Last week, Amar “Mer” Mansuria, closed the doors at Casa Indigo in Pilsen for the last time. The casual Mexican restaurant had served its last customer on 18th Street, and though Mansuria isn’t finished cooking, he was emotional.
Indigo built a following within the community with Mansuria’s creative burgers, wings, tacos, and more. He also opened his doors to other restaurants struggling during the pandemic. Rubi’s Tacos, the legendary taqueria that sold food at Maxwell Street Market took up residence on Sundays at Indigo. Chicago officials had closed the market due to pandemic concerns leaving Rubi’s without a place to do business. Mansuria jumped in so Rubi’s could get back on its feet until they moved into their own space, also on 18th Street. Indigo isn’t open on Sundays, so Mansuria saw no issue in inviting them.
During the heart of the pandemic last year, Mansuria kept Indigo afloat thanks to an agreement with World Central Kitchen, the charity started by celebrity chef José Andrés, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. WCK commissioned Indigo to make 160 meals a day that were distributed to the needy.
In the meantime, Mansuria, who had his own private chef businesses, yearned to cook more than his tiny kitchen in Pilsen could allow him. Before Taco Bell brought back the item, many of his customers would ask him for his own signature version of the Mexican Pizza, a beloved item within the South Asian community. He began searching for a new space for Casa Indigo in April 2021, and he’s finally found one nearby.
“At all the different places I’ve worked at, all the different techniques and tricks that I’ve picked up through the years — I’ve never been able to display that,” he says.
Later this year, Mansuria will unveil a new project near Lo Rez Brewery & Taproom in Pilsen. Indigo, 2100 S. Morgan Street is a triple threat: a daytime cafe, a fusion restaurant that includes an Indian Mexican tasting menu. The final component is a speakeasy bar with drinks from star bartender Denisse Soto, formerly of Osito’s Tap in Little Village.
Mansuria’s resume includes time at Little Goat, Girl & the Goat, Dusek’s, and Quartino. He also worked at Veerasway, a Randolph Restaurant Row modern Indian spot that was before its time and closed in 2011. Three years earlier, Mansuria, who is Indian American, saw his culinary trajectory change on a fateful day while riding the CTA 60 Blue Island/26th Street bus. On the bus, he met his future wife, Carolina. They married at the end of 2011.
Carolina’s family is from Michoacán in Mexico City. Her mother, Susannah, taught her son-in-law family recipes from salsa to pozole: “When I opened Indigo, I made them into my chef-style recipes,” Mansuria says.
Mexican and Indian flavors aren’t a new pairing. Most recently, a restaurant from Mexico City, Masala Y Maiz, popped up in August in Chicago.
In East Pilsen, Mansuria wants to have a tasting menu that highlights both Mexican and Indian cuisine. The kitchen will sport both a tandoor and a plancha. He doesn’t want to sound like a cliche, but Mansuria says his travels through Europe, India, and Mexico will influence the menu, including trips to Europe, India, and Mexico. It’s an elevated, global dining experience.
“We’re surrounded by taco places,” Mansuria says of 18th Street and the reasons behind the move. “Which is great — I love tacos. But I wanted to differentiate myself a little bit more.”
For example, the aforementioned Mexican pizza? Now imagine a samosa stuffed with beans, cheese, and olives and drenched with hot sauce. Look for a fresh take on Indian bread service, something Wazwan in Wicker Park already serves up on its Indian tasting menu. Pilsen is home to some restaurants with tasting menus — notably S.K.Y. and HaiSous. Mansuria wants an option under $100 and also plans a cevicheria with a combo of Nayarit, cajun, and Caribbean seafood.
The speakeasy-style bar, called The Lo Lo, will feature drinks from Denisse Sota, the star bartender formerly of Osito’s Tap. The bar will debut after the restaurant and cafe open. Cafe Indigo will serve Mexican coffee, chai, and other Indian teas — plus Thai and Vietnamese varieties. They’ll also serve guisados, plus classic Indigo items from the original location.
Mansuria wants art to tie the place together and is consulting with Pilsen resident Charlie Glitch, a local artist and DJ, for programming ideas. He wants a gallery aspect where artists can sell their work.
Indigo would give Chicago a third option for an Indian tasting menu, following Wazwan and the newly opened Indienne. Look for more details later this year.
Indigo, 2101 S. Morgan Street, planned for a late 2022 opening.