Restaurant news: Umaga Bakehouse, a reimagined Filipino bakery, among 9 openings in Chicago

Buttery soft ensaymadas, longanisa-stuffed empanadas and purple ube horchata are among the dozens of different items at a new Filipino bakery in Chicago, if you can get them.

Umaga Bakehouse celebrated its grand opening with lines out the door and sold-out shelves in the Mayfair neighborhood on April 20.

Kissel and Robert Fagaragan had to close their debut business for a day just to bake. The owners, who are wife and husband, didn’t expect the crowds.

“We couldn’t even fill up our shelves,” Kissel Fagaragan said. She’s the general manager, and he’s the head baker. Every time racks came out, she said, customers bought out all the hot baked goods.

That’s despite the bakery section inside Seafood City Supermarket just across the parking lot, and two bakeries in its shopping center. But the new shop is different.

Umaga Bakehouse is the reimagined Filipino bakery, Fagaragan said. They wanted to modernize the mom-and-pop shop bakery, she added, but still keep it traditional while not just making everything ube.

The couple wanted to keep it to their roots in the Philippines, she said, especially with their ensaymada. The delicately sweet and lightly savory baked brioche pastry is traditionally topped with grated white cheese and a dusting of sugar.

“That was one of the very first items my husband made in the lab, our home kitchen,” Fagaragan said. She had asked him to recreate the ensaymada that family brought back from the Philippines. He finally came up with their recipe, she said, that’s pillowy and buttery.

Their classic ensaymada has become a must-order item since their first pop-up held just last December at Side Practice Coffee. They considered critiques from friends and family, including their daughter’s friends’ parents. An almond ensaymada has also emerged as a fan favorite among their different flavors.

Pandesal, though, is their daily staple bread, finished in fine bread crumbs.

“That’s the No. 1 go-to for any Filipino,” Fagaragan said.

The couple met working at a bakery, but he was a cleaner then, not a baker, even though his father once had a bakery back in the Philippines.

“His dad, he just opened a shop in his own home,” she said about the former mini-mart in front of her husband’s childhood home that sold bread. That was so different from her childhood in California.

But she came up with the name for their bakery. Umaga means morning in Tagalog, one of the major languages spoken in the Philippines.

“You want fresh bread in the morning when you come into a bakery,” Fagaragan said.

And their senorita bread was the bestseller during their grand opening.

The Spanish bread, she said, is a small soft, pillowy roll with melted butter. “We’re giving it to you hot in a box.” When you bite into it, she added, it tastes like a very light pandesal with sweet butter that melts in your mouth.

The senorita bread is sold by the dozen for $7.99.

Another hit was their Ilocos-style empanada.

“From my husband’s province in the Philippines,” Fagaragan said. It’s bigger than their other empanadas, and made with a rice flour wrapper, filled with housemade longanisa, egg and papaya before it’s fried crisp.

The ube horchata takes days to make and sold out too.

The couple had planned to open their bakery daily, but they’re closed on Mondays for now.

Meanwhile, they plan to add halo-halo soon, made with jackfruit and banana that they’ll cook in syrup and Milky Milky ice cream by a local Filipino American woman-owned business.

And look for online ordering in the next few weeks.

“We also have artwork in the store,” Fagaragan said. The pieces feature their different family provinces in the Philippines and regional specialties to come.

“It’s not just gonna be the typical Filipino food you can get anywhere else.”

4703 W. Foster Ave., 872-250-3565,

More new and notable openings, in alphabetical order:

A Taste of the Philippines

Chef Kathy Vega Hardy moved her Filipino restaurant from a Chicago French Market stall to its own home. A Taste of the Philippines just opened with a ribbon-cutting event in the Jefferson Park neighborhood on April 19. Get breakfast lumpia filled with bacon, egg and cheese; lechon fried rice with pork belly; and ube chocolate chip cookies. Do note they’re only open on Fridays for dinner, and Saturdays for brunch and dinner for now.

5914 W. Lawrence Ave., 720-746-8880,

Bar La Rue

DineAmic Hospitality has transformed a corner of a new Fulton Market tower into a flowery French restaurant. Bar La Rue said bienvenue on April 18. You’ll find a Royale with Cheese smash burger, also available “Provence style” served over Gruyère cheese fondue (which is not a thing in the South of France, mais ça va); Bougie Chicken Tenders with caviar; and cocktails bien sûr plus nonalcoholic drinks, including a rosemary lemon Enchanté.

820 W. Fulton St., 312-533-4607,


Wicker Park welcomed Chicago’s first Cava, the fast-casual and fast-growing Mediterranean chain restaurant April 25. Get your bowls and pitas with proteins such as harissa honey chicken and spicy lamb meatballs, along with a host of dressings and toppings. The brand also offers handcrafted juices and is famous for its cult-favorite pita chips and Crazy Feta dip. Look for a second location in Vernon Hills this summer.

1484 N. Milwaukee Ave.,, 872-319-2016

El Puestito

Chef and owner Ricardo Rodríguez is on the road again with his seasonal Mexican food truck, the mobile incarnation of his former “Best Mexican Restaurant Hiding in a Grocery Store.” El Puestito parked in Belmont Gardens on March 11. Follow the aroma of their signature woodfire-grilled pollo asado, now available alongside new quesabirria tacos and birria ramen. Do note they’re usually only open on weekend nights for now.

4414 W. Diversey Ave., 312-522-7607,

Electric Funeral Bar

Jackalope Coffee & Tea House owners John Almonte and January Overton are “putting the fun in funeral.” Electric Funeral Bar began visitations in Bridgeport on April 10. They’re “dying to meet you” with their Electric Funeral cocktail (mixed with bright blue curaçao), The Grim & Tonic and The Morgue-arita, across the street from the new Ramova Grill and Taproom.

3529 S. Halsted St.,

Migos Fine Foods

Chef Brian Jupiter and his Frontier restaurant chef de cuisine Azazi Morsi have teamed up to bring halal fried chicken and tacos to the Northwest Side. Migos Fine Foods started sizzling in the Portage Park neighborhood on April 5. Order fried chicken wings with buttermilk biscuits, lamb barbacoa tacos with harissa tzatziki and beignet sticks fried to order.

5044 W. Montrose Ave., 872-946-7015,

Professor Pizza Old Town

Pizzaiolo Tony Scardino just debuted his first dine-in pizzeria. Professor Pizza started slicing in Old Town on April 12. Get his stunning deluxe sausage and peppers with whipped ricotta on a cracker-thin tavern-style crust, a wedge salad with pepperoni and green goddess dressing, plus a Sunday night-only dinner with spaghetti meatballs.

1610 N. Wells St., 312-471-0400,

Swadesi Cafe

Indienne chef Sujan Sarkar and culinary director Sahil Sethi have partnered again on a new project, an Indian coffee shop. Swadesi Cafe began brewing in the West Loop on March 26. Sip on masala chai, possibly paired with a butter chicken croissant or a samosa chaat croissant with tamarind and mint.

328 S. Jefferson St., 708-553-6350,

In closing news:

Foxtrot and Dom’s Kitchen & Market, the luxury convenience and grocery stores with cafes, abruptly shut down all locations across Chicago and the country on April 23.

Cafe Selmarie, the beloved restaurant in the Lincoln Square neighborhood that marked its 40th anniversary last September with an announcement that owner Birgit Kobayashi would be retiring, finally closed on April 27.

Tribune editor Lauryn Azu contributed to this story.

Know of a Chicago-area restaurant or bar that’s new and notable? Email food critic Louisa Chu at

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