Carlos’ Restaurant to Close After 30 Years in Highland Park

I was shocked to hear the news that Carlos’ Restaurant was closing after 30 years atop Chicago’s Best Restaurants list.

Husband and wife team Carlos and Debbie Nieto, who also own Café Central and the Happ Inn, have decided that it’s time to make a change.

Accordingly, the next two months will be filled with special events, including wine dinners with Silver Oak and Caymus Vineyards; guest chefs; and special degustation menus reviving greatest hits from the last 30 years.

I had the chance to speak with Debbie Nieto recently to find out the scoop on what we can expect from them in the future. Here’s what she had to say.

So! Carlos’, one of the premier fine dining restaurants on the North Shore, is closing after 30 years.

We’re so happy to make it to 30 years and equally excited to move on to another chapter in our lives, and to re-concept the space. It will be totally new.

What led to this decision?
It’s the right time. People love the restaurant when they come, but with the economy and the time, it’s difficult. People still enjoy good food and service – it’s what we pride ourselves on – but a lot of people are hurting right now, and it carries down to everyone. It’s time. We’re excited about moving forward.

The press release hinted that something else is in store for the Carlos’ space. Can you share the secret with our readers?
Not totally, but it will be called Nieto’s, and it’s going to be casual, a much lower price point, and we’re going to want to bring in everyone, from young families, to customers and friends, to help us with the next chapter.

Obviously, your casual Happ Inn concept has struck a chord with your customers. Has that influenced your decision?
I think so, it really has.

Tell me about some of the special events planned for the next two months. How will you be honoring both the restaurant’s past and your present clientele?
It’s a great schedule of special events. Gabe Viti will be coming back, Chef Didier Durand – who we brought to Chicago to be the chef at La Foret in Lake Forest. I fixed him up with his wife! – and friends Bob Burcenski and Tom Alves of Tallgrass will be joining us for special dinners. Plus, we’ll be having special holiday hours starting December 12, with lunch service Monday through Friday, and dinner every evening. And our “Last Hurrah” New Year’s Eve dinner will be very special.

Will you and Carlos be taking a well-deserved rest, or forging on with the new place?
We’ll be forging ahead! It’s been such a wonderful ride. It’s afforded us so much in our lives, so many wonderful friends who’ve become like family. It became more successful than we ever dreamed of.