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A man in a kitchen about to grill kalbi.
Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant and chef Joe Fontelera having been waiting a long time.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

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This Chicago Filipino Restaurant Is for the Intentionally Boisterous

Explore Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant, now open in Lincoln Square

Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

After biding his time for years working in various Chicago kitchens, Joe Fontelera is ready. Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant opened earlier this month in Lincoln Square, just down the block from where Fontelera’s family lived when they emigrated in the ‘70s from the Philippines.

Additionally, Boonie is taking over the Crab Pad Lincoln Square, which was owned by Theresa Tran, who is married to Fontelera’s cousin.

“This homecoming feels right,” says Fontelera.

A male chef in a blue apron poses with a serious expression in front of a wood wall decorated with framed family photos.
Chef Joe Fontelera.

This BYO restaurant grew from a food stall that debuted in 2020 at Revival Food Hall. Boonie Foods was where Fontelera continued to fine-tune what he wanted from a restaurant. The opportunity in the Loop coincided with a spike in anti-Asian hate and that prompted the normally mild-mannered Fontelera to start using his social media platforms to discuss his family’s decision to move to America, and how silence has been ingrained in many Asians: “our colonizers have taught us to be quiet, to be gracious, and to be enabling,” Fontelera wrote in a post from May 2020.

That conditioning has carried over in unexpected ways in America as Fontelera toiled away in kitchens trying to find his voice. But after a successful GoFundMe campaign and some help from family members, Fontelera is ready to roar with Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant.

Revival was a “necessary experience,” Fontelera says. He learned a lot, but the conditions limited what Boonie could accomplish. The goal is to create a destination for both traditional Filipino favorites and more modern takes. Sometimes, food hall customers were just stumbling upon Boonie. Growing the customer base is great, but often random visitors just felt they were ordering something because they felt “adventurous,” Fontelera says.

A narrow dining space with large windows looking onto the street.
More than a dozen framed family photos hang on a slatted wooden wall.

“It’s amazing to operate a space and celebrate how we want despite it looking like a ‘fancy’ place we wouldn’t have historically been able to,” Fontelera adds.

The longganisa Vigan, named for the major Filipino city in the Illocos province, already has a strong following thanks to cane vinegar, black pepper, and soy sauce. The bistek crosses over to Korean with cuts of LA kalbi.

A wooden table laid with six dishes of various sizes, including bowls of rice and sliced sausage.

Fontelera, and his partner and GM Joyce, have big plans for the restaurant. Walk through the space below.

Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant, 4337 N. Western Avenue, open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; reservations via Tock.

A brick building painted black with a sign that reads “Boonie’s Filipino Restaurant.”
Boonie’s has a new home.
A male chef turns to look at the wooden wall behind him, decorated with framed family photos.
The chef looks at photos, including one of his family’s old Lincoln Square home.
A long, painted black hallway lined with two-top tables.
The space is meant to get boisterous.
A male chef waves a woven fan over a fiery grill.
The chef cooks bistek.
A round plate holds hunks of sliced longanisa vigan.
Longganisa Vigan
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago
A round bowl holds a pile of short ribs.
Bistek (LA cut beef short ribs. calamansi onions)
A deep bowl holds a dish of pork belly.
Adobong Baby (pork belly, herbs, spices)
A round blue and white plate holds a cooked Chinese eggplant.
Talong (Chinese eggplant, sunflower butter, burong kamatis)
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago
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