Illustration: Greg Clarke

Warlord, my pick for the best new restaurant of 2023, only serves dinner four nights a week and takes no reservations. Since opening just over a year ago, guests have learned that the best way to score a coveted table is to line up well before the doors open at 6 p.m., get your name on the list, and hope to make the first or second turn. 

The first step is to get to Julia Suhr, a young woman who has manned the front stand since Warlord’s early days with the kind of preternatural calm and competence that keeps the whole operation humming. What’s it like being the gatekeeper at the most popular restaurant in town? I asked.

Where are you from?

Macon, Georgia.

What brought you to Chicago?

Curiosity and the lack of anything else going on in my life. I will have been here two years in May.

How did you end up at Warlord?

I got there the second week they were open. They didn’t have a lot of front of the house experience, so I just started taking reservations on a notebook and used my personal phone. Now we have an iPad. 

What appealed to you about this place?

Honestly, it didn’t feel like any other restaurant. It wasn’t all about business.

When do people start lining up?

Typically around 5 p.m. I usually now go out about 20 minutes before service to check everyone in. Even if it’s pouring rain there’s a line. I usually let them in and give them some cider.

Looking for a reservation? They don’t exist at Warlord — you’ll have to get in line (ideally very early or very late). Photograph: Clayton Hauck

What’s the longest wait time estimate you’ve given?

On Friday and Saturday I can be quoting four hours. By 7 p.m. I usually have over 150 people checked in, and the restaurant only holds 45 at a time. People are often surprised when I quote those times.

Are folks generally okay with it?

The majority are pretty nice and understanding, but there are a good handful of disappointed, angry folks. I tell them I hate quoting that wait time just as much as they hate hearing it. 

Do you ever get “Do you know who I am?”

Oh yeah. They drop the name of the restaurant they work at. Since I haven’t been here that long I can say I don’t know the place and the wait time is still two hours. People try and slip me money. Honestly, it doesn’t help.

How do you keep your estimable cool?

I just do. I am being honest and sincere with my work, and I really like the chefs I work for and I believe what I’m saying. At the end of the day it’s a restaurant and they’re just out to eat. I don’t have to feel so bad about not accommodating everyone’s needs.

Photo: Trevor Fleming

What’s your advice for people who want to try Warlord but who are scared of the lines and the wait? 

I used to recommend Sundays because it was slower and people move faster, but really every day is busy now. Otherwise, I recommend coming at 5 p.m. or very late night. We’re usually off a wait by 11 p.m., and the kitchen takes orders until 1 a.m.

Do you help people figure out what to do while they wait for your text?

I usually send them to Central Park Bar, Sleeping Village, or Edelweiss for a drink. For the really long wait times, I recommend going bowling. 

What do you like best about this job?

I am interested in how the human brain works. I definitely see that here.