Chicano: Soulful Mexican Inspired From Family Recipes

RESTAURANTS

Chicano: Soulful Mexican Inspired From Family Recipes

Chicano is Hong Kong’s youngest and most bold Mexican restaurant to brace the city’s food scene in recent months. The Gough Street restaurant offers a deep culinary dive into the warmth of an abuela’s (grandmother’s) cooking and the recipes that have followed Mexican immigrants in search for identity and flavour in Los Angeles.

Launching in mid-December 2021 with their soft opening, Chicano has posed a daring challenge to expose Hong Kong to an authentic and simple Mexican cuisine previously unfound in the harbour city. Ingredients are sourced directly from Mexico and California and recipes are explored through the lens of former generational history.

Former-Black Sheep’s Gabe Perez, a Mexico-raised Angelenos, who has managed a litany of Soho’s upbeat venues, brings his Mexican American spirit and culinary insight, and chef Edgar Vigo, with his length of Hong Kong industry expertise, to create Chicano.






Venue

Chicano joins the strip of Gough Street infamous for daring restaurants, and a culinary scene anticipating an exploration of Mexican cuisine in its simplest and most powerful form. The restaurant captures a quietness rare in Soho and transports the customer to a Mexico City soundscape.

The space of the Mexican kitchen table restaurant is both elegant yet modest, with creamy beiges, browns, and yellows decorating the tables, chairs, and four walls, and a zappy black and white marble flooring and spiral staircase bringing life to the soulful venue.

Chicano’s ground floor draws the sounds and heat of the kitchen straight to the tables of four and two, whilst the second floor offers a softer-lit space for larger groups and intimate dates.

Food and drink

Chicano’s menu centres on the flavours and techniques of Chef Perez's grandmothers' recipes brought over from Mexico City to his family’s kitchens of East Los Angeles. The current offerings in their breakfast and lunch service feature a choice of beverage and a main with a dessert for HK$158 and a choice of a main with a side for HK$138, respectively.

Kickstarting our culinary probe into Chicano, we began with the signature chips with salsa and pickled vegetables. A quick lunch meal starts with a simple tangy salsa, a blend of diced and crunchy tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime, and a side order of sweet pickled white onions, cauliflower, carrot, and jalapeno.

Whilst not the highlight of the meal, the chips, salsa, and pickles combination serves as an introduction to the sour and earthy flavours set for the main meal. The crunch of the chips works well to scoop up beans, rice, meats, or dip later in the meal, and the salsa is made for mixing in with tacos.

Diving deep into Chicano’s lunch mains, we set our sights on the Birria, a seasoned, earthy platter of slow-braised beef cheek marinaded in chilli paste, slow- cooked in beef consommé and red onions and paired with three small corn tortillas.

Advised by Chef Vigo to scoop up the beans, rice, and a chunk of beef with a tortilla and dip back into the soup, we carefully listened and were blown away with the blend of the fatty, stringy beef, and the creamy beans in just one corn-flavoured tortilla scoop.

The beef cheek is soft to the fork and melts in one’s mouth on first contact. The consommé soup packs a fun, spicy aftertaste, and works well to soften the beef cheek and drizzled onto the rice. Larger tortillas and a slightly thicker consommé, however, would allow for juices and beef to be picked up in a bready handful.

Popping with colour, Enchiladas de Pollo was our next mission, a bright and tangy plate with slow-cooked chicken thigh, wrapped tight in corn enchiladas, and with tomatillo and green chilli salsa verde, crema, and queso fresco drizzled on.

We fell in love instantly with the salsa verde sauce, introducing a zappy, slightly spicy flavour to the soaked enchiladas and seasoned chicken bites. The cream and white cheese balance out the tangy nature of the tomatillos to create an addictive dish, that is hard to put down.

For our selected side dish for both mains, we had the Arroz y Frijoles, a dollop of refried pinto beans with tangy queso fresco for colour, and a rice with sweet peas sautéed with tomato-paste, garlic, and pepper.

We recommend choosing the beans and rice for a healthier option to balance the seasoned, fatty meats that dominate the plate. The earthy and creamy pinto beans soak up the juices of chicken, beef, or fish, whilst the rice brings in a nice flaky texture when paired a protein.






Atmosphere

With creamy beiges, golds, and browns painting its interior, Chicano stands as a hidden escape to the warmth of Chef Perez’s grandmother’s kitchen of Los Angeles, blending Californian taste with Mexican rhythm. Jumpy Mexican trumpet and violin duets, 1970s pop music, and soothing guitar solos play on both floors, inviting customers to groove with their food.

A veteran in Hong Kong’s food game, Chef Vigo leads conversations with customers about his recipes, life in Central and South America,and his storied career in the city. The passion of his chef team reaches the mouths of customers eager to hear the stories behind the ingredients and Chicano philosophy.

Verdict

Chicano is what Hong Kong’s Mexican food scene has been yearning for. The anticipated arrival of simple, homely dishes inspired from indigenous, family recipes of Mexico make for an intense experience exploring what Mexican food is at its roots: a meeting of seasoned protein, creamy carbohydrates, and strong sour and spicy notes.

Enter Chicano hungry and leave satisfied knowing you’ve found your go-to joint for flavourful Mexican refuels. For an exploration into the powerful basics of homecooked Mexican food, we recommend ordering the Pescado a la Plancha, Enchiladas de Pollo, and Arroz y Frijoles for lunch, and the Breakfast Burrito and Huevos Rancheros for breakfast.

This food review is based on a complimentary media tasting provided by Chicano in exchange for a truthful review and no compensation. The opinions expressed within represent the views of the author.

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