I was talking with a restaurant owner last year, when things were just reopening. And we agreed on something, which was that we were probably going to see a wave of closings some months after reopening. It makes sense—people figure out how to run low to the ground through the pandemic, husband their funds carefully and make it through to reopening. But once you’re back open and running at the level you were before, expecting things to be the same as they were, then the pressure starts exposing cracks in the business model. Lack of staff, higher wages for those you can find, rising food prices, customers who’ve just gotten used to eating pizza at home.

This was prompted for me by news that Big Guys Sausage Stand has announced, after a GoFundMe some weeks back, that they’re closing and pivoting to catering from here on:

Big Guys is losing money daily and basically has been for the last 18 months. We put a call out for help and the community came out in droves to support us. It was humbling, motivating and heartwarming. It was an act of kindness en masse. I truly wish it fixed the problems. It didn’t.

Independent restaurants are taking on water. This boat has too many leaks right now and we can’t bail fast enough. Right now we need to jump ship into a more sustainable business model.

It sucks to say, but counter service at Big Guys will pause indefinitely next Saturday 9/24. Please come in before then and say good bye.

There are two sides to this business – restaurant and catering. I am shifting my energy and focus into large, special event and wedding catering. After all, I cut my teeth in wedding banquets and have twenty straight years in the game. I specialize in on-site cooking for large and important occasions. I’m really good at it.

Or maybe it was hearing that Tavern on Rush—the sort of Viagra Triangle place where I thought it would be 1986 forever—is closing. Or that Chikatana, a posh upscale Mexican spot on Fulton Market that I just went to a PR lunch at a couple of months back—was already gone. We’re getting a lot of these closings, and also the never-reopenings—Entente, or Flora Fauna, the place from former Drifter mixologist Liz Pearce and her husband in River North. And also some places that came after lockdown, but died quickly—En Passant, which made an Esquire list of the best openings nationwide, is gone for good, to name one. (There’s another one, further down in this issue, but I could name a dozen more places that fit each situation I’m describing.)

That’s not to say that the restaurant world is ending—plenty of restaurants are booked to the gills, plenty of trendy bakeries have lines out the door. Entente closed, but Obélix moved in and is packed on Saturday night. Ever is opening a swanky new bar as part of an expansion driven, in part, by the desire for 40-person business dinners even at the highest of the high end. Some places, clearly, are doing well right now.

But I suspect a notch down from that level of social media attention, things are tough all over. There’s no one cause, but if you’re stretched tight as it is, any number of routine factors can hit you harder than normally. And just as there’s no one cause, I have no one answer, except to say that the restaurant business is going to change a lot, and keep changing. Some of that’s cool and creative, but if I was optimistic about ghost kitchens and stuff like that a year ago, I now see a food scene littered with the corpses of good ideas that had a month or two of possibility, but soon gave up the ghost… kitchen. The sticker from Cat-Su Sando on my fridge is a reminder of one cool idea that is no more, and I never did get to try that Azerbaijani ghost kitchen place. Kedai Tapao, one of those places Mike Sula featured in his Kedzie Tap events, might open a Malaysian restaurant—or they might be done, who knows?

For instance, I suspect one thing we’re going to see more of is not just that you get the menu on your phone via a QR code, nor even that you can pay at the end with your phone, but that increasingly, with it being so hard to find waitstaff, we will order at the table via phone. Our only human interaction will be a runner dropping plates off. I don’t object to that offhand for certain types of places, but I could see a cycle where it helps kill tipping more broadly. However fairly or unfairly, tipping is driven by our experience of pleasant service by a human, and if we hardly get any of that, and sitting in a restaurant is on par with the GrubHub driver dropping it at your front door and texting you that it’s arrived, will people want to give 20% of the ticket to… whichever person they didn’t interact with, who is officially considered their server? Again, not saying I’m for or against anything, just predicting that if we don’t tip ordering at a cash register, we’re going to see people not seeing a reason to tip at a table when no human has been involved. That will change the nature of restaurant experiences, and thus change the economics as well.

I guess that’s all I have to say. It’s all changing in ways we don’t really see in full yet, and what dining is like in 2025 or 2030 will be different from pre-COVID 2019 in many ways. As always, the one thing we as customers can do is vote with our wallets and our voices. If you have a good experience that you enjoyed, spend your money there, tip well, and talk it up—if you want to see it stick around in a rapidly changing world.


It used to be that Chicago always had a chef on each year’s Food and Wine best new chefs list—there were only so many cities that were considered to be opening important restaurants, and if you assume three slots would inevitably go to New York, that left enough room for us, San Francisco, New Orleans, and maybe Miami and Philadelphia. In more recent years we’ve seen new cities make the list—Cleveland, Portland, Minneapolis and so on—and that meant we were sometimes pushed off the list (we’ve had a dry spell since Diana Davila in 2018), as the cycle of media attention went against us for a few years—much more interesting to talk about the best restaurant in Oakland or Ann Arbor than to talk about boring old Chicago. The other issue is that the list these days, under editor Khushbu Shah, is not just open to African-American, Latino and Asian chefs—you pretty much have to hit one of those boxes to make the list at all.

