Tzuco in Chicago, helmed by celebrated chef Carlos Gaytán (the first Mexican chef awarded a Michelin star), offers a unique and elevated dining experience with its inventive take on traditional Mexican cuisine. Using local and imported ingredients, Chef Gaytán creates dishes that pay homage to his Mexican heritage while pushing culinary boundaries.
Tzuco celebrates Día de Los Muertos this year with a unique collaboration with Chef Orlando Trejos, the Executive Chef of HA’ in Riviera Maya, on November 2. The two chefs have created an exclusive menu for the evening, with four courses priced at $95 per person. We chatted with Chef Carlos Gaytán about the Tzuco, its menu and the influence behind the restaurant.
Inside Tzuco in Chicago
Tzuco presents diners with an authentic look at Gaytán’s background. “Tzuco is unique because it presents the colorful flavors of Mexico while connecting to the techniques of French cuisine,” Gaytán told us. “It is named after my hometown, Huitzuco, which is in the region of Guerrero, Mexico. (The word Tzuco is derived from the Nahuatle huixochin, meaning “plants with abundant thorns”). I often view the restaurant as an expression of my collective life experiences, including several dishes that are inspired by my upbringing.”
The menu takes diners on a tour of Mexico. “Tzuco is intended to share Mexican cuisine and culture through a range of authentic culinary creations,” Gaytán explained. “These include dishes showcasing bright ceviche preparations; the delicate flavors of shrimp, clams, octopus, and salmon; the richness of chicken tinga, pork, house-made tortilla and lentils; the zest of chile and aromatic spices and much more.”
The menu is also a tour of Gaytán’s life and culinary journey. “In creating the menu, I look both to my past—my upbringing, but also the other vibrant regions of Mexico and what I have learned by traveling and cooking extensively throughout my own homeland,” he told us. “I also bring in the years I’ve spent honing my craft, especially in French kitchens. I worked hard to rise through the industry ranks after I moved to the United States. After years of hard work, I landed under the mentorship of esteemed Chef Dominique Tougne at Chicago’s beloved Bistro Margot. There, I served as chef de cuisine, and my passion for French technique blossomed. So you’ll discover a lot of French inspiration.”
If you’re looking for recommendations straight from Gaytán, his favorites include the Carne Asada, Mussels and Gianduja. “My cochinita pibil is among my favorites. It is exactly the recipe my mom taught me growing up,” Gaytán said of the dish. “It’s rustic, rich and hearty, and there’s nothing that I can or want to do to elevate that dish. We make our own pineapple vinegar that sets it apart, but this one’s really for my mom. She visited Tzuco from Mexico, where she still lives before I agreed to put it on the menu. I needed her to try it first. Having her approve of my preparation told me that everything is exactly as it should be with that dish.”
The dining room at Tzuco is modeled after Mexican architecture and design. “Tzuco expresses the austere beauty of my homeland through architecture and conceptual design,” Gaytán told us. “You’ll find rich textures of brown and tan layered in with textures of wood, leather, clay and other artisanal elements. We worked with Ignacio “Nacho” Cadena of Cadena Design Group in Mexico to bring our spaces to life. The décor, the tables, the leather, even the bathroom sinks and fixtures – most of these items were custom made in Mexico to truly create an environment that reflects a sense of homecoming.”
Make sure to grab a cocktail or other libation at the bar. “We expanded our bar area in 2020 to include more seats and accordion-style windows that give the restaurant a beautiful open-air feeling during the summer months,” Gaytán said of the space. “Additionally, we have an all-season, covered patio that people love to enjoy year-round. It’s a special place.”