The last thing the West Loop really needs is another big, trendy restaurant – but that doesn’t stop them from appearing. And Aba certainly falls into this category. Your personal opinion on it will depend at least a little on your patience for crowds, celebrity chefs, and sports cars being dropped off at the valet. But Aba also happens to have very good food, which is why it’s worth checking out the next time you’re in the mood for a sceney meal.
It’s inevitable to be compared to your sibling, so we’re going to get this out of the way – Aba is the sister restaurant to Ema in River North. They have the same head chef, they’re owned by the same restaurant group, and they both serve Mediterranean small plates. But where Ema went to Brown on a scholarship, Aba spent the summer in Ibiza – and just stayed there. You pass a bouncer before taking an elevator to the restaurant, there’s a huge dining room with two bars and a loungey rooftop patio, and wherever you’re sitting, you’ll be surrounded by an awful lot of dressed-up pretty people.
So yes, Aba is a scene – but it’s a scene that comes with fantastic food. Most things on the menu are meant to be shared, but some are so good that you won’t really want to. For example, all of the hummuses and spreads (like the spicy hummus or the sweet muhammara), and the fantastic fresh-baked pita they come with. The kefalotiri might be our new favorite fried cheese – it’s deliciously sharp and salty – and some of the larger meat and seafood plates are must-orders (specifically the leg of lamb with cinnamon and dates, and the harissa-crusted halibut that’s perfectly spiced).
Besides the excellent Mediterranean food, there are some other things you can count on when you’re here. When it’s crowded (which is most of the time), expect long waits, a hectic atmosphere, and groups of loud people moving around the space. In other words, a typical clubby restaurant/occasional sh*tshow. If this is a dealbreaker, plan on coming here earlier in the night, or just go to Ema instead.
The celebrity chef restaurant situation in Chicago is kind of like a magician’s scarf. These places just keep coming, and on the surface, a lot of them can look pretty similar. The good news about Aba is that – as long as you don’t mind a little bit of a party – its delicious food makes it more than worth your time.