I remember, at the end of every school year, being handed a list of books I was expected to read before September rolled around. It was the teacher’s way of saying, “It may be summer, but you’re not supposed to turn your brains off completely.”
I can apply this to dining, because, frankly, I apply everything to dining. But consider: Summer is a time of backyard barbecues and ballpark food, but there are still serious restaurants that will require our attention in the coming weeks. Particularly because there are so many new restaurants about to debut, they will be hungry for our discretionary dollars.
And so I present my annual Summer Eating List, a compilation of recently opened, about-to-open and hoping-to-open restaurants in the city and suburbs (and occasionally beyond). This year’s class looks very promising indeed.
I don’t expect you to visit all of them, which is why I’ve grouped them in order of presumed importance. The Required Eating restaurants are the ones you simply must check out. Electives deserve serious consideration. Extra Credit restaurants are more offbeat picks, and Field Trips (permission slips optional) are farther past the city center.
Restaurants are listed with their projected opening dates, which, as any Chicago dining devotee knows, are subject to change.
The Albert. When the hotel is called Hotel EMC2, what else are you going to call the fine-dining room except the Albert? The 120-seat restaurant is helmed by executive chef Brandon Brumback, who has worked for Danny Meyer’s restaurant GreenRiver in Chicago, Chicago’s One Off Hospitality Group and Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, and resumes don’t get much better. Add interior design by the forward-looking Rockwell Group (check out the wall display of 12,000 science novels), and we’re talking foodie photographer fantasy. Opened May 24. 228 E. Ontario St., 312-471-3883.
The Bellemore. The space that once housed Embeya will be home to a “new American classic” by the Boka Restaurant Group, featuring executive chef Jimmy Papadopoulos. Given Papadopoulos’ impressive work at Bohemian House in River North, a lot of people are looking forward to his next appearance. Opening late summer. 564 W. Randolph St.
HaiSous. Fans of Thai Dang’s stunning food at the late Embeya have been waiting two years for this Vietnamese restaurant, by Dang and his wife, Danielle Dang (who will oversee the beverage program), in Pilsen. Embeya faves such as Dang’s papaya and beef-jerky salad, clay-pot-grilled quail with chile-lime salt and his whole-fried fish will be back, along with plenty of new items, including a half-dozen vegetable dishes. Along with the a la carte menu will be a $33 tasting menu ($50 with optional beverage pairings). Most daring of all, Thai Dang has declared Hai Sous to be a “nontipping establishment” with no service charge; service is built into the menu prices, which, Danielle Dang says, “allows us to ensure all members of the team will be respectably compensated.” Opening mid-June. 1800 S. Carpenter St.
Katana. Innovative Dining Group (Sushi Roku, BOA Steakhouse) makes its first Midwest appearance with this upscale robatayaki (Japanese grill) concept (augmented by plenty of sushi) in the old Bin 36 space. General manager Jason Chan, who opened Butter, Urban Union and Juno restaurants in Chicago, knows the market. Opening late summer. 339 N. Dearborn St.
The Kennison. In a few weeks, we’ll see what the Boka Group, working with Ryan See and Dan Warren, will open in the Perennial Virant space in the Hotel Lincoln. The chef will be William Walker, whose CV includes work at Green Zebra and Old Town Social. Given its ideal Lincoln Park location (and the draw of the Hotel Lincoln’s J. Parker rooftop lounge), expect a lot of people eager to check The Kennison out. Opening mid-June. 1816 N. Clark St.
The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet. Tom Powers, former director of Vivo and Marche (the two restaurants that launched Randolph Street’s restaurant row) is back on the street he helped make famous with this three-story “wine and food playground” (per the Tribune’s Joseph Hernandez), plus cocktails by Steve Carrow. Jessica Nowicki (ex-Naha, Brindille) is the executive chef. Opened March 28. 736 W. Randolph St., 312-919-6135.
Margeaux Brasserie. Hard to believe that Michael Mina, who has restaurants everywhere, has yet to place his thumbprint on Chicago. That will change when Margeaux Brasserie makes its debut in the Waldorf Astoria. Look for upscale French staples and a touch of the Midwest. The chef will be Brent Balika, who previously worked at The Dawson and at Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. Mina undoubtedly has a golden touch; will it extend to filling Margeaux’s 200 seats on a regular basis? Opening mid-July. 11 E. Walton St.
