Behold an Adventurous Mediterranean Escape in Bucktown

Must read


Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Filed under:

As an independent restaurant owner, Tama chef Avgeria Stapaki had to fight for her vision of Mediterranean dining

Well-traveled Greek chef Avgeria Stapaki faced a challenge in opening her new restaurant, Tama, inside a well-trodden space near Damen and Armitage in Bucktown. Sometimes even with a fresh coat of paint, it’s a still struggle to shake off the specter of a former tenant. It’s kind of like Ben Affleck. No matter the role, he’s still unmistakably Ben Affleck.

This is not the case at Stapaki’s rollicking new neighborhood restaurant that debuted last week. Though the location, 1952 N. Damen Avenue, previously housed several tasting menu spots (most recently, Michelin-starred Claudia), it’s now nearly impossible to imagine the locale without Stapaki’s commanding and self-assured presence to helm its wide-open kitchen.

Stapaki and co-owner Adalberto Olaez (Lao Peng You, Boeufhaus) met while working side-by-side as executive chef and chef de cuisine respectively in 2022 to open Nisos, a lavish and much-hyped Mediterranean restaurant from the owners of Hampton Social. However, owner Brad Parker — who recruited Stapaki from her native Greece — felt Fulton Market diners didn’t respond to his chef’s ambition and closed the restaurant in spring 2023, safely rebranding as a steakhouse. Olaez followed Stapaki and would ultimately partner with her, opening Tama without investors or corporate backers.

It’s been more than four years since Stapaki left her home in Greece to open Nisos, and while that journey hasn’t unfolded in the way she expected, she’s not sorry that she chose this path. Culinary artistry is a core facet of her identity, and at Tama, she has the freedom to present her true self on the plate. “I feel like myself again as a chef and artist — I consider myself an artist,” she told Eater in January. “I was working as a fashion photographer before I became a chef… I changed careers to follow cooking because cooking is an art that never ends. I’m always learning something.”

A white bowl of tuna tartare.
Tuna tartare (yuzu, herbs).

Tama’s opening lineup of dishes is unlike any other Mediterranean spot in Chicago and includes a zippy yuzu tuna tartare, a playful spin on Greek avgolemono styled to resemble ramen (it includes crispy chicken and firm egg noodles made on-site), and springy shrimp with bok choy and fennel. The cocktail list also brings a similar energy with options like a sesame-laden Formerly Japanese (brandy, calamansi, almond).

The space sports an unusual footprint and every square inch is put to use, from front-row counter seats just feet away from the kitchen to a lively bar area in the back, all the way up to an intimate dining room on the second floor. In a remarkable transformation, Moroccan red-orange and dark blue hues lend a cozy feel to the once-Spartan interior. That shift was intentional, as Stapaki aims to banish the space’s legacy the a special occasion spot.

“People want real food, people want to be happy, people want to be comfortable,” she says. “My past was always in fine dining restaurants, so I know [how to do that] very well. But I want to create an environment for everyone.”

Take a look at some of Tama’s menu items in the photographs below.

Tama, 1952 N. Damen Avenue, Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

A bowl of beetroot salad.
Beetroot salad (goat cheese, arugula, pistachio).


1952 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (312) 955-0212 Visit Website

More articles

Latest article