First, the interior makeover is striking. The walls are painted in bright colors with a few kitschy accents like lamps made from acoustic guitars and some beer signs. Not over-the-top like Chuy's, but still interesting to the eye. With a covered patio, open garage-door walls and a couple of tables right on the sidewalk of Belmont Boulevard, Chago's should prove to be an excellent spot for people-watching.
The menu extends beyond the usual offerings of meat, chicken, rice and beans combined in 50 variations in a flour or corn tortilla. Owner Chad Head has run the Corky's BBQ in Brentwood for a few years but has always had this restaurant concept in the back of his mind. On his travels through Central and South America he discovered some menu items that make their appearance as Especialidades de la Casa.
We didn't get a chance to try the mofongo, a spicy Puerto Rican dish of plantains and creole shrimp, but our server said it's quite popular. Even more exotic was my plate of pupusas con curtido, an El Salvadoran dish served with a tangy cabbage slaw. The rest of the menu is filled with more traditional standards, but special attention is paid to vegetarian and vegan options, though vegans are limited mainly to side dishes.
Everything is made from scratch in house with local ingredients sourced whenever possible, and we particularly enjoyed the smoky salsa, creamy guacamole and salsa verde that we sampled with tortilla chips. The verde isn't normally part of their dip sampler, but they had run out of hummus. I'm not sure why you'd serve hummus in a cantina anyway, so we were happy to enjoy the substitution.
Regular margaritas start at a reasonable $5, and prices move up from there as you get bigger helpings and approach the top shelf. The acme of the drink menu is the $30, 64-ounce Chupacabra. Bring a friend to help you out with that one or wear knee pads for the crawl home. Sundays are half-price sangria day with either red or white versions available. Our lunch for two with the Dip Sampler and a couple of drinks was $37.50 before we tipped our very attentive and personable waiter.
We'll definitely head back soon to see how Chago's is progressing. Please stay good! Please stay good!
Note: In an interesting twist, here's a link to a post on our sister site Pith in the Wind from 2009, reporting that the owner of Chago's said he let go 20 of his workers at Corky's once he determined they were undocumented immigrants. Maybe they left their secret recipe books behind.