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FAFO, a Defiant Late-Night Pop-Up, Debuts This Weekend in Lakeview

Who wants to try non-alcoholic malört made from herbal teas?

Steak frietes
Steak “frites” with potato churros dusted in cheddar and Japanese snow crab powder, seaweed butter. 
FAFO/Mistey Nguyen
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

A pair of chefs want to upgrade Lakeview’s late-night options. FAFO, which debuts this weekend, isn’t a late-night greasy spoon. With dishes like Japanese egg salad mousse with crispy chorizo and steak frites that swap french fries for potato churros dusted in cheddar and Japanese snow crab powder. This is not Golden Nugget or Steak ‘n Egger, not there’s anything wrong with that.

The chefs involved at FAFO — the hottest word of 2022 — are looking to push the limit of what Chicagoans can expect from late-night dining and pop-ups in general. Their ethos includes fun, gourmet ingredients (the kind folks would find inside Rare Tea Cellar), and ambitious cooking. Industry veteran Rafa Esparza and former Kimski sous chef Anthony Baier are embarking on an extended pop-up, probably five or six months, inside the Little Evette’s location at 2807 N. Sheffield Avenue. The future of the space depends on the launch’s success.

Japanese eggs salad mousse, crispy chorizo from Santo Chorizo, bread crumbs, crispy shallot, green onion, and chopped egg whites.
Japanese eggs salad mousse, crispy chorizo from Santo Chorizo, bread crumbs, crispy shallot, green onion, and chopped egg whites.
FAFO/Mistey Nguyen

Evette’s owner Mitchell Jamra is winding down the casual restaurant; it doesn’t draw customers like the original location in Lincoln Park, a space he opened in October 2022 with Esparza. Esparza left Evette’s and the restaurant world to focus on social justice work. Jamra took sole possession of Evette’s and eventually opened a location inside Time Out Market food hall in Fulton Market. Esparza says the work away from restaurants left him burned out, frustrated at times he couldn’t break through to those he was trying to help. He’s returned to restaurants a little bit older and wiser, hoping to give diners something different.

Jamra won’t vacate the Lakeview space. He’s close to acquiring a liquor license and wants to convert the room into a wine shop by day — the new name is TBD. He’s still working out the details. Regardless, the store would be closed at night which gives Baier and Esparza an opportunity. They already tested menu items out at a Monday Night Foodball in November. hosted by the Reader. Many of those items will be available on opening weekend. Esparza has bigger plans down the road including a to-go menu.

Rare Tea Cellar Electric blue matcha deviled eggs with ants and spirulina hot sauce 
Rare Tea Cellar Electric blue matcha deviled eggs with ants and spirulina hot sauce
FAFO/Mistey Nguyen

Esparza sees the long lines regularly reported outside Warlord, the Avondale restaurant that opened in 2023, and sees a template for late-night dining: “They beat me to it,” he says. They’ll open at 6 p.m., but as the night extends, the atmosphere will liven up.

“From 10 to 3, we’re turning this into a party,” Esparza adds.

The chef, who’s worked at kitchens Momotaro, Yusho, and Kimski — he recently worked in the front of the houses at Longman & Eagle and Attagirl — has no shortage of ideas. He teased that he was working on bringing back Finom, the Irving Park coffee shop he co-owned with Daniel Speer. The cafe closed in 2020; plans for a revival are ongoing as Esparza continues to brainstorm, and he’s surrounded by supporters in the industry, like Daniel Espinoza who recently started company, Santo Chorizo. The chorizo appears in the opening menu. It’s that kind of thinking and collaboration that led to the creation of Jeppson’s Malört grilled cheese, one of his signature dishes and something that FAFO will serve. The Malört is quite a novelty for Esparza who doesn’t drink alcohol.

The Jeppson’s Malort grilled cheese with a familiar baseball cap.
The Jeppson’s Malort grilled cheese with a familiar baseball cap.
FAFO/Mistey Nguyen

The two-fisted fun continues as Fafo is going to reverse engineer the bitter spirit to create a non-alcoholic version using herbal teas from Rare Tea Cellar. Why on earth would someone attempt this experiment? Originally, Esparza conceived Fafo without the benefit of a liquor license. Not only did he want strong non-alcoholic choices, but he wanted to encourage customers to bring their own alcohol which could be turned into a cocktail thanks to premade mixers. That’s how they’ll operate in the interim until the city grants a liquor license, but it’s no longer central to the project. The bartender consulting wants to remain anonymous but has worked at some of Chicago’s most sophisticated cocktail bars.

Esparza and Baier met about five years ago. Baier, who worked at Kimski — then a Polish-Korean restaurant attached to the Maria’s Community Bar in Bridgeport, says Esparza was a regular in supporting the kitchen staff. Baier, a Northwest Side native, studied English literature to be a teacher before shifting toward restaurants. He opened Rivers Casino in suburban Des Plaines, worked at DMK Burger Bar in Lakeview, and worked at Geek Bar, the restaurant that existed before the Saved by the Bell pop-up took over in Wicker Park.

The PB&J with Concord grape vinegar and Butterfingers 
The PB&J with Concord grape vinegar and Butterfingers
FAFO/Mistey Nguyen

Baier, who’s Polish American, says he doesn’t tie himself to a particular genre or global influence. His philosophy is ugly delicious, layering on flavors to ensure the bite satisfies: “It’s just food now, everything doesn’t have to be so rigid,” Baier says.

Esparza and Baier will take turns in presenting their menus. Baier is working on dishes like an apple–wasabi sorbet and a PB&J that pays homage to Chicago Public School lunches.

Jamra says they’ll have flexibility in the space. If Esparza and Baier want to travel and Fafo somewhere else for a week or two, he’s ready with alternative programming and his own pop-ups to fill any voids.

The restaurant will open as walk-in only before reservations go online via Resy. Check the pop-up’s social media account for when reservations are available and when the Resy link goes live. Read the opening menu below.

FAFO, 2807 N. Sheffield Avenue, opening Saturday, January 20.