4514 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
Husband and wife owners Stanley Liem and Nuchsara "Sara" Katekaew brought upscale Japanese cuisine to Lincoln Square in 2015, and it was worth the wait. Regulars who loved their previous place, Tank, recognize a couple favorites that have traveled here, too. Naturally, there's artful maki, nigiri and sashimi (don't miss the Latin Heat roll constructed of smoked salmon, escolar, jalapeno, avocado and cilantro) but seize the opportunity to sample items that reach beyond the familiar right into the fantastic: hot and cold small plates like pan-seared duck breast moistened with Asian pear sauce, mushroom, shallot and red wine reduction; panko-style Chilean Sea Bass; cold and spicy tuna ravioli; and wild skewers threaded with alligator, chicken liver, bacon scallops and Shitaki mushrooms, among others. Spicy Roasted Garlic Miso Ramen will set you right on a chilly Chicago day, and there's plenty of standard fare like teriyaki and tempura for younger or less adventurous palates. Miku can get noisy, so have granny bring her hearing aid.
116 W Hubbard St.
Chicago, IL 60654
James Beard and "Top Chef Masters"-winning Chef Takashi Yagihashi's Japanese comfort food concept is a revelation. Serving maki and sashimi, hot and cold tapas, noodles, drinks and dessert and now happy gour specials, there are plenty of reasons to return again and again.Veg-heads will go for the trio of vegetarian kimchi: fried Brussels sprouts; bao stuffed strictly with veg; and noodles starring mushrooms, tofu and other earthy items. Noodle based dishes find fat floating dumplings, seafood, homemade ramen noodles and lots of meat in the bowls — the spicy Tan Tan ramen features pork meatball, pork chashu, pork miso, bok choy and bean sprouts. The sushi list is compact and simple, leaving lots of room to explore signature items like duck fat fried chicken and assortment of Baos including pork belly, shrimp and chicken. Did we mention cream puffs for dessert?
2616 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60614
The year that Americans began sipping the brand new Diet Coke, 1982, Itto Sushi set up shop in Lincoln Park, no doubt confounding locals with this idea of raw fish. Decades later, the venerable spot is still lauded for its uncluttered, comfy space, outdoor seating, late night kitchen and reliably fresh sushi. Interesting appetizers include marinated deep fried chicken, homemade potato salad, fried smelt and butter sauteed clams. Combinations, straight outta the early 1980s, satisfy larger appetites: the "deluxe beef" offers cucumber salad, tempura, sashimi, katsu and beef teriyaki for less than a couple of special maki rolls somewhere else.
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1960 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
Think of your favorite corner bar that serves drinks and some food for casual after-work noshing and sipping. That's the function of an izakaya in Japan, where sharing of plates and the day's news makes for a pleasant way to end the daylight hours. Bucktown's Izakaya Mita offers typical izakaya items and none disappoint: refreshing cold dishes like seaweed salad, raw octopus in wasabi marinade, sashimi salad; interesting hot items like potato croquettes, warm mushrooms sautéed in butter and soy citrus sauce and Tokyo-style savory pancakes; little bites of chicken skin or liver, Shishito peppers and tenderloin; tempura; noodles, rice sliders; and heartier portions of whole broiled smelt, pan seared tofu steak with spicy miso and much more. The drink list is stacked with sake — one cups, by-the-glass and bottles. Graduate from the sushi bar and try Izakaya.
1829 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Ty Fujimura says of his West Town eatery, "We are devoted to the highest level of service, the highest quality of product and the balanced marriage of tradition and innovation," and he delivers on the promise in a tranquil environment, no less. Plates of sushi are painterly — heck, everything coming to your table looks as if it could be displayed in a gallery. You have no choice but to break the sad California Roll habit at Arami. Winning robata grill items include wagyu beef strip with yuzu-kosho butter and Spanish octopus with asparagus scallion purée. The titular ramen features pork belly, braised beef, house tsukemono, naruto, grilled enoki and egg. If you're famished go for authentic Tonkatsu donburi, another one bowl meal of fried pork cutlet, watercress, tsukemono and soy balsamic atop rice.
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