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Chilango Mex-Tex: Fun and Fresh Food by Bde Maka Ska, But It’ll Cost Ya

Should you (Chilan)go to Chilango? Read on to find out!

Em Cassel

The Twin Cities metro has a lot of really great Mexican restaurants, whether you’re looking for a quick lunch on Lake Street’s taco corridor or James Beard-nominated, corn-focused fare

But if it’s Tex-Mex you crave? Well. All I can say is I miss MB Foodhouse.

So it was a delight last year to learn that Jorge Guzmán, the chef behind the little Kingfield gem Petite León, planned to open a restaurant honoring the unique cuisine born of the U.S.-Mexico border. Chilango, the term for those like Guzmán who are born in Mexico City, opened in mid-April inside the Beach Club Residences by Bde Maka Ska, with a menu they’ve deemed "Mex-Tex"—emphasis on the Mex.

The decor drives that distinction home right away. Stepping inside, you’ll encounter the first in a series of murals by Mexican artist Rodrigo Oñate Roco, whose cartoonish, graffiti-inspired characters also give you a sense of the joy that’s the focus here. Light fixtures I can only describe as tumbleweeds hang above some of the tables, and little beer can cacti are scattered in among the liquor bottles above the bar. 

I never visited Urban Eatery, which occupied this space until last year, but from photos you get the sense that Chilango is a much more fun and freewheeling establishment. Less “brunch with mom,” more “drinks with buds.” Not that mom wouldn’t like it here—I think she would!

Now, Tex-Mex is kind of a loosely defined cuisine, but broadly speaking it refers to American Mexican food first introduced to Texans by Tejanos. Mexican restaurants in Texas added ingredients that would be familiar to white folks—ground beef, black beans, canned veggies, and shredded cheddar—and subtracted some of the spice. Thus, Tex-Mex was born: fajitas, nachos, queso dip, chimichangas.

Chilango’s Mex-Tex take gets playful with the style, especially when it comes to botanas (snacks), from chipotle ranch smoked wings with white widow sauce (lol) to nachos piled with pickled jalapeños and pico and beans and cheese. 

Em Cassel

Wanting to emphasize Mex over Tex ourselves, we opted to start our meal with Chilango’s aguachile de camaron ($21), a choice I would make again. Fat, succulent little shrimps and hunks of soft avocado swam in a sauce of aji amarillo, which was softly spicy and surprisingly rich, almost buttery. Crispy Persian cucumbers and thinly sliced chiles added crunch and heat, and while it could have used more acidity—I found myself wishing I’d ordered a Modelo so I had a wedge of lime to squeeze over the whole thing—this dish was otherwise wonderfully fresh and vibrant, the kind of plate that transports you to the beaches of Mexico without leaving the shores of Bde Maka Ska.

Instead of Modelo, I’d opted for Sparkling Toxic Mezcalinity ($15), a bubbly bright-pink cocktail with agua de Jamaica, pineapple, and vanilla, all of which gently swirled around the smoky mezcal for a dangerously suck-downable drink. There are lots of cutesy cocktails here (“Let Your Man-go Margarita,” “I Live Across the Street.”), but not many NA options, and I wrote “good mezcal list” in my notes but did not elaborate further, so you and I both will just have to take my word on that one.

“I might never go back to tweezer food," Guzmán told Mpls.St.Paul Mag’s Stephanie March ahead of Chilango’s opening, and there are surely no tweezers here. (Click here to read about other tweezer-shunning local chefs.) Take the fajitas de bistec ($33), which more or less piles tender slices of adobo marinated flank steak with roasted onion and peppers. There’s gentle heat, and the vegetables are nicely charred. But the dish of the evening was Chilango’s enchiladas de camote ($23), with a trio of corn tortillas stuffed with soft sweet potato. The silky, warm mole, the peppery salsa macha… I wanted to crawl inside this plate and pull the tortilla over myself like a blanket. 

Now, yes, you with the raised eyebrows, I’m getting to you. You can order more Mexican food for much less elsewhere in the Twin Cities. (If it’s cheap tacos and burritos you’re after, here are several recommendations courtesy of our Best Budget Bites series.) Guzmán addressed this in a lengthy Instagram post in April, writing, “The perception of Mexican food being cheap is one of the most frustrating things as a Mexican Chef, especially now that I own a Mexican restaurant … If you broke down any taco, let’s take the al pastor for example, it takes at minimum two days to create.”

I think that’s admirable, and I’m glad Guzmán said it. I also think the prices here were “a bit spendy” for what we got in the end, and that the restaurant will need to do some fine-tuning to address what’s become a common critique in early reviews. There are places where Chilango justifies the price point and places where it doesn’t. Put plainly: No, I would not pay more than $30 for those fajitas in the future. 

I like that the Mex-Tex menu is streamlined. There are really only 15 dishes here, plus a selection of Chilango favorites that rotates daily (Monday is Texas Tamale Pie, Tuesday is Carne Guisada, etc.). The vibes are warm and welcoming; the service is excellent. 

And Chilango’s lake-adjacent patio will be a huge hit this summer—I’m already planning to swing by for a margarita al fresco during an upcoming bike ride around the lakes. 

Chilango Mex-Tex
Address: 2730 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Hours: Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

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