More than a year has passed since Mundano, the ambitious Latin American-influenced restaurant from ex-Quiote chef Ross Henke and restaurateur Moe Abu-Taleb, first opened in Lincoln Park. Launched just three weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the state to close on-premise dining, the restaurant struggled to transition toward takeout and patio dining and Abu-Taleb officially closed the restaurant in September after seven months.
Now, just as Chicago marks a year of pandemic upheaval, Mundano’s former home is being readied for another debut: a new location for Mesa Urbana, a contemporary Mexican restaurant Abu-Taleb opened five years ago in suburban Glenview. It’s slated to open in late March with a new chef, Ruben Beltran, an industry veteran who previously worked under celebrity chef Rick Bayless at Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in River North.
One of 2020’s most anticipated openings, Mundano featured unique fusions like Chinese dan dan noodles with lamb chorizo. Its leadership team emphasized a commitment to equitable workplace practices and was mostly staffed by women. The restaurant had potential to usher in a hipper, more sophisticated era of dining in Lincoln Park. But as in the case of so many of last year’s best-laid plans, the impact of COVID-19 was crushing.
“Mundano didn’t even get a chance,” Abu-Taleb says. “The place was perfect. But given the economy and everything we’re working with, we felt like we should stick to the Mesa Urbana brand — just to be safe.”
It’s been a trying year for the restaurant owner, who had high hopes for the new establishment. He believes Lincoln Park residents are ready for creative and boundary-pushing dining, but the pandemic has left him feeling obligated to err on the side of caution and mitigate risk as best he can. Mundano didn’t have time to accumulate a community of regulars but Mesa Urbana already has a loyal following, he says. He’s also conscious of both price point and ease for consumers: the Mexican restaurant’s menu is more cost-effective for diners and better suited to takeout but still maintains an upscale approach. Diners will find a range of fusion dishes that range from rock shrimp risotto (roasted vegetables, coconut yellow curry) to cordero al carbon (baby rack of lamb, potato puree, chimichurri).
Despite the many challenges he’s encountered along the way, Abu-Taleb isn’t ready to say goodbye to Mundano forever: should the pandemic subside and normalcy return to the hospitality industry, he’s open to the idea of reopening the restaurant in late 2021.
“If things go well and the financials are improving, we want to bring that back,” he says. “We’re restaurant people — that’s all we know, all we do.”
Stay tuned for news of Mesa Urbana’s opening date in Lincoln Park.
Mesa Urbana, 1935 N. Lincoln Park West, Scheduled to open in March.