Though fall temperatures are here, One Off Hospitality is hoping to extend the outdoor vibes a little longer — next week they’re revealing Big Star Mariscos, featuring a 60-seat patio in West Town, perched at the corner of Ogden, Racine, and Ohio near the United Center.
According to a rep, the new taco bar with a seafood focus will open on Monday, September 26 at 551 N. Ogden Avenue. It’s the 6,000-square-foot space that housed cavernous and dimly lit bars Mahoney’s and more recently 551 Live. Workers spent five straight months almost entirely gutting the building save the kitchen and bathrooms. Crews opened up the space and cleaned up the windows creating a breezy bar and restaurant that seats 120 inside.
One of the longest-lasting changes carrying over from the early years of the pandemic is that patio season in Chicago doesn’t end when summer is over. Big Star in Wicker Park with long wait times on weekends has been defined by its outdoor space since opening in 2009. One Off found a unique space for its latest patio, a way Blackhawks and Bulls fans can easily enjoy a taco, even after the closure of Big Star’s UC location in 2019. Customers and sports afficianados alike can even plan their night out advance with reservations.
The push toward seafood could be a way to distinguish itself from Big Star’s Wicker Park and Wrigleyville locations. It could be a reflection of wanting to eat less meat and being healthier. The menu from One Off partner and chef Paul Kahan and Big Star culinary director Chris Miller includes raw options like a ceviche made with octopus, shrimp, and green chile-avocado salsa; a Jamaican aguachile; and cócteles. The biggest star, however, is the pescado zarandeado — a marinated and grilled whole fish (it will change regularly) served family-style that serves up to eight.
There are also a number of taco options, some of which Big Star regulars may recognize, such as the zanahoria, a vegetarian taco with pastor-spiced carrots, and the pescado taco, which is stuffed with beer-battered tilapia. New entries include a camarones dorados taco with cascabel chile shrimp and jack cheese. Big Star also switched to a coarser masa tortilla to better complement seafood.
Echos of the original Big Star also resound in the drinks menu, which features the company’s signature margaritas (also available with a spicy kick or mezcal float) and Palomas, both offered by the glass or pitcher. Popular option Ranch Water, made with El Tesoro tequila and Topo Chico, will also appear on the cocktail list alongside Ladies of the Canyon, a new submission with Pueblo Viejo Blanco, pear brandy, white wine, and elderflower.
Big Star started a record label in 2017 and Kahan has amassed quite a vinyl collection. The Wicker Park location would have DJs playing a wide assortment of music. They’ve already compiled a playlist for the West Town location. Management feels the honky-tonk playlist of yore has evolved and has added soul, rhythm and blues, folk, garage rock, punk, and rock ’n’ roll to the repertoire.
As Chicago emerges from the pandemic, One Off, of the city’s most successful restaurant companies, is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after making difficult decisions, including closing Blackbird in West Loop. Earlier this year, it opened Publican Quality Bread, a new bakery-cafe, also in West Town. There’s potential expansion for Big Star, a household name for many in Chicago — there’s even canned margaritas sold in stores.
“Right now we’re completely focused on trying to get the doors open to our new location, but when it comes to the future of Big Star, if the right opportunity presents itself, well... we’re always listening,” writes One Off partner Terry Alexander.
Take a tour through the space below.
Big Star Mariscos, 551 N. Ogden Avenue, planned for a Monday, September 26 opening.