Randolph Street nabs yet another tenant with the mid-December opening of Ronero (738 W. Randolph St., West Loop), a bilevel, dual-concept project from chef Cory Morris (Rural Society, Mercat a la Planxa) and nightlife-industry veteran Nils Westlind (Nellcôte, Rockit).
Downstairs: a 100-seat eatery where Morris will fuse Latin American, Cuban, and Caribbean flavors to create what he thinks Chicago’s food scene lacks: “I love Italian and I love sports bars, but there is a gap when it comes to the upscale, authentic Latin experience,” he says.
With input from Westlind, who grew up in South America and married a Brazilian, Morris has selected iconic dishes from Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica and Argentina for Ronero’s opening menu. Offerings progress from small plates (ceviche, empanadas); to composed plates featuring proteins (lamb chops, scallops); to veggie-based entrées (roasted squash served on skewers); and culminate in large-format dishes prepared tableside. One such feast, a whole, two-pound fried red snapper, will get deboned for guests in interactive, splashy fashion.
Upstairs: a rum-barrel door gives way to a 100-seat speakeasy modeled after a castle in Cartagena. Allie Kim (Boka Restaurant Group), will oversee the cocktail program, which entails tableside mixology, classic Cuban cocktails (daiquiris, mojitos), and some large-format originals. But, according to Westlind, “We are doing none of that tiki stuff. No sweet drinks.”
Latin American street food (a Cuban sandwich) and gringo-approved snacks (a trio of South American-themed hot dogs) comprise the food menu. Come weekends, DJs will spin, pausing periodically for what Westlind call “live music interjections.” “The DJ might cut out for 15 minutes and a guy might sing Buena Vista Social Club style—old school salsa and mambo,” he says.
According to Morris, a year of blood, sweet, and tears went into transforming the space—a former bike shop—to fit his vision for an Art Deco, Little Havana-esque vibe that maintains the industrial-chic feel of its Restaurant Row neighbors. “It was a great experience—and probably the last time I will do a ground-up project,” he concludes.