A new restaurant in Lincoln Park wants Chicagoans to question what they know about the origins of Mexican food. Evette’s is set to open next week inside a small space near the Park West theater, 350 W. Armitage Avenue. They’ll serve al-pastor tacos, shawarma, and tabouleh. These items showcase the Lebanese influence on Mexican cuisine.
Evette’s refers to co-chef and co-owner Mitchell AbouJamra’s grandmother who was Lebanese. AbouJamra (DMK Group, Bistro 110, Sur La Table) is teaming up with Rafa Esparza, who last week unexpectedly closed Finom, a lauded coffee shop that served Hungarian food in Old Irving Park. Esparza also helms the kitchen at Dorian’s in Wicker Park.
AbouJamra was born in Michigan before moving to Arizona where he was exposed to a wider array of Mexican food closer to the country’s border. It was vastly different compared to his introduction to the cuisine which game via Taco Bell in the Mitten State.
His time in Arizona ignited research, and he began finding connections with Lebanon and Mexico, how influences like vertical spits and spices like cumin were interwoven. It evoked a a sense of family pride. American schoolchildren aren’t taught about these connections, so AbouJamra found himself “going down the rabbit hole of history” in discovering the culinary roots.
“It means more when it’s your own tacos,” Esparza says.
Diana Dávila, the chef of Mi Tocaya Antojeria, is happy to talk about pre-Hispanic Mexico and its food. That’s something she feels not enough Americans know about. Esparza says Spanish colonizers are given too much credit for its influences on Mexican cuisine. AbouJamra’s research is way to challenge that perception: “I think when you pull on the thread you start to find the real influences,” Esparza says.
Many of the restaurant’s family recipes have been passed down generations, says AbouJamra. But not all of the recipes are traditional. Diners will find dishes like a kofta-like meatball sub, a burger, and a lamb melt. The restaurant’s space is small. They’ll focus on carryout. It’s a former hot dog stand, and that can resonate with Chicagoans. AbouJamra wants to sort of serve his Lebanese-Mexican food through that Midwestern hot dog stand lens. It’s a casual and accessible way to try something new and to educate.
Taco arabe, another Lebanese-Mexican specialty, will also be available. The pork will be spinning on a vertical spit next to shawarma. Taco arabe haven’t caught on in Chicago, say in the same way as quesabirria (which Evette’s will also serve) has in recent months. AbouJamra says they didn’t even have gyros (also cooked on a spit, or trompo) in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
AbouJamra has eyed the Lincoln Park since late last year, but has wanted to open Evette’s for even longer. The pandemic delayed those plans, but it also allowed him to negotiate a better deal with the building’s landlord. He’s hopeful he could eventually open other restaurants. AbouJamra’s family also runs a butcher shop, Knob Hill Meats. It’s been open since 1924 near Flint, Michigan. These family ties are important to honor.
“I’m again, biased...but the food always tastes better, our recipes are a little better,” he says.
Evette’s, 350 W. Armitage Avenue, scheduled to open October 5.