Spotted Monkey restaurant, in Chicago’s Financial District, announced its opening today. As the third eatery by proprietor Amy Le, following the popular DuckNRoll food truck and Saucy Porka restaurant, Spotted Monkey’s Latin American-Asian concept isn’t merely fusion. It’s evolution.
Transitioning from poultry to pig to primate may seem like the stuff of fantasy, but for Le it was a natural progression. Working in her diversely staffed kitchens in the four years since she became a luminary of the Chicago food-truck scene with DuckNRoll and later the burgeoning Financial District lunch scene with Saucy Porka, the former newspaper journalist and lifelong foodie delighted in hearing her colleagues reminisce about their varied hometowns and native cultures, from El Salvador, Guatemala and Puerto Rico to Korea. Le herself, who is of Vietnamese descent, grew up working in her mother’s Chinese restaurants in St. Louis.
This multicultural inspiration is reflected in both the Spotted Monkey name and its menu. Le and her longtime business/life partner, Chicago blues musician John Keebler, named the counter-service lunch spot after an animal common to both Asia and Latin America — but like Le’s imaginative ethnic-cuisine hybrids, you won’t spot this playfully named monkey in the wild. Building on the flavor combinations she established with her previous endeavors, Spotted Monkey’s offerings will range from $8 to $13 and include several appetizers, a trio of rice bowls, banh mi sandwiches, hearty soups and Le’s signature bacos (in shrimp, tofu, chicken, beef and pork).
“We’re paying homage to the familiar foods that people would be eating in their mothers’ kitchens and grandmothers’ homes,” Le said.
Some all-new additions to Le’s repertoire will include picadillo, a cumin spiced ground-beef and potato stew, sweetened by raisins and is a traditional comfort-food in places like Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines; phozole, a hybrid of a Mexican pozole and Vietnamese pho broth; and for dessert, “Guatemalan Doughnuts,” similar to empanadas but crafted from mashed plantains, and in place of the traditional frijole paste stuffing, Le’s doughnuts contain an Asian-style red bean paste, banana Nutella, and guava jam. Beverage options will feature a mojito lemonade and a seasonal watermelon juice, as well as a sweet jamaica-flower-based drink.
And while Le proudly announces that duck dishes will return to her menu for the first time since her food-truck days, she is quick to note that despite the monkey moniker, “No monkeys will be served on our menu.”
Le and Keebler designed the colorfully rustic decor of the 30-seat restaurant to suggest 1950s and ’60s Havana, Cuba, an ambiance they hope is reflected in the dining experience — no flat-screen TV menu boards here. From the wood-and-metal Spotted Monkey sign and hand-painted monkey pictures near the entrance to the collage of woven, Spanish-patterned potholders, placemats and plates on the wall across from the open kitchen, the homey, informal atmosphere invites patrons to come in, relax and enjoy a lunch break away from the stresses at the office.
“I want people to escape for 30 minutes out of their day to be transported to someplace that welcomes them with the smells of rich stews simmering over a hot pot and having someone ask how their day is going,” Le said.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, closed