Fat Rice In Chicago

Chicago's Fat Rice puts an underrepresented cuisine in the spotlight

When Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo opened Fat Rice in November 2012 they weren't anticipating an instant hit.

"We thought people would be like: 'Post-colonial fusion cuisine: What the hell is that?'" says Conlon.

One year in, hour-and-a-half-long waits on Wednesday nights indicate that the pair was wrong in all the right ways.

Fat Rice is the only place in town to eat house-made linguiça with chile-spiked cabbage, potstickers with black vinegar and braised pork belly with tamarind and chicharrones–all to a soundtrack of late-90s hip hop.

Conlon and Lo take the cultural mishmash of Macau as inspiration, extrapolating from the Chinese region's Portuguese, Indian, Southeast Asian and African cuisines, which they encountered while there on a week-long visit in 2011.

"We're testing dim sum right now," Conlon says. "We're putting grilled bluefish in escabeche. We're turning hundreds of pounds of local chiles into Mozambique-style piri piri." When we stopped by recently, Conlon made a riff on mapo tofu using chunks of foraged puffball mushrooms that he'd just received that morning.

What makes Fat Rice go 'round: from general manager Lo to cleavers and chiles

Bon Appétit recently deemed Fat Rice the fourth-best new restaurant in the country. Whatever that means, it's pretty impressive given that the pair, in Conlon's words, "went from underground to legitimate," only after six years running the low-key supper club X-marx.

And it's not just the food nerds who are paying attention. Conlon tells the story of a cabdriver who came in to eat one night after hearing about the restaurant on his taxi's TV.

"The guy said, 'I'm from Goa,'–a former Portuguese colony that has a lot in common with Macau. 'I love these flavors and you can't get them anywhere.' And that's...really awesome."