Barrio, a New Restaurant from 'Top Chef' Alum Katsuji Tanabe, Opens Saturday

The new restaurant touches on elements of Mexican, American, and Japanese cooking — but don't call it fusion.
Barrio cocktails
Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune

The bar serves a range of cocktails.

"Cooking is the only thing I take seriously in life," says chef Katsuji Tanabe. "I'm very sarcastic, not serious, except when it comes to my food. Cooking is make it or break it."

Tanabe, the "Top Chef" Season 12 contestant behind popular restaurant Mexikosher in Los Angeles, hopes to make it in Chicago with Barrio, opening Saturday in River North.

Tanabe was born and raised in Mexico, but Barrio isn't a Mexican restaurant. It's more — Mexican-ish, with some influences from the chef's father, who is Japanese, and others from his adult years spent living in the U.S.

"The whole concept of the place is it's my food — what I eat on a regular basis," Tanabe says. A section of six taco platters ($12-$16) offers everything from what he has dubbed "the Gringo" (Creekstone Farms beef, iceberg slaw, roasted local tomato salsa, Wisconsin jack cheese) to a more traditional skirt steak with house-made salsa and Chihuahua cheese. Queso fundido ($15) has salted cod. An $85 dry-aged rib-eye for two bears the subtlest of nods to Mexico: The accompanying butter is made with achiote, the vibrant red-orange spice native to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Related
Top Chef Stars: Where Are They Now?Padma Lakshmi of 'Top Chef' Wants You to Pledge to the ACLU Too

Find out more about this -ish restaurant.