Mantou’s house-made steamed buns
Sometimes a new restaurant feels so natural, so inevitable, it’s as if its patrons had willed it into being. Such is the case with Steve’s Deli, a cheerful, high-energy operation whose “Opening Soon” window banners had long tantalized River North passersby, including denizens of the East Bank Club, barely a bagel’s toss away. When it did open, it filled up immediately with diners happily devouring overstuffed corned-beef sandwiches ($8.25), giant bowls of chicken matzo ball soup ($6.50), or the even more staggering mishmash—chicken soup with noodles, matzo balls, kreplach, rice, and carrots in it ($10.50). The ambitious menu covers a lot of territory, including breakfast all day; kugel, kishke, knishes, and every other traditional Jewish dish you’ve been pining for; hot dishes such as chicken pot pie ($13.25, with soup or salad, bread, a vegetable, and a side); and a host of sweets from the bakery cases. Finish with perfect rugelach ($1.75) or, if you dare, with a monstrous slab of densely creamy Carnegie cheesecake ($6.25). Expect to take at least half of most choices home in a doggy bag. 354 W. Hubbard St.; 312-467-6868.
Mantou Noodle Bar
The minimalist Asian noodle shop, long a staple of Manhattan’s modest storefronts, is finally taking hold in Chicago. First it was Takashi in Macy’s, then UrbanBelly in Avondale, and now Mantou lays claim to Bucktown. “It’s the right time to have chef-driven food at low price points,” says Rick Spiros, the chef/owner. “Especially with the economy.” Spiros’s obsession with Asian street food—curries, noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns (pictured opposite)—informs every square inch of his dark, wood-chic space, and the enticing raw bar up front continues to proffer oysters from both coasts long after folks like us go to bed. 1633 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-772-8688.
The Century Public House
There aren’t many places we’d rather be on a frigid winter night than this handsome pub in the refurbished Morse Thea-tre, huddled over a plate of Peter Camphouse’s gutsy cooking. Top-quality meats from Illinois’s own Triple S Farms take center stage in entrées such as ale-glazed bone-in pork chop with rutabaga spätzle and collard greens. And Camphouse shows that heartiness and delicacy can coexist with his savory pear tart and smoked trout cakes—both of which come with exceptionally fresh mixed greens. Plenty of craft brews on tap and a large and bourbon-heavy selection of whiskey enhance the appeal. 1328 W. Morse Ave.; 773-654-5100.
Rodelio Aglibot has come a long way from the nine-year-old kid who grilled Spam on a newspaper-fueled hibachi in his tree house in Hawaii. At 33, Aglibot made a splash at the hipster magnet Koi in Los Angeles and is now poised to bring the same kind of excitement to Sunda, the New Asian spot about to open in River North. “I look at being a chef as being in a relationship,” says Aglibot, who recently took a six-month trip through Asia. “And I have to remain in love with it.” With dishes such as Indonesian-spiced corn fritters and Filipino-style pork shank confit, it sounds as though Aglibot’s love is here to stay. 110 W. Illinois St.; 312-644-0500.