Jiro-style ramen—no relation to the legendary sushi chef—is, apparently, the deep dish of ramen, or so says Nick Kindelsperger:

Jiro-style ramen is neither complex nor subtle. It is thick, meaty and garlicky, with an incisive soy sauce backbone. Flecks of pork fat litter the top, adding even more heft to a bowl that wasn’t lacking any. The noodles are wavy and substantial, latching onto the broth as you remove them from the bowl. Huge chunks of tender, fatty pork bob in the liquid. Though they look imposing, poke them with your chopsticks and they tenderly fall apart.

All that heaviness is countered somewhat by the hearty handful of cabbage and bean sprouts piled on top, which adds a crunchy relief from the onslaught of pork.

This style, new to Chicago if not Japan (it was invented c. 1968), can be found at Chicago Ramen Annex, the latest place from Chef Kenta Ikehata, of Chicago Ramen (actually in Des Plaines) and two other spots.


Would you pay extra to dine at Frank Sinatra’s table? Considering the number of places he favored in Chicago, you already may have, at Twin Anchors or Gibsons (where Mister Kelly used to be), if you’re old enough, Slicker Sam’s back in the day. But soon you’ll be able to pay extra at Gene & Georgetti to get his table—and just as importantly, not be sent upstairs to Siberia:

Now, Gene & Georgetti has found a way to capitalize on those starry legacies. Diners eager to guarantee a meal at either booth can pay to reserve their spot on a booking platform called Tablz, a Toronto-based startup that allows restaurants to charge fees for desirable tables.

The platform, which went live in spring 2021 and entered the Chicago market last summer, hosts about 80 to 85 restaurants in Canada and the U.S. Tablz is betting diners will be willing to pay a premium to guarantee the best spots for their meal. Unlike booking deposits made on some other reservation platforms, the reservation fees on Tablz are not applied to diners’ final bills.

This Trib article seems to think paying a little more (or less) for different seats at different times of the day is a new thing, though a certain amount of this has been true at certain places for a while—Tock’s ability to offer dynamic pricing has been used to manage demand (and incentivize people to take non-prime time seats) at places like Next and Elizabeth for a while. As I wrote about how Iliana Regan used it:

…as she saw what her real costs were, she did something very unusual—she began lowering her prices at times, partly as a consequence of being on the Tock reservation platform and being able to take advantage of its capabilities for offering different pricing at off times versus peak times. “We went along with that Tock thing of dynamic pricing, to get the volume that we wanted” on weekdays, she says. It worked because “after years of being open, we know what all of our costs are. We know what our electricity is in the summer, and we know what it is in the winter. We know our bottom line, and so we know how to vary our prices and how many people we need to get in.”

To me, that kind of strategic use of dynamic pricing makes sense—people who want a deal will feel smart for picking the off time; people who care more about dining at 7:00 than about a few bucks won’t. Time has value that way that I’m not convinced a particular table does. Tablz reminds me of my days of writing at Grub Street; I probably covered half a dozen services offering a supposedly sure way to get hard to get seats—say, Friday night at Girl and the Goat—and none of them lasted long. I’m just not convinced Chicago is a place where that many people are racing to get prime seats.

As for me and Frank, I’ve already sat in Elvis’ booth at the Arcade diner in Memphis; all I had to do was get in on Amtrak around 6 am, and be the first person in line when it opened.


Anthony Todd talks to Atelier chef Christian Hunter about what he plans to do at Elizabeth’s replacement:

His menu combines flavors from all over the place, but the uniting feature is an obsessive commitment to local ingredients, even when they aren’t particularly popular ones. Take, for example, the “salad” (or pasta course, depending on your point of view) on his current menu. It’s made with super-thin ribbons of rutabaga, which is plentiful here during the winter but very rarely seen on restaurant menus. He serves them with a dressing that he describes as “Caesar-like,” a combination of anchovy-forward bagna cauda, white miso, and lime juice. To keep with the salad theme, it’s served on a dollop of romaine puree, with black pepper and pecorino cheese. “We serve it with a spoon, we want you to spin it, and see if it hits you as a Caesar or as a pasta. If it hits you either way, this is fun and interesting.”

