Tzuco Chicago: Carlos Gaytan's new dining concept

Tzuco Chicago:  Carlos Gaytan's new dining concept
Chef Carlos Gaytan

Short for his birth city of Huitzuco, Mexico, Tzuco is derived from the Nahuatl huixochin, meaning “plants with abundant thorns”.  What Chef Gaytan describes as a love letter to his homeland, Tzuco will feature Mexico’s imaginative flavors while connecting to his love of French technique and preparation style

Ever since Carlos Gaytan closed his Michelin-starred Mexique in West Town, we have been wondering, what next?

Now we know.

The interior is a mix of primitive-contemporary. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The interior is a mix of primitive-contemporary. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Gaytan has returned to Chicago with a trio of dining concepts, Tzuco, Tales of Carlos Gaytan and Panango--all scheduled to open in the River North part of town in the former home of Roy's--at 720 N. State St. before the end of 2019.

While each is distinct in its own right, all honor the robust traditions of Gaytan's homeland (and his mother's cooking) while playing to his impressive culinary range.

Tzuco, scheduled to open Monday, September 16, in conjunction with Mexican Independence Day, will be the first of his three original food destinations to open.

At a preview dinner this week, we were able to get a sneak peek into Tzuco's interior, its menu and learn a bit about Gaytan.

The Chef

Gaytan. Pa\hoto: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Gaytan. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Gaytan, the first Mexican-born chef to win the coveted Michelin star, found himself in Chicago for the first time 30 years ago when he came to visit a relative who found him a job as a dishwasher at the Sheraton North Shore Hotel. The rest, as they say is history.

Staying true to his adopted Chicago home, Gaytan continued his rise up the ranks as chef-garde manger and banquet chef at the Union League Club of Chicago--ultimately landing under the tutelage of Chef Dominique Tougne at Chicago’s Bistro Margot as chef de cuisine. 


In time the road lead Chef Gaytan to realize his dream of owning his own restaurant, Mexique where he struggled at first before winning the first of his Michelin stars in 2013 and then gaining a huge following and raves.


In 2018, Carlos closed Mexique much to the chagrin of Chicago foodies and journeyed to Mexico. He considered opening a restaurant there but was convinced to return to Chicago by his daughter, Caliani who said "everybody already loves you in Mexico--you need a bigger challenge." To which he replied, "I'll take the challenge."

The Team

Gaytan explains his vision for the restaurant. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Gaytan explains his vision for the restaurant. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Joining Carlos at Tzuco is Chef de Cuisine Andrew Kim (avec, The Dearborn, Acadia, Takashi); Pastry Chef Jesús Escalera, heralded as Latin America’s Best Pastry Chef in 2018 by San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and international spirits talent Mica Rousseau, named Mexico’s finest mixologist in 2016 after placing first in World Class Mexico.

The Interior

Restaurant designer Ignacio “Nacho” Cadena talks to NBC. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Restaurant designer Ignacio “Nacho” Cadena talks to NBC. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Tzuco has 110 seats indoors (25 of those in an expansive bar area) and 34 seats al fresco. The space is replete with natural tones representing earth, land and sea, while the spaces and finishes exude an austere beauty. The laid-back color scheme makes the perfect backdrop for the restaurant's colorful presentations to pop--such as this the Beet Salad, pictured below.

Roasted yellow and red pickled beets. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Roasted yellow and red pickled beets. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Designer Ignacio “Nacho” Cadena has added a collection of carefully selected pieces that line the walls of the space. His award winning company, Cadena + Asociados Concept Design, along with custom pieces by ATRA Form Furniture are an instrumental component of the dining experience, that pay homage to Gaytan's intriguing past, present and future by weaving in genuine hospitality and unforgettable flavor.

The Menu

On the starters portion of the menu you'll find Steak Tartar. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

On the starters portion of the menu you'll find Steak Tartar. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The upscale menu is not what you typically expect to find in a Mexican restaurant. Gaytan's unique and original dishes  feature Mexico’s imaginative flavors while connecting to the preparation techniques of French cuisine. Guests can partake in dishes showcasing bright ceviche preparations, steak tartar, delicate flavors of shrimp, clams, octopus, mussels, skate and salmon; and the richness of chicken tinga, pork, tortilla, rib eye and lentils – all brought together with the zest of aromatic spices and chile.

