After nearly three decades in Chicago’s hospitality industry, a restaurateur who began his career washing dishes at Charlie Trotter’s is preparing to open a Latin tavern in West Town.
Chi-Latin, an ode to the city’s distinctive and multi-generational Latin American cultures should open in November, replacing replace Italian spot Provare, which has moved down the street from 1421 W. Chicago Avenue.
It’s the first solo restaurant from Fredy Orellana, a partner at Dell’ Rooster, a casual pan-Latin restaurant that opened in June 2022 in West Town, right down the street from Chi-Latin. Orellana is an Ecuadorian immigrant who moved to Chicago in the mid-1990s.
“Chicago is built on so many different cultures and it has its own culture,” Fredy Orellana says. “Chi-Latin is representing that part — a culture based in so many others.”
The menu is packed with Central and South American flavors drawn from countries including Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador. Many times, especially in Chicago where there’s a large Mexican population, the other countries don’t get as much of a spotlight. Orellana plans to offer a short food menu with options like a “Latin cheeseburger” with crispy Idaho potatoes, build-your-own Mexican street tacos with fresh tortillas, and popcorn shrimp-style camaroncitos. “As we do at Dell’ Rooster, we’ll combine a lot of seasonings, condiments, and herbs from countries that speak Spanish,” he says.
The drink list will be divided into four sections: mezcal cocktails (think infused spirits and smoked fruits like mango and pineapple), classic cocktails such as margaritas and mojitos, wines, and Latin American beers.
Orellana spent his career working alongside some of Chicago’s biggest culinary names. After six months of washing dishes at Charlie Trotter’s, the famous (and infamous) chef took notice of his work and promoted him to a prep position. From there, Orellana moved to the front-of-house and went on to work for chef Michael Kornick just as he was opening Mk The Restaurant in River North.
It was at Mk that Orellana met a young Erick Williams. Orellana describes the chef, at the time, as “quiet.” Orellana rose to head bartender shortly after acclaimed Southern restaurant Virtue opened in Hyde Park. Williams eventually won the 2022 James Beard Award for best chef: Great Lakes.
Williams called Orellana’s story inspiring, seeing an immigrant rise from dishwasher to restaurant owner. Williams sees parallels in his career path — he started as a salad cook at Mk before rising to partner.
During his 28 years in the industry, Orellana often wondered if he should pursue his own project rather than realizing someone else’s vision. He sees Chi-Latin also as an opportunity to work closely with two of his daughters, both in their twenties, and show them the ropes in a challenging industry.
“The main part that’s pushing me to do this is that [while growing up], my daughters were always asking where is dad, what’s he doing,” he says. “Now I have the chance to let them know exactly what dad was doing for a long time and they’re going to be a part of it.”
Chi-Latin, 1421 W. Chicago Avenue, Scheduled to open by November.