Chicago's hottest restaurant blocks

4 happening downtown blocks are about to become even hotter thanks to a high density of bars and restaurants

  • Clark Street between Illinois and Hubbard houses Xoco, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ and coming-soon country bar Bub City along with an unnamed tiki bar.
Clark Street between Illinois and Hubbard houses Xoco, Frontera Grill,…
July 17, 2012|By Lisa Arnett

All around Chicago, restaurants and bars are in a constant cycle of opening and closing. As the lights go out at a kitchen in Andersonville, a new tavern is putting up signs in the South Loop, and it’s all just part of the circle of nightlife. But if you look closely, you’ll see a handful of in-the-works hangouts making a few already hot downtown blocks even hotter. Read on for four good guesses as to where the city’s foodies and scenesters will be flocking in upcoming months.

This block of River North has been celeb chef Rick Bayless' row for years, but now some other big names have joined the party.

Holding court ...
449 N. Clark St.
Breakfast empanadas and fresh-from-the-fryer churros rule at Bayless’ Mexican street food cafe.

Topolobampo & Frontera Grill
445 N. Clark St.
Of Bayless’ neighboring dining rooms, Topolo leans more fine-dining while Frontera skews regional, but the accolades are plentiful—and the reservations hard to snag—for both.

Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ
441 N. Clark St.
Expect a bit of an Asian accent and a whole lotta smoked meat at this barbecue eatery from the owners of Rockit, Sunda and The Underground. The “moonshine” in the name refers to the hefty selection of white whiskeys, available straight or mixed into signature cocktails.

Coming soon ...
Bub City & unnamed tiki bar
435 N. Clark St.
Grab your cowboy boots and join RJ and Jerrod Melman (Lettuce Entertain You founder Rich Melman’s sons, who also run Paris Club, Hub 51 and RPM Italian, all nearby) at this country western bar, due to open in late September or early October in partnership with the founders of live country music joint Joe’s Bar. A basement bar serving classic tiki cocktails courtesy of Paul McGee, the Whistler’s much-loved former bartender, will likely be one the most talked-about bar openings of the year.


Hubbard Street’s east end has long been dense with restaurants and bars lined up side by side, but within the last year and a half, this block on the street’s west side has filled in—and the crowds have followed. A project at 111 W. Hubbard St. is the last puzzle piece to make Hubbard Street’s west end one of the tastiest, booziest blocks in River North.

Holding court ...
Hubbard Inn
110 W. Hubbard St.
On a warm day, cocktailers nearly spill out the open windows of this two-level European-inspired tavern, which is decorated to the hilt with globe lights, ornately patterned wallpaper and tchotchkes supposedly inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s world travels.

112 W. Hubbard St
Multi-level hangout’s dining room is in between a sophisticated ground-floor bar and a breezy rooftop.

Mercer 113
113 W. Hubbard St.
With a hefty seafood-centric menu, this spot may look primed for dinner, but thanks to a DJ booth in the back, the vibe’s more clubby than chef-focused, with a seafood-centric menu.

Slurping Turtle
116 W. Hubbard St.
At this noodle shop, chef Takashi Yagihashi’s offerings go beyond ramen to include funky Japanese tapas, bincho-grilled meat skewers and sashimi.

Red Violet
121 W. Hubbard St.
This contemporary Chinese restaurant and bar is set to reopen with a new menu later this week.

In the works ...
Unnamed bar/restaurant
111 W. Hubbard St.
Owners (and brothers) Nader, Fadi and Rafid Hindo of Hubbard Partners along with operating partner Jason Freiman (Bangers & Lace, The Anthem, Lumen) have started construction on a bar/restaurant to open in early 2013. Details are under wraps, but Nader said both food and drinks will be central. In other words, “It’s not going to be olives and popcorn,” Nader said.


Randolph Street has upheld its Restaurant Row nickname for years, but this particular block has doubled in foodie appeal with the recent openings of Nellcote and G.E.B. from “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliot. With a swanky champagne bar debuting soon, it’s about to see even more action.

Holding court ...
833 W. Randolph St.
This flour-milling, pizza-baking, pasta-rolling palace skews restaurant-y by day and leans clubbier by night.

841 W. Randolph St.
With a patio facing the same building-enclosed courtyard as opening-soon RM (see below), chef Graham Elliot has called the location of his newest restaurant “one of the coolest blocks in the whole city.” The man may be a little biased, but truthfully there isn’t anything like it elsewhere in Chicago.

Coming soon ...
RM Champagne Salon
116 N. Green St.
Promise of cheese, chocolate, champagne and a cobblestone alley entrance have plenty of oenophiles ready to pop the cork when this lounge opens in late July. Jason Wagner serves as sommelier while Nate Meads (formerly of Fritz Pastry) tackles the sweets. The entrance is technically around the corner on Green Street, but we think that’s close enough.


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