Bar Goa Chicago, a Goan and Portuguese gastropub, is boldly pushing the boundaries of traditional South Asian cuisine with its twist of fusion flavors, innovative cocktails and its evocation of Goa’s tropical atmosphere.
Located in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood surrounded by the party district of Hubbard Street, Bar Goa offers the perfect mix of EDM music and Bollywood party hits, finger-licking South Asian food and refreshing cocktails—all designed to give diners the unique experience of Goa’s party nights and sunny beach mornings.
Chef Bobby Geetha, one of the key chefs creating Bar Goa’s menu, describes the restaurant as one with a “quirky but Indian” vibe. The fusion and synthesis of flavors represented in their inventive menu is a homage to Goa’s rich history. Goa, a state on India’s west coast, is a former Portuguese colony, which explains Portuguese flavors in Goan cuisine.
While all the dishes have a Goan or South Asian inspiration, each one has a twist of its own. The fried chicken Xacuti wings is a good example. Xacuti is an authentic Goan spice made of Kashmiri red chilies, poppy seeds, coconut, onion and spices. Xacuti chicken curry is a staple in Goan households. Bar Goa takes this traditional dish and brings it to diners in the form of wings, an American fast food. They’re served with lemon and pepper aioli, a condiment with Mediterranean and Egyptian origins.
The Goan Crazy Sampler, a butter chicken slider, is another instance of South Asian with a twist. Butter chicken, a famed Indian dish that originated in pre-Partition India, is beloved in the West. The restaurant takes this iconic eat and fashions it into sliders, again, a traditional American finger food. It’s served with lemon aioli and habanero, which has Mexican origins. Restaurant manager Kim Seang explains that they included the habanero because “Indian people like spice.” As is evident, there is fusion in every bite.
Geetha talks about this culinary multiculturalism as an Indian feature. “If you look at authentic Indian cuisine, it’s not purely Indian,” says Geetha. “It’s an innovation.” He refers to prime examples such as chicken tikka, a popular South Asian dish that originated in the United Kingdom. He refers to tomatoes, a fruit used in South Asian curries consistently, but one that was first domesticated in pre-Columbian Mexico.
“India is a melting pot,” he says. His idea is to take the cuisine and “make it better than before” with “creative expression.” The chef’s innovation stems from the idea of celebrating globalism as well as local cuisine. “This is my concept. Indian dishes in the form of international recipes,” says Geetha.
While the food is a fusion of different flavors and cultures, the drinks aren’t far behind. The bar menu brings a mixture of classic cocktails and unique creations with a touch of culture, representing another popular aspect of Indian cuisine—alcohol.
The Under the Turmeric Sun is a cocktail whose hero spice is, you guessed it: turmeric. Dharma Gin, the main alcoholic component, is infused with turmeric and orange peel, and topped with lime, orange bitters, egg white and demerara.
The Indian Mango Sangria, another South Asian-inspired drink, uses mango brandy, made from Mexican mangoes. This is blended with Moscato and Limca, a local Indian lime soda, and is topped with apples, pears and grapes. Seang reports it to be their “top-selling drink” and says they “wanted to come up with something no one has ever tasted before.”
The drinks menu also features feni, a Goan liquor known to be strong and pungent. It is traditionally made from cashews and cashew fruit (cashew trees are a staple in Goa’s landscape). The Chicagoan Handshake takes feni and pairs it with a mild Chicago brew—another localized innovation.
A non-alcoholic mocktail that brings a touch of nostalgia for Goans is the Vagator Beach. Made of flora hemp gin, watermelon juice, ginger beer and fresh mint, the idea is to transport diners to the sunny, tropical beach of Vagator—one of the lively, hip and most-visited beaches in Goa.
If diners think they are filled with delicious concoctions in the first two courses, a surprise awaits in Bar Goa’s dessert menu. The Saffron Cheesecake is a slice of bold and delicious sweetness on a plate. It has multiple layers like a traditional cheesecake. The cheese layer is made of white chocolate infused with saffron, topped by a layer of saffron and cardamom ganache. The crumb layer at the bottom is inspired by a traditional South Asian sweet dish called ladoo. The cheesecake is topped with a raspberry compote and drizzled with a pistachio crumble. The South Asian flavors come from saffron and cardamom, spices native to Southwest Asia. The ladoo which forms the crumb base is another sweet dish native to South Asia. In simple terms, a ladoo is a sweet ball made of different things such as lentils, dry fruits and coconut. The texture of the ladoo is crumbly and dense, making it the perfect inspiration for the bottom layer of the cheesecake.
From the first to the last bite diners take at Bar Goa Chicago, diners are in for a burst of fusion flavors with a touch of home. While Goans and South Asians are particularly drawn to the restaurant, their doors are open to people from all cultures. In the words of Chef Bobby Geetha, “There’s something for everybody.”