Walking into Urban Belly after you’ve checked out its website is kind of like that infamous ’90s PSA, that one that went “This is your brain, and this is your brain on drugs”—if, by some miracle the ad’s meltdown resulted in a runny, fried egg, a side of diner-quality buttered toast, and a rasher of maple-glazed bacon. “This is your brain on breakfast” might be more like it.
A friend and I made the trip to Logan Square with fairly high expectations based on the restaurant’s site. Upon seeing its strip-mall setting, we thought at first we’d been deceived; but then, dishes like the chorizo-fried rice left us drawing out our stay and ordering round after round of plates. (And it ain’t tapas style.) I don’t mean to sound like I don’t love a good hole-in-the wall space. I do. Quite a bit actually. You don’t want to get me started on Doughnut Vault, which is literally a hole in the wall. At Urban Belly, though, we found ourselves overdressed. The crisp, modern website doesn’t just imply an elegant atmosphere—it outright sells it. Its description of “The Space”: Salvaged wooden planks from old Indonesian ships create a point of interest in the minimalist dining room. Custom-made Chinese Elmwood tables, stools, and benches from Golden Triangle help foster a sense of community among diners. And you thought I was the snoot! Those pretenses are worsened by the fact that the food’s just too satisfying on its own for that fluffed-up garbage. I mentioned the chorizo-fried rice. Seasoned with curry, spotted with egg (and not the rubbery bits from your local take-out place) and topped with Spanish pork sausage, the dish stands out from standard Asian fare. And then there’s the lamb and brandy dumplings, which arrived in moist, translucent wrappers. There’s not much more to say. It has lamb and brandy.
Finally, I know how equally firm yet tender Padma, Gail, and Tom expect their rice. If I can ever cook rice that perfectly and don’t find the accomplishment sufficiently rewarding, then I’d like to treat myself to an IV of Urban Belly’s udon noodle’s sweet chili-lime broth.
So let’s be honest: Urban Belly’s sensational, communal dining is overhyped. Its space is no more impressive than Panera in a grey motif, and I’m calling fraudulence on its website. But if you don’t venture beyond Evanston and its disproportionate number of Asian, Asian-fusion and noodle joints for the sole purpose of heading to Urban Belly, you’ll be living under the complacent and naïve guise that Cozy Noodle is all you need.
Address: 3053 North California Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618