What’s Coming and What’s Cheap in Chicago Dining
In December, a look at Del Frisco’s, Reno, and 5411
Empanadas at 5411
Opening: Del Frisco’s
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Dallas is a brash restaurant with a brash name and nine other locations nationwide. But we meat-loving Chicagoans are skeptical when outsiders move in—taking over the beloved former Esquire Theatre, no less. Five hundred seats? Three hundred employees? Fifty-foot wine tower? Lemon cake large enough to wipe out the Gold Coast? OK, Del Frisco’s, so you’ve got seafood that goes from sea to food within hours and your prime beef is wet-aged for 28 days, then seasoned with salt and pepper to produce a blistered crust. No need to pander with mini versions of deep-dish pizza and Italian beef at the bar. You had us at “steak.” 58 E. Oak St., 312-888-2499.
You’ve got to like a pizzeria that’s in a room shaped like a slice of pizza. Actually, maybe you don’t: Ciao Napoli Pizzeria, the place’s previous tenant, lasted only a year. But Reno, from the folks behind Telegraph and Webster’s Wine Bar, brings more to the table: wood-fired bagels and fresh brioche for breakfast, little baguette sandwiches for lunch, pastas made with a vintage extruder for dinner. Oh, and pizzas—cooked in an 800-degree wood-burning oven, they’re topped with everything from housemade fennel sausage and hand-pulled mozzarella to beets and kalamata olives. The smart money is on Reno to last. 2607 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-697-4234.
It’s a good sign when the food on a highly limited menu is so delicious that limitations become a nonissue. Such is the case at this cheerful all-empanada enterprise run by Argentine expats (5411 is the area code for Buenos Aires), which also features a food truck and delivery service.
At the counter, choose from 11 fillings—each comes cleverly wrapped in a distinctively formed pastry crust to help you identify which is which. The little pies ($2.25 each) are baked, which makes them seem like less of an indulgence than the fried kind, but the fillings, such as beef (in malbec wine reduction), barbecued chicken, and ham and cheese, are luscious, substantial, and plenty fun. Other highlights include caramelized onion, thymey mushroom and blue cheese, and an addictive combo of smoked bacon, goat cheese, and dates.
All go down easy with a glass of wine (BYO) or cup of coffee. Finish with delicate sandwich cookies called alfajores ($1.99 each) or, if you’re going for broke, dulce de leche cheesecake ($2.99). 2850 N. Clark St., 773-755-5411.
Photograph: Anna Knott