Pacific Standard Time. We’ll probably have to wait until after summer for this newcomer. One Off Hospitality alums Erling Wu-Bower, Cosmo Goss and Joshua Tilden are creating a California-influenced, vegetable-focused restaurant with a strong emphasis on open-hearth cooking. (You can get a preview at the popup they’re doing in mid- to late-June, but it’s in NYC.) Opening early fall. 151 W. Erie St.
Proxi. The long-awaited sibling restaurant to next-door Sepia is nearly here. Sepia principals Emmanel Nony, chef Andrew Zimmerman and sommelier Arthur Hon will oversee the new project, which will feature riffs on global street food. Where Sepia is refined and subtle, expect Proxi to be bold and bright. Opening mid-June. 565 W. Randolph St.
S.K.Y. Stephen Gillanders, the executive chef and partner at Lettuce Entertain You’s Intro restaurant is moving forward with his solo project, originally intended for Los Angeles but now setting up shop in Pilsen. S.K.Y. occupies a turn of the century (no, the one before that) building; some of the building’s elements are being reclaimed for the 80-seat restaurant. Those who sampled Gillanders’ “destination based” cooking at Intro will find much of S.K.Y.’s food familiar (if this means his beef and broccoli dish will be back, I’m on board). Opening mid-August. 1239 W. 18th St.
Somerset. The Viceroy Chicago, the upscale hotel being built where the Cedar Hotel once stood, will be home to an “approachable American” restaurant helmed by chef Lee Wolen (Boka) and operated, naturally, by the Boka Restaurant Group. Wolen plans to make much use of the restaurant’s wood-burning oven and rotisserie; this will be a simpler concept than Wolen’s Boka. Opening September. 1118 N. State St.
Split-Rail. Two years after departing Ada St., Zoe Schor’s solo restaurant is ready to open in West Town. Schor calls the food “modern-American cooking with roots in classic Americana,” offering riffs on the loaded baked potato (using potato gnocchi), reimagined fajitas and other twists. All in an industrial space (formerly Clyde’s Donuts) that Schor says she’s keeping “as intact as possible.” Opening early June. 2500 W. Chicago Ave.
Ace Hotel. The Fulton Market District hotel plans to be open by Sept. 1, so we ought to see this as-yet-unnamed restaurant by then, possibly sooner. The intriguing elements are the boys from Giant (Jason Vincent, Ben Lustbader, Josh Perlman), who are running the food operation (which will include breakfast, lunch and dinner), and Patrick Sheerin (ex-Trenchermen), who will be the executive chef. Opening late summer; 311 N. Morgan St.
Beatrix. Rich Melman hops on the Fulton Market train with the third location of Beatrix (named after Melman’s mother), which opened last week. The space also will accommodate the grab-and-go Bea’s Market and will include a coffee lounge and outdoor patio (for market and restaurant customers). Opened May 31. 834 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-0370.
BLVD. Inspired by the glamor days of Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard (circa 1950), BLVD features chef Ross Mendoza (most recently at Pump Room in Chicago), who will mix the modern and the nostalgic — as will the art deco-influenced decor. Opening mid to late June. 817 W. Lake St.
Cabana Club. The rooftop at The Robey hotel is the location of this poolside hotspot, offering small plates and plenty of libations. Opened early May. 1616 N. Milwaukee Ave., 872-315-3083.
Coletta. The lastest from the Gibsons Group will be this high-end Italian-accented contemporary steak and seafood restaurant in the gorgeous River Point office tower, at the junction of the Chicago River’s North and South branches. Named for longtime chef John Coletta (who, no surprise, will oversee the operation), the three-story restaurant will include a retractable-roof top level. Can you say after-5 magnet? Opening early fall. 233 N. Canal St.
Clever Rabbit. This veggie-focused Wicker Park restaurant focuses on contemporary-American dishes by chef Matt Lair, abetted by a good wine list, 10 beers on draft and plenty of cocktails along the lines of matcha gin and tonics and carrot margaritas. The sidewalk patio seats 50. If you pair Clever Rabbit with Bad Hunter (Randolph Street), what do you get? A Bugs Bunny cartoon. Opened May 23. 2015 W. Division St., 773-697-8711.
