Chicago Chef Ascencio Brings Authentic Twist To Tacos
When Taqueria Chingón in Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago made its debut in 2020, the restaurant went through 40 pounds of steak and 70 pounds of pork al pastor on opening day. Chef Marcos Ascencio and his team have simply never looked back.
Customers can only make their orders online, and for the first few weeks it was survival of the fittest to ensure who gets to order from a prime pickup time. The restaurant has three partners with the most well-known being Oliver Poilevey of Le Bouchon, a popular French restaurant just a short drive away. Chingón gives Poilevey’s partners an opportunity to shine by using family recipes that spotlight more than the basic chicken, steak, and chorizo that most taquerias feature.
The taqueria also has some special off-the-menu selections. Chef Ascencio and his team have built their reputation such exotic offerings as carnitas with pig’s heads and morcillo (blood sausage). These cuts aren’t as mainstream, but the Chingón team is pushing the boundaries. The taco menu features fluffy corn tortillas and flavorful-packed salsas. Offerings have included pozole with pork shoulder, green chorizo, ceviche made with octopus and shrimp and even churros smothered truffled goat cheese.
One of the keys to being able to orchestrate such a creative menu has been the ability to source the highest quality, and in many cases unusual, ingredients. “I have built a strong relationship with the Chefs’ Warehouse and have worked with the company for several years,” Ascencio detailed. “I value CW because of the trust I have with my sales rep and the company overall. They know how to get things done and truly provide the most incredible products. Our signature dish with the Chefs’ Warehouse was inspired with octopus & shrimp from a street vendor while visiting Mexico City and they were able to source what I need to create it here.”
Given the amount of competition with a number of nearby Mexican restaurants, Ascencio has taken an “out of the box” approach to the creativity of the menu. Quesadilla La Reina Del Sur, a vegan Mexican spot, is across the street. Birrieria Estilo Jalisco is right next door. Las Asadas and Arturo’s also stand a few blocks south on Western Avenue.
Chef Ascencio grew up in Chicago, and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. After high school he attended both UIC and the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. His varied culinary career began at NoMi with Chef Sandro Gamba where over his eight years. Marcos worked every station and department, eventually rising to Chef de Cuisine of the Park Hyatt under Christophe David. After NoMi, Ascencio joined the Chicago Public Schools a culinary instructor at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. While there, he mentored the next generation of cooks and chefs and helped several students obtain full-ride scholarships to culinary schools.
Ascencio returned to cooking in the kitchen of Guildhall, in Glencoe,IL where he built a team to deliver consistent, delicious food to the neighborhood. In 2016, he left Guildhall, to join Bar Lupo. Marcos was the driving force behind Bar Lupo’s punk rock Italian fare, a free-ranging mix of classic regional Italian and Taylor Street red sauce cuisines. In 2018, following the closure of Bar Lupo, Ascencio began as Executive Chef of the Ivy Room at Tree Studios, a Lettuce Entertain You establishment known for its full service event space set and historic courtyard.
After partnering with Oliver Poilevey with pop-ups and backyard BBQs, the duo partnered on the opening of Taqueria Chingón, “My family was the inspiration in my journey in becoming a chef and the traditions and history they passed on to me heavily influences my menu. Our goal is to recreate a Mexico City street style taqueria focused on one of Mexico City’s favorite street foods: the Al Pastor,” Ascencio explained. “We’ve developed a menu with classics that stay true to their origins, and some tacos that create a new tradition.”
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