Veteran chef Geno Bahena, the engine behind a flurry of upscale Mexican restaurants in Chicago (most recently Mis Moles), has a new restaurant in Bucktown. A prominent personality in the city’s hospitality scene for decades, Bahena revealed his latest endeavor, a sprawling and colorful spot called Manchamanteles earlier this month at 2009 N. Western Avenue.
Manchamanteles is a detour from the space’s past lives with Bahena bringing complex moles and culinary skills to the kitchen. The restaurant, near the northeast corner of Armitage and Western, was the longtime home of Lazo’s Tacos, a popular late-night spot that was easily conflated with fellow nocturnal bastion Arturo’s. Lazo’s briefly gave way to another location of Las Fuentes, with a parking lot converted to patio space.
Since leaving Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in 1999 and striking out on his own, Bahena has brought his vast knowledge of regional Mexican cuisine to many establishments, from Ixcapuzalco to Chilpancingo to Geno’s Bar & Grill, Mi Sueno Su Realidad, and most recently, Mis Moles, a replacement for longtime neighborhood staple Little Bucharest Bistro that opened in 2020 in Irving Park. He’s also worked as a consultant for around two dozen other restaurants around town, all while navigating the inevitable peaks and valleys of the industry. His profession is personal, too — his mother, Clementina Flores, owns Sol De Mexico in Cragin.
Bahena has since sold Mis Moles, which remains open under new management, and spent some time teaching. But in the end, he can’t stay away from day-to-day operations. “Being in the restaurant business is my love and passion,” he says. “Being in the kitchen is what I really like to do, so that’s what made me open up [Manchamanteles].”
This latest endeavor leans into Bahena’s specialty — moles — which should come as no surprise as the restaurant is named for mole manchamanteles, or “tablecloth stainer,” an iconic and distinctive Oaxacan mole known for its rich, deep color (thus the laundry reference) and spicy-sweet flavor. It’s one of numerous moles Flores taught him to make and appears at the table in a plentiful pool below chicken cooked on a custom wood-burning grill built for Bahena in Texas.
Much of the menu incorporates that grill, including the borrego en mole negro, a rack of lamb with a complex Oaxacan black mole, and chuleta de puerco, a pork chop perched atop pipian verde. There’s seafood too, such as Guerrero-style garlic-marinated scallops with poblano and cilantro, cevice, coctel campechano, and aguiachile rojo de camaron, and enormous tequila-based cocktails that may induce some diners to leave their cars in the neighboring parking lot overnight.
The massive new restaurant, which occupies the former home of shuttered 24-hour taco institution Lazo’s, is painted an eye-catching azure at seats a whopping 200 between a main dining room that Bahena calls “the salon,” a second interconnected dining room, and a private party space. Chicago muralist Oscar Romero transformed the restaurant ceiling into a summery blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, and bright yellow and pink hues run throughout the space, on the walls, in artwork, and in fluttering papel picado strung up around the rooms.
Manchamanteles is currently open for dinner and weekend brunch, with plans to add lunch service in the coming months.