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Home » Kerala Cuisine Shines at Avondale Restaurant Thattu Chicago in 2023 (A Local’s Review)

Kerala Cuisine Shines at Avondale Restaurant Thattu Chicago in 2023 (A Local’s Review)

Fish fry with a side of rice and salad

A new(ish) restaurant is on the block and it’s already making waves in Chicago. Thattu Chicago, once a beloved food stall in the Politan Row food hall, has now grown into a full-fledged restaurant in the city’s Avondale neighborhood. This place brings Malyali cuisine (from the southern Indian state of Kerala) to food lovers in Chicago. In this post, I’ll give you a full rundown of the menu and food (with my favorite items), ambiance, prices, and an overall rating of the place. You’ll also find the hours, link for reservations, and details about a very special event coming up at Thattu Chicago at the end of the post.

I’m an Indian from Mumbai who has made Chicago my home for more than twelve years. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I usually do a roundup of restaurants like this list of best Indian restaurants in Chicago or a list of food items like this street food guide in Mumbai.

But every now and then, a place or experience comes along that deserves more than a place on a list and makes me want to do a deep dive. And Thattu Chicago is exactly one of those places!

Black awning with red and yellow name sign
Entrance on W Fletcher St

The Story

Thattu Chicago is a labor of love by owner couple Margaret Pak (who’s also the chef) and Vinod Kalathil. The seeds of Thattu were planted when it started as a pop-up stall in 2018 and then became a food stall in West Loop’s Politan Row food hall in 2019. However, the entire food hall saw a sudden and unexpected closure in October 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its policies on indoor dining.

Thattu continued its journey in the pop-up space through 2021 using Guild Row’s kitchen, while the owners continued to look for a permanent residence for their unique food offering, which needless to say, grew in popularity.

The doors to Thattu Chicago in Avondale opened on April 2023 with a limited lunch service and expanded to dinner service slightly over a month later.

One of my favorite things about Thattu is how dynamic, resilient, and agile it’s been throughout its journey. It’s inspiring to see how they continue to operate that way even after the restaurant has become a reality. There are intentional soft openings and thoughtful tweaks to the menu based on diner feedback (like adding new items or the fish fry getting promoted to its own entree from a side dish).

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Vinod and Chef Margaret during my visits and I’m always touched by their warmth and hospitality. We talked about our love for the diversity of Indian cuisine from Vinod’s home state of Kerala to my home state of Maharashtra and more.

Vegetarian meal combo platter at Thattu Chicago
Chorum Kariyum featuring curry of the day, 2 side dishes, rice, pappadum, rasam

Menu

There’s truly something for everyone at Thattu Chicago, whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or carnivore. It also includes several gluten-free items on the menu!

One of the first things you might notice on reading the menu is that the food isn’t segregated into appetizers and main courses per se. Only the sides are mentioned separately. But you can understand what’s what by reading the details and casting an eye on the prices.

Pro tip: The lunch and dinner menus are slightly different, with some overlap in the offerings. So be sure to check out the menu in advance and decide which dish you want to eat and let that dictate whether you want to head over for lunch or dinner.

The lunch menu boasts of Kerala fried chicken (in both sandwich and bites style), kadala curry (a roasted coconut gravy featuring black chickpeas), chicken ishtu (a coconut milk-based gravy with boneless chicken, carrots and potatoes), chorum kariyum (a traditional vegetarian thali or platter with a little bit of everything – a curry, two side dishes, rice, pappadum, and rasam), and fish fry (a spicy pan-fried catfish with a watermelon cucumber salad, fenugreek leaf chutney, and curd rice on the side). There’s also curd rice and Chaater Tots (a fun spin on tater tots sprinkled with the Indian chaat masala with beet ketchup on the side)

The dinner menu starts with appetizers like kappa bonda or fried yucca balls, beet puff pastry, and Kerala fried chicken bites. This is followed by eggplant theeyal (a coconut tamarind sauce with eggplants, pearl onions and cherry tomatoes), Malabar chicken biryani, meen pollichathu (a unique preparation of spiced fish steamed in banana leaves with tomato basil gravy and turmeric lime rice) and pork chop with tangy peralan gravy with coconut braised collard greens, yucca cake on the side. Chicken ishtu and kadala curry from the lunch menu are also present.

