A new regional Mexican restaurant is underway in Lincoln Park in the former White Oak Tavern & Inn space. A banner outside announces its new tenant: Old Pueblo Cantina, from Ballyhoo Hospitality (Coda di Volpe, Gemini, Walton Street), at 1200 W. Webster Avenue. The restaurant, which will focus on the Northern Mexican state of Sonora that borders Arizona, is slated to open this summer. Representatives confirmed the pending opening by email.
Ballyhoo co-founder Ryan O’Donnell has long hoped to open a restaurant starring Sonoran cuisine having spent a decade in Arizona in his youth, according to a news release. Unlike Mexicans in other parts of the country, Sonorans prefer flour tortillas to corn because wheat grows well in the region’s arid climate. Old Pueblo Cantina staff will make their flour tortillas in-house. Chefs will cook over mesquite wood on an open-flame, a classic Sonoran technique.
The menu will also feature five types of “Sonoran quesadillas,” topped with proteins like carne seca, or dried beef, and chorizo, as well as Mexican cheeses. Diners can also expect meat-focused dishes like a grilled, marinated carne asada and “mole-accented” short ribs, as well as a chimichanga (chicken tinga, cantina beef, carne asada, Arabe pork, or red chile beef with vegetables). Enchiladas, tacos, and made-to-order guacamole will also be available, and there will be a kids menu.
The drink list takes a decidedly less traditional approach, offering creative margarita options like the “Mockingbird” (watermelon, basil, jalapeño) and “La Bandera” (hibiscus, lavender, mint), and can be purchased by the glass or pitcher. Owners are implementing a “no bar gun policy,” which translates to mixers like Topo Chico and Mexican Coke, also offered by the bottle. The menu also includes draft and bottled Mexican beers, as well as Spanish and South American wines. Staff will concoct seasonal agua fresca options for bartenders to use in cocktails, and are reportedly working on a mezcal Old Fashioned with mole negro instead of bitters.
The 120-seat restaurant designed by in-house director of hospitality Brianne Carden will feature a rustic feel with wood, exposed brick, and leather, as well as design details imported from Mexico. Owners hope that hand-painted tiles, antique mirrors in mesquite wood frames, and a copper-topped bar will evoke the festive feel of the cantinas O’Donnell frequented in Arizona. Customers will also be able to soak up the sun (while it lasts) from a wrap-around outdoor patio.
O’Donnell and wife Anna opened Gemini (formerly Gemini Bistro) nearly a decade ago on North Lincoln Avenue, and launched Southern Italian spot Coda di Volpe on the Southport Corridor in 2016. The pair established Gold Coast bistro Walton Street Kitchen and Bar and downstairs drinking den Walton Street Lounge in September 2018.
Owner John Manilow shuttered the 25-year-old White Oak Tavern & Inn in February, and said at the time that he wanted to pursue other interests. He also cited changes in the neighborhood, most notably a then-new Amazon pickup location nearby. He is the brother of Check, Please! creator David Manilow, and still operates restaurant John’s Place in Roscoe Village.
Stay tuned for more news as Old Pueblo Cantina progresses.