Trend alert: What's heating up Chicago's food scene this month

Curious where Chicago's in-the-know crowd is eating and drinking? It's easy to spot lines out the door, but some underlying trends are harder to see.

We took a data-driven look at the question, using Yelp to discover which eateries have been in the spotlight this month.

To find out who made the list, we looked at Chicago businesses on Yelp by category and counted how many reviews each received. Rather than compare them based on number of reviews alone, we calculated a percentage increase in reviews over the past month.

Read on to see which spots are on a hot streak, right now.

Old Grounds Social

Photo: old grounds social/Yelp

Open since March, this sports bar and traditional American spot is trending compared to other businesses categorized as "sports bars" on Yelp. It's operated by 8 Hospitality Group and features a pool table, dartboards and a row of TVs behind the long wooden bar.

Citywide, sports bars saw review counts increase by a median of 1.9 percent over the past month, but Old Grounds Social saw a 17.2 percent increase, maintaining a mixed 3.5-star rating throughout.

Located at 950 W. Wrightwood Ave. in Lincoln Park, Old Grounds Social offers brunch and dinner fare including options like pizza, fried chicken and breakfast sandwiches and burritos. Thirsty? The new spot has beers on tap and frozen cocktails.


Photo: etta/Yelp

Whether or not you've been hearing buzz about Bucktown's Etta, the modern American restaurant is a hot topic according to Yelp review data. It's from the team behind Maple & Ash and features wood-fired dishes made on the restaurant's open hearth.

While businesses categorized as "American (New)" on Yelp increased their review counts by a median of 1.7 percent over the past month, Etta bagged a 63.9 percent increase in reviews within that timeframe, maintaining a sound four-star rating.

Open since mid-July at 1840 W. North Ave., Etta offers dinner, weekend brunch and late-night libations. Menu options include buttermilk pancakes, beef short rib fried rice and a hearth-smoked salmon platter for brunch and pizza, pasta and dishes like fire-roasted whole branzino for dinner.


Photo: merchant/Yelp

Logan Square's Merchant is also making waves. Open since July at 3137 W. Logan Blvd., the gastropub has seen a 40.6 percent bump in reviews over the last month, compared to a median review increase of 2.1 percent for all businesses tagged "bars" on Yelp.

There's more than one hot spot trending in Chicago's bar category: Flight Club Darts Chicago has seen a 25 percent increase in reviews, and Monnie Burke's has seen a 20.5 percent bump.

At Merchant, expect options like eggplant meatballs, shrimp pad Thai and pastor tacos. Beer, wine and signature cocktails are also on offer. Over the past month, it's maintained a healthy four-star rating among Yelpers.


Photo: jeremy l./Yelp

Near West Loop's SoJu BBQ is the city's buzziest barbecue spot by the numbers.

The Korean barbecue restaurant, which debuted in July at 36 S. Ashland Ave., has increased its review count by 48.4 percent over the past month, an outlier when compared to the median review increase of 1.4 percent for the Yelp category "barbeque."

SoJu BBQ offers appetizers like spicy tofu and grilled eggplant and entrees such as bulgogi, brisket, pork belly and spicy chicken.

Ava's Italian Ice

Photo: richard b./Yelp

Is Ava's Italian Ice on your radar? According to Yelp review data, the Bucktown dessert spot is seeing plenty of action.

While businesses categorized as "desserts" on Yelp increased their review counts by a median of 1.7 percent over the past month, Ava's Italian Ice nabbed a 21.7 percent increase in reviews within that timeframe, maintaining an excellent five-star rating.

Located at 1814 N. Western Ave., Ava's Italian Ice has been open since July and offers a variety of shaved ice flavors in five different sizes ranging from kids to king. The frozen treats are made with organic fruit, triple-filtered water and pure cane sugar.