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Lou Malnati's Owner Is Bringing Fish Tacos To Old Town

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 11, 2015 7:00PM

Sapporo battered fish taco with baja coleslaw, yogurt caper sauce, mango salsa and cojito cheese.

You might recognize the name "Malnati" - it's the same name on all of those famous Chicago butter crust pizzas. Marc Malnati, of Lou Malnati's fame, is an expert at making pizza, and he's opening more outposts each year. But now he's turned his attention to a new project, and it might not be what you expect.

"I like real food," explains Malnati. "Vacationing on the west coast and in Mexico, I love eating healthier, eating lighter and fish tacos became my go-to over the last five to six years." However, whenever Malnati returned home, he was disappointed with the lack of decent fish taco options in Chicago. "No one is doing it great," he insists. "We can do it great. We can bring in fresh fish."

Out of that simple vision, Buzz Bait Taqueria emerged. Malnati has been working on the concept for years, but it kept getting pushed aside.

"We thought were going to do it before all these other taco stands started opening in town, but we got busy and opened three restaurants in 15 months," explains Malnati. "So we shelved it for a little while, but it wouldn’t go away! It kept popping up—when I woke up in the morning, I’d think 'I wonder if we should do that fish taco thing.'"

Set to open the weekend of Aug. 21 in Old Town, the fish taco place is a partnership between Malnati and Giulia Sindler, an owner of Kamehachi. The partnership was born out of a mutual love for the food.

"We [Malnati and Sindler] have restaurants right next door to each other in Northbrook, and have known each other for years," recalls Malnati. "Last year at Lolla we were chatting during a lull, and I told Giulia that we’d been looking for sites on Wells Street to do a fish taco stand—and she said 'I’ve been thinking about doing a taco stand too!' I wanted to go more in the fish direction—and how could I have a better partner than that? I couldn’t."

BBQ slow-smoked salmon with baja coleslaw, corn salsa, sweet chili sauce, smoked bacon and cojito cheese.

The menu will include seven different tacos, including tacos featuring fish raw, roasted and fried. Malnati is particularly excited about the salmon, which is going to be slow-smoked in-house, because "There’s no better way to keep that fish moist and juicy."

They'll also serve salad bowls and rice bowls, and everything will be in the $9 to $15 range. They'll also have craft beers, margaritas and a few desserts and sides.

Why are the current fish taco offerings in Chicago not good enough, and what will Buzz Bait be able to offer?

"I don’t think they’ve gotten the Baja quality, the fruitiness and the juiciness of the different salsas that want to be on a fish taco," explains Malnati. "I don’t think there’s the creama on top. When I eat a taco or a sandwich, it had better not be dry —dry is the enemy of good. I think that you want something juicy and moist, and once you have the first bite, the different flavors explode in your mouth, you can’t wait to swallow it to get the second bite."

Buzz Bait is located at 1529 N. Wells St.