Latinicity spices up Chicago culinary scene


Santiago Covarrubias

Customers enjoy Latinicity’s cafeteria-style dining lounge area.


The many varieties of Latin American cuisine have found a brand new home in Chicago—all under one roof.

Latinicity, a Latin American restaurant, food court, market and bar in the city’s Block 37 mall, 108 N. State St., opened Nov. 5 to customer acclaim, according to Executive Chef Mark Chmielewski, who has worked with top chef Richard Sandoval—the owner and creator of Latinicity—for more than a year.

Latinicity features 12 culturally diverse kitchens, a coffee cafe, a full bar, a market and a lounge area. The restaurant features Latin American street food, as well as Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.

Chmielewski said his “partner in crime,” Chef Daniel Merono, originally from Spain, created all the recipes and has been working on them for a long time.

Merono spent the last 10 years as a chef in Bogotá, Colombia, where he met Sandoval, who had already been considering creating Latinicity and invited him to be a part of it, Chmielewski said. 

“A lot of the recipes are [Merono’s] and [Sandoval’s]. It’s [Merono’s] forte,” Chmielewski said.

As executive chef, Chmielewski oversees all restaurant operations while Merono takes care of the culinary side. 

“I am stunned at how many people are coming through the door,” he said. “It’s absolutely what we hoped, but I didn’t think it was going to happen this fast.”

He said as of now, lunch is busiest, but he hopes to capture some of the nearby theater crowd for dinner, adding an AMC Theatre will open above Latinicity’s location.

“We are almost treating each station as its own individual restaurant,” he said. “The last couple of days we have started to see some rhythm of how we are doing.”

Ikram Hassan, a Latinicity customer, said the new restaurant is conveniently located in the Loop.

“There are only high-end restaurants or fast foods [on State Street],” Hassan said. “[Latinicity] is something that was missing.”

She said she also enjoys the variety of the restaurant and was pleased to find burgers, fries and sushi options available in addition to the Latin American cuisine.

“I can grab food that is affordable,” she said. “[There is] no pressure to sit down like a nice restaurant where you have to order food and worry about the time frame.”

Maria Zabala, a customer from Argentina, complimented the restaurant’s atmosphere upon her first visit.

“I was expecting it to be packed full of people, but it looks pretty nice,” Zabala said.

Zabala said she was looking for something from her home country in the market section.

“I saw chocolates that are pretty authentic,” she said, adding it was a good start.

Local restaurateurs have noted Latinicity’s promising beginning. Jason Goldsmith, the general manager of Eataly, an Italian culinary attraction in a similar vein at 43 E. Ohio St., said he is thrilled and supportive of Latinicity.

“Anybody that is bringing more high quality food to the city is great,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith said Sandoval was thoughtful in bringing Latinicity to Chicago and that Sandoval wanted to mirror the accomplishments Eataly has made.

“We have a very supportive food community,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith added Chicago chefs and restaurants love to collaborate, and he sees Latinicity as good competition.

“[We all have] the important goal of eating good quality, honest food in our city,” Goldsmith said.

Chmielewski said Latinicity is a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

“It’s like a blank canvas we are working with,” he said. “None of us have done anything like this on this scale.”