8 New Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic
They're worth a visit, and our dining critic has a few suggestions about what to order.
Early in the pandemic, some predicted independent restaurants might disappear forever. Those apocalyptic forecasts failed to consider the key ingredients of resilience, innovation and, in certain cases, leases that were signed pre-Covid. Kitchens stayed open, takeout got creative, and a surprising number of new restaurants popped up in spite of it all, like spring crocuses. Here are eight that opened in the past year.
After some searching, chef Matt Hill found his dream piece of real estate in Arlington Heights. Back in the 1950s, the historic building was occupied by Mr. W’s, a chocolate factory and candy and ice cream shop. Now the airy, 4,650-square-foot space is home to Ruthie’s All-Day, which Hill co-owns with general manager and beverage director Todd Salvadore. It’s a laid-back spot that pairs smart cocktails and creative cooking with plenty of parking.
Ruthie’s, which opened in October, is named after Hill’s paternal grandmother in North Carolina. As a nod to that provenance, the menu centers on the Southern concept of a “meat and three,” prompting hungry diners to choose a protein and three sides.
Hill, previously the culinary director for The Liberty Tavern Group and the Best of Arlington 2021 winner for “Best Chef,” cooks on an Argentinian-style grill and a wood-burning smoker. For all his concept’s homeyness, this isn’t home cooking. The Rohan duck breast, for example, involves a four-step process—brining, smoking, pan-searing and chargrilling—that yields subtly smoked, rosy slices of meat with crisped skin. Tender octopus is slow-braised in olive oil, chargrilled and served with black-eyed pea hummus, kale and smoked chili aioli. Hill’s brisket, the restaurant’s runaway best-seller, is smoked low and slow for 12 to 14 hours, then wrapped and rested to set the peppery bark.
Side dishes excel—especially collard greens with smoked tomatoes and fried rice flavored with kimchi and chicken livers. Don’t overlook the nicely curated beer and cocktail programs (try “A Day on the Green” made with gin, yellow Chartreuse, cucumber and lemon) or the fact that you can order breakfast every weekday morning. Weekend brunch brings an even wider assortment of breakfast-y fare, including biscuits with pork sausage gravy and fried eggs.
Hill’s wife, Jeanne Choi (they live with their two boys in Donaldson Run), helped design the sunny, light-filled restaurant, which seats 144 inside and 70 outside with a vibe that’s both nostalgic and fresh. Vintage touches like cane-patterned wallpaper and schoolhouse pendant lights are juxtaposed with modern fixtures such as a satellite chandelier in the front entry and a gleaming, subway-tiled semi-open kitchen. //Ruthie’s All-Day, 3411 Fifth St. S., Arlington (Arlington Heights)