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By Ariel Cheung | Photo: Passerotto photos by Mistey Nguyen | Octavio photo by Neil Burger | Omakase Yume photo by Christopher Greene | August 13, 2018
Savor flavors from far-flung places without leaving the city with these four new ethnic restaurants.
It’s an oft-abused word, but who can blame restaurateurs for making claims of “authenticity” when it’s what every diner seems to be craving? When it comes to the best in ethnic cuisine, it can be tough to unearth the true global gems—lucky for us, these four newcomers have authenticity in spades.
There’s beauty in the simplicity at this petite Korean eatery with just a kiss of robust Italian flavor. Chef Jennifer Kim, most recently known for her wispy slivers of cured fish at Snaggletooth, retains the delicate plating at her new Andersonville restaurant. Her raw offerings of hamachi, fluke and scallops ($11 to $16) are daintily dotted with accents like onion puree or pickled lime kosho, while even heftier dishes meant for two, like the glazed short ribs ($38), look neat and self-contained—and they’re extremely tasty, to boot. Kim draws inspiration from the Korean dishes she grew up eating, and the familial touches make for small plates that loom large on the city’s dining scene. 5420 N. Clark St., 708.607.2102
Opening a sister restaurant to the Mediterranean-inspired, California-fresh spot Ema gave chef C.J. Jacobson the chance to flex his cooking muscles, particularly when it came to protein. “Ema is really more vegetable-driven, but eventually I realized since it’s the Midwest, for nine months, there are no vegetables,” says Jacobson, who traversed the Mediterranean and staged at the Danish restaurant Noma—one of the best in the world—before making his way to Chicago. The Aba menu is subsequently meatier, with a tantalizing selection of cuts like chargrilled lamb chops ($27) and skirt steak shawarma ($19). For the shawarma, Jacobson pulled from his Southern California upbringing and love of al pastor to fold in bold, citrusy flavors to complement the deep marinated spices. “It’s my California way of interpreting cuisine,” he says. “It’s very vibrant and a little different.” 302 N. Green St., 3rd Floor, 773.645.1400
Octavio Cantina & Kitchen
At this sunny Andersonville spot, expertly rendered tacos, a delightfully acerbic whole-roasted snapper ($24) and pork belly-topped flatbreads ($14) saturate the dining room with the rich flavors of the south and central regions of Mexico, from which two of Octavio’s three chefs hail. Named in tribute to Nobel Prize-winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz, the restaurant delivers fresh takes on Mexican dishes like cochinita pibil ($21) and sumptuous chicken mole ($23), along with a respectable list of agave spirits and colorful cocktails served under a skylight that makes it all too easy to imagine yourself south of the border. 5310 N. Clark St., 773.293.1223
Those who have traveled to the suburbs for a taste of chef Sangtae Park’s upscale Japanese fare at Izakaya Yume will no doubt be thrilled to hear he has arrived in the West Loop with Omakase Yume, a chef’s-table-style restaurant. The bad news: It won’t be easy to snag a reservation, as the eight-seat spot has just two seatings each night. When you do get there, a 90-minute, 17-course meal awaits, delivering the freshest madai (snapper), awabi (abalone), uni (urchin) or whatever else Park, who grew up in South Korea and has long nurtured his passion for Japanese cuisine, finds fit to serve each day. $125 per person, 651 W. Washington Blvd., 312.265.1610