When it comes to restaurant and bar openings in Chicago, 2015 will be hard to top. But considering the cadre behind some of this year's upcoming dining debuts, 2016 is looking pretty delicious.
Duck Duck Goat (857 W. Fulton Market)
Diners come from near and far (sometimes very very far) to taste Top Chef alum Stephanie Izard's cooking at perpetually packed Girl & the Goat and Little Goat, both situated on Restaurant Row in the West Loop. Soon, people will have a new destination to add to their itinerary, as Izard prepares to launch Duck Duck Goat a couple blocks north on Fulton Market. The sprawling restaurant marks her contemporary foray into Chinese cuisine, with promise of novel noodle dishes, dumplings, and lots more. Duck Duck Goat should open this season.
2016 looks to be a big year for Chinese cuisine in Chicago, because another big opening on the docket is Imperial Lamian, set to premiere in River North this winter. The restaurant is the U.S. debut for Indonesia-based Imperial Group, which partnered with Hat's Off Hospitality for their Chicago venture. Diners can expect authentic-meets-modern Chinese fare across a wide spectrum of offerings, from dim sum and xiao long bao to hand-pulled lamian noodles, Chinese BBQ, wok dishes, and more.
Cruz Blanca (900 W. Randolph St.)
Rick Bayless being the culinary demigod that he is, you can rest assured that his next major venture is going to be a pretty huge deal. Cruz Blanca is the name of the concept, which doubles as a Mexican nanobrewery in the West Loop. The massive endeavor will feature more of Bayless' masterful Mexican cuisine, along with house-brewed beers like a hominy white ale. Look for Cruz Blanca to make its debut this spring.
Roister (951 W. Fulton Market)
Another international name in the culinary sphere is prepared to expand his local empire this year too. Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, the team behind Alinea, Next, and The Aviary, are hard at work polishing up Roister on Fulton Market. The venture will mark their most casual and upbeat project to date, with crowd-sourced music playlists and close-knit tables to foster a sense of conviviality and communal dining. Not many details are known as of now, but with acclaimed chef Andrew Brochu in the kitchen, it's safe to say this is another one not to miss.
Oriole (661 W. Walnut St.)
Another West Loop newcomer looks to expand the local fine dining landscape on a street less popularized than Randolph and Fulton. Coming soon to Walnut Street is Oriole, the handiwork of Noah Sandoval, Cara Sandoval, and pastry chef Genie Kwon. The former two hail from beloved bygone Senza, while the latter was previously on dessert duty at Boka. With pedigrees like that, this tasting menu-focused restaurant is sure to carve out its own destination niche in the restaurant-saturated hood. Oriole should open later this season.
The Ladies Room (2957 W. Diversey Ave.)
One of the most popular and unique restaurants in the city is set to branch out into the world of cocktails very soon. The restaurant: Fat Rice. The imminent bar: The Ladies Room. The space is situated right alongside the Logan Square restaurant, and true to form for the venerable chef/owner Abe Conlon, the drink program looks to innovate and dazzle in exciting new ways unseen elsewhere. When the bar opens in the coming weeks, it will feature housemade "Dr. Pepper" made with scorpion and Szechuan peppers and housemade cherry juice; housemade "Malort" made with bitter melon, ginseng, and Chinese herbs; and veggie-packed cocktails made with pea-infused vodka, cucumber aqua fresca, and lovage straws.
Naoki Sushi (2300 N. Lincoln Park West)
Stellar sushi isn't hard to come by in Chicago, but 2016 looks to be the year that the local template gets raised to a whole new level thanks to Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and sushi chef Naoki Nakashima. The chef's namesake Naoki Sushi is
set to open UPDATE: now open (!) behind the restaurant Intro in The Belden-Stratford building in Lincoln Park, offering a cozy, intimate, clandestine, and unique sushi experience for diners. The menu will feature a mix of contemporary and traditional nigiri and sashimi, plus Japanese entrees, composed sushi dishes, and sushi-friendly cocktails.
Brooklyn Bowl (302 N. Green St.)
In other Fulton Market news, the biggest project in the area is a three-story outpost of New York's Brooklyn Bowl, which does double-duty as an entertainment and dining destination. The enormous space will boast bowling lanes, a live music venue, and a full-service restaurant featuring Brooklyn Bowl's signature fried chicken.
Forbidden Root (1746 W. Chicago Ave.)
Due any day now in West Town, Forbidden Root is a brewery and restaurant that's likely to put a fresh new stamp on the local beer scene. The approach to brewing at Forbidden Root is known as botanical brewing, which uses ample botanicals and herbs in its beers, along with different syrups and infusions customers can add to their beers. A retail area within the space will supply growlers, while the bar will boast 12 beers on tap. To match, chef Dan Weiland will cook up a menu of rustic American fare.
Photos: Naoki Sushi, Duck Duck Goat, Imperial Lamian, Forbidden Root