When L. Frank Baum first waxed whimsical in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the author famously used Chicago and the White City utilized in the World's Fair as inspiration for the glistening Emerald City. Like a beacon of hope and happiness, the Emerald City enticed passersby and wanderers from all over, including of course the vagabond clan of Dorothy and co. Nowadays, it seems Chicago has re-established itself as an Emerald City-esque bastion as foretold by Baum. But in this case, it's less about ruby-clad girls and her raggamuffin friends and more about restaurateurs coming to town to set up new outposts of their nationally revered establishments.
Over the past couple years, Chicago has seen a massive influx of restaurants, bars, and bakeries setting up shop from elsewhere in the country. Famous progenitors of the trend were Sprinkles Cupcakes and Magnolia Bakery, two of the most famed cupcake-driven shops in the U.S. With origins in L.A. and NYC respectively, the two cultishly adored bakeshops put down new roots in Chicago with feverishly popular locales in the Gold Coast (Sprinkles) and the Loop (Magnolia Bakery). Chicago has never been lacking in its own cupcake identity (see more, Molly's, Southport Grocery & Cafe, etc.), but the addition of two world-famous bakery brands doesn't hurt. As long as you're not counting cavities.
Easily the most massive news of an international mega-brand coming to Chicago is Eataly. Originated in Italy, the Italian shopping/dining Mecca has locations all over the globe, setting up its first U.S. outpost in NYC. But when it came time to inevitably expand its U.S. presence, they turned to Chicago in a big way. As in, the Chicago location is 30% larger than the NYC one, featuring 63,000 square feet of shopping, dining, drinking, schooling, and more. The fact that Eataly chose Chicago for such a large location, well before solidifying plans for other U.S. cities, speaks to the city's prominence as a dining epicenter.
Another international brand recently set up shop in Chicago, albeit a tad smaller than Eataly. But what Le Pain Quotidien lacks in 63,000 square feet it more than makes up for in adorability. LPQ first took shape in Brussels, Belgium, as a cozy cafe with a focus on artisan baking, wholesome savory and sweet foods, and rustic, family-friendly motif. The chain ballooned in NYC with a myriad of locations, eventually (and finally) heading to Chicago to make its mark in the Midwest. The first Chicago LPQ opened in the West Loop, which serves as the central baking hub location for future locations to come. A Lincoln Park outpost just opened, with a Gold Coaster soon to follow.
Speaking of the Gold Coast, we're about to get the addition of FIG & OLIVE to our dining repertoire. The Mediterranean- and olive oil-focused eatery is a wholesome heartwarmer, with locations in New York and California. The multi-floor Oak Street location will be just as enriching, featuring a retail section and leisurely, elegant dining rooms that serve to showcase the fine Med cuisine coming out of the kitchen.
(Dessert crostini at FIG & OLIVE)
Set to beef up Lincoln Park is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The New York-based BBQ bastion is working on a large outpost in Lincoln Park near Whole Foods.
Two more huge incoming institutions are en route to the West Loop, starting with Soho House on Green Street and followed by Nobu a block or so away. This summer, Soho House brings its international, celebrity-centric stylings to the West Loop in style, featuring a hotel and multiple restaurants. This is not just huge news for the West Loop, but Chicago at large. Next up is Nobu, which is also planning a hotel and restaurant complex. Both spots are star magnets, both have incredible clout, and both will be huge news.
Some of the latest news to hit Chicago comes via Miami. One of Miami's most famed craft cocktail bars, The Broken Shaker just announced it will expand with its first non-Miami location in Chicago. Specifically, The Broken Shaker will set up shop in River North's former Tokyo Hotel.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Expect more incoming restaurant news from other cities as Chicago continues to affirm itself as a culinary magnet.
- Matt Kirouac