Chef Bill Kim is on a one-man mission to reinvent casual dining in Chicago. From noodles to sandwiches and most recently, with a grill, he's determined to reinvent fast food into a pan-Asian wonderland. The question isn't which of Kim's restaurants to try, it's only a matter of when and how often to go.
Into the Belly of the Beast
After several years in the business, stints at Charlie Trotters' eponymous restaurant and helming the kitchen a Le Lan, Kim opened Urban Belly (3053 N California Ave) in an unassuming strip mall. While Chef abandoned fine dining for no reservations, counter service and communal seating, the food still reflects his dedication to quality and flavor. There's really nothing better than a dish of Asian Egg Noodles with eggplant and tofu in a chili-garlic spiced broth on a rotten, winter day. The bowls of noodles are huge, but I supplement with a few dumplings and a side of Wrinkle Beans. I almost can't wait for a chilly day!
The best piece of advice piece of advice about Belly Shack (1912 North Western Avenue) is also the most difficult to follow -- leave room for dessert. When faced with a choice between a Baricua served between fried plantains with zingy hoisin BBQ sauce, an amazing Asian Pork Meatball Sandwich layered with soba noodles, or a Belly Dog topped with pickled papaya, it's almost impossible. You may be able to bank the fire of Togarashi Spiced Fries with a glass of Yuzu Lemonade. But me? I choose to top off the meal with a Huckleberry Lime Soft Serve and then waddle home.
New on the Scene
Kim recently opened Belly Q (1400 W Randolph) in partnership with Cornerstone Restaurant Group and Michael Jordan. The focus of his newest restaurant is the fusion of Asian elements with simple, freshly grilled food. Reservations are recommended, especially if you bring a group to experience the food, fire and spice. From the table grill menu, try the Korean Short Rib or Spicy Chicken with lemongrass -- cook it yourself or have the kitchen fire it up. I plan to explore the savory pancakes from the wood burning oven and try a Tea-Smoked Pork Steak. There are carry-over items from Kim's other restaurants, so I can still get my fix of favorites like Kimchi, made with his family's own recipe.
Try any of Chef Kim's belly-pleasing restaurants. But be warned, your standards for fast food will forever change.