If there’s been one constant during this, the strangest year in the history of Chicago dining, it’s innovation. Chefs, bartenders, and restaurateurs keep coming up with ways to feed and serve their customers, whether it’s through the creative use of outdoor space, new takeout-friendly dishes, or bottled cocktails.
One of the most interesting approaches has been the “virtual” restaurant – that is, a restaurant that only exists for takeout and delivery, with no actual place to dine in. A few of these existed before the pandemic (I’m thinking specifically of Seaside’s, which operates from the second floor of Oyster Bah, or Lucky Klucker) but the idea has recently been exploding (see Han Burger, a recent Budget Pick).
As the weather gets colder, look for more and more chefs to focus on creative ways to get food into diners’ homes. Here are a few more virtual restaurants to check out this fall.
Bokuchan’s Japanese Curry House
Chefs Shin Thompson and Liga Sigal are best known for the ramen mini-chain Furious Spoon, which (at least pre-Covid) was rapidly expanding throughout the city. But ramen isn’t their only specialty, as they’ve also launched Bokuchan’s Japanese Curry House. Curry is incredibly popular in Japan, and you can try dishes like curry udon with shaved beef and enoki mushrooms, or chickpea and sweet potato curry with king oyster mushrooms. If you’re looking for gluten-free or vegan options that pack in a ton of flavor, Bokuchan’s has that covered too.
Makina, a sushi restaurant, just opened two weeks ago. The gimmick behind Makina is something that I’ve only seen at one other restaurant in Chicago – sushi prepared by a machine. You may remember that a spot inside Revival Food Hall was doing something similar, but Makina is making much more familiar rolls, like California, salmon, and spicy tuna. The prices are reasonable (rolls range from $4.75 to $7.75), and the restaurant is spinning its robotic sushi as “low touch,” which may give comfort to Covid-conscious diners.
Bloom Vegetarian Kitchen
If you loved Amaru (which landed at number 11 on this year’s Best New Restaurants list) you have to try Bloom Vegetarian Kitchen. From the same team as the pan-Latin hotspot, Bloom has a plant-focused approach with some indulgent preps and flavors – like a crispy not-chicken sandwich made with maitake mushrooms, or “cashew e pepe” (get it?) made with kelp noodles and cashew cheese.
“Sandos,” Japanese-style sandwiches, have been having a bit of a moment in Chicago lately, and a new virtual spot just started slinging them as well. Cat-Su Sando combines the talents of two chefs with some serious fine dining credentials on their resumes. Will Schlaeger and Shawn Clendening have done time at places like Blackbird and Next, and are now cranking out offerings like a fried pork cutlet sandwich with fermented jalapeño and a smoked turkey sandwich with mustard-Spam jam.