Two years after an electrical fire closed his popular Mexican restaurant El Solazo, a Chicago restaurateur will this week unveil its revamped replacement near Midway Airport. Owner Pepe Barajas, now armed with a liquor license, will open Solazo, a comfortable and upscale spot for tacos, ceviche, and raicilla cocktails, on Thursday, September 23 at 5600 S. Pulaski Road.
Barajas has kept busy while his original restaurant remained closed. He also owns La Josie in West Loop, along Randolph Restaurant Row. While El Solazo was more family friendly, La Josie has more energy, staying open until later in the night with a more modern vibe. The success of Barajas’ second restaurant is now influencing how he revamps his original.
Solazo aims to walk a fine line with its offerings, featuring both contemporary Mexican cuisine and fan favorites from the original menu. Patrons can choose among a selection of tacos such as hongos con huiltlacoche (sweet potato, roasted corn, calabacita Mexicana) and suadero (chile morita, arbol salsa, cebollita mexicana), all couched in tortillas made in the kitchen.
While his family’s home state of Jalisco remains central to the menu, Barajas has worked to integrate items he’s tried in other parts of Mexico. He’s particularly proud of the mole coloradito, a spicy-tangy-sweet mole from Oaxaca that patrons can try with enchiladas. Longtime fans will also recognize hits like spicy la diabla Baja striped bass, as well as the restaurant’s popular salsas: fresca roja, guisada, and pina con habanero. The kitchen will still be helmed by chef Alfredo Maravilla, who has worked with Barajas since 1997.
Previously BYOB, the new restaurant will offer a robust selection of more than 100 different kinds of agave spirits, largely sourced from independent and family-owned companies throughout Mexico. Chicago bartender Luis Barrios (the Franklin Room) pays particular attention to racilla, a Jalisco-born cousin of tequila and mezcal, in cocktails like the Cosmo (lemon-infused raicilla, hibiscus, Piere Ferrand dry curacao). “There’ll be a lot of spirit bottles that people won’t recognize, but we’ll do a good job introducing people to our passion,” Barajas says.
Cocktails include the Old Fashioned-influenced La Puerta Negra (Peloton Criollo mezcal, spiced Negra Modelo syrup) and the Cucurrucucu Paloma (Bahnez mezcal, toronja vanilla shrub, amargo de chile). There’s also a handful of draft beers, plus bottled and canned brews.
The restaurant opts for a relaxed and minimal aesthetic that reflects the atmosphere of La Josie. Walls covered with white subway tiles contrast neatly against natural wood paneling, and rows of leafy plants in baskets are perched above the 10-seat bar. There’s room for about 60 between high and low tables inside, and an additional 70 seats outdoors. The team consciously avoided adding televisions or other screens, but invested in a sound system to play classic Latin American music like cumbias.
It’s been a long road to back from the 2019 fire that shuttered El Solazo after 12 years. Though damage was extensive, the incident also presented an opportunity to fix underlying plumbing and electrical problems, and add a bar. Barajas also replaced two parking spots with an outdoor patio and windows that open completely to promote airflow. “We get to have all the things we’ve always wanted,” he says.
Barajas’s wait is finally over as Solazo is back open.
Solazo, 5600 S. Pulaski Road, Open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.