In the turbulent world of restaurants, seldom do plans go smoothly, but for Sueños’ Stephen Sandoval, the dream is moving in the right direction.
Sandoval, a chef who worked with Rick Bayless at Leña Brava, launched his Entre Sueños pop-up in 2021, a communal 14-seat fine-dining dinner series that took from a melange of Mexican, Baja Med, Spanish, and Asian influences. Sandoval would impress diners by venturing outside the private event space that housed the pop-up to roast a suckling pig.
In 2022, Sandoval moved operations to Soho House in West Loop where the club staff had remodeled a second-floor bar space and filled it with chairs and tables for its residency program, Soho Chance. Sandoval created a more casual menu available daily with a burrito and a dazzling array of mariscos and tostadas. He called the more casual operation Sueños as the fine-dining series continued in the form of the occasion pop-up.
Sueños’ six-month stay was extended through 2023, with Sandoval receiving recognition from supporters including Tribune critic Nick Kindeslperger. The residency’s purpose was to give rising chefs a chance to experience running a restaurant and fine-tune their operations and menus with the hope of graduating and leaving the space to run their own venue.
Now, as Sueños’ agreement with Soho set to expire in May, Sandoval’s team is ready: They’ve moving to West Town and taking over a vacant restaurant space at 1235 W. Grand Avenue. This is a dual concept with a casual restaurant, called Diego, serving a menu similar to the daily offerings at Soho. That includes the burrito, which Sandoval just yanked off the menu to make room for experiments that may appear at the new West Town location.
“It started with 14 seats and it was hard to sell tickets,” Sandoval says. “And now it’s kind of escalated.”
They’ll have 75 seats on the first floor with a 50-seat patio. Entre Sueños’ spirit will continue with communal dinners at Sueños which will feature an a la carte menu and some form of a tasting menu. Sandoval may implement a minimum number of diners per party — it’s hard to justify the cost of breaking down a suckling pig or kampachi belly for one diner — he may figure out a way to offer smaller parties a taste of the communal experience with smaller portions.
With Sueños’ exit, a Soho House rep says they’re working on a new concept with hopes to debut by June. Sunday, May 7 is Sueños last day at the West Loop club.
Sandoval had been looking for locations for months, but Sandoval was very interested in the Grand Avenue address. However, his team struggled with connecting with the landlord with locals typically saying he wasn’t interested in renting out the space. When Sandoval finally connected, he invited him to dinner at Soho: “And now he’s an investor,” the chef says.
At Sueños’ current location, diners will find an array of seafood that may remind them of Japanese sushi preparations, especially with textures and saucing. Sandoval says that the Japanese influence is intentional and that he hopes to travel abroad for menu inspiration before the West Town restaurant opens in the fall. Earlier in January, he traveled to Mexico for research and he’s going to slowly roll out new dishes at Soho.
Sandoval wants to keep his staff intact, but that might be asking a lot between when the residency at Soho ends in May and the fall opening in West Town. Right now, he’s taking a crash course in restaurant operations and design, aspects he hasn’t had much exposure to while working in kitchens.
“As a creative, you’re kind of drawn to the art side, and have an appreciation for that,” Sandoval says. “I really trust the people we’ve got involved, I just kind of give them a little input, but I don’t want to be a dampener on their creativity.”
Sueños and Diego, 1235 W. Grand Avenue, planned for a fall opening.