Zeeshan Shah and Yoshi Yamada met at a James Beard Foundation dinner in New York City, an introduction through chef Jared Van Camp (Old Town Social, Nellcôte). What could have been a singular encounter between two chefs turned into a long-standing friendship. Yamada (Lula Café, Blackbird) had been living in New York at the time, and Shah in Chicago. As fate would have it, Yamada returned to Chicago a few years later for his wife’s career and the chefs began hosting Bombay Breakdown pop-up dinners — which led to the opening of Superkhana International. It’s a modern Indian spot that culminates their childhoods, travels, and culinary chops.
With chef Jason Hammel, a longtime friend, as a partner in the restaurant, you’ll be sure to see plenty of ingredients straight from the Green City Market. The flavors are Indian, but the preparations are unexpected, like in their version of Dhokla, a savory chickpea flour cake often eaten with tea or on the go. Their version will pair it with local sweet corn and asafetida (dried resin from a giant fennel frond found in foothills of Himalayas) and topped with an achaar (Indian pickle) aioli ($12). Breads like naan and chipati are made in house with a New York pizza oven.
“You’ll see a lot of traditional ingredients, ideas, and traditions but with a lot of American products and techniques,” Yamada says. “We just want you to have a great time with great food.”
It wasn’t easy to land on a name for the spot. Khana actually means to eat or a meal. “ ‘Super’ we just say a lot,” laughs Shah, “and ‘International’ makes it feel modern and a throwback at the same time.”
The space felt “kismet” to the duo, because it really resembled classic Indian architecture. The 70-seat restaurant is built around a courtyard, channeling vibes of Indian homes where families would live, eat, and grow chiles. The interior was a labor of love, as the two chefs lime-washed the exposed brick themselves. Paint colors and details were inspired by 1970s and ’80s Bollywood films and traditional saris, and abstract artist Kaveri Raina created a large painted burlap piece.
What pairs well with spice-forward Indian food? Bubbles, of course. The bar menu is all about the fizz with carbonated highballs ($10) like the Superkhana high ball with mezcal, Club-Mate and lime, Pét-Nat, sparkling rosés, and Champagne taking center stage. There will also be some fun mocktails and Indian twists on other classic cocktails.
Superkhana International is located at 3059 W. Diversey, 773-661-9028; superkhanachicago.com
Photo by Marcin Cymmer