For the last three years, the owners of Bayan Ko, the Cuban and Filipino restaurant, have searched for a larger space feeling that they’ve outgrown their 26 seater in Ravenswood. Now comes news that they’re opening a second restaurant and converting the existing restaurant to a five-course tasting menu in February.
Bayan Ko, which means “our country,” has taken off since chef Lawrence Letrero and GM Raquel Quadreny opened in 2018. Though the married couple works with a realtor, it turns out that solution was just 100 feet away. Late last year, they signed a lease to take over the vacant Glenn’s Diner space at 1820 W. Montrose Avenue. A new restaurant, one that will channel the casual vibes of the existing Bayan Ko should open in April. Bayan Ko Diner will continue the greasy spoon tradition Glenn’s upheld for 17 years.
“I’m pumped,” Letrero says. “... We’re going into 2024, I just feel that coming spring and summer that Chicago is just going to be great for the food industry.”
Chicago’s Filipino restaurants are leaving a mark. Kasama is the only Michelin-starred Filipino in the world. Newer spots like Mano Modern Cafe and Boonies are making waves. as this Sun-Times recent piece shows. Those successes certainly invigorate Letrero, a Filipino Canadian who’s cooked at a variety of restaurants, including hotels in Chicago. But Bayan Ko is unique with Quadreny’s Cuban heritage serving as an inspiration for a unique menu that presents food from both countries side by side. It’s not fusion.
The diner will feature Cuban sandwiches, ropa vieja empanadas and croquettes, Cuban steaks, and more. Many of plates, like pancit canton, will make their way onto the menu. They will also serve Cuban coffee, and have applied for a liquor license for packaged beer, wine, and cocktails. There are 56 seats and 10 at the bar. The space, vacant since summer 2022, is going through some major construction with the installation of new flooring and more.
Letrero wants a welcoming space. Folks can read the paper, or utilize WiFi for work. School kids can hang out: “We welcome all, at the end, that’s what a true diner should be,” he says.
The other development is what’s going on inside the current Bayan Ko space which will soon be reborn as a tasting-menu only restaurant. At $75 to $90 per meal, this tasting menu won’t be reserved solely for special occasions. Letrero wants an accessible menu that customers can enjoy regularly, not just a once-a-year visit. Dishes include octopus adobo with purple crispy potatoes, black garlic, and scallion emulsion. The dish shows the Spanish influence on the Philippines, Letrero says. There will also be wine and nonalcoholic beverage pairings.
The new tasting menu restaurant will retain the Bayan Ko name and should debut on February 2. There will also be a vegan option and the launch menu is gluten free. Reservations are already online via Tock.
Stay tuned for updates.
Bayan Ko Diner, 1820 W. Montrose, planned for an April 1 opening; Bayan Ko tasting menu, 1810 W. Montrose, slated for a February 2 debut. Reservations via Tock.