Also interesting in light of the piece mentioned above on raised pricing for certain tables:

At $190 a person, the price at Atelier is lower than many tasting menus around town, and you can buy “season tickets,” a set of four dinners that comes with extra pours of drinks, takeaway gifts, and an opportunity for the restaurant to track your preferences and design your menus accordingly.

Meanwhile, Eater offers a preview of Hunter’s dishes.


French food is always on the verge of being back, and it never quite happens even if a French place or too manages to take off (The Blanchard a few years ago, Obelix now). Steve Dolinsky visits three recent openingsObelix, Le Select, and Le Tour in Evanston. Amy Morton on Le Tour, which she opened with chef Debbie Gold:

“Mirador – my first restaurant – was opened in ’89 and that was French,” said owner Amy Morton. “We call ourselves ‘unconventionally French’ – Debbie’s take on modern French food with strong Moroccan influences.”


Omarcito is a Latin resstaurant in Logan Square run by Omar Cadena, and Michael Nagrant likes it a lot:

Cadena, a vet of another of my faves BIG & Littles, also thanked me for ordering food, otherwise “he’d have to eat it all himself” which as he said wasn’t good, “because then I’m gonna end up alone”. I doubt that’s true, but based on the quality of his chow, anyone out there looking for a dude who can cook, well you better snatch up Cadena, because he’s a killer in the kitchen.

The food, like Cadena’s personality, is bold. The empanadas are fry-oil dappled like an OG deep-fried McDonald’s apple pie. The exterior shatters while the interiors explode with citrus-kissed mojo pork or steak, chihuahua queso, and scallion. The whole thing breaks open with IG-worthy “cheese-pull” drip.


Back when it was a fresh joke to call a tasty food “crack,” dry chili chicken at Lao Sze Chuan was often dubbed “chicken crack.” Titus Ruscitti goes looking for something similarly addictive, but piscine, in a piece on Dry Chili Fish Fillet in Chicago:

After Lao Hunan closed I kind of forgot about dry chili fish filet until New China Station opened nearby sometime around 2017. A tip on twitter from the always reliable @kennethaz led me to NCS which at the time of it’s opening was owned by a chef who cooked at some of Tony Hu’s Lao Sze Chuan outlets around Chicagoland (like the one in Skokie). I eventually tried dry chili fish filet from New China Station and became instantly hooked in the same way I was when I first had it at Lao Hunan. It was the dish I ate more than any other in town and it was pretty much always on point.

He samples versions at a number of places including Chengdu Impression and Chef Xiong.


I think a decade ago I wrote about a Turkish cafe called iCafe for Serious Eats, and I’d bet the new issue of Dennis Lee’s SubStack is the first time anyone’s mentioned it since then. In any case, however Turkish it was once, by now he says it’s Kyrgyz:

After we got settled at our table, we knew something was up. I’m no linguist (though I speak Korean and Spanish), but none of the languages spoken at any of the other tables sounded like Turkish. In fact, everyone aside from Davida, who’s White, looked somewhat like me.

I turned and looked around. Davida quietly motioned at a person sitting at another table, whose back was turned to us.

His bright red jacket had the words “Kyrgyz Republic” written on the back. Mystery solved.

There’s more and more of this part of the world in this part of town—Bai Cafe, Sweet Moon, etc.


Sometimes a headline tells you how dining has changed, and Time Out’s 15 Best Omakase Restaurants in Chicago is one of them. Really? There’s 15 of them now? Yes, including two I’d never heard of.


Here’s something useful: Amy Cavanaugh’s guide to BYO joints in town.


It’s been a few years since Between Bites, the food-oriented storytelling series I wrote about here, last held an event. But it’s coming back! Four readers, including Michael Muser and Joe Flamm, will read on Sunday, March 26, 5:30 pm, at The Restaurant at Bian. The theme is “The Other Side”; ticket price includes appetizers, cocktails by Apologue, wines by Meta, Miller High Life, Peroni, and more, while proceeds will benefit The Greater Chicago Food Depository. Go here for tickets.


David Manilow talks to influencer Soo Park about that business.

Monica Eng’s son is playing football for a team in Marseilles—and to her horror, eats at Subway there. She talks to him about what Le Subway is like.


