Carnivale | $$$
We started with the ceviche tasting at this theatrical pan-Latin offering from Jerry Kleiner; our favorites were the scallop, flavored with coconut curry and basil oil, and the crab, glazed in habanero jelly and served in a tomato, mango, and horseradish sauce. The main courses we tried were homey: rum-glazed pork shoulder served with smoky Puerto Rican rice and beans, a ginormous slab of filet mignon served with Peruvian potatoes and a roasted garlic mojo, an extracreamy four-cheese mac 'n' cheese offered as a side dish, but hearty enough to serve as an entree. By the time we finished, three hours after arriving, the main dining room was packed to the rafters, festive Latin music blaring above the din. —Kathie Bergquist 702 W. Fulton Mkt., 312-850-5005, carnivalechicago.com. Lunch: Mon-Fri. Dinner: daily. Open late: Fri & Sat till 11.
Haymarket Pub & Brewery | $$
Haymarket Pub & Brewery may have been named in honor of the historic Haymarket affair—it's located in the area where it took place—but its prices aren't quite low enough to attract your average working stiff. When the place is full, noise levels can be nearly deafening. And the food can be hit-or-miss: house-made sausages are top-notch, but the mac 'n' cheese, pale and pasty, was unbelievably bland. The emphasis at Haymarket, though, is on the beer, and the house brews could make the place a destination even if the food doesn't. They're all offered in 4-, 12-, and 16-ounce pours (a few are also available in 20-ounce glasses), with no upcharge for smaller portions. IPA-heavy, the list caters to a certain sensibility—that of brewmaster Pete Crowley, a former Rock Bottom brewer who's fascinated by hops and Belgian beers. But as IPAs go, the house drafts are fairly restrained: though the Ombibulous Double IPA was as bitter as you'd expect, Last Chance Belgian IPA was pretty mild. More dangerous was the citrusy Mathias Imperial IPA, its strong hops balanced by a pronounced malt sweetness: despite weighing in at 10 percent alcohol, it went down surprisingly easy. —Julia Thiel 737 W. Randolph, 312-638-0700, haymarketbrewing.com. Lunch, dinner: daily. Open late: Sat till 3, other nights till 2.
Ing | $$$
Mad genius Homaro Cantu's abrupt recasting of Moto's more levelheaded baby brother, Otom, is a futuristic Asian-inspired lounge. Typically, there are a number of intriguing or amusing gimmicks at play—a dedicated noodle puller, for example. And a few are every bit as irritatING as the awkward new name—a special "miracle berry"-focused chef's-table tasting is available, and there's the option of paying the kitchen to cook by the hour—a risky bet if the glacial pacing of the a la carte courses on my visits is any indication. But it was the most dramatic dish on the menu on one of my visits that best illustrates the unrealized ambition here: three pieces of orange-cured salmon on a brick of pink Himalayan sea salt, drizzled with liquid nitrogen that emits a cloud of tantalizing vapor—then carefully deposited atop a trio of undercooked shredded vegetable pancakes that disintegrated owing to a wet, slimy batter. The very best dish I tried—reminiscent of the work of Moto's great pastry chef Ben Roche—was a stack of "inverted" waffles—waffle mousse frozen in a hand-pressed waffle iron and served with a malty syrup made from reduced stout, a mango sorbet "butter pat," and whipped coconut and vanilla. —Mike Sula 951 W. Fulton Mkt., 855-834-6464, ingrestaurant.com. Dinner: Tue-Sat.
Moto | $$$$$
It took Moto chef Homaro Cantu just a few years to earn a global reputation as one of the most gonzo practitioners of "molecular gastronomy." His Fulton Market restaurant is a surprisingly subdued showcase, one small, dimly lit dining room and bar. But perhaps that makes sense: the food supplies the bells and whistles. On my last visit we were by turns excited, amused, befuddled, annoyed, impressed, and delighted. Consider, for instance, "blue cod and popcorn": lightly seared fish served over a popcorn puree, topped with coconut powder, accessorized with noodles made from gelled passion fruit, and finished with an electric green dollop of shiso syrup. It was a riot of strong flavors, but there was no alchemy to them combined. And I could do without gee-whiz novelties like the candied packing peanut and laser-smoked orange zest entirely. Other dishes were more successful, putting Cantu's trademarked (literally) technical shenanigans to work in the service of food that actually tastes good. A dessert dubbed "chili-cheese nachos" was a masterful example: candied tortilla chips topped with gelled kiwi-mint "salsa," a lemon-cheesecake crema, and "cheese" made by grating mango sorbet into a liquid nitrogen bath. —Martha Bayne 945 W. Fulton Mkt., 312-491-0058, motorestaurant.com. Dinner: Tue-Sat.
Next | $$$$
After my mate took one of the opening bites of the night at the first incarnation of Next—from a slice of brioche piped with foie gras torchon—she held back her head, closed her eyes, and misted up. Then I took one of mine: a minispoonful of creamy truffled custard and brandade, finished with black truffle shavings and scooped from a scalped eggshell perched on a gleaming antique silver service piece. For just a minute I was transformed into a gouty, monocled Gallic bloater with a wine-stained cravat, greedily slurping it up and impatiently awaiting my turtle soup. And that's what Achatz, partner Nick Kokonas, and executive chef Dave Beran are aiming for with the first menu, an interpretation of a meal as it might have been eaten in the dining room of the Paris Ritz, where Escoffier reigned during La Belle Epoch. Carré d'agneau consists of three fried onion rings balanced atop a stack of duchesse potatoes, lamb tongue rillettes, rare sliced loin, and a sweetbread, all situated in a pool of sauce Choron. Served halfway into the meal, this tower of meat is the course that broke me, forcing me to admit that if I was going to make it through the night I'd need to stop consuming every last morsel—as much as it hurt to do so. At the sixth course—a family-style platter of pressed duck with a dish of feathery thin Comté-saturated potatoes dauphinoise—I began to feel more than a little ashamed of the food I couldn't finish. By the time a piercingly sweet Sauternes-style sorbet signaled the end was coming, and mignardises finished it, I was sad for an experience I'll never have again. At least there's the next menu—Thai—to look forward to. —Mike Sula 935 W. Fulton Mkt,, 312-226-0858, nextrestaurant.com. Dinner: Wed-Sun.
The Publican | $$$
On a busy night diners can wait upwards of an hour to knock elbows with their neighbors at communal tables at this shrine to pork, oysters, and beer. But the food, under executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Brian Huston, is pretty great. The menu changes daily but stays relentlessly on its snout-to-tail message. Rillettes were a rich jam of concentrated pork fat and flavor; frites topped with a poached organic egg would've made a decadent breakfast. A briny Penn Cove oyster, one of six varieties on the menu that day, was silkenly sublime. And the pork rinds—gussied up bar bites—were revelatory, lighter than air yet still chewy, hit with an invigorating splash of malt vinegar. —Martha Bayne 837 W. Fulton Mkt., 312-733-9555, thepublicanrestaurant.com. Dinner: daily. Sun brunch. Open late: Fri & Sat till 11:30.