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Inside Tzuco, Star Chef Carlos Gaytán’s Triumphant Return to Chicago

Tzuco officially opens tonight in River North

Carlos Gaytan putting out a dish from behind the kitchen counter.
Chef Carlos Gaytán is back in Chicago with Tzuco.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Carlos Gaytán’s new River North Mexican restaurant, Tzuco, looks like nothing in Chicago. Designer Ignacio Cadena has decorated the space with glass cases filled with items that remind Gaytán of his hometown of Huitzuco, Mexico. The room has earthy tones and dark woods that envelop diners inside the former Roy’s on State Street.

Tzuco Is the abbreviated nickname for Huitzuco. The most beloved trinket in the restaurant may be a comal hanging above a booth, just to the right of the kitchen. A comal is the circular griddle used to make tortillas. Gaytán used this comal to make his first tortilla. He’s particularly possessive of it, not wanting any other cook to use it.

The room is also filled with vines that grow in Huitzuco. Agricultural restrictions prevented Cadena from bringing them across the border, but he found the same plants in Texas. Some of the vines contain thorns — Tzuco means “land beneath the thorns” in Spanish.

This was Cadena’s first project in Chicago, but he has fond memories of the city. He spent time here when he was 12 years old. He said his family left him in the city to learn English “the tough way on the streets,” he said with a laugh.

The restaurant is the first of three at the same address. Next door, Panango, a bakery will debut in October. It’ll have breads and sandwiches. In November, the final piece — Tales of Carlos Gaytán — debuts. It’s a 12-seat tasting-menu restaurant. Gaytán has huge expectations for Tales. His goal is to be not only the best Mexican restaurant in Chicago, but the best Mexican restaurant in the world.

Take a tour through the restaurant, which debuts tonight, below.

Tzuco, 720 N. State Street, hours not posted yet.

The exterior of a River North restaurant.
Tzuco is one of three new restaurants opening from Carlos Gaytán.
The open kitchen
Carlos Gaytán
Carlos Gaytán was the first Mexican chef with a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The wood-burning oven.
The dining room at Tzuco.
The seats are adorned with leather from Sweden.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times
The glass cases include vines and other artifacts to remind guests of Carlos Gaytán’s hometown.
A spacious dining room with glass cases holding plants scattered around.
The view from the rear
Brian Rich/Sun-Times
An industrial-made sink
The communal sink in between the bathrooms
A custom made bathroom sink.
The bathroom sink was custom-made in Mexico.
Steak tartare with avocado and a slice of bread.
Steak tartare (pickled cauliflower, guacamole, perfect egg, chipotle aioli, bread)
Pork shank with beans and red onions.
pork pibil (Guerrero-style pork shank, avocado infused black beans, habanero pickled red onions)
Brian Rich/Sun-Times
bone-in steak sliced up
Carne Asada (N,Y. strip, oven-roasted tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, goat cheese fondue)
Braised short with herbs plated over puree
Costillas de res (braised short ribs, parsnips puree, onion, mint, cilantro, orange zest)


720 North State Street, , IL 60654 (312) 374-8995 Visit Website