Kokopelli brings flavor to Chicago


Photo Editor

Kokopelli is Wicker Park’s latest Mexican restaurant at 1324 N. Milwaukee Ave., offering a wide variety of menu items featuring modern takes on classic Mexican cuisine.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

The fact that Kokopelli, 1324 N. Milwaukee Ave, is named after the Hopi god of fertility and mischief makes sense in light of its spicy offerings, a refreshing warmth in the looming Chicago winter.

Kokopelli is a welcome addition to Wicker Park’s thriving food scene, offering more of a highbrow take on classic Mexican cuisine. Joining several established Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood, including Big Star and Antique Taco, Kokopelli’s fresh ingredients will ensure it thrives in the crowded Mexican cuisine field.

The restaurant specializes in the cooking style known as urban gastronomy, which incorporates the idea of street food and the culinary techniques of gourmet cuisine. The idea for the restaurant came from Chef Guillermo “Oso” Campos Moreno, his brother Pablo Campos and Orlando “Cricket” Miguel del Monte, who started it in 2012 as a taqueria on wheels, traveling along the Baja Coast.

Opening in mid-November, the Chicago location is the first of Kokopelli’s sit-down restaurants north of the Rio Grande, according to Kokopelli’s website.

Although the food is expensive, one bite into the authentic Mexican cuisine will wipe away any doubt patrons might have had about paying $12 for tacos.

Kokopelli’s large dining room, which seats 90 guests at a time and includes a full bar, seemed a bit empty close to dinner time. At times, the room got to be so quiet the chomping of the crispy fresh tortilla chips could be heard from across the room. However, once the restaurant settles into its new digs and builds a fan base, Kokopelli’s colorfully fresh food will surely bring in customers looking for a spicy reminder of summer.

Kokopelli features a wide variety of Mexican standbys, including tacos ($12), featuring a choice of 12 different varieties all served with homemade corn tortillas, Monterey Jack cheese and avocado. The Baja tacos include beer-battered mahi-mahi glazed in a tamarind-pineapple sauce, chipotle cole slaw, chunky tomatillo salsa and citrus cream inside a corn tortilla. The smokiness of the mahi-mahi blends nicely with the sweetness of the tamarind-pineapple sauce, leaving a taste that is neither overly sweet nor too fishy.

Kokopelli’s signature taco, Kraken, includes grilled octopus marinated in a Mexican pesto, pickled onions, topped with castigo Azteca salsa, freshly sliced avocado, cheese and wrapped in a flour tortilla.

The Mini Tortas ($9) section of the menu consists of Mexican sandwiches each cooked with refried pinto beans and queso panela. The Milanesa includes breaded chicken breast, chipotle mayo, roasted bell peppers, bacon and robo de dante salsa. The crispness of the toasted torta bun gives a nice crunch to the sandwich and meshes well with the juicy breaded chicken.

The Ceviches, ranging from $11 for one, $15 for two and $18 for three, may seem a bit overpriced, but the freshness and flavor of the Sun-Lime Ceviche is more than worth the price. The Sun-Lime Ceviche includes shrimp, roasted corn, red onion, jicama, cherry tomatoes, mint, black sesame seeds, avocado and Meyer lemon juice for a tart kick. All of the dishes are prepared to order using fresh ingredients, with a street food twist on the classic Mexican cuisine.

Because of the increasing popularity of Mexican restaurants throughout the city, Kokopelli is sure to expand from its humble beginnings. With a loyal following from its days as a taqueria, Kokopelli’s location and touch on traditional Mexican food will only help the restaurant grow as time goes on.