Bloom Plant Based Kitchen opened in 2021 in Wicker Park, growing out of a ghost kitchen established in 2020 after COVID restrictions suspended indoor dining that spring. Cuadros initially ran Bloom out of his Bucktown restaurant, Amaru, a Latin American restaurant that draws on many influences and serves meat and dairy products. The chef didn’t realize that his pandemic survival pivot would be a smash hit that formed the backbone of his second restaurant. Both the health-conscious and those worried about the environment took to the international influences offered at Bloom.
Cuadros has shied away from calling his restaurants vegan, he describes his third venture, Don Bucio Taqueria — or DBT — as “a humble Mexican restaurant that just happens to serve vegan food.” The restaurant is named after a kitchen prep worker that Cuadros has known since he arrived in Chicago nine years ago, immigrating from Colombia. Bucio, a native of Mexico, has spent close to 30 years in Chicago and has followed Cuadros from Carnivale to his other restaurants. Cuadros says he feels a responsibility to take care of him and notes that Bucio has a talent: “He cooks like a grandmother or mother would,” Cuadros says, delivering him a compliment.
There’s a sense of deja vu, with Bloom growing from Amaru and Don Bucio growing from Bloom’s opening menu, one that featured two tacos, Asado mushroom, and another with banana blossoms. The tacos’ popularities led to plenty of banter between Cuadros and a young Mexican American cook named Gustavo Ocampo: “It was to the point to we thought ‘all right, when are we going to do this?” Cuadros says.
That conversation inspired Cuadros to sign a lease at 2763 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Logan Square. Cuadros. who earned a Beard nomination for Best Chef: Great Lakes, hopes to debut by the end of November. They’ll have 90 seats with a full liquor license for margaritas. Emily Anderson, the same firm that designed Bloom, is handling the interiors. Expect plenty of vibrant colors. Music is also important. Cuadros wants to show off different Latin cultures by playing cumbia, a folk genre native to Colombia but played all over the region.
Cuadros imagines about six tacos rotating on the menu, including a vegan al pastor. This will differ from the version served in Bucktown at Taqueria Chingon, as Cuadros has devised a labor-intensive method that puts roots vegetables, legumes, carrots, and other ingredients through a food processor, and then freezing and shaping it like a classic Chicago Kronos gyros cone. The yuca helps bind the ingredients. The cone is then sliced and crisped on a flattop on served in tortillas made in the restaurant. That’s an advantage Chicago’s Mexican food has over cities like New York, a town filled with mediocre tortilla options.
Keeping prices competitive is something difficult for Mexican food, where many customers continue to support outdated understandings that tacos are supposed to be cheap. Taqueria Chingon faced criticism over prices when it opened in 2021 (a steak Asada taco currently costs $6.50). It poses an even bigger challenge in the mainstream vegan space, a customer base that’s notoriously picky and sometimes obsessed with so-called value.
Cuadros is hoping he can connect with a consumer base that can appreciate the work and imagination he’s putting into his food. He’s not catering to fast-food vegans. He’s looking for families, and others concerned with reducing their meat intake. Vegans who yearn for tortas but are shunned because telera rolls often contain lard will be happy Cuadros has contracted with ButterCrumb Bakery in suburban Hickory Hills to make vegan rolls.
Cuadros isn’t 100 percent vegan, but he admits that eating less meat has made eating beef or chicken more enjoyable. He also has more money on buying a quality piece of meat that’s been ethically raised.
“You’re so mentally programmed by the food pyramid they came up with in the ‘60s that was completely influenced by lobbying groups,” he says. “That we need some animal protein in every meal, and I just don’t feel that’s the case.”
Look for more coverage as opening day approaches.
Don Bucio Taqueria, 2764 N. Milwaukee Avenue, planned for a late November opening.