Fall’s Most Anticipated Restaurants and Bars in Chicago

Photo courtesy of Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar/Facebook

Autumn is upon us. A time to lament (or love) the omnipresence of pumpkin spice, cheer on the football team of your choosing, bundle up in scarves, and raise a stein to Oktoberfest. It’s also when new restaurants and bars open at a rapid clip, making it prime time for foodies in Chicago. This season’s lineup of newcomers is deliciously diverse and exciting, from fine dining in a brewery and savory Japanese pancakes from a big-name chef to a bunch of projects from some of the city’s biggest names in cooking and mixology. Here are the most anticipated openings this fall.

Photo courtesy of Gaijin/Facebook

One of the most lauded chefs in Chicagoland, Paul Virant (Vie) is flexing his creative muscles in a big way this coming season with a unique Japanese concept that’s sure to stand out amid the West Loop fray. Unlike anything else in town, Gaijin marks the city’s first dedicated okonomiyaki restaurant, featuring riffs on the savory Japanese pancake in styles inspired by both Hiroshima and Osaka. The intimate 60-seat space contains a 12-foot griddle and a chef’s counter, complete with individual teppan griddles for table-side service. Dessert-wise, pastry chef Angelyne Canicosa keeps in theme with kakigori shaved ice, mochi doughnuts, and other Japanese confections, while the bar program highlights highballs, sake, Japanese whiskey, and wine.
Location: 950 West Lake Street, West Loop
Projected opening: Late September/early October

While Chicago foodies twiddle their thumbs waiting for the new iteration of Naha, its owners, Carrie and Michael Nahabedian, have another trick up their sleeve to keep us all sated in the meantime. This fall, the cousins are opening a restaurant in the Gwen Hotel, with a Riviera seafood theme that draws culinary inspiration all the way from the coasts of Portugal to the Black Sea. Considering the duo’s penchant for luxury and Carrie’s years spent cooking in hotels, this venture is a natural extension. As with Naha and their still-open French restaurant, Brindille, Michael will man the wine list, while his brother, Tom, designs the space. Also: Look for cocktails from acclaimed barkeep Peter Vestinos.
Location: 521 North Rush Street, River North
Projected opening: October

In recent years, Bonhomme Hospitality Group has emerged as one of the hottest restaurant and bar groups in town, and its latest endeavor looks to assert that title in an exciting new way. Porto borrows inspiration from coastal Atlantic cuisines of Portugal and Galicia, spotlighting items like conservas, Portuguese wines, Madeira, and plenty of seafood from chef Marcos Campos. Located next door to sister restaurant Beatnik, Porto will be outfitted with a 32-seat chef’s island; two wood-fired hearths; and eye-catching furnishings like wood repurposed from former fishing vessels, chandeliers from old Chicago banks, velvet, and art commissioned by local artist Erik DeBat.
Location: 1600 West Chicago Avenue, West Town
Projected opening: Fall TBD

I’m obsessed with Split-Rail, the friendly neighborhood fried chicken restaurant a few blocks from my old loft. So I’m mightily excited for the restaurant’s upcoming basement bar, Dorothy. Apparently the building formerly housed a sports bar, with a wood bar and marble counter (who knew!), and owners Zoe Schor and Michelle Szot look to breathe new life into the prime space, with an array of casual drink options and snacks. It’s enough to make me regret selling my condo.
Location: 2500 West Chicago Avenue, Ukrainian Village
Projected opening: Fall TBD

Photo courtesy of Tales of Carlos Gaytan

Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar 
Years after opening, Giant is still one of the toughest tables to snag in Chicago. So it makes sense that the new project from team Giant, a Bucktown foray curiously called Chef’s Special Cocktail Car, is likely the most anticipated opening of the fall—if not the year. The handiwork of dream team Jason Vincent, Ben Lustbader, and Josh Perlman, this is undoubtedly a bar-centric endeavor, with food designed to complement. The comfy lounge highlights Perlman’s bar program, featuring everything from natural wines and local beers to crafty cocktails. American-Chinese food is the bill of fare, with riffs on favorites like fried rice, noodles, and lots more. Keeping with that theme, the bar will be open late and also offer delivery and takeout.
Location: 2165 North Western Avenue, Bucktown
Projected opening: Fall TBD

Tales of Carlos Gaytan/Tzuco/Panango
Ever since Carlos Gaytan closed his Michelin-starred Mexique in West Town, locals have been clamoring for what’s next. This fall, we find out. The chef is coming back in a big way this season, opening a trio of concepts in the River North space formerly home to Roy’s. Running the gamut from high-end to grab-and-go pastries, the eateries include an intimate tasting-menu space called Tales of Carlos Gaytan, a small plates–centric restaurant named Tzuco, and a bakery dubbed Panango. As with Mexique, all will feature modern Mexican cooking with a French influence.
Location: 720 North State Street, River North
Projected opening: Late fall

Moody Tongue Brewing Company 
Culinary beers and elegant tasting menus are stepping into the spotlight in a major way this season, as Moody Tongue Brewing Company officially moves from its Pilsen headquarters to a much larger space in the South Loop—this time with a restaurant component and a Michelin-starred chef in tow. In addition to having more capacity to brew more innovative beers, including the culinary inspired creations that put Moody Tongue on the international map, the expansion opens up room for a 25-seat restaurant, to be helmed by Jared Wentworth. Dubbed the Dining Room at Moody Tongue, it will feature 10-course degustations hinged on seasonal ingredients and opulent items like truffles. Naturally, look for expert beer pairings with dishes, courtesy of president-brewmaster Jared Rouben. There will also be a more casual bar area with plenty of snacks to choose from, including the fan-favorite German chocolate cake.
Location: 2515 South Wabash Avenue, South Loop
Projected opening: Fall TBD

Photo courtesy of Moody Tongue Brewing Company

Mother’s Ruin
The biggest cocktail bar news of the season is the fact that New York City’s acclaimed Mother’s Ruin is expanding to Chicago, setting up shop in Avondale, a neighborhood that continues to heat up with openings. T.J. Lynch and Richard Knapp are working with Toby Maloney (The Violet Hour) on the Chicago location, which is expected to have a lot of the same fan-favorite items as the NYC outpost, including frozen cocktails, daily brunch, and a late-night menu.
Location: 2943 North Milwaukee Avenue, Avondale
Projected opening: Fall TBD

One of the most storied spaces in the South Loop is set to get a breath of fresh air this fall when Harbor sails into the bygone Gioco space. Anthony Bernal is the man behind the menu, which will run the gamut from charcuterie and an expansive raw bar to rotisserie items, hearth-fired dishes, and contemporary American plates with a Midwestern focus—especially utilizing ingredients plucked from the Great Lakes and local rivers.
Location: 1312 South Wabash Avenue, South Loop
Projected opening: Fall TBD

RPM on the Water 
As if opening one of the buzziest restaurants of the summer—Pizzeria Portofino—wasn’t enough, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises keeps the momentum going with RPM on the Water, slated to join the chic riverside pizzeria this coming season. Let’s just face it: Lettuce is the Beyoncé of restaurant groups. And RPM on the Water looks to be one of the company’s biggest and most glamorous endeavors yet, with panoramic river views, soaring windows, design by Rockwell Group, and a fish- and seafood-focused menu anchored by chef Doug Psaltis.
Location: 317 North Clark Street, River North
Projected opening: Late fall