Out of Town Restaurants Flock to Chicago

Over the past couple years, any doubt that Chicago was one of the best food cities in the world has been erased. Local chef pioneers and a massive influx of restaurants and dining events (ahem, the James Beard Awards) have solidified our city as a major contender for world-class dining destination. Further proof is in the recent spate of bars and restaurants flocking here from other cities to establish new outposts. It's already been happening for a while, with spots like Eataly and Soho House, but the trend is only increasing in the coming months and years. Here's a snippet of the latest spots to announce imminent Chicago locations. 


Velvet Taco
Velvet Taco

Velvet Taco: Texas-based Velvet Taco is a funky, fun two-story taqueria concept that recently opened its first Chicago location in the Gold Coast. Chef John Franke presides over the globally inspired taco menu, which spans the spectrum of chicken, steak, seafood, pork, and vegetarian. The counter-service spot makes its own white corn tortillas in-house, coupled with locally sourced flour tortillas. Expect unusual taco flavors like buffalo chicken, falafel, Cuban pork, bacon burger, Mediterranean calamari, and egg frittata. There's also a Chicago Haute Dog taco made with pork belly, pickles, pickled fresno chilies, grain mustard, tomato, red onion, poppy seed, and celery salt. For sides, there's rotisserie corn and crispy tots, along with red velvet cake for dessert. Margaritas made with lime sorbet form the crux of the beverage program, along with a rotating roster of Midwestern canned beers and Baderbrau Brewery's Red Velvet by the bottle.  

Zuma: Chicago already got a recent taste of London when Soho House set up shop with its largest location to date in the West Loop, outfitted with outposts of London-based restaurants Chicken Shop and Pizza East. Now comes word that Chicago is about to get celebrity-magnet sushi spot Zuma, another London-based concept eyeing the former Bin 36 space in River North. Chicago isn't lacking in fine sushi or celebrity hot spots, but Zuma could round out the pantheon of heavy-hitting, sceney sushi spots quite nicely. 

Punch Bowl Social: In recent months, it seems bowling has become the new hotness. The openings of WhirlyBall and Pinstripes have brought the nostalgic pastime back in a big way, and Denver-based Punch Bowl Social looks to cash in on the craze with an imminent outpost in Wicker Park. The multi-tiered, multi-story concept promises bowling and much more, including bars, restaurants, ping pong, karaoke rooms, and more. To drink and dine, punch is an obvious highlight, along with milkshakes, modern comfort food, cocktails, coffee, etc. Look for a late 2015 opening for this whimsical Mecca. 

Broken Shaker: One of Miami's hottest, most critically acclaimed cocktail bars is en route to Chicago. Heading to the old Tokyo Hotel in River North, Broken Shaker looks to throw its hat into the local (and booming) craft cocktail scene. If the Miami drinks are any indication — like the kale and pineapple Caipirinha and the salted caramel Old Fashioned — Chicago is in for an innovative cocktail treat in the near future.

JINYA Ramen Bar: The local ramen scene has exploded lately, from longstanding staples like Urban Belly to newer contenders like Oiistar, but there's always room for more. Los Angeles-based JINYA Ramen Bar is the latest noodle spot to cozy up to Chicago, moving into the former 2 Sparrows spot later this year. 

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of Chicago. 

- Matt Kirouac