The Windy City has witnessed the birth of a number of restaurants since last year’s National Restaurant Association Show: new fast casuals, food halls, eatertainment spots and concepts from the city’s most prominent multiconcept operators. In Restaurant Business’ fifth annual guide of concepts to scout during the Show, we’ve curated not only the tastiest options (which these certainly are), but also the ones with the best stealable ideas to pack up in a doggy bag and take home to your business.
Former celebrity hot spot Pump Room was revamped by owner Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. The restaurant still has its classic black-and-white photos on the walls and a rotary phone in the VIP booth, but the modern American menu’s been updated by chef Doug Psaltis, while the decor and server uniforms have been given a modern spin.
1301 N. State Pkwy leye.com/restaurant/booth-one
As much attention went to the custom-made barware—think forged pewter mugs and smoke-filled terrariums—as the cocktails at this sea monster-themed hotel bar. The menu was created by Fifty/50 Restaurant Group cocktail guru Benjamin Schiller.
660 N. State St. leviathanchicago.com
Lettuce Entertain You takes on sushi with this follow-up to the group’s successful Ramen-san concept. This restaurant—open until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday—serves customizable hand rolls with a vibe influenced by ’90s hip-hop. It recently launched an express lunch option to cater to nearby office workers.
63 W. Grand Ave. sushisanrestaurant.com
H Mart, a massive Asian grocery-restaurant hybrid, recently opened its first downtown Chicago unit. This West Loop market is an example of how grocery is encroaching on restaurants, with its food court full of ramen, poke bowls, sushi burritos and Korean dishes such as bibimbap and bulgogi.
711 W. Jackson Blvd. nj.hmart.com/ourstores/chicago/
The father and son duo behind an artisan ‘nduja company has opened a sandwich shop-market hybrid specializing in the spreadable cured sausage and other artisan meats. The space features a deli, small Italian grocery and restaurant with a half-dozen sandwiches layered with housemade sausages, pates and freshly roasted meats.
1372 W. Grand Ave. tempestamarket.com
Don't want to leave the hotel?
Several delivery-only concepts have popped up in Chicago in recent months. Here are some of the city’s “virtual” restaurants:
Red Robin delivers burgers and sides, as well as full burger bars for 10-20 people, from its Michigan Avenue storefront.
Lettuce Entertain You’s delivery-only Seaside’s, which was developed to drive more sales from the kitchen it shares with full-service Oyster Bah, offers up a hyper-focused menu of fried chicken, baby back ribs and lobster rolls.
Also from Lettuce Entertain You is delivery- and pickup-only ASAP Poke, which tag-teams the prep area with upscale sushi restaurant Naoki. The delivery version specializes in travel-friendly bowls and sushi rolls.
Ultra high-tech Wow Bao
Fueled by a recent private-equity investment, the steamed bun chain bought the rights to Eatsa’s automat technology. The result? At its newest unit, customers order at kiosks and pick up their lunches from numbered cubbies, with virtually no human interaction.
1 W. Division St. wowbao.com
The boil-in-a-bag seafood conceptrevamped its service model for its new South Loop unit, dishing up steaming bags of shrimp, crawfish and crab legs via a quick-turn, half-service operation. Customers order food at one counter, drinks at another, and servers bring the orders to their table in the open dining room that’s made to look like your neighbor’s backyard.
1132 S. Wabash Ave. lowcountrychicago.com
Punch Bowl Social
The eatertainment chain rolled out a mammoth and playful 30,000-square-foot West Loop unit; it was designed with a modular layout specifically so different areas could be broken off to suit large groups, private parties and other events.
310 N. Green St. punchbowlsocial.com
Venturing outside Chicago’s popular West Loop neighborhood, the Pilsen area is home to this Vietnamese restaurant with a menu that’s gotten a lot of local buzz. In addition to its traditional operation, the concept also runs an all-day coffee shop and late-night cocktail lounge.
1800 S. Carpenter St. haisous.com