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‘Top Chef’ Alum CJ Jacobson Is Opening a Mediterranean Restaurant in Austin

Aba will be the first Texas restaurant from massive Chicago hospitality group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises

A tall bowl of sliced meats, sliced green onions, hummus, and sauce, seen from the side, on a table
Short rib hummus from Aba
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Massive Chicago hospitality company Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is opening its first-ever Texas restaurant in Austin. The specific spot is an expansion of Mediterranean restaurant Aba from Top Chef alum CJ Jacobson, to be found in that whole Music Lane development at 1001 South Congress Avenue in Travis Heights. This is according to TABC permitting, which was confirmed by a rep for the company. It’s aiming to open in the spring of 2020.

The Chicago restaurant focuses on Mediterranean fare. The menu spans from raw dishes (kanpachi with charred avocado, beef carpaccio), hummuses (lamb ragu, spicy, sweet corn), kebabs (meaty, vegetable), various meats, and desserts (babka, halva, kulfi).

Aba’s bar is overseen by one of Chicago’s top bar experts Liz Pearce. There’s a take on the margarita made with aloe and mezcal called Aloe? It’s Me, various cocktails made with high-end spirits, sharable punches, zero-proof concoctions, as well as beer and wine. Of the latter, there’s a special section dedicated to bottles from Lebanon, as well as Mediterranean countries like Israel and Greece.

Aba Chicago is found on the second floor of the building, with lush greenery, skylights, lamp pendants, and a gorgeous rooftop space. The first floor contains Lettuce’s all-day restaurant with a baked goods focus, Beatrix.

Jacobson also runs Aba’s parent Mediterranean small plates restaurant Ema, which is in the Lettuce family. (Aba is the Hebrew word for “father,” ema is the word for “mother.”)

Then-Los Angeles chef Jacobson competed in seasons 3 and 10 of cooking competition show Top Chef, and lost both times. (Season 10 winner Kristen Kish opened her very own Austin restaurant just down the street at the Line Austin Hotel, Arlo Grey.) He moved to Chicago in 2014 to help Lettuce revamp Michelin-starred seafood restaurant L20 into Intro, a restaurant which featured rotating chefs in 2015. (It closed in 2017.)

Lettuce began in 1971 and grew with over 130 restaurants across the country, ranging from fast-casual spots to fine dining restaurants. Its sprawling portfolio ranges from fast-casual spots to fine dining restaurants. There’s the trendy and pricy RPM Italian and RPM Steak, both of which are in partnership with celebrity couple E News anchor Giuliana Rancic and entrepreneur Bill Rancic; lauded tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash; and taco joint Tallboy Taco.

Also slated for the Music Lane development is the Soho House with a public-facing restaurant, Austin’s first location of salad chain Sweetgreen, another location of Austin gelato shop and amaro bar Gelateria Gemelli, and Velvet Taco.

September 25, 10:22 a.m.: This article has been updated to include Aba’s projected opening date in Austin.

Aba [Austin]

1001 South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78704 Visit Website


302 North Green Street, , IL 60607 (773) 645-1400 Visit Website