If you love Mexican cuisine (and who doesn’t?) but are growing a bit tired of the same old, do yourself a favor and take in the flavors at Tzuco, located at 720 North State Street in River North.
This Chicago restaurant delivers a tantalizing blend of Mexican dishes with a French fusion angle that is out of this world in taste and execution. Chef Carlos Gaytán has cultivated a delicious menu from start to finish that will leave you wondering how soon you can make it back to this River North establishment.
Be sure to order the French onion soup for starters, which is mightily enhanced with a Mexican twist of Poblano peppers alongside Gruyère cheese and crostini. You will realize this soup is truly unique from the first sip as your taste buds do backflips of joy.
Tzuco serves up brilliant tlacoyos featuring blue corn masa, black bean purée, haricots verts, salsa cruda, sour cream, and queso fresco. According to research, this beloved snack dates back to the first major civilization of Mexico, the Olmecs. Order up some, and you’ll understand immediately why tlacoyos have survived for so long. Paired with the French onion soup, and you have a match made in culinary heaven at Tzuco.
Every item on the appetizer menu is worth exploring each time you visit Tzuco (yes, you will be frequenting this River North spot often if you haven’t tried it yet). The pescadilla featuring a stuffed squid ink tortilla with fish fillet, tomato, onion, garlic, thyme, and avocado salsa is the type of dish that launches foodie blogs because once you try it, you can’t help but spread the word. The same goes for the tuna ceviche made with ahi tuna, tomatillo aguachile tatemado, cucumber, red onions, avocado, and choclo.
The main courses at Tzuco are, in a word, spectacular. The steamed lamb neck barbacoa with mint jocoque, pinto bean purée, and sweet pickled vegetables delivers big on taste and presentation, with explosions of authentic succulent flavor. The carne asada is a showstopper with oven-roasted tomato, roasted fingerling potato, and chipotle goat cheese fondue. Choose between the 24 oz. Snake River rib eye or 12 oz. NY Angus. Either way, you’ve made a wise decision.
If you’re craving fish, the a la Talla featuring a whole Red Snapper baked in a stove oven with guajillo aioli, slaw, green salsa, enfrijoladas, and avocado is a must-have. Even if you’re not a fish person, you will be glad you tried this pleasing combination of flavor and eye candy that is hard to find anywhere else.
Last on the list of items tried at Tzuco is the cochinita pibil. This traditional Mexican dish is highlighted by a Guerrero-style pork shank that is so tender it borderlines on romantic. The pork shank is surrounded by a strong supporting cast of black bean purée, pickled red onion, habanero salsa that leaves a moment of sadness when you look down and see there’s nothing left on your plate.
Chef Carlos Gaytán was born in the small town of Huitzuco in Guerrero, Mexico. He made his way to the US at the age of 20, where he worked his way up from dishwasher at the Sheraton North Shore Hotel to opening his own spot, Mexique, where he went on to win a Michelin star in 2013 and 2014. With Tzuco, Gaytán has created an exquisite menu that features his vision of authentic Mexican food with French techniques that make this spot a true gem in River North.
Tzuco is open Monday through Thursday from 4 pm to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday from 4 pm to 10:30 pm, and Sunday from 4 pm to 9pm for dinner. Brunch is available from 10 am to 2 pm on the weekend.
ERIC KAPLAN AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO