Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Elevated flavors of Mexico City: Restaurateur broadens portfolio with 2 more eateries

A former Ruby Tuesday in Mayfaire will become Vochos Urban Mexican Kitchen by the end of summer, operated by Alex Zaragoza, who also owns Si Senor! in Porters Neck and Papi’s Chicken and Chingon Taqueria, both in Leland. He’s also bringing a Chingon to Wilmington hopefully by the end of 2024. (Courtesy Google Maps)

WILMINGTON — As Alex Zaragoza plans his next restaurant concept in Wilmington, to open by the end of summer, already he is ruminating on a fifth eatery too.

Vochos Urban Mexican Kitchen will open in Mayfaire’s former Ruby Tuesday location, while a second Chingon Taqueria could be making its way to midtown by the end of next year.

READ MORE: Los Portales brothers expanding with new supermarket, second Tequila Comida + Cantina

Zaragoza opened Si Senor! in Porters Neck in 2016, followed by Papi’s Chicken and Chingon Taqueria, both in Leland, in 2019.

“I literally drive 80 miles a day going between all the restaurants,” he said.

Originally wanting to pursue architecture in youth, Zaragoza entered the restaurant industry working for his father, who owns local San Felipe restaurants, a brand that began in 1995. Zaragoza bused tables and moved through every position in the restaurants as a teen into young adulthood.

“I never thought I was gonna fall in love with something different,” the 40-year-old said. “I just saw how my dad, also a chef, enjoyed cooking and making people happy with all this delicious food.” 

Zaragoza, who took a few culinary courses in New York, opened his first venture, a San Felipe, in Independence Mall in 2013. It closed in 2018, as the mall began renovating and demolishing attached eateries.

“I realized that area was not the best,” Zaragoza said, “especially because everything with shoppers was changing — nowadays doing more buying online.”

But the learning experience helped propel him as he began to develop his own restaurant concepts: Si! Senor is a traditional Mexican eatery, Papi’s Chicken is a Peruvian-style restaurant, and Chingon Taqueria is a fast, counter-service operation serving tacos, huaraches, gorditas and other Mexican street food. 

Zaragoza imagines another Chingon will do well near the university.

“We don’t have a location for it quite yet,” he verified. “But my broker is looking.”

The Mayfaire area seemed a better fit for Vochos, focused on tableside service and elevated flavors of Mexico City. The 300-seat eatery won’t be fine-dining, but it will be contemporary, moving beyond expected Tex Mex or combination burrito and taco platters served aplenty at similar restaurants. Vochos also will have a high-end cocktail menu.

Zaragoza said he looked at the former On the Border space first, but after learning he was third in line to bid, he turned his attention to 1138 Military Cutoff Road. The restaurant has been vacant since Ruby Tuesday closed in fall 2020.

“It will be an urban feel with a modern twist, from the design down to the menus,” he said. 

Around 30 items will be featured, priced from $19 to $40.

“I’m gonna use ingredients that other people aren’t and present them in a way to elevate the Mexican experience,” Zaragoza said.

Edible flowers, jicama, and bone marrow will be utilized and of course plenty of chiles — guajillo, ancho, morita, chiltepin.

“For example, we will cook over charcoal when doing a chile mix,” he said, to add another depth of flavor.

Seafood will also be a focus, such as huachinango. The snapper dish includes capers and olives, showing off its Spanish and Mediterranean roots.

“We’re also going to play with clams, mussels, octopus, sea bass, dram, corvina,” he listed. 

The corvina in particular will be utilized in a ceviches menu, highlighting five varieties. A shrimp avocado stack is prepared with avocado, Meyers lime, cucumber and pickled red onion.

Mexican cheeses also will be featured as tasted in tlaycoyos. The thick homemade corn tortillas are stuffed with refried beans, Chihuahua cheese, roasted poblano sauce, vidalia onions, fresh cilantro, avocado and can be filled with skirt steak or chorizo.  

There is also a six-deep guacamole menu, from traditional to more fanciful fare. One comes topped with morita pepper puree, another with ribeye bites, crispy smoked pork belly or house smoked cheese. For adventurous diners, there is also the Vocho-chos specialty, topped with salted and toasted grasshoppers, a popular, protein-rich snack in areas like Oaxaca.

Zaragoza also will infuse ingredients with passionfruit or even Mezcal — a smoky tequila. The restaurant will stock 50 tequilas and Mezcals, with a cocktail program punched up with homemade bitters and syrups.

Four different kinds of ices will be available for the drinks, ranging from 2-by-2, 2-by-4, and 3-inch cubes, as well as round ice balls and shaved ice.

One of the drinks he’s looking forward to serving is an Old Fashioned made with Mezcal, served atop a larger cube.

“We’re going to be smoking it right in front of you,” he said. “Basically, we’re going to put up a show at the bar.”

Dry ice will be used to smoke margaritas, available in many varieties. There also will be a Naked Margarita Bar — a place where customers can go to top off their drinks. It will be stocked with approximately 10 toppings, including fresh fruits and garnishes. 

On weekends it will transform into a Bloody Mary bar during brunch. It will be stocked with various bases, including traditional tomato or tomatillos, as well as passionfruit, mango, citrus and celery and heartier toppings, such as bacon and pork belly bites.

Chilaquiles, skirt steak and eggs, breakfast burritos and more will be offered during brunch.

Zaragoza is building a 2,500-square-foot outdoor patio to add to Vochos 5,000-square-foot restaurant. A 1972 Volkswagen Beetle he has been renovating will sit out front. It’s the namesake of the restaurant, inspired by Zaragoza’s uncle.

“When I was a kid I always took care of my uncle’s Beetle, almost every single day,” he said. 

Zaragoza said his uncle promised him the car when he turned 16. 

“But then a recession hit,” he said and his uncle had to sell off the Beetle. “In Mexico, we support every single member of the family, so he had to support his house. But it always was on my heart — that car.”

Zaragoza, who has also helped build concepts for other eateries in Myrtle Beach while opening his own cafes, shared the story with a friend who is in marketing.

“And he said, “Alex, that’s really good history — why don’t you call your next restaurant Vochos?’ I thought that was really strong, and the fact that I can relate something from my life I loved at 15 to something I love now,” Zaragoza said.

The restaurateur employs roughly 60 people among all his restaurants and plans to hire around 30 more to operate Vochos, which will open seven days a week.

Have restaurant news? Email shea@portcitydaily.com

Want to read more from PCD? Subscribe now and then sign up for our morning newsletter, Wilmington Wire, and get the headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

Related Articles