And you thought 2019 was next level. Just wait for 2020: Some of our favorite chefs are returning with everything from Chinese American to Croatian concepts. It’s also a year when board games become part of the menu and Spanish food gets its due. And that food hall trend? It’s here to stay.
Jason Vincent scored with his Logan Square restaurant Giant. “But don’t expect this to be Giant 2,” he says of his upcoming Bucktown spot, Chef’s Special, opening this winter. Instead Vincent is focusing on cocktails and Chinese dishes, paired with a totally chill vibe. “It’s a place for everyone,” says Vincent, adding that families will feel at home. Dishes like egg rolls and Mongolian beef will take center stage, as will a “chef’s special,” which could be a traditional dish like hearty pork shank in spicy garlic sauce (most menu items are under $20). Drinks will fall in three categories: spritz, mixed, and stirred with picks like the Tender Prey with gin, shochu, lemongrass, and lime leaf. 2165 N. Western; 773-666-5143; chefsspecialbar.com
Keep an eye on a few other chefs launching second and third acts as Carrie Nahabedian (Naha) soon opens coastal Mediterranean restaurant Kostali and “Top Chef” winner Joe Flamm (Spiaggia) sets his sights on opening a Croatian restaurant in Fulton Market over the summer.
Sure, we’ve always had dinner and a show. The next-gen take on that is the Chicago Board Game Café, coming soon to Logan Square from the team that created Cards Against Humanity. Expect shareable street food (think rice noodles with coconut and pickled veggies) and a board game concierge to help your group pick the perfect game from a selection of old and new gems. For a real brain buster, head to the basement, where there will be an escape room produced by the House Theatre of Chicago. 1965 N. Milwaukee, 224-208-5346; chicagogamecafe.com
Also coming to entertain you: Chicago’s first “listening room,” the Exchange. Riffing on a concept popular in Japan, it will have a pristine sound systems, live podcasts, and tons of vinyl to spin. Opening in March, it will also serve as an all-day café with food from James Beard-nominated chef Brian Huston (the Publican, Boltwood). 224 S. Michigan; theexchangechicago.com
When the massive Time Out Market opened in Fulton Market this November, it brought a demo kitchen, over 17 concepts from the hottest chefs around the city, and even a secret tiki bar. Next up: DMK’s Hayden Hall, the South Loop’s first food hall. Fans of Ada Street will love the 75-seat second location here along with favorites from some of the other DMK concepts: smoked meats from County BBQ and sandwiches at their newest venture, Great Lake Meat company. Vegetarians will be happy to know Hayden Hall will also include a Mana food bar (resurfacing after closing its Bucktown locale in 2018). Also, with a 16-seat all-natural wine bar, you can expect a bumping happy hour. 333 S. Wabash; haydenhall.com
Chicago has always had a few mainstay Spanish spots, but two newcomers from the East Coast are really putting tapas back on the map. Hailing from New York City is just-opened Boqueria with a traditional tapas menu and fun twists like the brunch feast ($42), which includes a breakfast paella with roasted chicken, pork belly, piquillo peppers, kale, and eggs, plus unlimited sangria. Speaking of drinks, there are plenty, including shishito pepper margaritas ($13). 807 W. Fulton Market, 312 257-3177; boqueriarestaurant.com
The Spanish trend will continue in the spring, when renowned chef José Andrés brings his longtime Spanish spot, Jaleo, to River North. Inspired by Andrés’s childhood the menu is full of Spanish cheeses, tapas, paellas, and fun takes on the classic gin and tonic. 500 N. Clark; jaleo.com
Photos by (Chef’s Special) Galdones Photography; (Boqueria) Rey Lopez; (Chicago Board Game Cafe) Aaron McKay