Chicago is no stranger to new Mexican restaurants, and on Wednesday Diana Dávila will open Mi Tocaya Antojeria in Logan Square at 2800 W. Logan Blvd. Dávila, an experienced and acclaimed chef—most recently at the short-lived Cantina 1910 in Andersonville—knows that the genre is crowded thanks in part to the success of Rick Bayless. But as the first-generation Mexican and a woman, she’s confident that her unique experiences will offer diners something different.
“Not that I’m being a hater—but kind of, sort of—but I think that’s what makes this place special, too.” Dávila said, explaining the gender-driven divisions of labor that have existed in many cultures, including in Mexico.
Many men—not all—aren’t expected to cook and don’t have a lot of kitchen experience in Mexican households. Dávila realized she’s painting with broad strokes, but said that shows up when they migrate to American kitchens when a chef asks them to cook Mexican food.
“You think these guys know how to make mole? !@$% no!” Dávila said. “They’re kind of learning as they go, learning from their professional experience from whatever chef they’re working with. You kind of see that in Rick Bayless’ camp—whoever works with him learns to cook exactly like him because that’s where they learn how to cook Mexican.”
The Mi Tocaya menu is succinct and diverges from the Bayless tree. The fideo secos, a type of Mexican noodle soup, is meant to evoke childhood memories. It’s a dark chili broth with lots of onions, black pepper, chicken livers, chicken gizzards, and dried shrimp. Dávila will use a goat stock and serve that with burned tortillas. The secret ingredient might be cricket powder.
“It has a lot of earthiness,” Dávila said. “That’s what fascinates me about pre-Hispanic food, that they would use a lot of insects.”
Not everything is like that on the menu. For those not as adventurous, there’s more familiar items, like a steak burrito: “Hopefully they trust you after the al pastor taco,” Dávila said with a touch of mad scientist in her voice. “Then you can give them anything you want!”
Family and community make up Mi Tocaya’s bedrock. The recipes are approved by Dávila’s father and mother. Her husband and father are helping with construction. In the basement, Dávila has put down a mat for her children to hang out downstairs while their mom prepares to open a restaurant. Dávila has realized she has become like her mentors, like her mother and aunt. She’s now a Mexican food-making mother.
“Mexican food is so vast, and it’s one of those things where nobody wants to learn their mother’s dish because then she’s not going to make it for you anymore.,” Dávila said.
The cuisine is labor-intensive with many ingredients. That’s one of the reasons Dávila isn’t focusing on a cocktail program. She’s outsourced that responsibility to Matt Frederick of the EZ Inn, the Ukrainian Village dive bar, and they’ll serve kegged cocktails including a sparkling margarita. They’ll have shots and pitchers, too.
Dávila has enlisted her old pastry chef, Andrew Pingul from Cantina 1910, for desserts. One of them is a trés leches cake meant to emulate the offering from Kristoffer's Cafe & Bakery in Pilsen.
Dávila’s father has taken to the caldo de res, one of the two larger dishes, along with the lamb barbacoa. The soup, made with short rib, bone marrow, and tongue.
“I’m not somebody that says ‘everybody loves tacos, let’s make a Mexican restaurant and put Sriracha on a !@#in’ taco,’” Dávila said. “I’m not Federales, you know what I mean? I’m not saying it is bad. I’m saying that it’s different.”
It’s safe to say visitors won’t find a giant green piñata at Mi Tocaya for St. Patrick’s Day, either. Check out a draft of Dávila’s full menu below, There will be some tweaks before opening.