10 New, Under-The-Radar Restaurant Recommendations
By Chicagoist_Guest in Food on Sep 27, 2017 6:11PM
By Michael Gebert
Hey, did you know that a poké place is opening near you? Yes, right next door to the ramen shop, across from the Thai Rolled Ice Cream Stand, and all down the street from that new 500-seat Italian steakhouse...which will, of course, anchor the food hall.
At least, that’s the picture of the city's restaurant scene that you get from food media day in and day out—hot spots in trendy categories popping up all over. And it’s true, and I have nothing against the places that get all this play—but they’re not the only story out there. At the same time, smaller places without PR budgets open up all the time, trying to serve their neighborhoods with food from their own culture—or from the heart.
That’s the kind of place I like to find, especially as I’m working on a new edition of my Fooditor 99 guidebook. So here are some promising places I’ve tried and liked this year, that mostly sailed under the radar next to those better-promoted openings. Check them out, you might find a gem or two.
It’s always nice to see a rare Oaxacan restaurant open in Chicago, and nice any time a Mexican restaurant this sunny and friendly and with such professional kitchen skills opens up, too. (Oddly, the owners’ main experience has been working at the Italian restaurant Anteprima.) Top things to try include queso panela frito, fried cheese with vinegary slaw, the tamales, which may seem oddly soupy but have rich flavor, and the pizza-like tlayudas.
Kie-Gol-Lanee is located at 5004 N. Sheridan.
Slurp Slurp Noodles
There have been a number of new openings on the older Wentworth strip of Chinatown, not all of them serving Thai rolled ice cream, but the best of them is devoted simply to handmade noodles. A short list of dishes comes with either hand pulled or handcut noodles; I love the chewy, irregular handcut noodles, but there’s no wrong answer. Be sure to try the dumplings with pork and chive, too, they’re excellent.
Slurp Slurp Noodles is located at 2247 S. Wentworth Ave.
A Logan Square home base for the goofily heavy-metal themed Döner Men Truck, this has an easygoing devilish atmosphere and, basically, one thing to eat: döner and curry fries. Good thing it’s pretty much a perfect food for munching on with beer—downright irresistible, much like the Dark One himself.
DMen Tap is located at 2809 W. Belmont Ave.
Maison de Castelnau
The oldest one on this list opened way back in February 2016, but being on west Bryn Mawr is pretty much being off the radar no matter how long you’ve been around. It’s officially a tea shop, very ladies-who-lunch in feel, which under the right circumstances could be just the escape from the city you need. (Under the wrong circumstances, it could be like a really awkward coffee shop.) Either way, or even just if you just pick up things to go, the classic French pastries, from almond croissants to pain aux raisin, are first-rate.
Maison de Castelnau is located at 3352 W Bryn Mawr Avenue.
Lebanese sweets from Libanais. Photo via Michael Gebert
Libanais was a Lebanese sweet shop located next to New York Bagel & Bialy on Touhy for years. Now they’re a full restaurant located just across the street from the city at Devon and McCormick Boulevard. In terms of dinner, shawarma and other classics were serviceable, but there was more interest in things like a whole grilled branzino with middle eastern seasonings. It’s the pastry cases, ranging from French classics to middle eastern treats like knafeh and semolina cake, that you’ll want to spend the most time with.
Libanais is located at 3300 W. Devon Avenue in Lincolnwood.
Kimchi Pop owner Victor Sotelo wanted to show people that Korean food isn’t just Korean BBQ—to show them the lighter and healthier food he grew up on. So he hired his mom to basically make things she made for him as a kid, like bibim bop, due bok ki, and broth-less Cafe Ramen.
Kimchi Pop is located at 939 N. Ashland.
Peruvian chicken exists on the northwest side—charcoal-grilled and spiced with aji amarillo. But Chopo Chicken should find the tasty birds some new fans, thanks to an efficient, Chipotle-like ordering system and a location on a busy, but pretty boring foodwise, stretch of Clark in Lincoln Park.
Chopo Chicken is located at 2460 N. Clark.
The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen
Chicago has Turkish restaurants but this is its first Kurdish one. What’s the difference? Skip the fairly rote lunch menu of shawarma wraps and hit this chic-looking spot for dinner, where you’ll find specialties like Mardin, an epic assemblage of lamb, eggplant, tomato, cheese and more. Or go for a Kurdish-style brunch, which piles the table with bread, eggs, goat cheese-stuffed crepes, fresh yogurt, dried fruit and more.
The Gundis Kurdish Kitchen is located at 2909 N. Clark.
Futatsuki ramen via Michael Gebert.
Ramen is becoming big chain restaurant business now, whether that’s homegrown chains like Furious Spoon spreading, or outside chains like Kizuki moving in. So I’m happy to see this hole in a wall, definitely family-run (their toddler roams about when it gets busy) Uptown ramen shop, located in a place that, judging by the colorful tiles, must have previously specialized in Vienna Beef products. Though it’s still way bigger, it comes about the closest of any place in the city to what ramen shops feel like in Tokyo.
Futatsuki Ramen is located at 4621 N. Broadway.
El Taco Azteca
El Taco Azteca was opened by a Mexican cook who’d worked for Antique Taco. And like Kie-Gol-Lanee above, it looks like he absorbed some of the lessons of better-funded restaurants to apply to his own recipes for Mexican classics, which offer a little bit of upscale flourish to down-home choices like fish tacos and cochinita pibil, served on freshly-made tortillas.
El Taco Azteca is located at 2151 W. Cermak.