The One Who Keeps the Book Chicago
How to Get Into Galit — and What to Order Once You’re There
Restaurants with a pricey tasting menu often conjure images of a hushed room with white tablecloths, a stuffy atmosphere, and an inflexible fixed menu. Galit, the Michelin-starred Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park, turns that notion on its head. Instead, chef and co-owner Zach Engel has created a four-course “choose your own adventure” tasting menu that highlights the flavors of the Levant, frrom fresh-out-of-the-oven, fluffy pita to an array of shareable mezze to grilled pastrami reminiscent of Texas barbecue. As a result, since opening in 2019, the restaurant has been consistently packed.
For our latest installment of The One Who Keeps The Book, we spoke to Galit’s co-owner and general manager Andrés Clavero to reveal ins and outs of scoring a great table, what to order, and more.
How many seats are at Galit?
Andrés Clavero: Total seats are about 110, and 95 are bookable for reservation. Some of them are walk-ins only and some are a waiting area only.
We have our communal table, which is an extension of the bar and that is only available for walk-ins. If someone is looking to do a la carte, we offer that Tuesday through Thursday at the communal table. So if you want a couple of bites and a glass of wine and you have an hour, the communal table is your spot.
How many covers do you do on an average night — and also your busiest nights?
Clavero: Average covers Tuesday through Thursday is 130 to 135, with Thursday being the busiest, and we can go up to 155 to 160. Friday is 165-170 and Saturday is 175. Have we hit 180? Yes. Do I love 180? No. We do up to 800 a week.
When do reservations drop?
Clavero: 60 days out and new reservations open up all the time. The back part of the restaurant — the wine room or our semi-private dining room, which has a view into our wine cellar — is reserved for events up to 24 guests (eight to 24). If no private parties are booked two weeks out, we open up those tables (there are 22 seats – four 4-tops and one 6-top). So anyone on the Resy Notify list gets notified. So join the Notify list. Something will open up.
How quickly do prime-time tables get snatched up?
Clavero: On Friday and Saturday, it’s pretty quick once they drop, usually within a few days. During the week, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. gets booked a couple of weeks out. Thursday is the new Friday now. Those get snagged pretty quickly. But if you’re willing to do a 5:30 or 8:45, those are usually open the week-of.
Are there certain days or times when there’s a better chance to score a prime-time reservation?
Clavero: Tuesday and Wednesday and anywhere between 48 and 24 hours because our confirmation texts go out two days in advance and then the Notify list starts going out. I can’t say how much I appreciate the Resy Notify list. Part of the good thing with the demand is that some people make a reservation and they don’t know if they’ll be able to go and two days before they’ll cancel and it opens up. So two or even the day before is a great time if you’re on the Resy Notify list.
What are the busiest nights?
Clavero: Friday or Saturday are the busiest nights cover-wise, but Tuesday, Thursday and Friday feel busier for the staff. Many other restaurants are closed on Tuesday, and here it’s almost like industry night. Getting those folks up here in Lincoln Park is a huge win for me.
How long is the usual Resy Notify list?
Clavero: On Tuesday and Wednesday it’s not long, like a couple dozen. Thursday it’s close to 100 people. Friday and Saturday I’ve seen it as high as six times what we can serve. So if we seat 175 people, I’ve seen the Notify list over 1,000, especially post-Michelin announcements. That said, things cancel and open up all the time. Stay posted and you will get in.
How long is the waitlist for walk-ins?
Clavero: There’s only a waitlist on the weekends, but I am hoping this changes that. And then it’s only 20 to 30 minutes and that’s based on pacing of when we seat other tables to keep it a smooth night and not to crush service.
What’s the best time for a walk-in to come by to get seated promptly?
Clavero: I think 5 p.m., right when we open. And if not, we’ll tell you when to come back. We’ll reach out via text or you can wait at the bar.
Any do’s and don’ts for guests trying to get in?
