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A colorful tostada on a round grey plate.
Copal is open in River North.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

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Drink a Tres Leches Spritz at This Mexican-Japanese Lounge in River North

Explore, Copal, the new project from Mercadito

After nearly 15 boisterous years of slinging tacos and tequila in River North, Mercadito is expanding its horizons with the debut of a new subterranean cocktail lounge and restaurant. The downtown stalwart has unveiled Copal, a moody and low-lit lair where chefs are highlighting a Japanese culinary influence on the cuisines of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Copal differs from its older sibling upstairs as diners will need tickets for entry into a roomy and banquette-lined lounge where diners will find a menu of small, lavish dishes like fire-roasted octopus, Hawaiian yellowfin tuna, and Hudson Valley foie gras.

A roasted octopus tentacle is arranged on a round white plate.
Pulpo a la talla (chile-marinated octopus, garbanzo puree, red chile aioli).

Bar director Javier Arroyo, formerly of Bar Sotano and Tabu, seems influenced by Sotano in using food items as inspiraiton for his drinks. Case in point: he’s mixed up a Tres Leches Fizz (tequila, charanda, banana liqueur, tres leches mix). Another Mexican-influence option is the Zama (gin, mezcal, hibiscus tea, jackfruit, lychee). Imbibers may also notice an oblique nod to Japan in the Ancient Fruit (mezcal, nigori sake, papaya, black pepper).

Named for an aromatic tree resin that Indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America burn as ceremonial incense, Copal’s entry in Chicago is timely. In recent years, a wave of Mexican chefs in cities like Oaxaca and Mexico City have been experimenting with combinations of local culinary traditions and Japanese flavors. Many draw inspiration from the first wave of Japanese immigrants whose arrival in Mexico dates back to the 1930s. Some founded restaurants and proceeded to make a significant impact on local palates, though there are only around 31,000 Japanese people or people of Japanese descent in the country as of 2018, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

An underground dining room and bar.
Hanging basket lamps bring a romantic allure.
A round wooden table holds a bottle of alcohol and two glasses.
Bar director Javiar Arroyo offers a selection of Mexican spirits.

Peruvian Japanese food, known as Nikkei cuisine, has already reared its head in Chicago, but Copal may offer the city’s first Mexican Japanese dining opportunity. Reservations are available via Tock.

Look around the lounge and peruse its menu in the photographs below.

Copal, 108 W. Kinzie Street, Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

A low-lit banquette in a dining room.
Patrons need a ticket to ride this train.
Two small clay cups beside a small clay plate of sliced citrus and spice.
An espresso martini.
A red cocktail with a black-eyed susan flower garnish.

Zama (gin, mezcal, hibiscus tea, jackfruit, lychee).

A banquette inside a dining room.
Ceramics serve as thoughtful, subtle decor.
A bar inside a low-lit dining room.
For a front-row seat, snag a bar stool.
A banquette inside a low-lit dining room.
A melange of textures provides balance to a neutral color palette.
A banquette and bar inside a low-lit dining room.
There’s seating for groups of up to six.
A low-lit bar lined with backed bar stools.
There’s a lot happening underground in River North.
A round white plate holds three large squares of chocolate tres leches cake.
Chocolate tres leches cake (coconut chantilly cream, Mexican chocolate sauce, toasted cacao).


108 West Kinzie Street, , IL 60654 (312) 329-9555 Visit Website


108 West Kinzie Street, , IL 60654 (312) 329-9555 Visit Website
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