Former Carnivale chef Rodolfo Cuadros is close to opening Amaru — his first restaurant — in Wicker Park. The new Pan Latin restaurant should open next week inside the space that housed Lokal for a decade at 1904 W. North Avenue. Cuadros said he’s hoping to welcome the public on Friday, July 12.
Cuadros did much of the renovation himself. He built a communal table that stands in front of the space’s front window which rolls up like a garage door. Cuadros said he enjoys working with his hands. His mother was a seamstress and passed that talent along to her son.
There’s a U-shaped dark wooden bar with eight taps and a long banquette along the wall behind the bar. Diners can get a peek at the action in a few counter seats along the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant.
The space is packed with tributes to the countries that inspired the restaurant. Cuadros has family in Colombia and they helped select custom-made plates and cups. Other touches include a depiction of Saramama or Panchamama, a fertility goddess who aids crops and the harvest. It’s supposed to be a cross between Latin American and Chicago funk, Cuadros said.
Dishes include a ceviche of the day, a yuca gnocchi, and pollo al carbon. The latter is marinated for the three days. Central and South American restaurants are trendy in Chicago this spring, including Stephanie Izard’s Cabra atop the Hoxton Hotel in Fulton Market. Amaru isn’t a rooftop restaurant like Izard’s. Being a smaller operation is helpful, as the kitchen can concentrate on little touches. For example, ceviche will use fresh lime juice that’s squeezed per order instead of using juice that was harvested early in the morning.
The 2016 presidential election was a turning point for Cuadros. The result had he and his wife thinking about if America was welcoming to their family of four as President Donald Trump’s remarks about Latinos during his campaign and after hurt them. They thought about leaving the country. Instead they remained and decided to open a restaurant.
“We are not from Chicago,” Cuadros said. “But we fell in love with Chicago.”
Take a tour of the space in the photographs below. Amaru should debut in Wicker Park late next week.