Pescado Zarandeado--skate, guajilto rub, orange fennel & brussel sprout salad, spicy tuonnato. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Pescado Zarandeado--skate, guajilto rub, orange fennel & brussel sprout salad, spicy tuonnato. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The versatile a la carte menu lends to light bites, sharing with friends or an expansive meal.

Mejillones (Mussels). Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Mejillones (Mussels). Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

“Tzuco is a love letter to my homeland,” says Gaytan. “I fell in love with food while learning to prepare heirloom recipes alongside my mother, Doña Teté. At heart, this menu honors the soulful and honest cooking she taught me, while allowing me to express my vision as a chef today.”

Tzuco is open for dinner seven days per week from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Lunch service begins the first week of October. Reservations are available by calling (312) 374-8980 or via Resy. Metered street parking is available in the neighborhood, as well as onsite valet.

What: Tzuco
Where: 720 N. State St., Chicago
Opens: September 16, 2019

Small Bites of Chicago

Chicago Gourmet

The 12th annual Chicago Gourmet, is coming to Millennium Park September 27-29, 2019. with a theme of Lights, Camera, Napkin.  This year’s festival shines a spotlight on the exciting connections between the culinary and entertainment worlds.

The celebration features celebrity chefs, master sommeliers, interactive cooking demos, educational seminars, beverage tastings, book signings and food for miles.

Celebrity chefs scheduled for the event include: Rick Bayless, Andrew Zimmern, Stephanie Izard, Joe Flamm, Tony Mantuano, Lorena Garcia, Art Smith, Jeff Mauro, Sarah Grueneberg, Jose Garces, Jamie Bissonnette, Diana Dávila, Jonathon Sawyer, Carrie Nahabedian, Kwame Onwuache, Masaharu Moritmoto and more.

Celebrate Green City Market’s 20th Anniversary

Join Chef Sarah Stegner and the Prairie Grass Cafe team for a celebration and gathering in honor of Green City Market’s 20th anniversary and the launch of Green City Market, A Song of Thanks by Sharon Hoogsraten. The event takes place at noon, Tuesday, September 17 at Prairie Grass Cafe, 601 Skokie Blvd. in Northbrook.

Prairie Grass Cafe will be celebrating the book with a luncheon featuring very special guests including: author/photographer Sharon Hoogstraten; Jeanne Nolan founder & president of The Organic Gardener; Edible Garden Green City Market; Melissa Flynn, executive director of Green City Market, and Sarah Stegner, co-chef and co-owner of Prairie Grass Cafe and founding board member of Green City Market. Guests will enjoy a special lunch menu, cost $45 per person.

Sharon will be selling her book and signing it at the Prairie Grass Cafe event. The book costs $40 and may also be purchased on Amazon beginning in October.

Lakeview Taco Fest

The beloved taco is celebrated in all its glory at the seventh annual Lakeview Taco Festival in Southport Corridor. Dig into traditional and gourmet tacos while enjoying fall beers, live music, and lucha libre wrestlers. Admission is free, with a $10 suggested donation that will benefit the Friends of Lakeview.  September 21 and 22.

Tailgaters contest

Morton’s The Steakhouse invites football  fans to enter their “Ultimate Tailgating Experience” giveaway. Customers must submit a photo or video of their most extravagant spread at a tailgate for a chance to win. The first place winner will receive four football tickets to any college or professional home game nationwide paired with a gourmet tailgate catered exclusively by Morton’s. A second place winner will receive a $500 Morton’s gift card and third place will win a Morton’s football gift basket curated towards the winner’s favorite football team complete with gourmet treats. To enter click hereContest open now through Friday, September 20. Winner will be chosen on Friday, October 4.


Oktoberfest returns to Hofbräuhaus Chicago in Rosemont, September 13 – October 31. Known as one of the most authentic celebrations in the area, guests can enjoy a variety of festivities including nightly Bavarian entertainment, freshly brewed “Oktoberfestbier” inspired by the original Hofbräuhaus in Munich, daily food specials served by Dirndl-clad waitresses, celebrity keg tapping ceremonies and more. 5500 Park Place, Rosemont.

Taste of Lettuce River North

The inaugural Taste of Lettuce River North dinner on Tuesday, Sept 24 at 6:30pm at Wildfire Chicago. Chefs from Big Bowl, Shaw's and Beatrix join the culinary team at Wildfire to create a one-night-only 4-course menu showcasing the best of all four restaurants.  Tickets are $75/person, which includes cocktail and wine pairings with each course. The full menu can be found online here.  Reservations can be made by calling 312-787-9000. 

Filed under: Chicago restaurants

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