Tour the Design Trends brought together an elite group of restaurant designers for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the hottest restaurants in Chicago. Attendees saw leading-edge restaurant design spanning a variety of industry segments and venues. We met with operators and designers for brief Q&A sessions, sampled some of each restaurant's exceptional food and beverage, and enjoyed a beautiful day in one of the world's premiere restaurant cities.
To get a rundown of the day, check out our Storify of photos and social media coverage as it happened.
We met at 1871 for a brief networking breakfast. 1871 is the home of more than 400 early-stage, high-growth digital startups. Located in The Merchandise Mart, this 120,000-square-foot facility is the headquarters of nationally recognized accelerators Techstars Chicago and the Good Food Business Accelerator; impact investing fund Impact Engine; and half a dozen industry-specific incubators in key areas such as real estate, education technology, food and financial technology. 1871 has fast become recognized as the hub for the city’s entrepreneurial/technology ecosystem and has been featured in Inc. Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, among other top media.
Our networking breakfast was catered by Freshii and featured a short speech by David Grossman, president of Fresh Food Management, owner and operator of 15 Freshii locations.
Freshii, a health-minded counter service operation, features grab-and-go and made-to-order menu items. Catering to a largely business clientele, customers can take their orders back to their offices or choose to eat at the communal table. The design includes plenty of wood and other natural touches that connect to the better-for-you brand promise the menu generates.
The Latin-themed food hall by Robert Sandoval features 12 stations or market-like stalls offering Spanish-inspired mariscos (seafood), Mexican
tortas and tacos, Peruvian-style stir fry and ceviche, salads and even burgers. The 26,000-square-foot space also includes a full-service restaurant, Pata Negra, serving tapas and wine; a full bar offering handcrafted pisco, rum and tequila cocktails; and a separate seating area with windows overlooking Chicago’s work-central Loop and nearby theatre district. At the front, a small retail section offers gourmet Latin food items, nostalgic candies and cookbooks as well as everything to make an authentic Spanish paella at home. The space also includes a culinary center with chef demos and other special events. Downstairs, Loncheria, a quick-serve outlet just steps away from an L train platform, offers specialty coffee and breakfast in the morning as well as whole rotisserie chickens to-go for lunch and dinner.
Brendan Sodikoff’s mini food hall caters to River North residents and office workers with a walk-up window offering three of the restaurateur’s greatest successes in one place: Doughnut Vault doughnuts, the burger from Bucktown’s Small Cheval (nearly identical to the famed burgers at the West Loop’s Au Cheval) and a revival of the pastrami sandwiches once served at the now defunct Dillman’s deli.Inside, there is an elaborate salad and hot food bar, coffee bar, communal work environment and lounge area complete with a flat screen TV, chess and board games, and even a putting green. Checkered floors, leather sofas, vinyl chairs and vintage lamps create a diner-meets-rec-room feel.
Rooted in Asian tradition yet confidently modern, bellyQ is Chef Bill Kim’s redefined and modernized Korean barbecue restaurant in the West Loop neighborhood. It features interactive tableside grills, a full cocktail bar and plenty of private dining and event space. A few years back, Kim moved his Northside ramen shop, Urbanbelly, to the front of this location, offering a casual lunch option for neighbors, area workers and others seeking out his addictive brothy noodle bowls, rice dishes and dumplings. This year, Kim opened a larger Urbanbelly location in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood.
Designed in part by acclaimed New York-based firm AvroKO, this modern
steakhouse from the Boka Restaurant Group and B. Hospitality Co. blends contemporary designs with antique flair to create an elevated throwback to classic Chicago dining. It also pays homage to Gustavus Franklin Swift, one of the 19th-century pioneers of the city’s successful meatpacking industry. Chef Chris Pandel serves up classic steaks and seafood along with his sought-after handmade pastas while a bi-level, full-service bar caters to those looking for pre-
and post-dinner cocktails or a more casual dining experience. Next door, Cold Storage, the completely separate oyster and seafood bar, features a central,
New Orleans’ style, marble-topped bar complete with an oyster-shucking
station surrounded by a mix of intimate booth and high-top seating.
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