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What To Expect From The Loop's Epic New Latin Food Hall

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 1, 2015 2:57PM

A rendering of the interior of Latinicity. Provided by Richard Sandoval Restaurants.

We've caught Latinicity Director of Operations Scott Harney in a bit of a fluster. It's about six weeks before the opening of the new giant Latin food hall coming to Block 37, and Harney is worried about the weather. Not because people will be standing outside in line waiting to get in, though they might—but because the restaurant has to hire a helicopter to lift a chiller onto the roof of the building.

That gives a sense of the scale of this project, a massive food hall run by Chef Richard Sandoval that will take up thousands of square feet of the downtown shopping center.

"Richard has always wanted to bring authentic Latin culture to a major city," explains Harney. "There are great restaurants in Chicago that highlight different areas of Latin food, from Spain to Argentina to Mexico, but to put everything one place is something he's wanted to do."

A rendering of the interior of Latinicity. Provided by Richard Sandoval Restaurants.

Latinicity will bring it all together, with 12 different food stands representing different cuisines, a sit-down tapas restaurant, a huge 50-seat bar, unique retail, coffee, juices—you name it. The comparisons to Eataly are inevitable, but Harney is going with it.

"It's a natural comparison, and at first Richard didn't like it, but he saw how common it was, and it's very successful, so why fight it! If people want to compare us, that's fine, but we really are totally different."

When guests enter Latinicity, which is slated to open in mid-October, their first sight will be a 60-seat tapas restaurant. For the restaurant, Sandoval is partnering with Chef Jose Garces, well known to Chicagoans from Iron Chef America and his South Loop spot, Mercat a la Planxa. If you don't want a full sit-down dining experience, head to the food stalls.

"We'll have a number of stations highlighting different areas of Latin food throughout," explains Harney. "You can walk around, go from station to station and grab whatever you like, and then sit in the huge dining hall in the back which has some amazing views of the city. It's a beautiful view."

A rendering of the interior of Latinicity. Provided by Richard Sandoval Restaurants.

Food stalls include a tortas station, a taqueria, an Argentinian grill, a mariscos (seafood) station, salads and more. Sandoval is particularly fascinated with Peruvian food, so there will be a cevicheria and a chaufa station, which serves a Peruvian version of wok cooking. They hope to expand the average diner's idea of what Latin food, and especially Mexican food, can be.

"A lot of people have a skewed version of Mexican food. Regional Mexican food so has many variations," says Harney.

Originally, the space was supposed to be Lettuce Entertain You's second outpost of FoodLife, their tourist-friendly food court in Water Tower Place. But the financial crisis foiled the plan.

"For the last few years, the landlord has been looking for other things that might fit," says Harney. "The bones were already here, the equipment was here. Once they brought Richard in, he looked around and though this was something we could go a long way with."

They've adapted the space significantly, but the basic idea of a place with many different food options, emptying into a central dining hall, remains.

Latinicity will be an all-day experience. In the morning, they'll have a coffee and juice bar, and the rest of the restaurants will open for lunch and stay open into the night. While the Loop isn't known for its night life, Harney is hoping that this project will be enough of a draw to keep people in the neighborhood later. To that end, they're focusing a lot of energy on their bar program, which includes beers from all over Latin America that have never been available in Chicago before.


Some cynics will scoff about the idea of bringing an upscale Latin super-restaurant into the middle of a city with such great Mexican food in the neighborhoods. Harney, who lives in Pilsen himself, looks at it differently.

"There's about a million people in the Loop who never go to Pilsen. They go to Taco Bell in the suburbs!" he says. "They can come here for lunch, or for happy hour after work, and get a new experience."