Our server placed the dish of kimchi on our table, and I took a deep breath. Could I do it? Could I stomach a bite?
My husband and I were dining at bellyQ for the first time last week, and I’ll admit, it was a little out of my comfort zone. While we certainly enjoy Chicago’s incredible and diverse food scene, Korean barbecue is a cuisine we were unfamiliar with.
Forks up and fingers crossed, we dug into together—and to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. It was actually kind of good. And that was just the beginning, for the dishes and service that followed both surprised and delighted us both.
Here’s the run-down on bellyQ and why it would make an excellent venue for your next event.
Seoul-born chef Bill Kim and his excellent team serve creative riffs on Korean food with an emphasis on approachability. Case in point: The kimchi we tried, which was not the rotten-cabbage-buried-in-the-ground variety. This is great news for events, as your attendee base will undoubtedly have a range of tastes, with some much less adventurous than others. If you’re trying kimchi for the first time (like I was), says events director Loren Hall, you don’t want it to be a bad experience—and at bellyQ, it won’t be.
Attendees might even find a new favorite here. Event menu must-haves include the Korean fried chicken (topped with crushed garlic peanuts) and lemongrass salmon—possibly the best salmon I’ve ever tasted. As a side, smashed sweet potatoes that taste like candy will be the talk of your event. For dessert, the hands-down favorite is the mini PB&J sundae: silky-smooth coconut soft serve layered with huckleberry jelly and a few dollops of housemade crispy peanut butter.
Combined with Kim’s second restaurant, Urbanbelly, in the same space, the natural-light-filled bellyQ accommodates buyouts for up to 225 guests seated or up to around 350 for a reception. (Each restaurant can also be rented separately.) The Private Chef’s Quarters room in bellyQ seats up to 40 guests or holds 90 for a reception; sliding wooden doors make it feel completely closed off from the rest of the restaurant (if you want it to), and it also has built-in entertainment: A karaoke machine. On the West side of the building, there’s also a patio that can hold an additional 30 or 40 guests with the backdrop of a cool custom mural by artist Hebru Brantley.
The unique history of the building plays into its lively atmosphere—the 10,000-square-foot space was once a pickle factory and features a 22-foot lofted ceiling. Décor is Asian-inspired, with custom Chinese Elmwood finishes and a living wall (which makes for a perfect photo backdrop). Kim’s wife also added movement to the space with inspiration from her native Puerto Rico, like a floating mural of galloping horses on the moveable doors that separate the two restaurants, if desired. Upon request, chef Bill Kim, who recently released a cookbook, can be on hand for cooking demonstrations or book signings. Above the bar, two large TV screens can also be customized with corporate messaging or videos.