There are sides of appam – a soft coconut milk and rice crepe, cumin basmati rice and masala biscuit at both lunch and dinner.

The cocktails menu is very creative and built on the foundations of ingredients common in the cuisine like kokum, banana and kaapi. It also features beers from Azadi Brewing and Marz Brewing which are unique local Chicago breweries with a fan following of their own. Plus there are Californian wine blends for good measure.

New dishes are being added to the menu all the time, so your best bet is to follow Thattu Chicago on Instagram to stay up to speed.

Kadala curry with appam
Kadala (black chickpeas) curry with appam

Food and drinks

The food at Thattu Chicago is incredible and feels like a fine dining experience served in a warm, casual setting. It doesn’t rely on excessive oils or an overload of spices. It carries the essence of Kerala cuisine with fresh, wholesome ingredients, like coconut, curry leaves, and mustard seeds.

Here are some of the items I’ve tried on my visits. I’m mostly a pescatarian and eat only halal meat so unfortunately I haven’t been able to try the meat options on the menu. But if the vegetarian and seafood dishes are anything to go by, the meat dishes must be delectable too!

  • Kadala curry – I loved this roasted coconut gravy with black chickpeas. This was my favorite food when I was in Alleppey, Kerala last year and I’m so glad that this dish at Thattu’s matches, or even exceeds, the taste I had in Kerala. It’s a very earthy dish with creamy gravy and nuanced spices. Highly recommend paying the extra dollar for appam since the two are a perfect match!
  • Chorum Kariyum – This vegetarian meal combo is all kinds of goodness served in a thali. There’s a curry of the day (the yogurty kaalan), two side dishes (green beans coconut thoran and black chickpea salad), and a bowl of rasam and papad. As you can see from the picture, I couldn’t resist digging in before I had even captured the spread!
  • Fish fry – This dish deserves the most Instagrammable item on the menu award (right up there with the pork chop). It includes a spiced catfish alongside a beautifully arranged salad atop some fenugreek leaf chutney. My husband got a side of regular cumin rice with this but it usually comes with curd rice. The fish is very nicely spiced and crisp on the outside and soft inside.
  • ChaaterTots – This fun twist on the Tater Tots is a fantastic idea! Chaat masala is a blend of several ground spices, creating a tangy and flavorful seasoning that goes perfectly well with the potatoes. But the star of this dish is the beet sauce. A naturally sweet vegetable like beetroot makes for the perfect base for a ketchup alternative and the spices added to it make it so much more satisfying than plain old ketchup. If they sold this sauce in a bottle, I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
  • Malabar Ginger Cooler – This cooler is the perfect way to beat the summer heat. It has ginger, mint, lime, black pepper, and cardamom with pieces of fresh fruit like watermelon and pineapple! So much packed in a single glass with flavors that work really well together.
  • Kaapi – This South Indian-style coffee with milk and sugar is perfect if you’re looking for a hot beverage. It comes in the traditional two stainless steel cup containers which are traditionally used to cool down the coffee by pouring from one to the other. Pair this with a masala biscuit and you’ll thank me later!

As you can see from this list, I’ve loved everything I’ve tried so far. I’ll definitely return to try more items on the menu and add them here!

Grey sofa with photographs, murals and traditional wall hanging.
The bright and airy waiting area at Thattu.

Ambiance

Thattu’s red brick exterior is quintessential Chicago and gives little away about the beautiful and airy interiors.

The first things you notice after stepping inside the restaurant are the high industrial ceilings and exposed brick walls bathed in generous amounts of light from the large windows, including one garage door window. The ceilings are filled with cane lamps and yards of sarees while wall murals add pops of color to the otherwise earthy tones.

I love that the kitchen is partially open with a large internal window that gives you a glimpse of Chef Margaret and the kitchen staff preparing your meals with precise focus and undivided attention.

The stainless steel glasses and cutlery really add that homely charm to the place.

My favorite corner of the space has to be the wall adjoining the kitchen. It is filled with incredible photographs from India. These capture everyday life scenes like a fruit vendor with his stall, fishermen casting a net, and lush green, expansive hills.

Then there’s the most special photograph which features chef Margaret and her mother-in-law (Vinod’s mother) sharing a candid moment preparing food and framed photos from the older woman’s handwritten recipe book! It is such a wonderful customization and I wish more restaurants did something like this on their walls giving us a peek into their stories and furthering our connections.

