The first thing we saw Dave Dworshak do at Takito Kitchen was press masa by hand in a wooden tortilla press and toss the flat disc on the grill, just like all those Mexican women (mostly) in taquerias all over town which proudly announce “Heche a Mano”— Made by Hand. (No one has to ask what’s being made by hand.) Takito Kitchen, opening next Wednesday on a busy stretch of Division in Ukrainian Village, isn’t exactly your average Pilsen or Rogers Park taqueria, and Dworshak, who spent eight years at Carnivale, the first six as Mark Mendez’s #2 and the last two as his successor as Executive Chef, isn’t exactly a Maxwell Street tortilla-presser. But for all that it’s undoubtedly going to be a hot spot on a hipster strip as soon as it opens, Dworshak is avoiding wacky fusion experimentation and keeping his food rooted in recognizably Mexican flavors.
A skillet of roasted pumpkin seeds sits on the stove, waiting to be made into a pepian mole, and beverage director Adam Weber liked Dworshak’s morita chile-cinnamon sauce, which he mockingly calls “the chef’s special jazz,” so much that he borrowed it from the kitchen to incorporate into one of his mezcal-driven cocktails. Takito Kitchen dresses up the taco for a night on the town, without losing the elemental basics of the form— masa and meat— and keeping the accents direct and mostly Mexican. (Though occasionally another note will sneak in, like a light Asian tang to the sauce on the fish taco.)
The space looks big, mostly because of the tall skylight in back, but in fact most of it is a narrow little storefront tucked into Division, too skinny for even a full bar— Weber will have to work against a wall, his bar less a bar than a bunch of shelves. With little room for waiting diners, they’re planning to use the same text-messaging system to tell you your table’s ready as The Little Goat Diner. Another interesting thing about Takito Kitchen is that it’s almost a gluten-free restaurant— only the masa crackers, which Dworshak invented because “After eight years at Carnivale, I was sick of tortilla chips,” contain wheat flour, and he even sourced wheat-free tamari (another surreptitious Asian note).
Check out our slideshow below; we’ll have the menu when it opens next Wednesday.