When it comes to mouthwatering acquisitions, Chicago's first Sonic—recently opened in Uptown—is just the tip of the iceberg. In the next year, some major players from the East and West coasts (and one from Brussels for good measure) are staking their claims here. Here's your guide to what's coming and when.
Started in: New York. From 2001 to 2003, Union Square Hospitality Group—led by legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer (Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, The Modern and more)—set up a hot dog cart as an art installation to benefit the Madison Square Park Conservancy. In 2004, the group won a bid to set up the park's first permanent kiosk and Shake Shack was born.
Future location: 66 E. Ohio St. in the former Harley-Davidson store space in River North
They say: "We call it modern roadside burger stand, and that's about calling back to what was great about them. They were the community gathering place. It didn't matter if you were a mother, doctor, lawyer, or police officer. You were equals when you were eating at a stand," said vice president of operations Zach Koff.
We say: Shake Shack is what might happen if Culver's was invented in Logan Square. Its locations serve local beers, glasses of Napa Valley vino, hand-cut fries and fair-trade coffee milkshakes. Lines at the original Madison Square Park location sometimes rival the lines at Hot Doug's, so it's possible that Shake Shack will take a bite out of M Burger's downtown stronghold on fast-food burgers.
How it measures up: Each location of Shake Shake is different architecturally to jive with its neighborhood, said Koff. The Chicago location will be about 3,000 square feet, which is about the same size as most urban locations of Shake Shack. Sidewalk seating is also in the plans.
Started in: Syracuse, N.Y. in 1988. There are eight locations total in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Future location: 923 W. Weed St., across the street from Joe's Bar on the border of Old Town and Lincoln Park
They say: "We try to be smart with our meat selection and honor the nuances of each type [of meat.] We make our own charcoal. We go low and slow and put our own spin on things with interesting side dishes and appetizers," said founder/owner/pitmaster John Stage. "We have a saying that when the brisket's right, everything else will follow."
We say: This is where hipsters and bikers can meet for smoky meat treats and chef-inspired appetizers. Dinosaur's roots were in smoking meat in a repurposed 55-gallon drum at motorcycle shows. While Stage conquered the world with his smoked, blackened brisket and thick pink smoke-ringed ribs, he also charmed folks with fancy pecorino cheese-dusted fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese- and pulled pork-topped poutine at Dinosaur's Brooklyn location.
How it measures up: The Chicago location will be approximately 12,800 feet with two floors, a beer garden and plans to feature live music.
Started in: Los Angeles in 2009 by Adam Fleischman, a former wine wonk.
Future location: 1480 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park
They say: "We're not bringing a better burger, but a different burger with lots of innovation," said Trevor Sacco, vice president of restaurant operations. "Umami is the fifth taste," he said, referring to the four basic tastes (salty, sour, sweet and bitter). "It's very savory. It's based on a compound called glutamate found in mushrooms and tomatoes. We don't try to mask the burgers with a lot of ingredients. We want them clean and simple and made to accentuate certain flavor profiles."
We say: When companies say they're bringing a "different" burger, it's often just marketing chatter, but Umami Burger does sound unique. Each patty is made of prime cuts of beef ground in-house throughout the day that are loosely packed and topped with umami-rich ingredients such as parmesan, caramelized onion, truffle glaze and shiitake mushrooms.
How it measures up: This location will be about 2,800 square feet. It will also serve locally made buns and a to-be-announced burger unique to the Wicker Park outpost.
Le Pain Quotidien
Started in: Brussels, where the original location was founded by baker Alain Coumont in 1990. The LPQ empire has since expanded to more than 200 locations around the world.
ETA: 135 N. Clinton St. (opened May 8) in the West Loop, 1000 W. Armitage Ave. (opening May 22) in Lincoln Park and 10 E. Delaware Place (opening July 6) in the Gold Coast
They say: "The core of our business is whole-wheat sourdough bread topped with simple, fresh, great ingredients," said CEO Vincent Herbert. "Simplicity is most important to us. … We are often asked the question, 'Are we a restaurant where you buy your bread, or a bakery where you eat?' What we know is we are a communal gathering place where you meet strangers and listen to classical music in a rustic farmhouse environment."
We say: LPQ sounds like the hippie/intellectual/Slow Food version of Panera or Corner Bakery, a spot to break organic bread or commune over kale caesar salad, read a book, or people-watch while the house sound system fills you with the soothing notes of Bach or Beethoven.
How it measures up: The just-opened West Loop location is smaller with limited seating. "It provides a great view of our bakers at work," said Herbert. "[The] Lincoln Park [location] will be a little larger with grab-and-go."
Fig & Olive
Started in: New York in 2005. Former Le Pain Quotidien vice president Laurent Halasz founded the restaurant, which went bi-coastal in 2011 when it opened in Los Angeles. Chicago will be the first non-New York or California location.
Future location: 104 E. Oak St. in the Gold Coast
ETA: June 26
They say: "Fig & Olive is the cuisine from where I'm from, the south of France. It's centered around ingredients and flavors from Provence, Italy and Spain that I grew up with," said Halasz, founder and president. "Everything is prepared in respect to the ingredients. It's not complicated cuisine. We don't use a lot of butter and cream; we do use good olive oil. This is how my mother cooked at home."
We say: Though it's not strictly Italian, the see-and-be-seen French Riviera vibe and menu—think whole-roasted fish and crudo as well as pasta, crostini, meats and cheeses--sounds like it could be a serious competitor to fellow Gold Coast restaurant Nico Osteria.
How it measures up: The 12,400-square foot location will be similar in size to Fig & Olive's other restaurants. "I fell in love with the location on Oak Street … [it has] 40 feet of windows and you can see the skyline," said Halasz. "You feel like you are in a big townhouse, like you're entering a house in Provence."
Michael Nagrant is a RedEye special contributor. email@example.com | @redeyeeatdrink