Roka Akor

By Anthony Todd

Japanese-style grilling was hot last year, and Roka Akor, one of the best of 2011’s crop of robata restaurants, proved to be no mere flash in the pan. In view of an angular dining room full of business types and stylish River North clientele, chefs here play with fire at the huge robata grill, which is fueled with Japanese Binchotan charcoal sticks that look like elementary school instruments. They’re not just for show, though: Slow-burning charcoal means lower temperatures, longer cooking times, and maximum flavor, as the grilled shishito peppers—the fiery equivalent to the now-standard edamame—demonstrate. Same goes for the burnt tomato salad with wasabi, and the 12-ounce prime beef filet with chili ginger sauce. Don’t let non-meat-eating friends talk you out of this; instead, bring them along. While robata is the star attraction, Roka Akor is also a solid spot for sushi.

sweet seats

This hotspot can get a bit loud and crowded, so if you’re looking for an intimate dinner, consider sitting in the lounge by the front windows. Oenophiles might consider sitting near the glass-enclosed wall that displays the restaurant’s 75 sake options.

chew on this

In addition to grilled meats and acclaimed sushi, Roka Akor also boasts a huge wine selection and the largest sake collection in the Midwest. Ignore the cocktails and head straight for the sakes, even if you’re a newbie. Ask your servers for suggestions, and be prepared to move away from cheap, generic hot sake. Definitely sample some shochu, too—a Japanese spirit distilled from rice or sweet potatoes that’s quite a bit stronger than sake.


lunch: Mon–Fri 11:30 AM–2:30 PM
dinner: Sun–Wed 5 PM–11 PM; Thu–Sat 5 PM–12 midnight
lounge: Sun–Wed 5 PM–1 AM; Thu–Fri 5 PM–2 AM;
Sat 5 PM–3 AM

price range

$4.50 (miso soup) to $48 (12 oz prime filet)