One fateful day in 2015, Arturo Aucaquizhpi, was walking down the street of his Irving Park neighborhood with his daughters (now aged 14 and 17), destined for the local Stop &Shop. The owner of Mirabell Restaurant, a nearly 40-year old German restaurant a block or so away from Arturo’s house, was closing. Having arrived in the United States from Ecuador in 1992, Arturo contemplated his 24-year dream of opening his own restaurant. He went home, discussed his vision with his wife, and decided that night that he would bring the run-down space back to life in the form of Mirabella Italian Cuisine & Bar, a steakhouse and neighborhood staple.
Having worked at Chicago’s Gene & Georgetti, Chicago’s longstanding Italian steakhouse, for a number of years, Arturo is familiar and well-trained in the cuisine. However, Arturo certainly doesn’t forget who and what brought him to the United States. His father worked in a restaurant to send remittances back to the family in Ecuador, moving here in 1972, 20 years before Arturo would follow at age 16. Arturo recalled his older brother who tragically passed away, attempting to enter the United States and provide for his family as his father did. Both Arturo and his father worked in Italian restaurants upon their arrival to the United States, cleaning dishes and bussing tables. Arturo made his way to eventually work as a line chef at Gene & Georgetti, discovering his true passion: cooking.
Family and cooking are the cornerstones of Arturo’s life, with his wife (and occasionally daughters) working in the restaurant. One might wonder, as I did, “why didn’t he open an Ecuadorean restaurant?” His answer was very straightforward – demand for Ecuadorean food was not consistent enough. While demand for Ecuadorean food comes and goes, Italian food is perhaps the go-to cuisine of comfort around here. The freshly renovated space is certainly comfortable with warm lighting and exposed beams that transport the customer to a starry night in Tuscany. Having sat down and spoken with Arturo, I’d say that he too is comfortable with Italian cuisine after so much experience in the business. When I asked what his best dish was, he told me adamantly that I couldn’t go wrong with any thing on the menu – and he was right!
The meal began with a well-balanced gin and tonic, accompanied by a bread platter containing offerings that exceeded expectations: roasted garlic, ricotta cheese, and butter kept me plenty busy as I struggled to make a decision. Ultimately, I settled on the black tagliolini with shrimp and scallops, which his bartender told me was particularly good – he too was right. Before the delicious pasta, I enjoyed what may have been the best minestrone soup I’ve ever tried. The bartender also noted how hard Arturo works, all day, every day. Arturo himself believes that “if you want to eat good, you have to work,” and he certainly lives by that motto. Rather than describe himself as a restaurant owner or what have you, Arturo expressed happiness and certainty in what his occupation is, first and foremost: “I am [a] cook.”
Seated near the entrance to the restaurant I was privy to the comings and goings of customers, both regulars and first-timers such as myself. The regulars and staff were noticeably amicable, sharing laughs and hugs both before and after their meals. One customer asked his waiter, “can you make the sauce extra spicy for me tonight?,” to which the waiter replied in the affirmative with a grin and a pat on the shoulder, knowing the customer’s go-too dish as he led them to what is truly one of the most pleasant dining rooms I’ve been to in Chicago. A woman and her husband hugged their waiter on their way out – “until next week!” As Arturo specifically noted the need to offer a pleasant experience in order to maintain recurring customers, I’d consider it a job well done.
Ultimately, Arturo and his restaurant are so inviting. He put so much time and effort into getting where he is, both throughout his life and even in the arduous renovation work that he took on himself (with hands to help). He’s very grateful, thanking God and his family for a blessed life through hard work and faith. I can’t wait to return and hopefully enjoy their lovely outdoor seating and choice meats.
Mirabella Italian Cuisine & Bar
3454 W Addison Street, Chicago, IL 60618
Sunday: 11AM - 10PM
Tuesday - Saturday: 3PM - 11PM
About the author: Julian Bishop is a Chilean-American son of an immigrant and bona fide foodie.