First Look: Chilango Mex-Tex From Chef Jorge Guzmán

Nachos, margaritas, and more elevate this inviting neighborhood restaurant

Chef Jorge Guzmán is making nachos. Yes, the same guy who made it as a James Beard Award nominee twice for Best Chef: Midwest (Petite Leon and Surly Brewer’s Table) is making nachos with shredded lettuce that remind me of the ones my mom used to make on a sheet pan before watching Sunday football games.

Guzmán’s version is all you want it to be: great chips, pickled jalapeños, shredded lettuce, no Velveeta but a nice mild white melty cheddar. And it’s a great metaphor for what the new Chilango on Lake Street in Minneapolis is and isn’t: it is a neighborhood restaurant, it is fun, it is approachable, and it isn’t designed to win anybody a Beard Award. There’s nothing precious about the menu, nothing affected, nothing but tasty flavors each elevated enough to make it special, but not elevated too much to make you feel uncomfortable.

Nachos are part of a lineup of party foods at this lakeside spot: the botanas (snacks) section has chips and salsa, guacamole, ceviche, the kind of foods you nosh on next to one of Javier Rojas’ fabulous margaritas. I loved the spicy mango margarita—a rare Twin Cities cocktail that promises heat from serrano and delivers. The Verano Rosso is a gin martini crossed with a negroni, light and lovely. The Vuelve a la Vida is fascinating: rum and pineapple and honey and lime and vermouth.

This is cooking with confidence. The charred beets don’t look charred, but the texture is just right, and you get that whiff of smoke, that slightly sweet and caramelized flavor, a hint of citrus in a jalepeno-honey vinaigrette, and then a great texture note from quinoa. It is a delightful $14 salad. I could see myself taking a bike ride around the lakes and stopping for the beets and a drink.

For a decade, Guzman has been doing pop-ups called Pollo Pollo al Carbon Chicken, getting his achiote marinade just right for that chicken cooked over charcoal, and what a delight to see that on this menu. The half-chicken was perfection. At $30, the gorgeous red color from the achiote, a warmth and depth of flavor in that juicy chicken, the ideal bite included a taste of the smoked fresno salsa that accompanies it.

The sleeper hit on the menu may be the charred sweet potato enchiladas. It’s really more like three flat soft shell tacos smothered in a wonderful yellow mole. There are so many flavors coming together here, and it’s really a joyful dish ($24). I can’t wait to come back for the fajitas and the fried cauliflower—both looked excellent when I saw them coming out to other tables. Executive Chef Ryan Thompson is a P.S. Steak veteran, so there are a number of beef items worth exploring.

The room feels great, too. You’ll see the main footprint of the previous restaurants hasn’t changed. Walk in to the main level with a huge square bar, step up a couple stairs to the dining room. The ownership brought in Rodrigo Oñate Roco from Mexico City to create several murals in the room that are bright, lively, spray-painted graffiti art.

Only a fool would review a restaurant on its fourth night of operation, so don’t consider this a review. They’re still working things out, getting staffing figured out, getting everyone trained. But Chilango reminded me of some of the scene-y restaurants we had in the early 2000s with big rooms, big energy, big fun. Figlio, Bellanote, and even Urban Eatery in its early years, which lasted a decade in this same space. You know that patio is going to be bumpin’ this summer, too.

Chilango MexTex, 2730 W. Lake St., Minneapolis,

Parking: Valet is $9
Reservations: Recommended, the large bar is walk-in
Tip/Fees?: 4.95% wellness surcharge
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 5-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (kitchen closes 2-5. p.m. and at 8 p.m.)