A modern Mexican restaurant will soon arrive on Fulton Market, giving a young chef a larger stage in one of the city’s busiest dining districts. Chikatana gives chef Guillermo Reyes a chance to lead a kitchen. Reyes is a suburban Chicago native who cooked for two years under chef Diana Dávila at her Logan Square Mexican restaurant, Mi Tocaya Antojeria. Chikatana should open in early June, replacing City Tap, a bar that closed during the pandemic at 850 W. Fulton Market.
“He’s an amazing person,” Dávila says of her former cook. “Loves food; good soul.”
The restaurant’s named for chicatanas — flying leaf-cutter ants that swarm Oaxaca each spring and are considered a regional delicacy. Reyes plans on bringing a contemporary approach to regional Mexican cuisine. The menu will include familiar items like ceviche and whole-roasted fish. Reyes is also debating featuring the restaurant’s namesake.
“We have plans for a chicatana salsa, but we will have to tread lightly,” he says. “We’re going to make the effort, and obviously there will be some people who are more inclined to try something new.”
The chef, who also cooked at Spanish favorite Mercat a la Planxa, plans to focus on large family-style dishes that heavily lean toward seafood, such aguachile verde and crispy soft-shell crab tacos. There are also a number of vegetarian-friendly options, including cauliflower “chorizo” tacos (asparagus, queso fresco), gazpacho, and a nopales salad. The team plans to start brunch service (with sweet treats like conchas) within a month of opening.
Agave spirits will also feature prominently at Chikatana, though beverage director Blaze LaRoe aims to separate his menu of colorful cocktails from the herd by focusing on sotol and raicilla — liquors that are well-known in Mexico but in the U.S. are less popular and harder to find than their cousins, tequila and mezcal. LaRoe hopes that by tapping into under-the-radar selections, he’ll be on the forefront of a trend.
At approximately 3,000 square feet, the dining room can seat 102 along with 14 more at the bar. While the space bears some qualities of its former tenant, including a white pressed-tin style ceiling, there are distinctive touches like woven basket lampshades and green vines that wind among the liquor bottles. Chikatana will also debut with a 64-seat patio. It was outfitted by Avril Zayas, the Chicago-based designer behind numerous Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises spots such as upscale sibling restaurants RPM Seafood and RPM Steak.
Chikatana’s owners aren’t listed in marketing materials, but a liquor license points to the same company which owns the Robey in Wicker Park (this company is separate from the hotel’s operators) and the building. Additionally, City Tap, the building’s previous tenant in Fulton Market. has an ongoing lawsuit in Cook County involving back rent, according to court records. A resolution seems close.
Regardless of legal proceedings, Reyes is ready for the next step of his career, one that includes discovering his voice as a chef. He says it feels like all the pieces are finally falling into place after years of laboring and learning. “The chicatanas are coming into season right now in Mexico. The timing of it is bizarre, how it all came together. It’s like an omen.”
Chikatana, 850 W. Fulton Market, Slated to open in early June.