“The spirit of Latin America in the heart of Chicago” is the phrase that says it all. Located on the third floor of Block 37 in the Windy City, Latinicity, a food fall and lounge (think Eataly), is where you can go to find what you're craving. The brainchild of chef, author, and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, Latinicity serves up everything from Colombian, Peruvian, and Argentinian classics to dishes with cultural twists of Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican flavors. We chatted with Sandoval about how Latinicity was born, what you can expect, and what his favorite bites are. Click on for a look inside.
TLK: Where did you come up with the idea for Latinicity?
Sandoval: I was in Colombia about six or seven years ago and traveling through South and Central America, when I went to a market that was built with food stands. I fell in love with it and I wanted to create something like it in the United States. And I was inspired by Eataly, but I had to find the right space. It was a large investment and took a lot of time to put it together. Block 37 became available and I took it. Eataly was open and successful by then and people were changing the way they wanted to go to food courts.
TLK: How did you go about deciding what restaurants and shops to feature?
Sandoval: I wanted to showcase the market and have approachable food. When you go to a market in Mexico, you can find tacos and when you go to Colombia you can find nice produce. I based Latinicity around a market that I felt food people would understand. I didn’t want to go high end I wanted to go back to basics with good home cooked, market foods.
TLK: What stations are featured at Latinicity?
Sandoval: Latinicity has 12 counters: Tortas & Cocas, Sushi & Ceviche, Chaufa-Wok, Saladero Grill, Ensaladas, Mariscos, Machefe Taquería, Burguesa, Sopas, Coffee Shop, Full Bar and Loncheria. I combined Japanese and Peruvian with Argentinian grilled meats. The seafood station features mussels, calamari, crispy shrimp and other seafood. The pastry and coffee station features all Latin pastries. The soup station was inspired by soups and stews from South America while the taquería offers tacos and quesadillas.
And some of my favorites are the tacos, the flatbreads, we have one with chorizo and shrimp. I’m also a fan of the Mexican hot dog. It’s a bacon wrapped Vienna hot dog with smoked chili mayo, a black bean purée, and coleslaw. I also love the tortilla soup.
TLK: In the center of the food court is the tapas restaurant Pata Negra. Tell us about that.
Sandoval: Pata Negra Restaurant has small plates and sharing, Iberia hams, sangrias, and then our retail component. What we do is offer very unique ingredients from South and Central America to purchase like hams, cheese, and wines. The whole idea is to show the culture of Latin America so when you walk in you’re transported to Latin America through art, culture, and food.
TLK: Why should someone come to Latinicity?
Sandoval: It’s a spectacular venue. The design, the space, the food… you can spend a few hours eating a lot of different dishes. If you like market foods, you’d get that experience without going to Mexico.
TLK: Are there any plans for another location?
Sandoval: There’s a lot of different developments, but Latinicity has only been open for three months and it’s work in progress, so we’re focusing on this location. Maybe in a year we will look at other options.