It’s been just about a month since BellyQ and Urbanbelly, chef/owner Bill Kim’s two West Loop restaurants, closed to make room for new construction. A Wicker Park location of Urbanbelly continues to hum along serving noodles and dumplings that blend flavors from Korea, Japan, and Thailand. Kim is now taking the restaurant into a fast-casual environment. Urbanbelly will pop up from February 4 through May 3 at Revival Food Hall in the Loop.
Mall food courts helped popularize Asian-style orange chicken and other Chinese-American items. Kim is aware of the history and feels it’s time to give customers more eclectic choices in a similar setting. The pop-up menu includes pork & cilantro, chicken with red curry, and edamame dumplings. Tater tots with curry mayo, Thai fried chicken, and rice bowls will also be available. The red Thai curry was an Urbanbelly special that stayed on as a regular menu item due to customer demand, Kim said.
He wanted to bring something different to Revival. For example, Kim wasn’t going to serve ramen as Furious Spoon is already inside the food hall whose tenants including Aloha Poke Co., Smoque BBQ, and Brown Bag Seafood.
Adapting to the market is something Kim has had to do since the original Urbanbelly opened in 2008 in Avondale. That space remains vacant since Kim’s departure. When it opened 11 years ago, Kim said there was a void for affordable, accessible, and quality Asian food — a niche he sat out to fill. He took a detour opening a restaurant in the West Loop, home of some of the city’s most posh restaurants. But Kim said he never forgot about his initial motivation. Affordability is one of the reasons customers can buy dumplings by the piece at Urbanbelly Wicker Park, something rarely seen at Asian restaurants where pot stickers and shumai are ordered in packs.
Kim could spend time building up a fast-casual presence. Revival is billed as a place where restaurateurs can test items and ideas for brick and mortar restaurants. Kim hinted he has plans for other spaces but isn’t ready to share.
“I think all of us get to the point where you have to kind of reinvent yourself,” he said.
The Revival location will also feature boozy lemonades and frozen Kirin beer. Urbanbelly Wicker Park has two Japanese machines which serve this frozen beer. The machine freezes beer which is then dispensed to top an already poured beer. Urbanbelly used the machines to make frosé over the summer with Virtue Cider. They’ll bring one machine to Revival.
Revival is owned by 16” on Center, the parent company of spots like Dusek’s Beer & Board and Empty Bottle. Kim talked about how he’s evolved since working at Charlie Trotter’s and opening his own restaurants. He’s got a book and his own line of sauces which will also be available at the Loop location for the three-month pop-up.