Chicago has its share, albeit small share, of Oaxacan restaurants, but when Mezcalina opens in the next couple of weeks, it will take the idea of food from the Mexican state up a level. And it's doing so with the help of celebrated Mexican chef Manuel Bañuelos, who comes here from La Frambuesa at the Gran Casa Sayula Hotel outside of Guadalajara.
Mezcalina will open near Eggy's in the Lakeshore East development near Millennium Park officially on Sept. 15, but will be in soft opening starting on Aug. 25. The restaurant will focus on the cuisine of Oaxaca, including chapulines, a high-protein, nutty-tasting grasshopper delicacy often served in tacos.
Bañuelos said they will source almost all ingredients locally and directly from producers, which will keep costs down with entrees coming in under $20. They'll also have memelitas, little corn tortillas made from blue corn served with queso fresco, refried beans, hoja santa and avocado leaves. The menu will also have an hoja santo-wrapped fish and a focus on four different mole dishes, including negro, rojo, coloradito, tlayuda (refried beans, quesillo and asiento: pork lard with ground up chicharones).
"Everything is going to be very traditional," Bañuelos said. "I'll have a menu with some fusion things, but the main menu will be a very traditional way to prepare Oaxacan food."
As the name suggests, Mezcalina, which will seat 65 inside and about 30 on a patio, will also have about 70 different types of mezcal, 50 types of tequila and fresh fruit cocktails. The mezcal will also be incorporated into some dishes like the tres leches dessert.
Mezcalina will also share space with Black Coffee Gallery, a 17-unit coffee shop chain in Mexico owned by the same people; the cafe will utilize Oaxacan beans. Additionally, the restaurant will serve as a gallery with about 20 original pieces from renowned Oaxacan artists displayed throughout the restaurant.
This is the first project outside Mexico for this team and it's excited to get things up and running. "Chicago is one of the biggest culinary capitals in the states and it is a good opportunity," Bañuelos said. "It's a concept we've been working on a lot. It'll be new projections of different types of Mexican food."