Either the most important chef and restauranteur in Chicago's Chinatown is headed to the Palms, or somebody will soon be changing the name of the next restaurant destined to take over from Little Buddha.
Lao You Ju will be filling the 4,372-square-foot space with an allocated construction budget of $400,000 and help from Forte Specialty Contractors, noted for co-creating local restaurants needing a dramatic visual stamp. Their team also worked on the ill-fated Heraea right next door to this site.
A Google search of any type of context verifies the phrase Lao You Ju only exists in conjunction with one single person, Tony Hu of Chicago's Tony Gourmet Group, who likes to name the projects in his ever-growing portfolio with the prefix Lao. Hu is fast approaching a dozen ventures in Chicago with big expansion plans for New York and Washington, D.C.
The reveal of a restaurant, any restaurant, taking over the Asian fusion Little Buddha space comes almost two years after its shuttering and follows the calamitous failure of the ONE Group to open the pan-Asian Xishi spot in its place and keep their adjacent Heraea sports bar open for a full year.
UPDATED: Tony Hu confirms he is opening at the Palms.
Hu has been called the mayor, king and even emperor of the Chicago Chinatown district since his 1998 debut on the culinary scene. While acknowledging some parts of his menus accommodate Western tastes, there is often an uncompromising commitment to regional dishes and flavors in his kitchens. The Chicago branch of Lao You Ju serves boldly labelled entrees like stir-fried frogs, steamed fish heads and sesame oil pig ear, plus unabashedly super spicy small plates matched with a full roster of crafted cocktails.
The "sleek" and "sexy" lounge style environment of the original location was described by Eater Chicago as "it looks like Vegas came to Chinatown." The extremely ambitious Hu revealed he had received invitations to expand to Las Vegas last year.
Lao You Ju has been roughly translated as "old friends get together" or "friendship to be." The Palms also operates the casual Fortunes Chinese and dim sum restaurant inside the 24 Seven Café a few steps away.
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