NEW HANOVER COUNTY — “As long as I get seven hours of sleep a night, I am fine,” Alex Zaragoza quipped Tuesday, while in the throes of renovating spaces for two restaurants he will open months apart by the beginning of 2024.
Zaragoza signed a lease at 4712 New Centre Drive, formerly Catawba Brewing, to launch Chingon Taqueria in Wilmington by December. It will be the second location in the southeastern North Carolina region, as Chingon first opened in Leland in 2019.
The restaurateur — who also runs Si Senor! in Porters Neck in 2016 and Papi’s Chicken in Leland — told Port City Daily in May the goal was to bring a Chingon to midtown by the end of 2024. He hoped to have his other project, Vochos Urban Mexican Kitchen in Mayfaire’s former Ruby Tuesday space, operational first.
But as the unpredictability of renovating a restaurant goes, he experienced unforeseen setbacks with repairs. Vochos will serve diners elevated Mexican cuisine by January 2024.
While Chignon — a quick, casual dining experience — is going to be open earlier than anticipated, it’s a full-circle moment for Zaragoza. The space is one of familiarity, as the restaurateur knows owner Ken Floyd of the shopping center New Centre Commons, which opened in 2017.
“He offered me that spot years ago for a second Si Senor,” Zaragoza said. “But it was a brand new business, my first on my own, and it was challenging to open a second restaurant so soon, just a few months after I opened the first one, so I passed.”
However, the two kept in touch. So when Catawba Brewing closed its doors two months ago, Zaragoza received a call from the landlord.
“He was like, ‘Alex, I have a good opportunity and I’ve always wanted to do business with you. This spot is available,’” Zaragoza recalled.
Within four days, the paperwork was signed.
Since, Zaragoza and contractors have been working at both Chingon and Vochos steadily to ready the restaurants.
“Vochos is gonna be literally a brand new restaurant,” Zaragoza said, as walls have been knocked down and reconstructed.
Chingon, however, needs little upfit. Zaragoza is redoing the concrete floors, changing wallpaper and redesigning the layout of the bar. It will seat roughly 130 customers both indoors and outdoors, as the restaurant includes an expansive patio.
“My idea is to make it look just like the one in Leland — every little element will be seen in the Wilmington location,” he said.
The vast menu — more than 75 items — will also be the same, priced from $4 to $19. Chingon is known for its take on Mexican street food: tacos, burritos, sopas, huaraches, tortas and quesadillas. Zaragoza said he will add in some daily specials and with fall’s arrival, posole. The Mexican stew contains chiles, onion, garlic, hominy, and proteins, such as chicken and pork, garnished with shredded cabbage, radishes, avocado and lime.
Chignon also has birria ramen. Birria is the consommé created from cooking shredded beef marinated in adobo, often with vinegar, dried chiles, garlic, herbs and spices. It’s become popular over the last few years with quesabirria tacos, the shells often soaked in the broth and grilled, filled with the shredded meat and served with a side of consommé. The ramen version uses the juice as its base, also including the shredded beef.
Though Chingon’s most popular item, according to Zaragoza, is the barbacoa. The boneless short ribs can be stuffed into tacos, taco salads, burritos — “anything you can think of — it’s our number one item.”
All food is prepared in house daily, including fresh guacamole and multiple salsas. The latter is available on Chingon’s salsa bar, also packed with various toppings for any meal: limes, radishes, pico, onion, cilantro and other accoutrements.
Chingon has full ABC permits and offers multiple flavors of margaritas — mango, tamarind, prickly pear — with the mixes also sold by the gallon.
A micheladas menu features a traditional option (tomatoes, spices, chamoy, tajin, lime juice and Mexican beer) and for the adventurous, the Exotica — stacked with hearty toppings like shrimp, octopus, cucumbers and salted peanuts.
Zaragoza said the goal is to have 10 new hires for Chingon.
“I’ve been working with a core group of about five people,” he said, referring to the restaurants’ chefs and managers, “to create a solid team where we can ensure there is consistency in service, atmosphere and the food.”
Wilmington’s Chingon Taqueria will be open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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