Daisies. From the ashes of Analogue comes this Logan Square pasta specialist, run by chef Joe Frillman, who’ll get his vegetables from his brother Tim’s farm (Frillman Farms) in Prairie View. Opening June 7; 2523 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Delta. This restaurant is billed as an ode to the Mississippi Delta region, whose cuisine is distinctly different from other Southern idioms; think spicy tamales and catfish, rather than shrimp and grits and cornbread. The bar will be fitted with eight tap lines, which will be helpful washing down those hot tamales. Owner Eldridge Williams is a Memphis native and former manager at Girl & the Goat. Opening late June. 1745 W. North Ave.
Ella Elli. The latest entry from the 4 Star Restaurant Group (Crosby’s Kitchen, Dunlay’s, Frasca, Smoke Daddy, more) is the group’s most culinarily ambitious effort to date, with an upscale menu from director of culinary operations Matt Eversman and executive chef Nolan Narut. Tufted booths and a walnut and marble bar give the space an intimate vibe. Opened March 7. 1349 W. Cornelia Ave.
Marchesa. This sultry restaurant and Champagne bar will occupy three levels in the space that was once Crofton on Wells. There will be a limestone-lined wine cave in the basement, main dining and bar at street level and an ornate Paris-apartment private room upstairs. Principals Kathryn Sullivan Alvera and Jason Clark helped create Narcisse, Domaine and Prosecco. Opening late summer. 535 N. Wells St.
Open Outcry Brewing Co. Coming to the Beverly/Morgan Park area is this craft brewery with a pizza-and-panini menu, in a homey environment featuring lots of reclaimed wood. Opening late June. 10934 S. Western Ave.
Otto Mezzo. Kevin Hickey and barman Brandon Phillips oversee this latest effort from the Rockit Ranch group, an Italian-accented cocktail concept augmented by a small-bites menu. As the name suggests, the doors don’t open until 8:30 p.m. (You’d open late, too, if you had a 4 a.m. liquor license.) Opened April 26. 311 W. Chicago Ave.
Petit Margeaux. The casual companion to Margeaux Brasserie (see Required Eating list above) is a lobby-level patisserie with 46 indoor seats and 44 outdoor seats in the Waldorf’s magnificent courtyard. Think pastries and granola at breakfast, ratatouille tartine and salads at lunch and dinner. Opening mid-July. 11 E. Walton St.
Portsmith. The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group (Steadfast, Homestead on the Roof, The Berkshire Room, The Sixth) will open a seafood restaurant in the lobby level of the Dana Hotel and Spa. They’re keeping mum about the chef’s name (which usually means he/she is currently employed elsewhere). Opening midsummer. 660 N. State St.
Prairie School. Heisler Hospitality, which has had a golden touch of late (Trench, Bad Hunter, Pub Royale) is partnering with Jim Meehan, founder of PDT bar in New York, to create this upscale bar in the Fulton Market District, adjacent to Google headquarters. Actually, the 9,000-square-foot space will house two concepts, but the principals are being tight-lipped on those details. Opening late summer. 326 N. Morgan St.
Sal’s Trattoria. Allen Sternweiler, who created Butcher & the Burger, is behind this Italian-American opening in Lakeview. Look for shared antipasti, pastas and various meat and fish entrees, keeping in mind that Sternweiler loved to cook game meats during his Harvest on Huron days. Opening in June. 2834 N. Southport Ave., 773-857-1401.
20 East. Following a four-month renovation, the Talbott Hotel is back with this street-level American restaurant by the Four Corners Tavern Group (SteakBar, Benchmark, Federales, many more). This will be a spot to keep in mind, if only for its 76-seat outdoor cafe, which sits on one of the prettiest streets in the Near North. Opened early May. 20 E. Delaware Place, 312-944-4970.
Beatnik. Bonhomme Hospitality (Black Bull, Celeste, Fulton Market Kitchen) will open a cocktail bar and restaurant in West Town. Details are sketchy at present. Opening late summer. 1604 W. Chicago Ave.
Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea Bar. Fairgrounds, which brings dozens of national and local coffee roasters together under one roof (combined with an ambitious tea program and food options) in Bucktown, will open a second location in the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. Opening midsummer. 12 S. Michigan Ave.
