Don Chingon Opens in Brooklyn
Taqueria Don Chingon’s emphasis is on fresh — fresh ingredients and fresh ideas.
Located in Park Slope, within walking distance of the Barclays Center, the casual Don Chingon (which means “Mr. Badass”) is a partnership between chef German Villatoro, restaurateur Eyal Hen, and hospitality veteran Victor Robey.
Although the cozy restaurant had a soft opening this spring, the neighborhood taqueria officially celebrated its opening this week, adding to the growing non-chain options within sight of the Barclays Center. With the taqueria concept growing in popularity, Don Chingon stands out thanks to its creative takes on classic fare and fidelity to freshness. It’s one of only a few restaurants that presses its corn tortillas for each order; no tortilla is more than five minutes old before being served.
The brainchild of Robey, who envisioned opening a 1970s-style taco shop with a focus on fresh tacos and tequila, Don Chingon features simple, homey décor with exposed brick walls, vintage red and white printed wallpaper, and a reclaimed wooden floor. A rustic open kitchen and welcoming bar are focal points of the casual restaurant.
Restaurateur Hen is no newcomer to Park Slope’s burgeoning restaurant scene. Hen’s other restaurants include Chick P, a falafel restaurant near the Barclays Center; Nish Nush, a Mediterranean restaurant in TriBeCa; Sun in Bloom, a vegan restaurant with locations in Park Slope and TriBeCa; and the now-shuttered Fish & Sip, whose former home is where Don Chingon now resides.
Villatoro, who divides his time between being “el jefe de la cocina” at Don Chingon and serving as executive sous chef at the Conrad New York, was executive sous chef at New York City’s Tequila Park in the Hudson Hotel and sous chef at La Grenouille, where he contributed to the French restaurant’s three star rating in The New York Times. The Salvadoran chef credits his mother for his inspiration in the kitchen.
“Everyone is used to common things,” said Villatoro, who takes traditional Mexican dishes and adds his own twists — take his guacamole, made with avocado, lime, house spice, sweet onion, sliced grapes, and pomegranates. He abides by the philosophy of “Make it fun but give it life.”
Don Chingon’s short but seriously satisfying menu includes contemporary takes on familiar Mexican fare infused with creativity and unexpected delights, like the bolillo cajeta, the chef’s take on French toast: bolillo (Mexican white bread similar to a French baguette) soaked in horchata and topped with cajeta (a thick Mexican caramel).
“You can make things as crazy as you want as long as it’s fun,” Villatoro explained to The Daily Meal on opening night as he soaked thick slices of bolillo in horchata.
And fun it is. The expert antojitos (starters), like tempura-fried jalapeño poppers with tarragon and cilantro aïoli and Brooklyn queso with white and yellow cheese and a Victoria lager, are old favorites made new by Villatoro’s imagination and mastery in the kitchen.
The bar program is equally adept. Mezcal distributors from Mexico and other parts regularly drop by to introduce and share their spirits with Don Chingon’s owners. Currently, there are 12 tequilas and 11 aged mezcals on offer, as well as a quartet of cervezas.
The short cocktail list includes five drinks made with tequila, like the signature Margarita de la Casa, a refreshing blend of silver tequila, bay leaf simple syrup, house-squeezed lime juice, and Cointreau with a salted rim; and mezcal, like the Maria Rojo, with a blend of chipotle and red pepper, cilantro, agave, and lime juice served in a glass rimmed with volcanic black salt. They are the perfect companions at this cocina.