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Ramen and Burgers Thrive, 'Concepts' Struggle in Wicker's 2015 Food Scene

By Alisa Hauser | December 23, 2015 7:28am | Updated on December 28, 2015 10:52am
 Many spots came and went and others expanded or shifted concepts.
2015: Restaurant Highlights in Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town
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WICKER PARK — Restaurants come and go in Wicker Park and Bucktown. And 2015 was no exception, though the year also saw many expansions and shifting of gears.

Here are five restaurant trends from the area's food scene:

Wicker Parkers Like Ramen, Sushi and Maybe 'Baocos.'

Joining Sunny Yim's Oiistar, Shin Thompson's Furious Spoon opened with long lines in February, attracted ramen-loving crowds with cold noodle dishes in the summer and capped off a busy year feeding the needy.

Another ramen joint, Kukai Ramen & Izakaya, plans to open in the shuttered MAX's Wine Dive at 1482 N. Milwaukee Ave. by mid-February.  

Korean-inspired B. Bim opened in December at 1324 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The oft-packed Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill moved to bigger digs at 1751 W. Chicago Ave., as its former spot, 1715 W. Chicago Ave., got replaced by J.J. Thai Street food, where prices start at $2 for homemade banana chips.

Baocos, an Asian-Latin fusion concept debuted in August at 1904 N. Western Ave. and has gotten mixed reviews.

Izakaya Mita, a cozy Japanese pub and grub, celebrated its first year at 1960 N. Damen Ave. in December and recently added late night snacks.

Meanwhile, longtime staple Papajin, offering Chinese food since 1995, closed in September. Penny's Noodles, another popular restaurant, will close in early January and won't be empty for long: Urbanbelly's up next. 

Burgers, Mac and Cheese, Buckets of Fried Chicken, Oh My!

It was a solid year for burgers and casual fare. In Bucktown, AMK Kitchen opened near the northeast corner of Armitage and Damen avenues in June and recently snagged "Best Mac and Cheese" honors, beating out 85 other contenders.

Prolific restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff's first entry into Wicker Park, a pizzeria called Roxie's, was somewhat of a bust. But Small Cheval, a faster and "more accessible" version of his popular burger spot Au Cheval in the West Looop, has brought in droves of fans since opening in August.

Barley & Brass, a neighborhood gastropub, was replaced by 25 Degrees, a burger bar from the same ownership who shifted gears.

The team behind Carriage House also changed directions and went more casual with Buck's, which opened in December and offers buckets of fried chicken and deviled eggs, among other casual bites.

There is Always Room for Dessert!

Just before Thanksgiving, Chicago Cupcake replaced Bar Bar Black Sheep, offering more than just cupcakes. In April, Scone City added many varieties of sweet and savory scones to Division Street.

Perhaps the Division Street equivalent of the ever-expanding Big Star group, Alliance Bakery just opened a lounge at 1740 W. Division St., upping its storefront ante to three.

Sometime in the spring, around when Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams joined the 'hood, the futuristic iCream shuttered and will be replaced by Insomnia Cookies, which delivers freshly baked cookies to doorsteps until 3 a.m.

In bittersweet news, the former Red Hen Bakery building at 1623 N. Milwaukee Ave. was empty for all of 2015 after closing last December. In early 2016, the spot will be replaced by Pork & Mindy's, a BBQ joint.  And four days before Christmas, Glazed & infused closed its walk-up window in the back of the also-shuttered Francesca's Forno.

Concepts That Need Time to Gain Footing Can Be Risky. 

A meatball-focused restaurant at 1467 N. Milwaukee Ave. that opened over St. Patrick's Day weekend was closed by Labor Day.

"We liked the neighborhood; we didn't get hot for whatever reason. It's a great vibrant area but our concept didn't pop to the top of everyone's to-do list," Mondo Meatball's owner told DNAinfo, reflecting on his eatery's five-month run.

Bom Bolla, a Spanish cava bar and small plate eatery at 1501 N. Milwaukee Ave. might be closing for good. One of Bom Bolla's partners, W. Craig Cooper, told Eater the concept did not have enough time to gain footing. "Chicago is a huge, competitive market with every dining and drinking option one could imagine," Cooper said.

Wicker Park Welcomes Hummus and Falafel.

Longtime locals might remember when Sultan's Market was the only spot in town to grab a falafel sandwich. Times have changed and there are now five Middle Eastern eateries, down from six before Mish Grill closed in September

Pita Cafe, at the corner of Damen and Division, opened in April. And tiny Falafel & Grill at 1317 N. Milwaukee. Ave., has plans to expand into a neighboring storefront, its owner says.

And hot-off-the-press — we have not even had time to report this one! — Lincoln Square's Shawarma Inn will add a second spot in Bucktown at 2011 N. Damen. Stay tuned.


Tasty #bucktown news

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