La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant, an essential Mexican restaurant institution in Little Village that attracts long, long lines of hungry breakfast and brunch fans seeking chilaquiles, crepes, and tortas, is expanding into a new location in Douglass Park in North Lawndale.
Adherents have peppered chef and owner Ambrocio “Bocho” González for some time with probing queries about a rumored opening and at last, he’s ready to let them in on his plans. He’ll unveil La Catedral’s new outpost on Thursday, November 16 at 1407 S. Washtenaw Avenue inside Ogden Commons, a 10-acre development just east of Douglass Park. The space previously housed an outpost of Ja’Grill, a Jamaican restaurant in Hyde Park. The loss of Ja’Grill took away a full-service restaurant, a rarity for the area.
“The building in Little Village is almost 100 years old, so we’re making a big change,” says González. He’s watched wait times at the original restaurant stretch to three or even four hours and wants to create an alternative for would-be diners.
Having too many customers isn’t exactly the worst problem a restaurant can face, but even forgiving patrons can get cranky about waiting hours for a table on weekends. The Ogden Commons restaurant is an eight-minute drive (around half an hour by foot) from the Little Village location and seats 98, offering a release valve for staff and patrons. “Customer service has always been a big part of our business and we’re trying to keep doing that,” he says. “We’re not perfect, but we always take the comments and go through all of them to make sure that we are doing our best.”
Despite the much more contemporary digs, González and his team apply the same cathedral-inspired design with depictions of saints, crosses, and other Mexican religious art arranged throughout the space. A massive, wall-size rendition of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam is a direct reference to a much smaller version of the famous fresco affixed to the ceiling in the Little Village original. They’ve also installed oversized wooden frames hand-made by Mexican artists that hang overhead, contributing an eclectic aesthetic filled with color.
Similarly, the new restaurant’s menu will include all the hits, from around a dozen types of chilaquiles (the team adds a new version each year in December) to Mexican-style eggs, burritos, huaraches, and a laundry list of sweet crepes, waffles, and pancakes. González will also introduce a few dishes that will be exclusively available at the Ogden Commons location, all centered around his favorite ingredient: beans.
“I love beans — I have an obsession with beans,” González confesses. He traces his love of the so-called musical fruit to his childhood in Guadalajara. “We were very poor and only had money to buy beans and tortillas, so my mom started getting ideas about how to make it look different. Everything was beans, but for some reason, it tasted different [to us] so we didn’t realize until we got older.”
He’ll introduce new bean-focused dishes like the Burrito La Cathedral, a steak burrito with cheese, jalapenos, and salsa served smothered in frijoles, and take a similar approach with a bean-covered steak torta and chilaquiles frijoles. They’re also working on a bean-based soup, one of several that will be featured in a rotating soup-of-the-day lineup.
The opening in North Lawndale will be the first of several new area restaurants, should González’s plans come to fruition. Prior to the pandemic, he operated eight locations of La Catedral and quesadilla-focused Las Quecas in the city and suburbs. Now he’s down to two — soon to be three — restaurants, and is gearing up for a trio of new projects slated to open in 2024.
Ogden Commons is a collaboration between the Habitat Company, Sinai Health System, Alecko Capital, and the city of Chicago. The deveopment was created to bring health care, restaurants, and retail to an underserved area of the city.
“[They’ve] given me everything,” González says. “The community really knows and appreciates when you love it, and we really do.”
La Catedral Ogden Commons, 1407 S Washtenaw Avenue, planned for a Thursday, November 16 opening.