Back in January, Naansense chefs Hiran Patel and Sahil Singh shared their idea for a new pop-up featuring modern Indian food such as chorizo dosas and fried chicken. They never launched the pop-up for a myriad of reasons, but the idea has since evolved into a new West Loop restaurant that should open in early June. Tikkawala will feature charcoal-grilled kebobs, bowls, rolls, and more at 1258 W. Jackson Boulevard.
The restaurant will fuse Indian flavors with ingredients not usually found in Indian food like chorizo, hen of the woods mushrooms, and — yes — beef. It’ll be casual with counter service, 24 seats and a patio. There’s a growing South Asian community in the area, and the idea of a tiffin service appealed to business partner Darshan Desai who lives upstairs in the same building as the upcoming restaurant. Tiffins are the round metal containers found in India and other countries to store food. Busy families and workers abroad have food delivered to their home or offices in these stacked tiffins which are widely popular. Desai saw a niche needing to be filled in his neighborhood, which is near Whitney M. Young Magnet High School.
He discussed the idea and the space with Patel and Singh, who continue to be involved at Naansense, their fast-casual Indian restaurant with locations in the Loop and West Loop. Patel still yearned to have a space to cook more elaborate food. Patel and Singh know each other from their time at Veerasway, a modern Indian restaurant on Randolph Street that closed in 2011. The two soon bonded after “the first time me and this fool went in back and smoked a cigarette,” Patel said of Singh. They both wanted to show Chicago that Indian food could be lighter and didn’t have to be full of tamarind and mint.
So when Desai showed Patel the space with the thought of doing a tiffin service, he saw Patel’s eyes light up when he saw the 12-foot hood. They discussed the idea of doing more than tiffins. Desai eventually gave them the green light after Alinea chef Grant Achatz’s book inspired him: “Let’s go for it,” Desai told Patel. “Don’t be scared.”
The BYO restaurant will be part Japanese izakaya, where customers can order kebobs and other skewers individually. It’ll also have Indian fried chicken sandwiches for lunch. Patel and Singh want to cater to high school students and neighbors. It’ll have plenty of vegan options (a grilled bok choy looks promising), too. Traditional Indian items like naan and saag paneer, will also be offered, but with twists: “It won’t just be a big green flip of mess,” Patel said.
Singh compared the concept to Bill Kim’s Belly Shack, the casual Korean/Puerto Rican restaurant that closed in Bucktown. Singh spent time at Roister’s kitchen and was inspired by its fried chicken sandwich, so expect to see some borrowed techniques at Tikkawala.
Dinner will offer more composed dishes with the same casual vibe. Patel mentioned char-grilled oysters. They’ll also eventually offer brunch. The trio hope to offer special dinners from time to time where they can really express themselves which is keeping the pop-up concept alive. They’re also planning a steak tikka dish.
It’s an interesting time for Indian food in Chicago. The duo from Bombay Breakdown is working on a restaurant in Logan Square. Wazwan Supper Club just launched from chef Zubair Mohajir. His experience includes time at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. Singh compared Indian food to Chinese, as it took a while for many Americans to understand there was more to the cuisine than chop suey and that the genre could offer fine dining. That’s a topic David Chang’s Netflix show Ugly Delicious debates.
“People get accustomed to a certain type of cuisine,” Singh said. “It took decades, but now we have [Imperial] Lamian and others.”
Construction continues inside the restaurant site. Come back for details on the opening date and rotating menu in the coming weeks.