Living in a place with the occasional polar vortex has given Chicagoans a deep appreciation for bars that serve comfort food. We need places to eat and drink while ignoring the fact that our cars are buried under six feet of snow. But we aren’t always looking for a winter respite - sometimes it’s actually summer and we don’t want to hang out in a dark bar decorated like a hunting lodge or eat food that you would carry with you on the Oregon Trail. That’s where Little Bad Wolf Comes in. The cool setup and unique food make this a spot that works for all weather situations.
Their take on “upscale bar food” is that it’s Mexican or Asian, with a few solid American classics (like burgers) thrown in. To be clear, the food here isn’t “fusion.” Unless you consider eating bao and tacos in a Chicago bar is by its very nature fusion, which is a totally valid argument we can save for a later date. The food is meant to be shared, and is designated as either “pinch,” “fold,” “grab,” or “stab.” If you can ignore the fact that the menu demands you “pinch” your charcuterie and “stab” your salad, it’s easy to have a spread on the table that’s more interesting than typical bar food.
In the bao vs taco steel cage death match, the bao win by a landslide, with the steamed buns housing way better combos than their tacos. The same is true most of the Asian vs. Mexican dishes - we’d rather “pinch” the lumpia than the chips and guacamole. And if you do happen to end up here when it’s below freezing outside, the classic pub food holds its own with a burger and mac and cheese that do will a fair job of helping you forget you’re traveling with flare guns and a snow shovel in the trunk of your car. The salads are also more interesting than most of the ranch-drenched things we’re used to having in bars.
As for the space, it’s small with chill music, and there are cool drawings of the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, which is less weird than it sounds. There’s an industrial-chic decor thing happening, and it’s the kind of place you’ll want to post up in for a while. Considering the somewhat limited seating, we’ve found the best plan is to get there early, or to come on a warm day when the patio is open. The service is friendly and laid back, and they never make you feel like you need to relinquish your table even after you’re done eating and just want a spot to chill.
The cool vibe and solid food set Little Bad Wolf apart from most spots, and that makes it a worthy destination no matter what time of year it is.
These guys come in a green curry coconut broth and are served with crostini. They’re spicy and slightly sweet, and something you should order.
The lumpia are small fried spring rolls filled with pork and, unsurprisingly, make an excellent bar snack. The sweet and sour dipping sauce has a spicy kick and the fried spring roll wrapper is surprisingly light, so you won’t feel like you ate a deep-fried pillow.
This starter is just fine, but boring. The guacamole is good, but the salsa doesn’t have a lot of flavor. You’re better off saving your appetite for something more interesting.
These steamed bun sandwiches are great. They are fluffy and fun and how you should be ruining your appetite. We like all of them, but our favorite is the pork. It comes with a gingery barbecue sauce and pickled carrots and daikon.
We suggest skipping these for the bao. Like the chips, they’re fine, but nothing special. If you absolutely must have a taco, the best one of the bunch is the steak.
These aren’t very good. The corn is mixed with a chili aioli that reminds us of Miracle Whip and makes us want the elotes you get at Sox games. It comes with a fried avocado that we kind of liked, but still doesn’t make it something we would order again.
We can get bored by brussels sprouts, but if you want a vegetable on the table these are worth ordering. They’re topped with a giant pile of fried shallots and roasted with bacon and pine nuts.
This classic has just want we want in traditional bar food (i.e. it’s really cheesy and topped with toasted breadcrumbs). If you’re really hungry feel free to get the entree size, but we think ordering their smaller side portion is the better move. It’s still plenty of food, and we like that it comes in a tiny cast iron skillet.
The salads here are sleeper hits. They’re huge, come in bowls that look like troughs, and can easily be shared. They also have plenty of toppings, so you won’t be forced to ration like grandpa back in the war. We’re particularly big fans of the Waldorf, which has manchego, pear, and a sh*t load of candied walnuts.
The burger reminds us of the kind of burger you’d have at a cookout, and we really like it. It’s nothing overly complicated, just a well-seasoned patty with American cheese, pickles, and mayo. A fried egg and bacon version is available if that’s your thing, but we don’t think this burger needs it.