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A ‘Top Chef’-Fueled Mexican Party Restaurant Approaches

The Siena Tavern crew and Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe aim to open Barrio in July

Ashok Selvam
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Barrio, the new River North restaurant and bar from the owners of DineAmic Group (Bar Siena, Public House) that features food from Top Chef and Chopped alum Katsuji Tanabe is coming along. Tanabe described his menu as Mexican with a touch of Japanese flavors. It’s the kind of food he grew up with as his Japanese father would add soy sauce to his Mexican mother’s comforting fideo seco.

“I thought everyone put soy sauce in their fideo seco growing up,” Tanabe said.

Staff is going through training inside the former BlackFinn AmeriPub, 65 W. Kinzie St., and one of the first things management is stressing to employees is that the restaurant isn’t fusion. It’s not creating new dishes, it’s accenting existing ones. DineAmic’s Lucas Stoioff said he feels that Mexican cuisine is ideal for the large groups which make up much of River North’s clientele.

The Midwest is a different market for Tanabe. Not only does he feel that Midwestern diners are more open to try different foods compared to LA and New York, but he’s fond of the local beef and is eager to implement the Midwest’s best into his dishes.

Tanabe is enthused to work with DineAmic, knowing that nightlife is a key component to their establishments. He pointed to how detail oriented they are, showing how the wall coverings have a touch of gold that make a cool little difference. There’s even a disco ball in the women’s bathroom and a DJ booth behind the U-shaped bar with a bugle-like light fixture. And DineAmic is not only going big with Barrio, but Siena Tavern, on the same block of Kinzie Street as Barrio, will get a remodel this winter as well, Stoioff said. They’ll add some of the comfy bar booths already installed at Barrio.

“Our bar scene—we’re aiming to have (Barrio) be very much like Siena Tavern,” Stoioff said. “Loungier, higher-energy music toward the later portion of the night.”

The group’s focus on large parties carries over to three over-sized booths that look like rotating Tilt-A-Wheel cars. A back set of tables on the east side of the restaurant will be curtained off for a semi-private experience like an “private opera box.” There’s also a separate private dining room with room for 10. The space gives off a secret den-like vibe with Latin American-inspired art.

Ashok Selvam

Rekhson and Stoioff are particular excited about their solution to hang lights. Several metal beams pop through the center of the bar (“Like rays of sunshine,” Stoioff said). The beams also appear to pop through the windows that overlook the patio on Clark Street.

Barrio should open next month, so come back in the coming weeks for more details.

Blackfinn Ameripub

65 W Kinzie St, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 836-0290 Visit Website