Sangtae Park has earned local renown and a Michelin star for Omakase Yume, his six-seat sushi bar in the West Loop. While it’s a nice destination for a splurge, his real gift to the dining scene is the under-the-radar spot he debuted just next door in 2020, Tengoku Aburiya. Here, Park and his head chef, Keisuke Ito, serve Japanese comfort food at lunch; at night they bust out a big menu with skewers cooked over a binchotan (white charcoal) grill (the restaurant’s name translates to “grill heaven”), an extensive lineup of small plates, and seriously good drinks. In other words, it’s an izakaya (Japanese gastropub), and a fine one at that.
Resist the temptation to order all at once and instead let the plates trickle in, choose-your-own-adventure style. Perhaps a sashimi platter ($36) and a fantastic kale-miso salad ($5) to start. Try some Korean lollipop chicken wings ($12) next. (Park’s Korean heritage informs the menu in spicy fashion.) You can get the izakaya fave agedashi tofu (batter-fried tofu in broth with fish flakes), but don’t miss the version with mozzarella ($7.50)! No fried cheese curd will ever again match up.
Then settle into an array of skewers: crisp ruffled chicken skin ($3.50), kimchi pork belly ($4.50), shiitake mushrooms ($3.50), beef tongue ($12). Finish with a large-format dish, such as yosenabe ($20), a face-steaming hot pot with seafood, tofu, and vegetables. Wash it down with a Japanese craft beer or a hakuhai ($11), the Platonic ideal of a vodka soda. That, friends, is how you izakaya.