There’s a lot of star power behind Tortazo, the new Mexican restaurant opening Wednesday inside the Willis Tower. It’s a partnership between Chicago chef Rick Bayless and Jollibee, the Filipino fast-food chain. They intend to open many locations across the country, building on the success Bayless has built with Tortas Frontera — an oasis for travelers flying through O’Hare International Airport.
Tortazo is part of a massive renovation inside Chicago’s tallest building, one that includes UrbanSpace food hall, other restaurants, and co-working spaces meant to breathe new life into a touristy area that many feel has become stale. The project, called Catalog — a tribute to Sears’s old mail-order Wish Book — is also meant to attract downtown office workers. The space is near the Jackson Boulevard entrance on the tower’s main level. Eventually, Tortazo will be joined by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’s Japanese restaurant, Sushi-San.
Bayless sees himself as an ambassador of Mexican food culture. Topolobampo in River North is a Michelin-starred restaurant, and Bayless — along with daughter Lanie Bayless — last year opened a speakeasy-style bar. His TV show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, has become a PBS classic. Meanwhile, Jollibee has expanded globally with fried chicken and its signature sweet spaghetti. The optics for Tortazo may beget conversation; a Filipino multinational company and a white guy from Oklahoma are opening a chain of Mexican restaurants. Regardless, both Bayless and Jollibee have legions of loyal fans.
Customers will find tortas, bowls, soups, and salads inside a colorful space. There’s also a full bar. A beer should go well with the loaded guacamole. It’s not reinventing the wheel for those familiar with Bayless’s fast-casual entries, but it will still be new to some.
Both Jollibee and Bayless are no strangers to big business. Jollibee opened its first Chicago restaurant in 2016, a precursor to North America expansion. Later that year, Bayless sold his grocery snack line to ConAgra. Now they’re combining their business savvy to bring their unique brand of Mexican food across America. For Willis Tower, they’ll see tourists standing in the long line to get to the Skydeck feeling a little better while biting into a crispy chicken milanesa torta. Now, there’s a cultural exchange.
There’s room for 77 people inside and a dedicated area to pick up to-go orders. Customers will be able to order online. As of now, there’s no app, but that could change. Tortazo is about two heavyweights combining their strengths with designs on expansion. Check out the first location starting Wednesday.
Tortazo, inside the Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker Drive, open 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.