Chicago isn’t known for Indian food, yet several recent entries (Superkhana International, Wazwan, Indienne) have raised expectations.
The latest, Thattu, is an anticipated affair that grew out of pop-ups and a stall inside Politan Row, the West Loop food hall that closed in 2020. Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil hone in on flavors from Kerala and take inspiration from Kalathil’s mother. Here, diners will find spicy fried chicken sandwiches, pungent beef curries, and perfectly griddled appam that balances fluffiness with a slightly crispy sear.
The restaurant, announced in 2022, will debut on Sunday, April 23 at 2601 W. Fletcher Street for lunch with a full dinner menu to roll out in the coming weeks. It’s in a patch of Avondale near the Chicago River, close to Metropolitan Brewing and Soul & Smoke.
Pak and Kalathil share an outsider’s view of the restaurant world having worked in finance before committing to their culinary interests. That perspective connects them with many immigrant-run South Asian restaurants that operate along Devon Avenue. Those are tiny restaurants that aren’t obsessed with design the way many in trendy Chicago dining districts do. The restaurants on Devon serve a different mission helping immigrants adjust to American life.
Thattu bridges that gap immigrant-run gap. Kalathil and Pak financed their restaurant themselves. That gives the restaurant a DIY feel. Furnishings were purchased from local stores. Folks might see Kalathil at a local hardware store as the pair prepared the restaurant’s final touches.
While that grounds Thattu’s, authenticity isn’t the wife-and-husband team’s game. Yes, food can power nostalgia, and bites of fish fry may transport diners to visits or family dinners. But chef Pak, who is Korean, is trying to create something truly unique. Tater tots topped with chaat masala and spicy beet ketchup are an example. Thattu calls them ChaaterTots. Look for more composed dishes for dinner like a vegan Kadala Curry with black chickpeas and roasted coconut gravy or a classic biriyani in veggie or chicken renditions.
A lounge space features Kalathil’s photography and in the back, the duo brought in a friend. Won Kim took the owners’ input and painted a bright mural. Pak learned while working with Kim at Kimski, the Korean restaurant attached to Maria’s Community Bar in Bridgeport.
Thattu is attempting to shatter barriers regarding Indian food in Chicago. Not all of it is cheap or loaded with cilantro and onions. The Indian diaspora is grand and complicated with a country that speaks 22 languages. Malayalam is only one of those and it’s proudly displayed with the restaurant’s name written on a circular restaurant outside. The pair have greater ambitions for the space including setting up a retail area for spices. Chicago is, of course, where Patel Brothers, the premier South Asian grocery chain, debuted. Honoring tradition doesn’t mean being betrothed by it.
Walk through Thattu, one of Eater’s most anticipated openings of the year.
Thattu, 2601 W. Fletcher Street, opening Sunday, April 23 for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; dinner upcoming.