The latter tendency is maybe calming down a little; if it was a good thing to give extra consideration to non-white guy chefs for a few years, it’s also probably a good thing to not be trying so hard after a few years; there was always a certain “Otis! My man!” feel to magazine publishing, arguably the whitest, preppiest industry in America, calling out diversity so ostentatiously. (See also: the James Beard awards.) But the main thing is—after three years being shut out, we actually have two slots and three chefs on the list!

One slot is the husband-wife team of—can you guess? That’s right, Genie Kwon and Tim Flores of Kasama, one of two Filipino restaurants on the list (the other is Seattle’s Musang). The other Chicagoan is Damarr Brown of Virtue—which raises a question about why they chose him and not his boss, chef-owner Erick Williams. But Brown has been a TV celebrity chef of late, appearing on Top Chef, so I’m sure that makes him more essential to them.

In any case, congrats to Chicago’s new best new chefs. Chicago’s back, baby! Well, until next year.


“I grew up on lots of neighborhood pizza, too. Kim’s is the best of everything it could have been,” Louisa Chu concludes her profile of  Kim’s Uncle Pizza in Westmont, the new place from people involved in Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, which aims for a platonic ideal of greasy neighborhood tavern pizza: “The revival of a small suburban pizzeria goes beyond reclaiming the craft of tavern pizza; it is a holistic destination experience. You will hold more than a crisp-crusted slice and unlock a moment of possibilities realized.”


Punta Cana is one of those restaurants that’s been around forever in Logan Square but never gets talked about—I wrote about it for Serious Eats c. 2013 but I doubt it’s been covered since, until Titus Ruscitti visits it:

There’s not many Dominican restaurants in Chicago compared to places like New York and Boston so I haven’t had it as much as some of the other Latin cuisines more common in the area but they’re all similar in many ways with each of them having their own signature dishes. In the Dominican Republic they have a traditional breakfast that revolves around mangu which is mashed plantains. It’s called Mangú Los Tres Golpes which means the three strikes signifying the fried eggs, fried cheese and fried salami served alongside mangu with pickled onions. It’s said mangu derived from Ghanaian ‘fufu’ as the DR has influences from Africa dating back to the 1500’s, a side effect of the slave trade.

He also checks out pizza and Italian beef near the Wisconsin border.


It’s mostly behind a paywall, but Michael Nagrant reviews Andros Taverna and does not walk away (from his anniversary dinner) impressed. A sample, go subscribe if you want to read more:

This [a kid running around] is not the restaurant’s fault, but the fattiness and chew on a $26 plate of lamb ribs is. It’s like eating butter studded with cartilage. There is nary a chunk of luscious delicate flesh. You leave 40% of the plate. The server doesn’t even ask if everything’s ok as she whisks the ample remains back to the kitchen. You wouldn’t expect her to notice normally, but you know that The French Laundry historically inspects every dish that comes back to see if there’s a problem. Surely a Laundry-vet would make sure his team spies half-eaten ribs and fries and knows there’s an issue.


There must be people who don’t know about La Chaparrita, even if the Little Village taqueria/grocery with Day of the Dead decor has a general rep as the best taco stand in town to those who do know. Steve Dolinsky helps introduce it to the lucky people who are about to have their first visit there.


A few times I’ve driven by Jeff and Jude’s—the now-closed deli on Western which was going to be turning into a place called the Do-Over Diner—and wondered when that new concept would in fact open in the space; there was no sign on the outside to indicate it was coming. Well, turns out despite the total lack of exterior indications of its existence, Do-Over Diner somehow existed in the space for two months—but don’t hurry there; Block Club reports it’s closing September 30:

A late-night diner on the border of Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park will close this month after just a few weeks in operation.

Do-Over Diner, 1024 N. Western Ave., opened in mid-July in the former Jeff & Judes deli space. The space was previously home to the Lockdown Bar and Grill.

That’s getting close to the all-time record for rapid disappearance (set by Brandon Baltzley’s TMIP). Apparently even given that the world has changed and social media and all that, it’s not enough for a restaurant to succeed to be covered in Block Club—you actually might have to put up signage to indicate a restaurant exists in the spot, maybe distribute menus in the neighborhood, boring old stuff like that. In fact, considering that I think I only heard about it at Block Club in the first place, is there any evidence that this restaurant actually existed and wasn’t just made up by Block Club? Coming next week at Fooditor, an exclusive story about the new restaurant opening in the space, Rotidoof.


Beverly Kim’s background is Korean—you could tell that from the menu at Parachute. Her husband Johnny Clark—who knew what his background was? But then the war in Ukraine happened, and Clark called out his Ukrainian background, usually with a charitable component benefiting aid to Ukraine. Now they’re doing their most ambitious benefit yet—Friday and Saturday nights September 23 through through December 2, they’ll be doing a pop-up at Wherewithall called Anelya, named after Clark’s “babushka”:

…we will explore the regional cuisines of Ukraine and bringing you Ukrainian hospitality, beginning with a cocktail hour and zakuski. Guest will then be seated at twelve seat communal table for a 5 course dinner served family style and individually plated dishes with beverage pairings, all included in the ticket price of $225. Experience Ukrainian food in a whole new light while contributing to humanitarian efforts of those in need. All proceeds will be donated to our not for profit partner @bluecheckukraine , co-founded by award winning actor/director @lievschreiber and humanitarian aid professionals. Blue Check Ukraine identifies, vets, and fast-tracks urgent financial support to Ukrainian NGOs and aid initiatives providing life-saving and other critical humanitarian work on the front lines of Russia’s war on Ukraine. They have the proximity, local knowledge and access to assist those in desperate need. Ukrainians helping Ukrainians.