Right next to this wall is the hard-to-miss nettipattam which is an ornament used to adorn the forehead of temple elephants during festivals and other religious occasions in Kerala. This golden ornament is set on a brightly colored wall mural in shades of red, green, blue, and more.

These two walls make up such a fun and contrasting corner with a couch and coffee table in front of them where guests can wait if they’re in line. But I’d highly recommend walking over to this side of the restaurant even if you’re not waiting for a table and checking out the artwork.

It truly feels like you’re stepping into the beautifully decorated living room of a friend’s home rather than a commercial establishment.

Earthy interiors of Thattu Chicago
Exposed brick walls, cane lamps and decorated ceiling

Price

Thattu has very reasonable prices for the small-batch cooking style it provides, the freshness and quality of ingredients, the depth of flavors, and the spacious, beautiful ambiance.

An admirable thing at Thattu Chicago is that there’s no need to tip separately. The food prices are set up in a way that provides good, competitive wages and benefits to the staff. This is something I wholeheartedly support as it brings transparency for the customers prior to the meal and ensures fair wages for the staff.

In the early days of opening, you walked over to the counter and placed the order. More recently, they’ve switched to the ToastTab Mobile Order and Pay system where you can scan the QR code placed on your table, place the order and pay right from the phone. You can keep the tab open and pay at the end or you can pay at the beginning when placing the order. The food is brought to your table and the tables are cleared by the staff too.

As with most restaurants, the lunch prices here are slightly lower than the dinner prices. For example, the chicken ishtu and kadala curry are a couple of dollars cheaper during lunch. Plus, more pricier items like steamed fish and pork chop are not available during lunch.

Coffee with biscuit
Kapi with masala biscuit

Overall rating

10/10

I won’t preface this section by saying that you should try Thattu if you are a big foodie or love Indian food or south Indian food in particular.

Thattu is a place that deserves to be on everyone’s radar whether you’re a local or a visitor to the Chicagoland area. Even those who are not big fans of Indian cuisine or have concerns with spice levels are highly likely to become converts after eating at Thattu.

If a deeply flavorful, wholesome, nourishing meal is what you’re after, Thattu will not just meet but surpass your expectations.Thattu for me is comfort food at its best!

Hours and location

Mon & Thu – 5 pm – 9 pm

Fri – 11:00 am – 2:30 pm & 5 pm – 9 pm

Sat & Sun – 11 am – 2:30 pm & 5 pm – 9 pm

Tues & Wed – Closed

Address: 2601 W Fletcher St Chicago IL 60618

Reservations

While Thattu is good with walk-ins, I’d recommend getting a reservation on Opentable if you’re planning to go on the weekend, especially for dinner, or dining with a large party size.

Stainless steel utensils at Thattu Chicago
Stainless steel glasses and cutlery

Special events

There’s a fantastic experience of Onam Sadya offered by the restaurant later this month on the 26th, 27th, and 28th of August. It is a special meal to celebrate Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala.

Sadya means feast and this unique meal is served in a traditional style on fresh banana leaves. Keep in mind that everything should be eaten by hand as no utensils are allowed.

The Onam sadya at Thattu is supposed to feature approximately 15 vegetarian dishes including dessert, and a non-alcoholic welcome drink. Fried chicken and/or fish curry can be added for an extra charge along with beverage purchases.

The Thattu team will also create a pookkalam or traditional flower carpet along with the dining guests. The meal is served to everyone at the same time on a large dining table so make sure to arrive on time.

This is as close as you can get to the real deal – a cultural Malyali and Indian experience – without buying flight tickets to India!

Update: This event is now sold out. Be sure to check back again next year.

Summary

I’m sure it’s very clear by now that I love Thattu. I’m so grateful that this place is just a short bus ride away from my home. For transparency – I am neither related nor friends with the owners and nor is this a paid promotion.

My appreciation for Kerala cuisine has further deepened since my visit to Alleppey and Kochi late last year and getting a flavor of that cuisine in my own backyard is incredible! I’m just happy to share that love and get this place on your radar if it wasn’t already.

Thattu Chicago is a place that I’ve added to my regular rotation of favorite restaurants in the city. It’s one that I can’t wait to take my out-of-town friends and family as an introduction to the incredible flavors of Chicago.

What are some restaurants that bring you the flavors of home or a special place where you live? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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