Fat Baby Tacos. Sitting next to Boss Bar (same ownership), Fat Baby Tacos offers tacos and burritos, late-night tamales and a wide range of cocktails, sangrias and agua frescas. Opened May 8. 109 W. Hubbard St., 312-527-2229.
Land & Lake Kitchen. Right by LondonHouse Chicago’s main entrance will be this upscale, casual restaurant from the LM Restaurant Group. Chef is Tim Davidson, formerly at Troquet River North; the restaurant will feature refined versions of American classics and will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch. The 3,500-square-foot interior will also have a sidewalk cafe. Opening late summer. 81 E. Wacker Drive.
Leviathan. The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group’s second concept in the Dana Hotel and Spa will be a theatrical bar on the mezzanine level, promising visually arresting cocktails by Benjamin Schiller. Opening midsummer. 660 N. State St.
Marshall’s Landing. DMK Restaurants is opening a lounge inside the Merchandise Mart, meant to serve the tenants as well as visitors, offering a full bar and seasonal menus. Its brightest future may be as a private meeting space. Opening June 9. 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza.
Steak 48. Is there room in River North for another steakhouse? The founders of Mastro’s Steakhouse (which they no longer own) certainly think so, which is why they’re opening this contemporary steakhouse in a just-built, two-story building (which is Lilliputian by River North development standards) around the corner from Pizzeria Due. Open-air dining (there’s an 800-square-foot patio) will be a big draw. Opening summer. 615 N. Wabash Ave.
Bartlett’s Fish Camp. From the husband-wife team (chefs Gary Sanders and Nicole Bissonnette) behind Bartlett’s Gourmet Grill & Tavern in Beverly Shores, Ind., comes this seafood-inspired kitchen with raw bar and “lakeside cocktails,” and a 100-seat deck with Lake Michigan views. Opening early July. 12 On the Lake, Michigan City, Ind.
Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar. Brendan Sodikoff is taking his act to Vegas, baby, opening a second Bavette’s in the Park MGM (former site of the Monte Carlo on the Strip). Expect the same speakeasy vibe as the original Bavette’s, the same jazz soundtrack and the same difficulty snaring a prime-time table. Opening in October.
Blue Sushi Sake Grill. Downtown Naperville gets the first Illinois location (and 10th overall) of this Omaha-based sushi chain, offering traditional and nontraditional fare, gluten-free and vegan options, happy hour specials and a bar program featuring signature cocktails and sakes, including sake flights. Opening June. 123 Water St., Naperville.
The Hampton Social. The popular River North restaurant, which mimics that summer-in-the-Hamptons vibe, will open a second location in Burr Ridge Village Center, which houses various restaurants and upscale retailers. The suburban outpost will occupy 9,000 square feet and will feature seafood (natch), pizzas and an expansive selection of wines and cocktails. Opening late summer. 701 Burr Ridge Parkway, Burr Ridge.
Michael Jordan’s Restaurant. It’s not an exact copy of Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse on Michigan Avenue, but it will offer a premium-beef program (grass fed, USDA Prime and more) and will share an executive chef in Craig Couper. The restaurant, in the redeveloped Oak Brook 22 office tower, also will feature a coffee bar (featuring Chicago’s Metric Coffee) and grab-and-go food items. The 50-seat outdoor patio should prove popular. Opening in July. 1225 W. 22nd St., Oak Brook.
Quiubo. The Bien Trucha group, which owns the wildly successful Bien Trucha in Geneva and A Toda Madre in Glen Ellyn, added a third west-suburban Mexican concept in downtown Naperville’s new Water Street District. The restaurant’s semi-industrial look is accented by colorful wall murals. Opened March 8. 120 Water St., Naperville.
Tim Graham restaurant. This isn’t far away, but it is down the road from a time perspective. Tim Graham (former exec chef at Travelle) and wife, Rebekah Graham (former wine and beer coordinator at The Publican), will team with restaurateur Branko Palikuca (Amber, Citrine, Topaz) in a 100-plus-seat, as-yet-unnamed space in Logan Square. The menu will have a Midwest focus; Jordan Mozer is turning the former auto-body shop into, well, the sort of thing Jordan Mozer does. Opening late fall. 2445 N. Milwaukee Ave.