What do you expect when you walk into a brand new restaurant?
I was lucky enough to be invited to the soft opening of Chancho’s in Middleton a few weeks ago.
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I walked in. Would I see chaos as they worked out the last of the kinks? Would the food be less than impressive because the chef was still ironing out the details? Would service be slow because they have a new waitstaff? Or would everything be set and ready for the public? I had no idea, but I was thinking positively!
Chancho’s describes itself as a “not so authentic SoCal Cocina Y Cantina” which is absolutely spot on.
Let’s start with the décor. The restaurant is set up to look and feel like a bar that you would find in one the Desperado movies, but without the violence. Rough hewn wooden walls and dark accents round out the sort of cowboy vibe. The walls are filled with old school Lucha Libre posters and murals that scream Mexico in a modern traditional way which is fun and slightly campy but perfect for the restaurant. I really enjoyed the huge painting of a Luchador’s mask and the painting of two skeleton Mariachi players.
The waitstaff, hosts, bartender and even the manager were incredibly friendly. The restaurant was slammed, and I mean FULL, but every person I interacted with was stellar. There’s an air of teamwork here that I’ve rarely seen at other restaurants. We had one waitress (Gianna) the whole time, but everyone pitched in with bringing out drinks, food or clearing the table if they saw it was needed.
Let’s get to the part that you’re really waiting for the, the FOOD!
We started with the Sheet Pan Nachos, which was a mistake because I almost (almost!) didn’t have room for my dinner. These nachos consist of chili lime tortilla chips, black beans, pickled jalapenos, house cheese blend, salsa fresca, guacamole, chili crema, cilantro and we added chorizo. What sets them apart are the chili lime tortillas, chili crema. These two ingredients hit you with a subtle, yet tasty spice which is like a combo of jalapeno and cayenne without the killer heat. These were spicy but in the good packed with flavor way, not in the make you sweat from your upper lip for no reason way. Adding the creamy cooling nature of the crema to the heat of the spice makes it almost a hot/cold flavor profile.
Have you ever had Mexican street corn before? If you said no, this is the place to try it. If you said yes, try this and let me know how much you loved it! The smoked lime aioli is the distinguishing taste here. The smokey flavor mixed with the sweet taste of the corn itself and the saltiness of the cotija is outstanding. The way that these flavor profiles blend together is not something that you have very often, but when you do, you’ll dig it!
I tried two different types of tacos, Carnitas and Chicken Tinga. The Chicken Tinga was moist and slightly sweet due to pickled red onion. I loved the way that the onion served to enhance the flavor of the chicken. The chicken, red onion, cotija cheese combo makes this type of taco a solid bet if you’re in the mood for chicken.
Both tacos were very tasty, but the Carnitas blew me away. To the point where I legitimately said “oh shit” when I took my first bite. Carnitas are something that is either very good or very bad, there’s really not an in between. This example definitely falls into the very good category, if fact it falls into the very excellent category. The garlicy, peppery, onion flavor basically exploded into my mouth as soon as I took a bite. The pickled onions and radish only serve to enhance this already outstanding mishmash of tastes.
We finished the meal with Carne Asada steaks. I was almost full at this point, but the smell of this dish made me hungry all over again. You can smell the grill smoke and spice coming from it before it even hits your table. I mean that, I literally smelled it before our waitress set it down.
I’m not ashamed to say I left this restaurant full and happy because of this steak. It was tender, juicy, and cooked rare just liked I asked for. The traditional carne asada flavor was packed right into this dish. It’s, as far as my opinion goes, a near perfect example. The grilled flavor hit the poblano raja just right. The smooth, silky richness of the avocado that came on top really puts this dish over the top. Every bite of this was delightful.
Want exciting drinks that pair perfectly with this type of food? Yeah, they’ve got that.
Mexican restaurants automatically make me crave Mezcal. I don’t keep it in my house because I don’t drink it often, but when I go to a restaurant that has it, I get it. I tried (guzzled) the “WHO SAYS? SES-A-ME!” It’s a blend of sesame mezcal, dry curacao, meletti amaro, yuzu, and egg white. Don’t let the egg whites scare you, trust me. This drink has the perfect smokey flavor that you want in a good mezcal. I managed to save a few sips to try with each of the dishes that I tried, and I can tell you it went well with them all. Honestly, this drink matches the interior of the restaurant as well. It makes you think of warm evenings spent in familiar places.
I don’t think you need to me to tell you to visit Chancho’s if you get the chance. However, if you didn’t get the picture from what I wrote: GO EAT AT CHANCHO’S!!!