Next year, the owners of Cumin — one of Chicago’s more popular South Asian restaurants — are planning to open a new two-story location in Lakeview. The new restaurant would replace Mi Tierra, the former Mexican restaurant at 1039 W. Belmont Avenue that closed in 2017. Cumin’s owners, brothers Sanjeev and Rajesh Karmacharya, describe the new restaurant as a way they can celebrate Cumin’s 10-year anniversary which will be in 2020.
The restaurant’s not moving, as it will be business as usual in Wicker Park. Cumin features Nepalese food, a cuisine more Americans are becoming familiarized. Nepalese dumplings, momos, are served side-by-side with Indian items at the original location. Cumin continues to offer buffets, but the restaurant’s menu is what earned a regular place on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list. An alert sent to local residents about the restaurant proposal mistakingly described Cumin as a Michelin star recipient. The stars are reserved for more fine dining restaurants, Bib Gourmands are for more value-minded spots.
The brothers are waiting for approvals and they’ve been patient. They were going to move into the Mi Tierra property about a year and a half ago. But upon further inspection, the parties involved decided to tear down the former restaurant and build something new. Cumin will be part of a new four-floor building with three apartments.
The ground-floor dining room will have a bar, lounge with fireplace, and space for more than 100 seats. While there’s no room for patio seating, Sanjeev Karmacharya is hopeful for some retractable window feature to give diners a larger breeze. The second floor will give Cumin space for private events. Many of Chicago’s South Asians look to the suburbs to hold weddings and other functions. This gives the community a venue to stay in the city. When the space isn’t rented out, the Karmacharyas are hopeful to hold special events like tasting menu dinners. This would give them a chance to experiment without altering the formula that’s worked for them for almost a decade. The second floor will be about the size of the main dining room at the original restaurant.
Extra kitchen space will give them a chance to try new items, give customers more vegetarian options, and just be more creative. The space will also come in handy at the bar. The bar in Wicker Park is cramped. It serves as mainly wine storage. But in Lakeview, Cumin will have more space to serve fancier drinks. The Karmacharyas admitted that 10 years ago the bar program wasn’t a priority. Making sure customers were educated about Nepalese and Indian food without alienating core immigrant customers — the ones with a challenging perspective on alcohol in the Western world — were more important to them. They also had to get comfortable in Wicker Park. They were on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue surrounded by furniture stores, but without many customers in the way of foot traffic. Sanjeev Karmacharya recalls how he spent part of the restaurant’s first day of business by the window looking around thinking “what the hell did I get into?”
But Cumin has endured. The new location will give them the resources to revise their menus more. They teased a new item, a momo dish based on the classic Nepalese item, chicken chilli. It’s served with stir-fried green peppers and onions and spiced with ginger, cumin, and oil. Instead of the customary chicken, it’s served with a fried momo.
Next year should be a party for fans of Cumin to celebrate its 10th birthday. Stay tuned for more info as the owners go through the approval process. Look for a 2020 late spring or early fall opening next year, subject to the city’s whims.