I really liked Ruxbin, I was all right on Mott Street and probably should give it another shot (but never think of it, alas), and the burger at Mini Mott was okay—but jeez, I live in Burger Central, Roscoe Village, so who needs to drive to Logan Square for a burger? Still, and especially after Michael Nagrant’s fond review, I went to Second Generation, Edward Kim’s new restaurant in the Mini Mott (and before that, Jam) space. And hey—you should too.

I don’t remember anything at Ruxbin that well, but I think what I had at SG (2G?) was more like it than the others have been—umami-rich food with a vague Asian feel to it, but mostly not specifically identified with any one cuisine. Still, even if I didn’t feel this or that was explicitly Korean or Chinese or whatever, it popped like Asian food, even if the place has a sign that says “American Food” as you walk up to it (Eater called it, weirdly, an “All-American Bistro”). A salad called Campfire Greens married smoked vegetables with “sahmjang hummus”—nothing says “All-American” like Korean-flavored hummus, right?—and the bright tartness of preserved lemon; I may reverse engineer this one at home. A bowl of something called “Midnight Pasta” seemed to be spaghetti in a dark pit of umami mixing soy and parmesan with lardons; it reminded me of jjajangmyeon, the black bean dish I loved at Hanbun especially, though as far as I can see it has no ingredients in common with it. Charred octopus sitting in a schmear of fermented soybeans had perfect cephalopod texture set off by crunchy chickpeas. The least exciting thing I tried was a little bit of steak in a kalbi-type marinade, too sweet, but the side of fries with tarragon aioli was irresistible. (This was the one dish where “bistro” seemed to fit.) For the record, they still serve the Mini Mott burger, and build desserts around the soft serve ice cream Mini Mott had.

I’ve eaten a lot of things that were fine (or fiiiiinnne) lately; Second Generation is better than fine. It woke my dormant umami receptors up, and made me want to eat a big bowl of Korean something, even though it’s not Korean, exactly. I will be back, faster than I’ve been back to Mott Street, for sure.

*  *  *

Some years back I was talking to Boka Group’s Kevin Boehm and asked him if there were any concepts he wanted to do but hadn’t yet. He said, a little Japanese place, because even if it’s roughly the same food as you do in a big place like Momotaro (or at least a subset of it), the atmosphere of a small family-run restaurant in Japan is just intimate and welcoming in a different way.

Once you own a bunch of big restaurants, it can be hard to run smaller ones—you’re built for big staffs and the numbers to support the overhead. But Itoko, one of the three concepts in the former Southport Lanes, has found a middle ground: it’s fairly intimate, but on its second day, it’s packed to the gills with Southport Corridor residents eager to try a downtown group’s concept in their own backyard.

I take up a spot at the sushi bar in back, meaning I get to see Gene Kato running the show. He seems calm and collected, and maybe it’s not surprising, since the menu looks very much like his (gone, lamented) Sumi Robata Bar in River North, trimmed down for the things that sell most easily (no gizzards coming off the robata grill).

Oddly, what I’m thinking about the most the next day is temperature. Most sushi in Chicago leans toward icebox cold, but when I order a six-piece assortment (sorry that sounds like chicken nuggets, but I don’t know how else to describe it), the rice is just cold enough to hold together, the fish has warmed up just enough to be relaxed and supple, in a way that recalled how I had it in Japan. It’s really nice. Same for a hand roll of scallop, served in a little wooden… hand roll caddy? I guess you’d call it that. I was advised to eat it quickly—in other words don’t fork around getting the perfect shot for Instagram—so that I ate it while the nori was still toasty warm around the cold fish. Simple, but perfect.

I have somewhat more moderate praise for the warm things. Chicken thigh skewers are beautifully cooked, but they taste like chicken. Okay, yes, that’s the point, but eating two of them by myself, by the end, I wish they brought something else to the table—a little more smokiness, a marinade, something. Same for bao with a skewer of ground beef topped with sweet-hot mustard—again, I’d be happier with just one, and other things to try on sticks from the robata. That’s the only complaint I have about Itoko—the menu is spot-on for a new opening, but narrow; if it’s going to last some years in this neighborhood, I hope it rolls out some seasonal special items, some more unusual fish on the sushi side and other things to stick on a stick on the robata side, to keep the menu fresh. But for now, an impressive start, not least that there are only rarely signs (like a server verifying with Chef Kato which fish is which on an order) to tell you that the restaurant is only two days old.