of Barcelona-style Boqueria, Galician-Portuguese Porto and famed chef José Andrés’s forthcoming Jaleo all bringing tastes of the Iberian Peninsula to the Third Coast. Papa Cenar, the newish Logan Square tapas joint that overtook bygone Twain, is not a Spanish restaurant per se, as a waiter dutifully corrected me on a recent visit. Restaurateur Branko Palikuca (the Dawson) takes inspiration from the whole of the Mediterranean, resulting in a varied menu that wants to be something for everyone. The results are promising but at times muddled. Walking to our seats on a recent Thursday night, the vastness of the space (an auto-body shop in a past life) felt disquietingly amplified with just a handful of diners inside. As we contemplated the menu, our waiter deposited toasted bread with bracing, freshly grated tomato for smearing, which we washed down with a round of food-loving cocktails. My date’s classic Gin & Tonic quenched with a bright, herbaceous edge thanks to housemade tonic. I sipped the restaurant’s elegant take on the sherry-based Bamboo cocktail, which subbed cocchi americano for vermouth, imparting bittersweet citrus notes on the amontillado sherry’s woody profile. It went down pleasingly with the farmer squash pisto, a compendium of roasted winter gourds accented with pumpkin seeds, goat cheese and pickled peppers on a velvety bed of puréed squash. A tidy row of earthy, rich albóndigas (beef, pork

News (5)

Guinness Open Gate Brewery transcends the traditional Irish pub

Guinness Open Gate Brewery transcends the traditional Irish pub

If you take a seat in the sprawling Guinness Open Gate Brewery in the West Loop, beneath the formidable, 7,700-pound metal harp sculpture that hangs over the main bar, and order a pint of Guinness, the bartender will promptly ask, “Which one?” You’ll find a dozen taps here, pouring a rotating selection of beers ranging from a sweet, American cream ale brewed with creamed corn to a dry kölsch-style ale, a tropical fruit-scented pale ale and a dry-hopped Italian pilsner. Of course, if you specify Guinness Draught Stout, the storied ritual will commence. The bartender takes up the tulip-shaped pint and turns it in her hand to check for cleanliness. She tilts the glass at 45 degrees beneath the tap, into which she cascades the liquid, at first a creamy light brown, until it’s three-quarters full. She sets it down, then returns some 120 seconds later to top it up and slide it across the bar—the beer now a ruby-tinted black thickly capped with cream-colored head.  You go in for that first sip, velvety textured, toasty and malty sweet with a coffee-esque backbone and bitter edge: “Ahhh! Tastes just like it does at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin!” Photograph: Momoko Fritz You’re right, in the sense that the stout synonymous with the Diageo-owned brand is indeed brewed in Dublin, not here. In fact, a pint of the black at Open Gate doesn’t differ much from the excellent Guinness Draught Stout meticulously poured at Mrs. Murphy & Sons in North Center or Lady Gregory’s in Ander

Slurping oysters with Motorshucker, Chicago’s traveling bivalve bar

Slurping oysters with Motorshucker, Chicago’s traveling bivalve bar

It’s a hot, sticky afternoon in early July as we head into hipster Ukrainian Village cocktail den Sportsman’s Club, bound for the back patio, where a sizable crowd has gathered despite intermittent downpours. There, a small assemblage of local chefs and wine pros dish up freshly shucked New Zealand and Rhode Island oysters and paper bowls of Laotian-style boiled shrimp—in view of their unofficial mascot, a red Royal Enfield motorcycle.  This is Motorshucker, Chicago’s traveling oyster bar. Born in 2021 out of Mico Hillyard’s and Kat Dennis’s shared love of vintage bikes and bivalves, this pop-up business—also composed of partners Cubby Dimling and Jamie Davis—now has standing gigs at Sportsman’s, Easy Does It, The Charleston and Ludlow Liquors, and is doling out its Southeast Asian-spiced fried peanuts and potato chips strewn with creme fraiche and caviar at restaurant takeovers and events like Third Coast Soif and the forthcoming Pitchfork Music Festival. “We started during Covid, partly because we couldn’t find any oysters through restaurants being closed,” Hillyard says. “We were sourcing from a family friend’s farm, Fisher Island Oyster Farm in the Long Island Sound, hanging out, shucking them in the park. Around the same time Kat and I started working on motorcycles—we thought this would be a nice way to combine the two and bring them around town to people.” Photograph: Maggie HennessyKat Dennis and Cubby Dimling For their first unofficial event—undertaken mainly to ke