Clavero: Using Resy Notify is a do. Every day you might potentially want to come in, join the Notify list, download the Resy app and allow notifications. Resy puts out an email and a banner notification then comes down on your phone. So if you have notifications on, you can usually book instantly. Don’t use Instagram or Facebook messages, or call the day off and ask for a 7 o’clock. People think a new table will appear the day-of. A good ‘do’ is if you have somewhere to go and if your dining experience is only 1.5 hours, then do call us. That gives us flexibility.
If I’m flying solo, how likely is it for me to pull up to the communal table (without a reservation) and order a glass of wine, hummus, and some salatim?
Clavero: Tuesday through Thursday, it’s very likely. Unless I’m shorthanded or we’re closed for a private event, a solo diner is more likely than not to get a spot at the communal table, which has nine seats.
What would you say is the best seat in the house? Can someone request that specific table, or their favorite table?
Clavero: The kitchen counter, especially for two people. On Resy it lists kitchen counter or dining table. People can request that. In our semi-private dining room, three of the four tops are booths or banquettes. It’s nice and cozy back here. But I think the kitchen counter is the best seat in the house for two guests.
It’s my first time at Galit. What should I definitely order?
Clavero: The hummus and three of the salatim don’t really change – our pickles, labneh and ezme (Turkish peppers and tomatoes). The falafel, carrots and Iraqi kubbeh halab always stay and have been on since day one. If I can say for a restaurant that just turned four, those are classics. If there’s a party of two, choose at least one of these three. Our “mostly over coal” section, those are all new post-Covid. The turkey and pastrami will stay on. Those are pretty cool stories. We’ll change the turkey set, but the turkey is not coming off.
How often does Zach Engel change the menu?
Clavero: Pretty often. We’re not only hyper-seasonal, but we’re also hyper-local. We source from local farms when we can. Spring is hitting pretty quickly and there’s going to be a lot of new dishes for the front of house to learn in a few weeks. Every month something on the menu changes. Between May and October, every few weeks there’s something new.
Anything interesting going on, drinks-wise?
Clavero: We started this wine journey and it’s because people have options with every course. I’m not saying there’s wine to pair with every dish, but it’s a journey of Zach’s time living in Israel and meeting with vendors and visiting wineries. It’s more like, ‘here are four of our favorite Middle Eastern wines that are by the glass and not available anywhere else.’ We started this in the middle of January. It’s $75 a person and I think it’s a no-brainer. These are fun wines and most of them did not have a big presence in Chicago — or even in America — until we opened. The Margalit is only offered here, and it’s the restaurant’s namesake. (Fun fact: Margalit is Engel’s oldest daughter’s name.) Wines from the Levant are brilliant in general.
Also, start with a cocktail. The ingredients are the same we use in our food. And if you’re not drinking alcohol, try gazoz – they’re our fizzy, fruity, and herby sodas. Imagine you’re walking outdoors in a market and you want something refreshing and seasonal. They’re all Middle Eastern-ingredient inspired, herbaceous and fruity and delicious. And finishing with tea is always great. We have a lot of custom blend teas from Rare Tea Cellar that are really cool.
Can you set the scene for prime time on a weekend? What’s going on at Galit and what’s the vibe like?
Clavero: Every single night is a dinner party. We start our pre-shift by saying: “Welcome to Friday night. It’s dinner party #1063.” I love the 8 o’clock hour – it’s busy, people are burning their hands lightly on the fresh pita. Some people have never eaten with their hands and they’re unfamiliar and then they’re unapologetically getting into it. There’s confusion, but excitement in their eyes. And there are no rules. I love seeing Midwesterners fight for the last bite.
Everything is very intentional and people are excited and see me or ask a server what’s the story of the place. There are photos throughout the restaurant taken by either Zach or me. There’s one of his apartment doors in Tel Aviv with graffiti on the door and another of an overhead shot of one of his favorite restaurants with food and wine on the table. There’s one of my family rolling grape leaves with ground beef and there’s four generations of my family. This is very meaningful food and to have you celebrate that with both of us, it’s emotional in many ways.
Ari Bendersky, a lifestyle journalist specializing in food, wine, spirits, and travel, has written for New York Times, WSJ magazine, Eater, Men’s Journal, Wine Enthusiast, Departures, RollingStone.com, and more. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.