Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse
The Phoenix Rises from the Ashes
By Jorge Chino
According to the phoenix story, 500 B.C., people believed in a bird that would live for 500 years then die. As it began to die, the bird would lie down on wood, and the wood would burst into flames and consume the bird of colorful plumage. Then, the mythical bird would emerge anew from the ashes, stronger and more beautiful than before, to live for another 500 years.
“One October 30th night many years ago, we lost our business and our home at the same time. But we did not lose our faith,” says Farid Leonardo Suárez, the oldest of the three children, about that tragic night when their restaurant and their home burst into flames a few years ago. Then, like the mythical bird, Las Tablas was reborn anew on another location, a few blocks from the old one.
A Scene from Splendor's Party at Las Tablas
Having lost their business and their home to the fire, the Suárez family renewed its efforts and their hope for a better future. Today, Las Tablas has grown into two locations, and has a loyal clientele that enjoy wonderful food and drinks and, often times, experience and dance to some of the best ethnic music in Chicago.
Las Tablas’ walls are decorated with paintings from the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero known for his works of inflated human and animal shapes. The restaurants are places of nostalgia, of longing for Colombia’s culture and food. Perhaps, this was what inspired Jorge Suárez, the father, to open the restaurant. “When they [the customers] get inside they feel like they're in another country,” said Mr. Suárez, who together with Soraya founded the restaurant. The name Las Tablas comes from the wooden boards on which the restaurant serves most of the dishes. The restaurant’s rustic wooden tables and chairs handmade and imported from Colombia add the South American ambiance to the establishment.
The restaurant offers popular dishes such as the Bandeja Paisa, Matrimonio and their grilled skirt steak, perhaps the best in Chicago; also seafood such as grilled shrimp, calamari and octopus. It also serves an excellent “pollo al ajillo” and empanadas that are possibly the best in all of the Midwest. Las Tablas yuca is crunchy and the steaks filled with a great flavor. “What differentiates our restaurant from other Colombian and South American restaurants is our seasoning. Only two people in the world can make it: My father and myself,” says Farid Leonardo Suárez, who would like to go back to school to continue his graduate studies. In fact, it is the family’s seasoning secret recipe what has made Las Tablas a popular place of friends and family gatherings in Chicago.
In the beginning, Jorge Suárez cooked while Soraya worked the tables and served as administrator. The restaurant even had to sell Mexican food such as tacos and burritos in order to attract enough customers to keep their doors open. But their hard work paid off in the long run and the restaurants have prospered. Two years ago, the family opened their current restaurant on Lincoln Avenue in a building of their own.
Today, Nicole, the second of the children, is going to high school and also helps in the restaurant a few times a week. Leo, a graduate of political science and international studies from Northwestern University, produces cultural and world music events featuring exceptional local and touring ensembles, showcasing a wide array of contemporary and traditional Latin American genres. All in all, Las Tablas is a great place for food, music and to enjoy life.
"America's Best Skirt Steak.."
-America's Best Bites
"Top 20 Chicago Steakhouses"
"Flavorful Steaks, Party-like Atmospere"
"Excellent, Authentic, Wonderfully-Spiced Grilled Meat...Warm Service, Fun and Happening Scene"
-Pat Bruno, Chicago Sun-TImes
"Number One New Restaurant"
-Taste of Chicago 2008