When I was invited by Taylor Berger to participate in the menu tasting of the soon-to-be open Chiwawa restaurant on Sunday, March 10, I jumped at the opportunity.
Chiwawa is in the two-story, 3,196-square-foot building at 2059 Madison Ave. near Overton Square in Midtown that housed Chicago Pizza Factory in the 1980s and has been vacant since. Until now, that is.
Chiwawa is a Southern-inspired Mexican concept by Berger, partner in YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato, along with principals J.D. Sledd, Daniel and Katherine Flanagan, and Rachel Hasselle. It’s just a few blocks west of Berger’s highest performing YoLo location at 6 S. Cooper St.
We tried a variety of things, all which were quite tasty. I was partial to the Mexican street corn with cotija cheese, lime and paprika. Very sweet and tangy, and it reminded me of elote con cotija y mayonesa from Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana in Germantown.
Another favorite of mine was the house-made chips (very Las Delicias-esque) with salsa fresca and tomatillo sauce. This seems like it’ll be Chiwawa’s staple starter dish.
Also a hit were the hand-cut fries with quesco fresco and house-made adobe-serrano pepper ketchup. This ketchup was unreal – I swear I tasted some sort of jam in it, yet it had a slight kick as well due to the peppers. Someone at my table said, “these fries are better than Houston’s.” So there you go.
Chiwawa’s menu will have a la carte items ranging from $3 to $8. A big part of that menu is the tacos and quesadillas, a dish in which patrons will have the option of choosing from locally-made corn or flour tortillas.
The tacos we got to sample included potato, egg and chorizo, as well as the spinach, salsa fresca and potato. Both potato fillings were diced white potatoes, but Chiwawa’s staff said they’ll likely have sweet potato options.
Continuing with the Mexican “street food” theme, Chiwawa will serve a handful of gourmet hotdogs. We tried the slaw-sa dog, a bratwurst topped with salsa fresca and a sweet slaw. The taste of this slaw made me think of Pancho’s special green mustard vinaigrette. Great medley of tart and savory.
Other premium hotdogs Chiwawa plans on making include one with pulled pork and another with pineapple salsa. That’s in addition to the restaurant’s signature “Juan tons,” a fried empanada filled with chicken, cream cheese and green onion, served with a poblano cream and red salsa. These will make for the perfect shareable finger food among parties big or small.
Chiwawa plans to be open from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. daily. The non-smoking establishment has been working with Michael Hughes of Joe’s Wines & Liquors on specialty cocktails for the upstairs bar.
Speaking of the upstairs bar, Chiwawa’s lay out is similar to the way Local Gastropub’s Midtown and Downtown locations are configured – with the kitchen downstairs and the bar center-stage upstairs. Except in Chiwawa’s case, there’s only one bar and you enter from the upstairs off Diana Street. I also liked how Chiwawa’s kitchen was very much in the open, bistro-style, reminiscent of Alchemy in Cooper-Young.
The original bricks of Chicago Pizza Factory were kept in tact, and Chiwawa’s going to add flat-screen televisions throughout. “We’ll have music blaring,” Sledd said.
Chiwawa is aiming to have a soft opening this week. The eatery has its liquor license, but it may be a few weeks until its beer permit is finalized.
Chiwawa will be managed by Brad Tedford. Its chefs are Crash Hethcox and Travis Tungseth.