Chef Daniel Espinoza was busy last week in the South Loop as he trained the opening staff at Lobo Rey, the new Mexican restaurant from the ownership of The Scout — the sports bar at the corner of Wabash and 13th Street. Lobo Rey, 1307 S. Wabash Ave., should open as early as next week. It’s a versatile space serving to-go tacos on Bears’ game days, and showcasing culinary theater from Espinoza as he prepares antojitos in front of customers seated at a flattop table-grills. They’ll also sling churros and other breads baked by Jhoana Ruiz, Espinoza’s wife.
“There won’t be any volcanoes with onion rings,” Espinoza said, referring to the antics customers witness at Benihana, which coincidentally just opened a downtown location.
Espinoza was reluctant to embrace the flattop, but he’s been thinking about which Mexican dishes would translate to fun tabletop options. Tamales verde could be one of those candidates. Al pastor tacos may be another. He’s been perfecting a recipe that he’s used at Holy Taco!, the Lincoln Park taqueria that he helped open. Espinoza, who competed on the last season of Top Chef Mexico, is an ex-Dinner Lab chef, but also credits his abuela in helping him develop his skills.
While Espinoza loves to show off his cooking techniques, he knows that Solider Field is close by and that he’ll have to cater to many event-goers who are in a rush to get to their seats. He’s glad to oblige, thinking of inventive ways to serve diners. One item that he’s proud is a Mexican-style cheeseboard. The French and Spanish don’t have a patent on cheese. The board will feature a fondue inspired by his time at Mexique with his mentor, Carlos Gaytan, in West Town. Instead of gorgonzola, they will do a huitlacohe fondue. The board also comes with Ruiz’s bread and a cactus salad. Diners should also look for enmoladas, that have a “chicken skin granola.” The tortillas be made on a tortilla press gifted by Espinoza’s grandmother. The masa will come from a Humboldt Park artisan.
Espinoza has high standards, and has been learning from a variety of sources. Holy Taco! brought him in contact from the owner of Millie’s Supper Club and Prost in Lincoln Park. He was introduced to his new bosses, Chris Bravos and Jeff Wolff, from Cory Morris, the chef at Ronero in the West Loop. Espinosa’s plans to open Anomar may have faltered, but he’s building momentum: “My main goal is to do this the right way,” he said.
Lobo Rey, which means “wolf king” in Spanish, should open soon. Check back after Labor Day for more information.