For many Americans, their first exposure to Mexican food came from chain restaurants such as Chi-Chi’s and Pepe’s. Far from authentic, the food, atmosphere and fried ice cream from these chains created some fun memories for 4 Star Restaurant Group co-founder and partner Josh Rutherford. His group will open their own homage to those chains—Tuco & Blondie—on Sept. 26 in Lakeview inside the former Justin’s space at 3358 N. Southport Ave.
"I love [Rick] Bayless’ restaurants, I think they’re great, but when I think of Mexican food, I have to revert to my childhood," Rutherford said.
Rutherford and his partners are calling the concept "neighborhood Mexican" with a "Tex-Mex feel." Imagine piles of fajita meat wrapped in corn tortillas brought in from Pilsen tortilla maker El Milagro. They’ll make flour tortillas in house, Rutherford added.
Menu highlights from 4 Star chef Todd Stein include chile con queso, named after Bob Armstrong, a Texas land commissioner. It’s a classic Texas dish. There’s also the "Holy Grail Nachos," which they’re promising a perfect balance of cheese, meat and toppings with each chip.
Four Star has quite a following along Southport with Crosby’s Kitchen, and they’ll stick to their reasonably-priced and "super fresh" formula with a family-friendly setting where kids will eat free in the early evenings. A kids’ menu, including a "kidsadilla," will also also be available. They’ll also have a soft-serve ice cream machine by the front desk and offer free cones to kids. Rutherford said they’ll employ the honor system, and take whatever money from those cones and donate it to charity. Even passersby on Southport can grab a cone, Rutherford said.
Let’s get back to the fried ice cream, a favorite at Chi-Chi’s. They’ll do their own version at Tuco & Blondie, along with homemade churros. But instead of coating the ice cream with corn flakes, they’ve opted for another cereal: Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The crumbles don’t need additional seasoning, and have provided great results.
"It’s our secret, not-so-secret ingredient," Rutherford said. "It’s out there now."
Take a look at the full menu below.