Top Chef Alum Katsuji Tanabe Has Big Plans in Chicago

Top Chef Alum Katsuji Tanabe Has Big Plans in Chicago

He's opening a new restaurant serving Mexican food with a Japanese spin.

By Maggie Shi

Everyone's favorite bowtie-wearing, pot-stirring (figuratively and literally), 50-ingredient-using Top Chef cheftestant is headed to the Windy City. That's right: Katsuji Tanabe is packing his knives and opening a 200-seat Mexican restaurant, called Barrio, in Chicago later this spring.

Katsuji, who runs Mexikosher in Los Angeles and New York, is teaming up with DineAmic Group for his first venture in the midwest. "I've always liked Chicago. It's way more of a foodie city than LA and New York, I think," he said in an interview with The Feast. "The people there are super welcoming."

Barrio won't be purely Mexican, however. "There's a lot of Japanese influence in this restaurant. I'll be doing robata, the charcoal-style grilled meat, Japanese-style," Katsuji explained. "But I'm Mexican, so we'll have the salsa, the tortillas, churros."

Though the restaurant will have a Mexican look and feel, it's intended to appeal to a wider audience. "You're going to find way more than just tacos, so if you want steak or fish, I'll have that," he said. "It's like the type of place that I'd like to go and hang out, bring friends over, you know, I'll have a little bit of everything."

Despite its Japanese flair, the restaurant won't serve sushi. And unlike his two outposts of Mexikosher, it won't be kosher, either.

There will, however, be a top-notch list of cocktails and drinks. "We're going to have a huge tequila and mezcal program," Katsuji declared, adding that the restaurant will operate as a night club, too.

But Barrio isn't the only new restaurant on Katsuji's plate. He's also opening an upscale kosher spot in Beverly Hills in a couple of months. Called Baranda—a mashup of his daughters' names, Barbara and Miranda—it will feature a Mexican menu and a "date-night" atmosphere.

"My Jewish customers have been asking for a nice place where they can sit down, somewhere they can taste the food that I do on TV. That's the main reason we're doing Baranda," he explained. 

Wouldn't we all like to taste Katsuji's cooking? Unless it's beans with a little extra funk thrown in. 

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