To book, go to their Resy page and look for the Ukrainian dinner.


We had a brief moment of Thai dessert in the form of Thai rolled ice cream—a novelty that was, for me at least, not worth the wait and the show of rolling it out piece by piece. Habrae Thai Cafe & Eatery is also a dessert spot, but a more interesting one, Titus Ruscitti says in Chicago mag:

Every now and then, a restaurant opens in the suburbs that warrants an immediate trek from the city. Forest Park’s Habrae Thai Café & Eatery is such a spot. It’s a celebration of Bangkok’s sweets, which pastry chef Ussanee Sanmueangchin grew up eating.


I was on a podcast about Chicago barbecue for the Southern Foodways Alliance a few years ago; now here’s another one. I find it a little thin on a lot of the topics related to how African-American barbecue developed here, but on the other hand it talks to some people that I haven’t heard interviewed before—like the Barbara Ann for whom Barbara Ann’s (a beloved soutb side place which closed, I believe, in 2016) was named. Anyway, if you like the subject, it’s another look at it.

Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo of Esme are on Heritage Radio Network to talk about the first year of running their restaurant.


Last week I mentioned the benefit for Tigray, a region in Ethiopia currently under attack, that is happening this week. Eater has a piece on it but, being Eater, is determined to find the angle that declares our food scene to be racist or sexist or whatever. You might think 30 chefs volunteering their time and food they paid for to benefit residents of Tigray shows how generous the chefs and restaurants on our scene are—but you don’t have the vision Eater has, to recognize that they’re all racists—because more than seventy chefs came out for a fundraiser for Ukraine:

While the fundraisers and conflicts are similar in some ways — there are also stark differences. One of the biggest is money — or, more specifically, how little of it is being raised. Despite having just a few weeks to organize and fundraise for Ukraine, the chefs were able to raise $600,000. The Tigray benefit on the other hand has just raised a little more than $16,000 — despite having much more time. More than 70 chefs participated in the Ukraine event. So far, 30 have signed up to support Tigray.

It’s a bleak reality, [Demera owner Tigist] Reda says. It’s confusing for her and the other organizers too — though it’s easy to point at the big fat systemic elephant in the room: bias. The media and public as a whole had no problem rallying behind Ukraine, a country primarily filled with white people, with high-flying fundraisers and awareness events. Yet when it comes to a place like Africa, event organizers can’t even get sponsors to give them the time of the day. The head of the World Health Organization, who is Ethiopian, asked in April “if the world really gives equal attention to Black and white lives.”

Well, realistically it’s not hard to see why chefs and sponsors turned out for Ukraine events when the war in Ukraine had just broken out and was the biggest story in the news, together with fears of Russian invasion into additional countries, and potential nuclear conflict. Ethiopia, sadly, has been in a state of civil unrest and combat more or less continuously since at least 1961 (when the Eritrean war of independence began), and however brutal it’s gotten, it’s never presented a threat of nuclear war or even spreading particularly beyond Ethiopian territory. So credit to the 30 chefs for not only supporting relief for a much less well-known humanitarian effort, but for helping publicize the need for assistance in an area many people are unfamilar with.

I’ll be attending the benefit dinner on Wednesday; I’ll be sure and report on the ways that Eater is involved with supporting the cause that night. Go here to buy tickets.


I made a rauchbier—a smoked beer—once, and my wife said it tasted like a ham sandwich. At NewCity, Tom Keith explains what they should taste like, and where to find them in Chicago:

If you go back a few centuries, a lot of beers were smoky. That’s because the grains (usually barley, but also frequently wheat or rye) were malted by moistening and then sprouting; the malted grains were dried over open flames, which meant smoke flavors remained in the grains, which flavored the beers. Scotch whisky gets its characteristic smoky flavor in the same way, from the barley traditionally dried over peat fires.


A restaurant reviewer can review Alinea and things stay fairly calm. But if you want to see the shit get stirred, just take him to Al’s for a beef! The reaction to John Kessler saying he went to Al’s (which happened because I told him that Mario’s was closing last weekend, so we went and hit both) followed the usual pattern for comments on anything you write about Italian beef: 1) you went to the wrong place, 2) if you’ve never been to [favorite beef place] you know nothing and have no business writing about food, 3) if you did just go to [favorite beef place], you should have gone sooner (and have no business writing about food). What a friendly bunch we are!

Only in Chicago: Nick Kindelsperger starts in on him re: Italian beef, but soon they’re talking… Alinea.


Ari Bendersky at Resy, on where to eat on Monday night.