Chicago’s yet again experiencing that lousy “Smarch” weather, but March 20 is the official start of spring and the season promises a solid corps of restaurant openings that will hopefully heat things up. This year has already seen heavy hitters like Jeong and Young American open, while another of 2019’s eagerly anticipated openings, Machine, debuts on March 11. A note on RPM on the Water, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ project along the Chicago Riverwalk: There are three phases to the project, and a spokesperson said the first phase may not be ready until late spring or early summer. That’s why it’s not on the list. Regardless, check out the following compilation of spring 2019’s most anticipated restaurant openings.
Address: Hoxton Hotel, 200 N. Green Street
Key Players: Boka Restaurant Group, Cabra: Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat); Cira: Chris Pandel (Dutch & Doc’s, Swift & Sons, Balena)
Boka, one of Chicago’s most reputable restaurant groups, is in charge of the dining options inside the Hoxton, the upcoming Fulton Market hotel. They’re working on Cabra, a Peruvian rooftop restaurant. This would mark Izard’s fourth restaurant with Boka. Izard has visited Peruvian cities including Lima, Arequipa, and Cusco for inspiration. Expect sharable plates reflecting those trips.
The company’s also working with Pandel the hotel’s all-day restaurant, a Mediterranean spot with a sibling coffee shop. Think sharable plates from Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, and Greece — all countries that represent the region. Sample dishes include a Lebanese/Syrian-inspired tabbouleh with Italian farro verde (instead of bulgur) and mojama (Spanish salt-cured tuna). Larger dishes include a hearth-roasted whole turbot, confit duck rice with sour cherries and almonds, and a mixed grill of lamb (leg of lamb, slow-cooked lamb shoulder, grilled lamb sausage skewer).
There’s also a space for a bar in the hotel, but Boka hasn’t spilled yet. The earliest day the hotel website lets guests book a room is May 1. Perhaps that’s opening day?
Address: 2429 N. Lincoln Avenue
Key Players: Zach Engel (Shaya), Andrés Clavero (Nico Osteria)
College friends from Tulane University in New Orleans, chef Zach Engel and GM Andrés Clavero hope to open “very soon” in Lincoln Park, near the infamous alley where bank robber John Dillinger met his end. Galit is a modern Middle Eastern restaurant, and Engel has learned much under his mentor, Beard Award-winning chef Alon Shaya. Expect sharable dishes, including pita fresh from a custom-built oven, plus meat and veggies cooked over hot coals. The wine list features selections from Israel, Morocco, Lebanon, and Sonoma.
Address: 712-720 E. 111th Street
Key players: Tsadakeeyah and Nasya Emmanuel (Majani); Rachel Bernier-Green (Laine’s Bake Shop); Tiffany Mone’t Williams (Exquisite Catering); Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives; James Gray (Calibrate Coaching)
This ambitious food hall and incubator, aiming to give would-be restaurant owners the training to open their dream businesses, is on its way this April to the South Side. There’s a solid roster of restaurant owners who have already established themselves and who are hoping to take their business to the next levels. Restaurant consultant James Gray is helping guide the pieces together in Pullman, a Chicago neighborhood that’s attracting more investments.
Address: 731 W. Lake Street
Key Player: B.K. Park (Juno)
This sushi-focused omakase restaurant from chef B.K. Park was pegged for a January opening, but the West Loop spot has slid to spring. Park wants to dazzle (and perhaps overwhelm; it’s a 23-course meal) customers with high-end ingredients like A5 wagyu and give them more of an upscale experience compared to Juno in Lincoln Park. It’s more of an intimate space with a 13-seat counter and a 10-seat dining room. Look for reservations via Tock.
Address: 736 W. Randolph Street
Key Players: Co-owners Vikram and Anu Bhambri, chef Sujan Sarkar (Rooh in San Francisco, Baar Baar in New York)
Workers should are finishing up construction at Rooh, a three-level Indian restaurant on Randolph Street that’s a spinoff of New York and San Francisco locations. The restaurant could open in April. The dishes are artfully presented, taking items like kulcha, a flatbread cousin to the more well-known naan, and amping them up. Rooh is promising a kulcha stuffed with goat cheese and served with shaved truffles. The menu will feature food from all around India, hoping to give Chicago the flagship contemporary Indian restaurant the city has lacked. Also, expect fun cocktails, something seldom seen in Indian restaurants in America. The West Loop has a void for elegant Indian food, and Rooh wants to fill the void.
Address: 3059 W. Diversey Avenue
Key Players: Zeeshan Shah and Yoshi Yamada (Bombay Breakdown), Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe, Marisol)
Fun, creative Indian-inspired food that goes well with beer is part of the package at Superkhana International. Veteran chefs Zeeshan Shah and Yoshi Yomada are taking their Bombay Breakdown pop-up to the next level with the help of Jason Hammel the chef/owner behind Eater Chicago 38 member Lula Cafe. They’re shooting to open the first week of May in Logan Square. Much of the menu comes from the pop-up (like grilled cheese with paneer and poutine with Indian spices. But Indian-style pizza, crab curry, and more are in development. Newly hired general manager Colleen Malone, the former GM of Wicker Park cocktail pioneer Violet Hour, is the restaurant’s wine director.
Address: 21 E. Ontario Street
Key players: Chef Paul, Donnie, and Mark Wahlberg
Chicagoans could get their first taste of celebrity-owned Wahlburgers in March, the casual restaurant from actor Mark Wahlberg and brothers Donnie and Paul. There are more than 30 locations of this Massachusetts-based chain. While it sounds just like another burger joint, there are enough fans of the Wahlbergs (whether it’s via music, acting, or the reality TV show on the chain) who are curious about the upcoming River North restaurant, taking over a space formerly occupied by Chili’s. There’s also a location planned outside of Chicago in St. Charles.