Two Chinatown food startups spring to life on social media in the shadow of COVID-19

Two Chinatown food startups spring to life on social media in the shadow of COVID-19

If you ask Henry Cai, the chef behind takeout startup @3LittlePigsChi, to divulge how he prepares his char siu-style Chinese barbecue pork, he smiles and hesitates—visibly conflicted between safeguarding a treasured recipe and disappointing you. Cai’s barbecue pork is succulent and satisfyingly toothsome, glossed in sticky-sweet sauce with tang and warming depth. He learned how to make it from his dad, an immigrant from Guangzhou, in Southern China, and chef turned jeweler who in turn learned from a Chinese si fu (master). “Chinese cooks my dad’s age (he’s 68) are really protective of recipes; my mom doesn’t even know how he makes it,” Cai tells me. With that he relents, just a little. “Traditionally, Chinese pork is more dry. I add more sauce, because that’s how I like it, and that’s how Americans eat barbecue.” Cai was scouting locations to open a Chinese barbecue restaurant around his native Bridgeport when COVID-19 ground those plans to a halt. Not long before, he’d started posting pictures on Instagram of his scratch-made dishes under the @3LittlePigsChi moniker. “My friends were like, ‘Lemme get an order—I’ll pay for it,’” he says. “Some friends, without permission, started telling people, ‘My buddy is doing this.’ Then suddenly, random people started messaging me for orders.” Thanks to ever-sleuthing food writer Titus Pullo, I became one of those random people, DMing a stranger for a pound of lacquered pork nubs and 10 juicy pork potstickers with thick, chewy wrappers

A pint-sized beer exhibit at the Field Museum explores Chicago’s thirsty origins

A pint-sized beer exhibit at the Field Museum explores Chicago’s thirsty origins

In 1855 Levi Boone, the anti-immigrant, pro-temperance mayor of a nascent Chicago, tried to leverage his power against a growing German population by going after their right to drink. He ordered police to enforce an old law requiring taverns to be closed on Sundays, a move that would disproportionately impact immigrants, who worked Monday through Saturday and (surprise) liked to throw back a few steins on their sole day off. He also jacked up liquor license fees from $50 per year to $300 a quarter, threatening to drive the city’s mostly German- and Irish-owned saloons out of business. Hundreds of tavern owners defied the law by remaining open on Sunday and were arrested. The day of their scheduled mass trial, some 1,000 protestors marched downtown, prompting Boone to call in militia reinforcements. A fight broke out between protestors and police, leaving one German man dead. A disgraced Boone was forced to release the prisoners and lower liquor license fees, and his weakened party didn’t run for re-election in 1856. Thanks in part to German voter turnout, a statewide prohibition referendum failed, leaving citizens to enjoy a drink as they pleased and helping a marginalized group claim a place in the growing, diversifying city. From this earliest instance of civil unrest known as the 1855 Lager Beer Riot, which laid the groundwork for Chicago’s rough-and-tumble politics, to the 19th century brewery-induced building boom that would establish the city as an architectural powerho

Doors Open Dishes pairs Chicago chefs with special-needs individuals to craft inspired bites

Doors Open Dishes pairs Chicago chefs with special-needs individuals to craft inspired bites

Chicago food writer Nicole Schnitzler has watched her brother Daniel make his favorite meal dozens of times. He fills the same pink Tupperware bowl with frozen corn, peas and carrots from the bag, adds a flurry of Kraft Parmesan cheese, then digs in while it’s still frosty. Daniel, who’s 42, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. “All his life, Daniel—like myself— has loved and embraced food, even though in many ways we have really different tastes,” says Schnitzler. “One day, I’m in the kitchen watching him make this, and it dawns on me: I bet a chef could make a dish inspired by this that I’d find really delicious.” Motivated by the state’s budget impasse, which threatened the main funding source for the residential and training programs Daniel counts on, Schnitzler founded Doors Open Dishes. The organization partners with Chicago chefs to create menu items inspired by the comfort foods of people with disabilities, donating part of the proceeds to an organization that supports the featured individual. DOD kicks off this month at Cindy’s, inside the Chicago Athletic Association, where executive chef Christian Ragano showcases crispy chicken milanesa with Texas caviar (barbecued beans with still-crunchy corn, fresh peas and carrots), local sweet-corn pudding and smoked ramp vinaigrette, inspired by Daniel. Cindy's executive chef Christian Ragano, Photograph: Jason Little “Daniel’s fantastic—so bubbly and very decisive about what he likes to eat,” says Ragano. “He loves fr