José Andrés opened the very first Jaleo in 1993 in Washington, D.C., and on Thursday he’ll bring that formula to Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The restaurant means to give diners a window to contemporary Spanish cooking in specializing in tapas. Twenty-eight years ago, delicacies like patatas bravas weren’t as familiar to Americans. But in 2021, those crispy potatoes — along with jamón ibérico, and head-on shrimp in garlic and oil are now known quantities stateside and some of that is due to Jaleo’s success.
Jaleo’s menu has evolved as Andrés has opened five locations in places like Las Vegas and at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Chicago location will feature quirks unique to this outpost including table-side paella (in four varieties) and a full tapas bar. The menu also features special Chicago-only items: the Arroz rabo de toro features creamy Meloso-style rice and braised oxtail.
Andrés, who is frank about his political views, has built an empire of restaurants, cooking books, and TV shows. Fans will find him on talk shows and on the news discussing his charitable endeavors. He was even a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2019 for his work with World Central Kitchen. The Spaniard is also a huge soccer fan, and not happy about his team’s defeat to eventual champion Italy in its Euro 2020 match earlier in July. His restaurants show the passion for the beautiful game with fancy foosball tables near the bar where competition sometimes gets fierce.
Andrés remains in his native Spain and plans on visiting Chicago later this summer when Jaleo unveils its mysterious basement bar. Andrés’ camp hasn’t revealed details about the bar except the name: Pigtail. Beyond the basement tavern, upstairs should be a popular after-work destination with Spanish-style gin and tonics, sangria pitchers, and sherries. ThinkFoodGroup veteran Justin DePhillips is the head chef and overseeing operations. Last year, he opened Jaleo Disney Springs.
Jaleo is big business as a sixth location is to open next year in Dubai. Capella Garcia, a Barcelona-based firm, designed the 240-seat space (they also designed the Disney restaurant). Management says they plan to set up seating on Clark Street as the city has closed the corridor for expanded outdoor dining.
Andrés has other restaurants including a few he’ll open with Gibsons Restaurant Group near the Chicago River inside Bank of America’s new headquarters. One has already opened but more should open later this year.
The D.C.-based chef now has a restaurant across the street from Rick Bayless’ downtown restaurants (Bar Sotano, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo). That means motivated diners could create quite a celebrity dining crawl if they desire. Jaleo was the first restaurant Andrés opened in America, and it’s a good way for Andrés to introduce himself to Chicago. Locals can get acquainted starting Thursday.
Jaleo, 500 N. Clark Street, planned for a Thursday opening.