In just over three years, Chicago will be home to a state-of-the-art casino resort courtesy of Bally’s Corporation ($BALY). The company’s 205,700 square-foot casino will come with several gaming amenities, but there is one thing gamblers and non-gamblers alike will be eager to try — the food.
If Chicagoans are worried that Bally’s will bring in outside food options, fear not.
In its 64-page Host Community Agreement, Bally’s promised to work with Chicago-based chefs, collectives and restaurants, including One-Off Hospitality, which features popular establishments like The Publican, AVEC and Big Star. Even better, Bally’s will work with Chef Erick Williams, Chicago’s James Beard Award-winner.
In June, Williams was the only Chicagoan to win a James Beard Foundation Award taking home the honor of Best Chef: Great Lakes. His upscale Southern restaurant, Virtue, in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, also made Eater’s 2019 best new restaurant list.
Some of the most famous chefs and restauranteurs are known for making casinos their home. Momofuku from chef David Chang (Cosmopolitan), Hell’s Kitchen from chef Gordon Ramsay (Caesars Palace), and Nobu Las Vegas from chef Nobu Matsuhisa (three locations in Las Vegas casinos) are a few that instantly come to mind. With Williams’s involvement, it will be interesting to see what type of cuisine will be featured at the new Chicago casino once it opens in 2025.
With that said, let’s explore some restaurants we hope to see at the new Bally’s property.
Bally’s Chicago casino, coming in 2025
Once finished, the new casino will be home to 4,000 gaming positions, including 2,400 slot machines, 150 table games and 20 poker tables. In-person Illinois sports betting and mobile wagering will also be available.
As for food options, there will be six restaurants/cafes and a food hall. Names and operators have not been announced (or perhaps even secured), only the genre of food:
- Three-meal diner (150 seats)
- Bally Sports Bar (200 seats)
- Food hall (175 seats)
- Asian restaurant (50 seats)
- Steakhouse (150 seats)
- Italian restaurant (200 seats)
- Grab-and-go coffee bar (20 seats)
When it comes to food in Chicago, there are thousands of local favorites. Although multiple vendors could make a play for the food hall, we will stick with the four available spots.
Let’s see who we would like to fill this roster.
Grab-and-go coffee: Big Shoulders Coffee
The name says it all, Big Shoulders Coffee.
Tim Coonan and his wife Patricia founded the coffee house. Combined, they have over 65+ years in the hospitality and restaurant industry. Like Williams, Tim began his career as a chef at restaurants in New York, France, Italy, and Chicago.
One of my favorite brews is the Mexico Honey Bourbon. It provides notes of banana, caramelized sugar and almond with a touch of acidity featuring strawberry, plum and cherry. It’s my perfect cup to start any morning, especially if I have a long day inside a casino ahead of me.
With six locations in the city and a strong reputation, Big Shoulders would be a perfect addition for the grab-and-go coffee shop inside this Chicago casino.
Asian restaurant: Triple Crown
Established in 1996, Triple Crown specializes in Cantonese cuisine featuring lobster, sea bass and Dungeness crab. Situated in Chicago’s historic Chinatown neighborhood, Triple Crown’s family-style layout is perfect for an upscale meal or late-night Dim Sum.
An even more elevated form of this restaurant (in the vein of Nobu) would fit perfectly with Bally’s vision of a world-class casino resort.
Steakhouse: The Publican
Although not a steak house, The Publican specializes in the holy trinity of foods: beer, pork and oysters.
Chef-Partner Paul Kahan, a Chicago native, has crafted a worthy addition to Chicago’s sprawling food scene by building a team that supplies the restaurant with hand-selected and sustainably-raised fish, seafood and pork.
Publican has a simple farmhouse feel with classics like Belgian-style mussels, country ribs and the restaurant’s signature Farm Chicken. It wouldn’t take much to incorporate aged slabs of steak and upscale hearty potatoes. The restaurant could even keep the 16th Century European decor, which would do wonders for a casino.
Italian restaurant: very biased
If there is one cuisine I’m biased against, it’s Italian food. Trust me, there is no shortage of great, and I mean truly great, Italian restaurants in Chicago. With that said, I offer up two restaurants that would make great additions to Bally’s should the casino operator come knocking.
Tufano’s Veron Park Tap (Little Italy): this is an old-school by-the-book Italian restaurant. Even its decor feels like you’re tucked away in your private villa.
If it decided to elevate some of its classic menu items, I’d be first in line to try them. Linguini with clams in white sauce, stuffed artichoke, chicken Limon with angel hair … dishes like these are what’s right with the world.
Bruna’s Ristorante (Little Italy): Bruna’s opened in 1933, making it the third-oldest Italian restaurant in Chicago. If there were a way to transport this restaurant — as is — into a Bally’s casino, I would. This retro look is one-of-a-kind and should remain untouched. However, if there were an upscale version of this local establishment, there would be no way to keep me out. Prosciutto and melon, spaghetti alla carbonara, and stuffed shells are only some of the favorites on this menu.
Food hall hopefuls: many options
Although the total number of food hall vendors is unknown, there are several restaurants that I would love to see featured. Perhaps maybe a few mini pop-ups inside the casino?
Of course, this list can go on and on, but for the sake of time, I’ll limit it to three options.
Top-Notch Beefburgers (2116 W 95h Street)
Look, any casino can open a Shake Shack or an In-N-Out Burger; that would be the easy way out. I don’t think Erick Williams will waste valuable real estate and use his influence to recommend a standard US burger chain. My hope is he goes local.
A relic of the past, Top-Notch Burger, located in the Beverly neighborhood, is a 75+ year burger institution. As a matter of fact, Top Chef season 15 winner Joe Flamm (another Chicago native) named Top-Notch as one of his favorite South Side restaurants.
A burger place inside a casino food hall is a no-brainer. But let’s make it something not already found in New York or Las Angeles.
Cleo’s Southern Cuisine (4248 S. Cottage Grove Ave.)
This 10-seat restaurant from Chef Kristen Ashley in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood produces, in my opinion, the best version of chicken & waffles. The restaurant was featured in Eater Chicago’s “Places to Eat” Michelin Guide. It was also ranked #3 on TimeOut Chicago’s best wings in the city.
The menu features delicacies like creole fried catfish with buttered lump crab, savory green beans with smoked turkey, and the ever so flavorful 24-carat gold muffins. A small pop-up with handheld food options would fit perfectly inside any casino.
Soul & Smoke (916 W Fulton Market)
I’m from Texas and before you start questioning me, I know good barbecue when I see it. He may have a reputation as a fine-dining chef, but D’Andre Carter takes barbecue to another level.
The menu is simple but elevated. Cajun shrimp & grits, smoked beef brisket by the pound and smoked ‘Nduja sausage are just some of the items that remind me of home. Plus, what better way to refuel after a long day at the craps table than with a pulled pork sandwich and cold beer.
There is a chance that some or even none of these restaurants will make it inside of Bally’s. But the company’s promise to work with local talent gives me hope that the food inside this casino will be some of the finest in the city.