The Baja oysters at Sueños x Soho, a pop-up from chef Stephen Sandoval at Soho House, come with your choice of a spicy red cocktail sauce of pico de gallo and cucumber or a vibrant green version with serrano, basil, Asian pear, and white soy. They eat unlike any other bivalves in town. That’s because Sandoval incorporates Spanish cooking techniques by adding an oil made from shrimp heads into the red and Asian ingredients into the green. “That Asian influence is something you see in Tijuana,” he explains.
This is not your abuela’s marisquería, or seafood restaurant (mariscos means “seafood” in Spanish). While Chicago has no shortage of them, from Mariscos La Costa Central in Belmont Cragin to La Palapa in McKinley Park, Sueños x Soho gives the cuisine a contemporary twist.
So does Big Star Mariscos (551 N. Ogden Ave., West Town), which opened in September. Building on the approachable Mexican cuisine at the first two Big Stars, culinary director Chris Miller and Ricki Ramirez, executive sous chef of Big Star Wrigleyville, created plates like salmon aguachile with grilled cucumber and a spicy tuna tostada. Serving Mexican seafood seemed a natural choice when the team added a third spot. “There are a lot of amazing recipes from the Pacific coast between Baja and Oaxaca,” Miller says. To give dishes “a Big Star spin,” Miller explains, they “start with a traditional recipe, understand where it comes from and why it’s made, then push it in a different direction.” For instance, when developing the camarónes dorados — deep-fried tacos stuffed with chile shrimp and Jack cheese — they took inspiration for the filling from a staffer’s Cuban empanada.
At Sueños x Soho (113–125 N. Green St., West Loop), Sandoval explores Baja-Med cuisine. “There was a rebirth in Baja 15 years ago, when tourism came to a halt due to the cartel influence,” he says. “A new creative identity emerged. Chefs focused on local produce and seafood with regional flavors and international influences. Think California-Mediterranean style with flavors from Mexico and other parts of the world. It’s a borderless Baja cuisine.”
Sandoval, who grew up in San Diego and worked in Barcelona before becoming executive chef at Leña Brava, is perfectly poised to explore it. In 2021, he launched Entre Sueños, a tasting menu pop-up. He had no luck moving to a permanent space, but winning the Soho Chance contest allowed him to test his concept: He began operating out of the former Chicken Shop at Soho House last April. (His residency ends in May, and he’s working on opening a restaurant in West Town later this year.) In addition to those oysters, he created dishes like a snapper ceviche with a Peruvian leche de tigre made by marinating smoked fish bones with ginger and lime, and a black adobo whole fish that incorporates Japanese Kewpie mayo in the glaze. Borderless Baja, indeed.