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