José Andrés, the famed Spanish chef and activist, plans to open a restaurant in Chicago next year. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, recognized for his charity work in feeding victims of natural disasters, is bringing his tapas restaurant, Jaleo, to River North.
Andrés isn’t in town for the announcement. He’s busy. Last week, Andrés — one of the most beloved figures in America’s restaurant industry — arrived in the Bahamas to help victims of Hurricane Dorian.
A spokesperson for Andrés and his partners at ThinkFoodGroup said the chef has been looking to open in Chicago for years. Jaleo will replace Naha, the Michelin-starred icon which closed in March 2018 after 18 years at 500 N. Clark Street. Andrés’s group is gearing for a mid-2020 opening.
Jaleo was Andrés’s first restaurant and he’s since opened four more locations. It was a trailblazer for Americans unfamiliar with paella and other tapas items. The first opened in 1993 in Washington, D.C. There are also locations in Bethesda, Maryland; Arlington, Virginia; Las Vegas; and at Walt Disney World in Florida. A Dubai location is planned for mid-2020. Jaleo has been a regular on Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list since the travel guide began ranking D.C. restaurants in 2016. The location inside the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas hotel features another restaurant inside, a fine dining spot with a 20-course tasting menu called é by José Andrés. It’s one of the toughest tables in town.
A spokesperson said each location is tailored to its city. Details for how Chicago’s 10,000-square-foot space would be different haven’t been finalized. A spokesperson added that Andrés is interested in opening more than one restaurant in Chicago. But right now his focus is on Jaleo, which means “revelry” in Spanish.
Andrés has a following in Chicago. He was in town in May to accept the James Beard Foundation Award for Humanitarian of the Year. Next Restaurant — the rotating concept in Fulton Market from Alinea Group — is running a “Best of José Andrés” menu through January. The restaurant hopes the menu will raise $250,000 for Andrés’s charity, World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that’s helping victims of Hurricane Dorian after aiding Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Andrés has made headlines with his history of taking President Trump to task on topics including his response to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and immigration policy. Andrés and Trump settled a legal dispute in 2017 after Andrés pulled out of a deal to open a restaurant inside the Trump International Tower in Washington D.C. Based on that, the chef and Chicago could be a good match. Although Trump has his own tower in Chicago, many locals have voiced their opposition to the president. Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump have also made their own news in calling the city to task when it comes to gun violence. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and current Mayor Lori Lightfoot have disagreed with the Trumps’ assessments.
Diners already have plenty of options in River North. The person who may know the most about the neighborhood’s restaurants is Rich Melman, co-founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Lettuce is the city’s largest restaurant group. Melman, who’s friends with Andrés, said Jaleo will be a welcome addition to River North. He’s of the philosophy that when one restaurant does well, the entire neighborhood does well. He said that his other River North restaurants haven’t seen a dip in business since his latest, Pizzeria Portofino, opened in August. Melman is excited for Andrés.
“He’s quite creative with a lot of energy,” Melman said. “He’s a sweet guy, I like him; we’re pals. I think people will be very accepting of what he does.”
Chicagoans have something big to look forward to next year as one of America’s most acclaimed chefs is heading to the Midwest. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.