Venerable Pilsen landmark Carnitas Uruapan aims to open its third and largest restaurant on a long-vacant corner in Little Village. Second-generation owner Marcos Carbajal anticipates the “gargantuan” project will require about a year of renovations on the three-floor outpost at 3801 W. 26th Street. Beyond the size of the restaurant, this new location will also feature a liquor license making this Carnitas Uruapan the first one that can serve agave, rum, and beer.
Known for drawing long lines of dedicated fans seeking succulent pork by the pound, Carnitas Uruapan — founded by Carbajal’s father, Inocencio, in 1975 in Pilsen — operates a second location in Gage Park. The new space will be the largest by far, with 6,000 square feet on each floor and an extra-wide sidewalk for outdoor seating.
Carnitas Uruapan has long served as all-ages gathering places. Carbajal wants to maintain that feeling in Little Village, but does plan for the first time to offer alcohol: in particular, charanda — a sugarcane-based spirit (similar to rum) that originates in his family’s hometown of Uruapan. It’s rarely seen in Chicago restaurants, he says, but hopes to give it a “moment in the sun.”
The restaurant will also feature a very limited menu of tequilas and mezcals, along with familiar Mexican beers and micheladas. To keep things family friendly, there won’t be a bar. “We’re a place you want to go with your kids on a Sunday morning and we don’t want to change that,” Carbajal says.
Carbajal has wanted to open in Little Village for some time but didn’t initially anticipate taking on such a large construction project. Aided by $250,000 from the latest round of the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grants, he’s decided to embrace the challenge and rehabilitate the 1920s-era building on 26th Street and Hamlin Avenue.
The location, formerly home of La Concordia restaurant, is well known to residents. A party-friendly music venue from the 1980s through the early 2000s along a bustling commercial corridor, the spot featured a lot of famous Mexican singers and musical acts, Carbajal recalls. “I was just a kid, but my parents remember it and a lot of people in the neighborhood remember the space from that era,” he says. “It was kind of the place to be in the neighborhood.”
Carbajal estimates it’ll take 10 months to a year of work before opening, he acknowledges that timeline is speculative but ultimately will be worth the wait.
“Given the dynamics of that neighborhood and the fact that 26th Street is the biggest commercial corridor for Mexican businesses in the city, I think we can actually use a space,” he says. “It gives us a lot more flexibility.”
Block Club Chicago first reported this annoucement.
Carnitas Uruapan Little Village, 3801 W. 26th Street, Scheduled to open in 2022.