CHICAGO -- Back in Chicago again for the NACS Show? Don’t dine at the same old restaurants again! The Windy City is bursting with new restaurant concepts, from an inventive fire-and-ice-themed newcomer by Rick Bayless to the area’s first all-organic fast-food drive-thru to a retro-kitsch, spy-themed eatertainment destination.
Here's a guide, courtesy our colleagues at Restaurant Business, to restaurants to explore during the show, everything from quick-serve and grab-and-go to fine dining and cocktail-focused operations.
One Off Hospitality Group’s third Publican spin off (the O’Hare Airport outpost, Publican Tavern, opened last July) is a more-casual, bar-focused version of the original Publican that opened in 2009. This Wicker Park offshoot features eclectic dishes, a limited late-afternoon menu until 5 p.m. and weekend brunch.
1576 N. Milwaukee Ave. | www.Publicananker.com
The Polenta Bar
Can an all-polenta build-your-own fast casual concept survive? This small operation features 15 tables, counter seating and a variety of customizable and seasonal vegetable and meat toppings for bowls of imported cornmeal mush.
1002 W. Lake St. | www.thepolentabar.com
This reservation-only, 20-seat fine-dining establishment evolved from pop-ups held to showcase its tasting menus of innovative fare like foie gras ice cream. But fix your gaze on the LED lighting throughout that’s designed to change colors during service, morphing with diners’ moods.
933 N. Ashland Ave. | www.temporischicago.com
The second outpost of this spy-themed bar-restaurant-night spot features all sorts of engaging design elements, from the “Cone of Silence” booth to a “secret” exit to a clear bathroom door that instantly fogs up when locked. Allow extra time to go on a mission to explore the concept’s two bars, dance floor, dining room, semi-private lounge and memorabilia-packed “spybrary.”
60 E. Ontario St. | www.safehousechicago.com
In a former meatpacking district, veggies take centerstage at this West Loop Heisler Hospitality concept the New York Times called “a shrine to vegetables.” The bright, airy space also features a menu of low-alcohol cocktails for sipping with the plant-based dishes.
802 W. Randolph St. | www.badhunter.com
Revival Food Hall
A Daniel Burnham-designed bank-turned-food hall has become a go-to for Loop office workers looking for quick lunch at one of the 15 locally focused stalls. Popular vendors include Aloha Poke, Smoque BBQ and Furious Spoon ramen. James Beard-winner Mindy Segal offers breakfast pastries at her Mindy’s at Revival Cafe. A bar serves the after-work crowd until 9 p.m. on weekdays.
125 S. Clark St. | www.revivalfoodhall.com
Latin-inspired, seasonal cocktails are called out by spirit on an eye-catching board at this Logan Square Heisler Hospitality bar. Making the most of the dayparts, this concept serves Dark Matter Coffee and housemade snacks during the day.
2450 N. Milwaukee Ave. | www.estereochicago.com
Most interesting about this Mediterranean casual-dining spot from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is its Rotisserie Ema offshoot, a grab-and-go counter that slings quick-serve salads, rotisserie chicken and frozen yogurt. Ema’s concept was incubated at Intro, the Lettuce restaurant that switches out its guest chef every few months.
74 W. Illinois St. | www.emachicago.com
Head to the Chicago suburb of Cicero to check out the first location of the new dual-concept fast-casual/quick-serve from Hooter’s. The small-footprint concept, which hires both women and men and ditches the skimpy uniforms, has a full-service bar and counter service for dine-in or take-out.
2201-D S Cicero Ave. | www.eathoots.com
Seafood City Supermarket
Filipino food landed on just about every 2017 trend list. And it’s here in abundance at this mega-grocery store on the Northwest Side that’s also home to Filipino quick-serve giants Jollibee, Grill City, Crispy Town and Noodle Street.
5033 N. Elston Ave. | www.seafoodcity.com
Restaurateur Amy Morton, practically Chicago restaurant royalty, is back with an 80-seat steakhouse, accessible only through an alley, in a circa-1800s brick structure that was once a horse barn. Harkening to her father, Arnie Morton’s, old-school service touches, the steakhouse features a signature salad that’s prepared tableside.
Rear 1016, Church St., Evanston | www.thebarnevanston.com
This delivery- and carryout-only Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises spinoff shares a kitchen with Oyster Bah in Lincoln Park. LEYE maximizes its real estate with this second-floor quick-serve that offers up fried chicken, ribs, grilled lobster and sides like macaroni and cheese, Old Bay fries and housemade pickles.
1962 N. Halsted St. (delivery only) | www.seasidechicago.com
Lena Brava & Cruz Blanca Cerveceria
Rick Bayless returns with this West Loop duo that spotlights the food and drink of Baja. The centerpiece of Lena Brava is a massive, live-fire hearth for preparing sustainable seafood and more. The restaurant also offers and extensive raw bar. Cruz Blanca features about a dozen house-brewed beers, as well as tacos and other quick bites.
900 W. Randolph St.; 904 W. Randolph St. | www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/cerveceria-cruz-blanca/; www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/lena-brava/
Nic’s Organic Fast Food
The suburb of Rolling Meadows is home to the Chicago area’s first certified-organic fast food restaurant. The concept, which also features a drive-thru, offers standard fast-food fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All ingredients are certified organic by Quality Assurance International.
2101 Plum Grove Rd., Rolling Meadows | www.nicsorganicfastfood.com
This fast-growing salad bar chain (backed by Danny Meyer and David Chang, among others), is known for a commitment to local sourcing. The chain has leases signed on two other Chicago locations, saying it likes to grow quickly in each market it enters to build its supply chain.
623 N. State St. | www.sweetgreen.com
Self-serve beverages (beer, wine, cocktails, kombucha and coffee) are the hook of this tasting room, which also serves fondue and other snacks. The concept features traditional lounge-style seating, as well as a few ceiling-mounted swings.
2027 W. North Ave. | www.tapsterchicago.com
McDonald’s of the Future
The quick-serve titan is testing out a wide range of futuristic touches at this unit, including digital kiosks, LED-lit display cases for muffins and cookies, and digital drive-thru displays. The River North restaurant also offers table service and non-standard menu items like customizable sandwiches with grilled onions, Dijon and maple bacon.
10 E. Chicago Ave. | www.mcdonalds.com