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Taste of Kerala: Chicago-based Indian Restaurant Thattu Makes New York Times’ ’50 Exciting’ Restaurant List

Taste of Kerala: Chicago-based Indian Restaurant Thattu Makes New York Times’ ’50 Exciting’ Restaurant List

  • Launched in its current location last year by owners Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil, the former food hall focuses on dishes from Kerala.

Indian restaurant Thattu, located in the Chicago neighborhood of Avondale, has made it to the third annual New York Times Restaurant List of 50 places in the U.S. the publication is “most excited about right now,” for its comfort food from Kerala, India’s spice garden. It was born of co-owner and chef Margaret Pak’s love for the southwest Indian coastal cuisine, according to the restaurant website. 

Half of the restaurants in this year’s list are marked as “new,” the Times noted, adding that they have “opened since the 2022 list was published.” However, plenty of those included “have been around for years and are still sending out exceptional dishes.” Noting that “this is an expansive moment for independent restaurants despite the upheavals in recent years,” the Times says “cities and towns in the United States are better to eat in today than they have ever been.

Launched in its current location last year, “this former food-hall stand has found a larger home for its loud flavors, courtesy of the owners Pak and Vinod Kalathil,” writes Times food reporter and author Priya Krishna. “Everything here, down to the stainless steel plates the food is served on, feels homestyle,” she writes. “Expect fish fries, yogurt rice, and coconutty curries whose remnants you’ll eagerly sop up with appam, lacy domes made of rice and coconut,” she continues. “Even the more playful dishes, like tater tots dusted with chaat masala, feel like those clever snacks devised in a pinch by an enterprising home cook.”

According to Eater Chicago, “The focus is on the dishes that remind co-owner Vinod Kalathil of his mother who lives in Kerala.” Kalathil and Pat met in Las Vegas, John Kessler wrote in a Feb. 21 piece on the restaurant in Chicago magazine. “Kalathil was just there to party,” he wrote, while “Pak was there for a Tori Amos concert.. Since then the couple has “traveled the world, including a visit to Kalathil’s family in India where Kalathil’s mother passed down family recipes to Pak,” he wrote. The design details at Thattu are” thoughtful down to the bathrooms — the all-gender bathroom features signage with two figures, one dressed in a sari and the other in a dhoti.”

Pak, a Korean-American statistician from California “made the transition to expert cook when, a decade later, she was laid off and Won Kim of Kimski took her under his wing,” Kessler wrote in Chicago magazine. “The couple launched the first iteration of Thattu in the food hall Politan Row in 2019. “During the 10 months it was open, it earned rave notices, including a James Beard Award semifinalist nod. “But the volume was soul-sucking,” Pak recalls. “Seven days a week, and 14-plus hours a day.”

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