Projecting a restaurant opening is not an exact science and the pandemic has only made matters tougher. Eight out of 14 members of Eater Chicago’s most anticipated restaurant openings of 2020 have yet to debut, and one that managed to open — Mundano — has permanently closed. Another, Brochu’s, is in limbo in search of a new home.
While 2021 brings hope in the form of vaccinations, the economic landscape is far from clear. Indoor dining has remained suspended since October in Chicago, and there’s no feel for when health metrics will satisfy government officials.
The efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and consumer confidence in indoor dining are two of many variables that the restaurant industry cannot account for, and with that in mind, here’s Eater Chicago’s Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings for 2021. These updates provide much needed positive vibes for diners, but it’s important to stay grounded. If Chicago didn’t learn from 2020, it’s time to once again reiterate that opening dates are subject to change.
The restaurants are listed alphabetically.
Alinea Group’s New Projects
Address: 363 E. Wacker Drive, Lakeshore East
Alinea Group (Nick Kokonas, Grant Achatz), Magellan Group
Work continues on the 101-story St. Regis Chicago (nee Vista Tower), a $1 billion skyscraper the overlooks the Chicago River. Apparently, Alinea Group had been in negotiations for years in hopes of finding space inside the luxury tower which is scheduled to open in late 2021. There aren’t many details beyond that Alinea will operate a fine dining restaurant on the 18th floor and an all-day restaurant on the second floor. Names haven’t been been shared. Alinea is also working with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises to revive Ambria in Lincoln Park. An LEYE rep had no update on the project.
Address: 2220 N. Clark Street, Lincoln Park
Key Players: Jenner Tomaska, Katrina Bravo
The husband-and-wife team of Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo are leaning into the spirit of community, hoping to weave an appreciation for the arts with Tomaska’s fine dining experience into a neighborhood restaurant. Esme appears on track for a spring debut. Tomaska, who worked at Alinea Group’s Next Restaurant, has been hard at work fund raising, but not for his project. He says within 24 hours his team raised $13,000 for workers at Virtue in Hyde Park (Chef Erick Williams is a mentor), and the first responders at University of Chicago hospital. There’s no update on the menu, as Tomaska and Bravo are preaching patience.
Address: 224 S. Michigan Avenue, Loop
Key Players: DMK Restaurant Group, Chef Brian Huston
DMK Restaurant Group had a bold idea for 2020: To bring Chicago a Japanese listening bar, fusing music with food — and allowing customers to listen to a curated collection of vinyl. They brought on Huston, a 2015 James Beard Foundation award nominee who worked at the Publican and Boltwood in suburban Evanston. Expect a bigger update on the project later this year, but the news right now is the additions of two new members of the kitchen staff. Matt Pontarelli (Publican Quality Bread) is the head baker, and Gabby Sanchez is the head pastry chef. Sanchez is worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California, and competed on Food Network’s Chopped Sweets. There’s no ETA for an opening just yet.
José Andrés Restaurants
Address: 110 N. Wacker Drive, West Loop
Key Players: José Andrés, Gibsons Restaurant Group
Andrés has continued his humanitarian efforts during the pandemic as the famous chef works to feed the needy by partnering with local restaurants across the nation. In 2020, there was buzz the Andrés was ready to bring his tapas restaurant, Jaleo, to River North. There’s no update on that, but Andrés made another announcement: He’s teaming up with Chicago’s respected Gibsons Restaurant Group to provide the food and beverage inside 110 N. Wacker Drive, a skyscraper that will eventually house Bank of America’s Chicago office. Bank staff are still keeping out of their cubicles, something that could last throughout 2021. Andrés and Gibsons are hoping for a more substantial update soon.
Address: 2202 N. California Avenue, Logan Square
Key Players: Chef Christopher Thompson, Steve Lewis (Meadowlark Hospitality)
The former Township space has been long vacant in Logan Square, and two restaurant vets — who are also neighborhood residents — have big plans. Lardon will feature cured meats, artisanal cheese, sandwiches, coffee, and a retail market. Chef Thompson, formerly of Coda di Volpe in Lakeview (and best known for his work at A16 in San Francisco), will have a curing cave to create charcuterie and salumi. He’s working with Lewis who in 2017 opened Centennial Crafted Beer & Eatery in River North. They’re gearing for an “early 2021” opening, with plans to expand in the adjacent spaces later in the year.
Address: Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Avenue, Streeterville
Key Players: Chef Art Smith, George and Manolis Alpogianis of ADM Restaurant Group
It’s been 25 years since Bubba Gump Shrimp debuted on Navy Pier, and Art Smith believes Chicago deserves better than a chain. Smith is Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef, and has made a name for himself with his southern cooking, including fried chicken that became popular at the former Table Fifty-Two in Gold Coast. As Navy Pier hopes to attract more locals in a world where tourism isn’t reliable, Smith is teaming up with the group behind America’s Dog to open inside a high-volume space near the pier’s entrance. Smith says he’s been playing with CBD, so expect some new twists. Reuion is slated for a spring opening.
Address: 932 W. Fulton Market, Fulton Market
Key Players: Chef Joe Flamm, Sancerre Hospitality
At this time in 2020, there was no name for Flamm’s upcoming Croatian-Italian restaurant, but the former Top Chef champion and the owners of BLVD planned to open soon. The new opening date is April 1, and Flamm laughs it off that the joke was that they were supposed to debut on April’s Fool’s Day 2020. The playbook hasn’t changed for Rose Mary, a tribute to Flamm and his wife’s roots, giving the chef another chance to use the pasta skills he honed with chef Tony Muntuano over at Spiaggia.
Address: 1450 W. Chicago Avenue, Wicker Park
Key Players: Chef and partner Tyler Nickson, Tyler LeBlanc, Co-owners Chris Russow, George Oliveros, Samuel LeBlanc
The story of Three House maybe a reoccurring one in 2021, as this new team is taking over the space belonging to Bar Biscay — MFK’s sibling restaurant that did not survive the pandemic. Nickson’s family owns Wishbone — the beloved West Loop breakfast and lunch spot. LeBlanc comes over from Schwa, the Michelin-starred Bucktown restaurant. Russow owns Round Two, a boutique in Wicker Park, while Sam LeBlanc founded the Half Evil streetwear brand. The team wants to bring an element of cool to the area with fried chicken biscuits, smoked salmon and butter baguettes, cafe con leche French toast, and a smash burger. For year, Schwa has pushed the envelope for fine dining, and diners will be able to trace the lineage at Three House. Expect a March opening.
Address: Carbide and Carbon Building, 230 N. Michigan Avenue.
Key Players: Chef Donald Young, Clique Hospitality,
The former Free Rein space inside the Carbide and Carbon Building along Michigan Avenue gets a makeover with Venteux, while Clique — a company known for its Vegas venues — and Chicago-area native chef Donald Young hope crowds return downtown when deemed safe. Young has worked at notable French restaurants Les Nomades and Henri, and is bringing a fun and elevated approach to bistro cuisine. Young helped Temporis, a fine dining restaurant in West Town, attain Michelin-star status. They hope for a spring opening, and there’s a 25-seat sidewalk patio if indoor dining remains suspended.
The X Pot
Address: Roosevelt Collection, 150 W. Roosevelt Road, South Loop
Key Players: David Zhao, robotic servers
The X Pot was supposed to bring robots serving Chinese food to Chicago in 2020, inside the Roosevelt Collection shopping and residential development in South Loop. But the future didn’t arrive on time adding to the pile of frustrations caused by the pandemic. The concept is a port over of a popular Las Vegas restaurant. The good news is there’s a targeted opening day of April 5, pending city inspections and other obstacles.