If you love to people watch, you know that where you go to do so is all about location, location, location. Big Star is a great venue for dissecting the dress and habits of the locals, hipsters and tourists all in one place during the warmer months in Chicago. Located on Damen a block south of the North-Milwaukee-Damen intersection, it is a hotbed of activity in every direction.
Big Star also offers tequila, whiskey and beer-which could make the people watching even more interesting. But there is so much more to this tiny little establishment set in the hub of Wicker Park. While the inside of the restaurant doesn't look like it would have a James Beard award winning chef as the owner, the food and drink tell quite a different story.
Paul Kahn, who is probably best known for his restaurant Avec (just need to give a shout out to Avec's bacon wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, YUM!), also runs Chicago favorites Blackbird and The Publican. He has created a small but incredible menu of guacamole, tacos, and tostadas, with a salad and frijoles charros thrown in for good measure here at Big Star.
Starting with the guac, the avocados are wonderfully blended with just the perfect amount of cilantro, onion and lime. The grated radish on top gives it a little zip.
I am in love with fish tacos. The Tacos de Pescado (beer battered tilapia) were scrumptious! The chipotle mayo, cabbage slaw and cilantro on top are perfectly tailored to enhance the mild flavor of the fish.
Tostada de Pollo consists of grilled and marinated chicken from the thigh of the bird, topped with cilantro pesto, queso crema, arugula and red onion. The dark meat gives the tostada a rich flavor. The best part is that the tacos and tostadas are only $3 and $4 respectively.
Big Star boasts 70 different types of whiskey, and 18 different tequilas, and has many unique cocktails on the menu that incorporate one or the other. Not being a whiskey or tequila girl, I found that they will substitute rum in place of either in the cocktail, no questions asked.
While the whiskey and tequila are front and center, the beer list is also quite impressive. They have several on tap, including Schlitz for $1. Bottled beers include selections from Three Floyd's, Lagunitas, Goose Island and North Coast. They also have Mexican favorites Tecate, Modelo, and Pacifico. You can get a Chelada, which is Tecate with a salted rim and lime.
As for the atmosphere, it's dive bar meets rocka-billy. The music is almost all country, with a little rock thrown in. There are booths on the left side of the space, and ample seating around the bar. It can get a little loud inside when packed with people, if it is nice outside, I would absolutely recommend sitting on the outdoor patio. The yellow tables and chairs make it sunny, even if it may not be.
I'll be back at Big Star many times this summer, sipping a Chelada or throwing back a tangy cocktail, munching on some chips and gaucomole all the while enjoying the live theater walking past. You should join me.
1531 N Damen
Chicago, IL 60622
Hours: Sunday through Friday 11:30AM to 2AM
Saturday 11:30 to 3AM