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Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios Plans to Open a Mexican Restaurant in Chicago

The suburban Chicago native previously owned a West Loop chili bar

Chris Chelios at the Blackhawks fan convention on Friday.
Chicago Blackhawks/Facebook

Chicago features several Mexican restaurants with chefs like Rick Bayless, Diana Dávila, Dan Salls, and Anselmo Ramirez creating some of the most eclectic dishes in the country. Now the city is poised to welcome a new unlikely entry to the city’s vivacious scene. Former NHL defenseman Chris Chelios teased fans at the Blackhawks fan convention over the weekend that he planned to open Cheli’s Cantina. The restaurant business isn’t new to Chelios who once operated Cheli’s Chili Bar in the West Loop before the Blackhawks shipped him off to Detroit in 1999. He still runs a few chili bars in Michigan.

Chelios is a Hockey Hall of Famer who won three Stanley Cup championships with the rival Red Wings after spending 10 standout years in Chicago from 1990 to 1999. He’s also a suburban Chicago native. He didn’t reveal a location for the restaurant or many details when he spoke with media on Friday.

“I love Mexican food now,” he said, according to the Tribune.

Chicago standards for food have risen since Chelios’ chili bar was open. The city’s caliber of Mexican food is also high. Earlier this month, PBS and Eater aired an episode of the new series No Passport Required. Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson chatted with many of Chicago’s Mexican-American chefs to explore the city’s cuisine. The competitive scene also leads to strong opinions. Residents in Pilsen, one of the city’s hubs for Mexican culture, have already begun protesting a planned Taco Bell in the neighborhood. They don’t want their community sullied with an inauthentic take on their food. To them it feels like Mexican culture has been commodified.

Not all of the city hates Taco Bell. The announced shutter of a location near Wrigley Field was met with sadness and a call to protest by some North Siders. Of course, pockets of the North Side have been labeled “Little Michigan” by transplants from the Mitten who fled their state for the allure of the big city. One Detroit chef who spent time in Chicago even claimed that there are just as many Michiganders in Chicago than native Chicagoans. These kinds of Michiganders tend to stay in their Lincoln Park/Lakeview flocks and haven’t visited other parts of the city. Say Pilsen, for example.

And that’s where Chelios’ new restaurant could come in, to satiate transplants living in Chicago. Detroit’s a fine city with a wonderful food culture. Chicago would be lucky to welcome a location of the Motor City’s Buddy’s Pizza and its caramelized crusts topped with crispy pepperoni. But Detroit isn’t known for its Mexican food.

While Chelios embraced Detroit by casually shedding one team’s sweater for another, it’s going to take a bit more work to fit in with the numerous quality Mexican restaurants in Chicago. Cinnamon twists and Coronas with limes at the cantina won’t cut it.

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