Whatever winter brings, we can count on one thing: no shortage of new places to eat and drink. Here are three spots that recently opened and have us hooked.
Rick Bayless has added another hot spot to his repertoire. This time, it’s a subterranean bar at Frontera. Take a century-old freight elevator down to Bar Sótano, where Bayless’s daughter Lanie takes the reins as beverage director.
Tequila- and mezcal-based drinks are the highlights of this cool dark speakeasy, and they take cues from the vibrant Mexican dishes on the menu. Sip a Tacos al Pastor cocktail ($13) that, with chorizo-infused mezcal and roasted pineapple, mirrors the flavor of the popular pork and pineapple taco. You can also indulge in bar bites like Yucatan fire-fried chicken with a mango habanero glaze ($13) and larger plates like made-to-order Mexican paella with fresh Gulf shrimp, chicken thighs, red chile adobo, roasted poblano peppers, tomatoes, peas, avocado, and crispy chicken chicharrón ($36). 443 N. Clark, 312-391-5857; rickbayless.com
Chef Lamar Moore cooks up an expansive menu at the chill upstairs Swill Inn, but downstairs at the boisterous Chit Chat Lounge he focuses on portable food (most of it served in to-go Chinese food containers). Together, the two spots make a dynamic contrast that you just may never want to leave.
Of course you won’t go hungry: Swill Inn features Swill rolls — egg rolls inspired by his well-loved burger upstairs with Angus beef, pickles, pimento, and garlic aioli ($10); and Togarashi fries with curry mayo ($6).
Cocktails are riffs on the classics like the Floral Collins made with aviation gin, bitter truth elderflower, lemon juice, lemongrass, angostura bitters, and soda water ($13). Large-format punch drinks include Chit Chat Punch ($52 serves 4 to 8), a potent combo of Hennessey, hibiscus tea, maraschino, and citrus. 415 N. Milwaukee, 312-624-9962; swillinn.com & thechitchatlounge.com
The team behind two-Michelin-starred restaurant Oriole switches gears for their new West Loop venture. Kumiko focuses on the art of the cocktail and provides just the quiet, minimalist atmosphere you need to enjoy it. Cuisine from Japan is also honored, as that’s where Kumiko’s creative director, Julia Momose, was born. Enjoy it all amid beautiful custom wood details; kumiko is an ancient form of Japanese woodworking art.
On the cocktail front, unique Japanese ingredients shine in choices like the refined Moonrise Daiquiri made with the Fukucho “Moon on Water” Junmai Ginjo sake, Rhum Clément Select Barrel, Hōjicha green tea, demerara sugar, lime, and Bolivian Cola Nut Bitters ($19).
Of course, with a talented chef like Noah Sandoval from Oriole at the helm, food is a must. À la carte dishes — Capital oysters in kombu butter ($4/each) and pork belly steam buns ($8 each) — are simple, yet refined. But the real highlight is the five-course omakase ($130), which features food paired with cocktails that are all based on your preferences. 630 W. Lake, 312-285-2912; barkumiko.com
Bar Sotano photos courtesy Bar Sotano; Kumiko oyster photo by Sammy Faze Photography, Cocktail Photo by Kailley Lindman