The Chitown Hype: Places That Live Up to The Buzz
It happens monthly in Chicago. There’s a mass exposure, or a hype if you will, surrounding certain topics. This comes along with the dreaded FOMO, or the "Fear Of Missing Out." Chicagoans feel a hint of guilt if they don’t attend said “hyped” place within the first month or so. Whatever the buzz is surrounding -- a restaurant, a concert venue, a boutique or otherwise -- sometimes it’s a hit. Other times a place is likely to fold under such high expectations. So, how do you tell the difference? You ask around, of course.
Here are a few power-plugged places that have earned my personal stamp of approval.
Big Star (1531 N Damen Ave.)- I know, I know – nothing new here, right? Big Star has been a major hot spot since it opened in November 2010. However, it’s so popular and so “scene” that sometimes I can’t handle it. You’re stuck in that little concrete box (unless its summer, then naturally you are on the patio), shoulder-to-shoulder with people that look way cooler than you ever will. It’s just too much. But let me tell you, it’s all for good reason. After my first full-on dining experience there last week, the concrete box-o-hipsters doesn’t seem so bad. I would let two sweaty Sumo wrestlers sit on top of me for hours if it meant I could eat just one Big Star taco.
Try This: Start with an order of Chips and Guacamole along with some Queso Fundido, which is literally just a bowl full of crispy, melted cheese and meat. Then go for the Taco de Panza (crispy pork belly) and the Tostada de Betabel (golden beets, jicama, oranges, arugula, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds). Wash it all down with a signature margarita or, if sweet isn’t your thing, a spicy Michelada.
Little Goat (820 W Randolph St.)- There are a lot of things Stephanie Izard's new restaurant has been plugged about, including the "upscale-casual" atmosphere, the bread bakery connected to the diner, and the 12 rotating craft beers on tap. Now for the real question: how’s the brunch? Brunch – the Sunday afternoon ritual, the meal of all meals, the big Kahuna on the social eating scale. For me it was the deciding factor on whether or not Little Goat deserved all the hype. My consensus? You’ll never think of brunch the same way again. I would let Mariah Carey hit a G10# in my ear for a whole day if it meant I could savor just one bite of the Spiced Apple Pancakes.
Try This: Begin with an order of the Sweet Onion Brioche pull-apart rolls from the bread bakery. If you’re into savory, go for the Shrimp and Grumpy Goat Grits with braised pistachio and brussel sprout leaves. If it’s sweet you’re craving, try the Spiced Apple Pancakes with cream cheese butter and oatmeal crumble. Sip on some Stumptown coffee from the coffee bar.
bellyQ (1400 W Randolph St.)- Any restaurant with the words “Asian” and “Barbeque” in the title is immediately intriguing. Chef Bill Kim’s latest Belly venture is a bit more high-class than Urban Belly and Belly Shack, which are both low-priced BYOBs. Kim has defined bellyQ as an “all grown up” version of his original concepts. But despite the hip location (right near Restaurant Row), the table grilling and the expansive bar list, this restaurant still manages to hit the affordable range. It’s also the kind of place you will go and eat until you hate yourself, yet somehow want to immediately do it all over again. I would watch the movie Battlefield Earth on loop for five hours just for a taste of the Korean Short Rib. Don’t underestimate how much John Travolta freaks me out in that movie.
Try This: The serving sizes are rather small, so seriously – go nuts. First, put in an order of the Chilled Soba Noodle Salad with Thai basil, olive oil poached shrimp and Chinese eggplant. You’ll probably also want to try the Double Smoked Bacon and Kimchi Pancake. Next up try the Tea Smoked Duck Breast with Chinese broccoli and steamed buns. Finish off with the Banana Leaf Wrapped Salmon and Korean Short Rip to grill at your table. For drinks, the craft cocktail menu is awesome. If you’re into Sake, the Red Lotus is delicious.
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