Mako in the West Loop is one of four omakase-only spots here in Chicago, but it’s the largest, and its meal is one of the longest, clocking in at around 25 courses of sushi and small plates. This means that, with 22 seats in the restaurant all being served each course at once, there are approximately 550 pieces of sushi standing between you and the door, which makes eating here feel like a marathon. But while dinner here might be time-consuming and expensive, the quality of the food is worth the effort, and a way better reward than a space blanket and an “everyone’s a winner” medal.
Like any marathon, it’s important to have a training plan before signing up for Mako. The first step is making the commitment to sign up - there are only two seatings a night, and you have to put down a deposit to reserve your spot. Next, start saving up some money, because this place is expensive. The omakase itself is $175, but after drinks (there’s an optional $85 wine and sake pairing), tax, and a mandatory service fee, it’s pricier than those cryotherapy sessions everyone’s recommending. Finally, make sure you’re prepared for race day. Don’t wear anything new that might get uncomfortable after a few hours, put plenty of money in the parking meter, get your body nice and limber, and just to be safe, apply some band-aids to your nipples. You’re going to be at this for a while.
Mako is from the same chef as Juno in Lincoln Park. And like its sister restaurant, Mako makes small pieces of sushi with delicately seasoned rice. The fish is expertly cut, and at some point during your meal (right around mile 14), you’ll probably be told that the fish you’re eating arrived that day from Japan, a fact that will power you through the next nine courses better than motivational signs held up by your friends or packets of GU.
It’s not hard to stay motivated at Mako, though, since most dishes involve a small twist that keeps them interesting - for example, the king crab is topped with a housemade potato chip and the salmon is balanced out by a bit of pickled garlic. Like spectators blasting “Eye of the Tiger” as you run through Old Town, these extras add to the overall experience. Breaking up the miles of nigiri are dishes like chawanmushi and buttery sea bass on top of charred frisee.
When Mako stumbles, it’s with meat courses like a very tough duck breast or unpleasantly chewy wagyu. And that’s why, right around the duck’s appearance, you’ll start wondering how much longer this is going to take. You’re nowhere near done - you still have more nigiri...and temaki…and tamago...and two dessert courses. You’ll begin to slow down, but after watching everyone else finish off their delicious last pieces, you’ll want to press on, too. And when you finally reach the finish line, you might even be sad it’s over. You’ve had a good run - and it’s an experience that’s worth having at least once.
The omakase at Mako changes, but here’s an example of what you can expect.
The omakase starts with three small bites that might include a rich monkfish liver or some smoked abalone. It’s an excellent starting gun to begin the meal.
The four pieces of sashimi are delicious and straightforward. The standouts are the lightly smoked salmon and the tuna.
Nigiri makes up the bulk of the 25 courses, and they come in three waves. You’ll find the usual suspects here: kinmedai, horse mackerel, lean and fatty tuna (otoro) that’s basically fish butter. Each piece is expertly cut and balanced with delicately seasoned rice. All the extra touches, like pickled garlic, truffle salt, and chives, complement whatever nigiri they’re served with.
We hope the saltwater eel is a part of the omakase when you’re here. It’s delicious, and the unagi sauce adds just the right amount of sweetness.
The duck sits on a bed of delicious leeks sauteed in liver, and we’d be happy just eating that because, unfortunately, the duck is tough.
The omakase ends with two desserts and both are tasty and not too sweet. You can expect options like an Asian pear granita or Japanese sweet potato served with whipped cream and whiskey caramel.