Patrons wait for hours just to sample the faux-dive decor and the Southwestern fare at the bustling Big Star in Bucktown/Wicker Park. The place combines the talents of one of Chicago's star chefs (Paul Kahan) with the skills of the city's most well-known mixologist (Michael Rubel of the Violet Hour) into a stylized honky tonk setting that never sees a slow second.
Since the place is new and hot, a long waiting list for a table is commonplace. I dined at the bar to avoid the wait. It is also advantageous to take advantage of the take-out window in order to avoid the wait entirely (the window is labeled "we sell flavor" in Spanish).
The West Coast honky tonk motif is more tongue-in-cheek than reality. The building is clean and brightly colored. The staff does a tremendous job considering the amount of business.
The menu is small at Big Star. There are limited vegetarian options that include poblano tacos, guacamole, pickled onions, pickled chiles and a house Southwestern salad.
The guacamole was very good. It was garnished with ribbons of radish and served with thick, crunchy tortilla chips.
The poblano tacos were outstanding. The sweet, smoky flavor of poblano was contrasted nicely by the addition of queso freir, which is a white cheese made for pan frying, as well as Mexican crema and oregano. It was excellent, albeit a bit expensive ($3 per taco). It is served with a green sauce and a red sauce, which add additional flavors to the dish.
Going along with the restaurant concept, cocktails and drink specials revolve around whiskey. There is also a substantial selection of beer.
While the experience at Big Star is enjoyable, it might be worth waiting a few months for the hype to die down before visiting. Those who just can't wait might also benefit from the convenience of the take-out window.