Bon Viva-what? Speak English, damnit.

Cincinnati Bites
Painting from inside Jalapenos Mex-Mex

Posted Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Cincinnati area is home to quite an impressive array of very good taquerias: La Mexicana, Mazunte, Taqueria Mercado and Taqueria Maya immediately leap to mind. Now vying for top marks comes Chilango Fresh Mexican, a small, modern-day hole-in-the-wall tucked in the corner of a Loveland strip mall.

Chilango looks and feels like it could be a chain, but isn't. It's most definitely local and one-of-a-kind. Owner Mark Bennett has at least some cursory knowledge of Mexican culture: it seems unlikely he'd randomly pull a slang word like "chilango" out of his sombrero. It's a term often used derisively to describe certain upper-class residents of Mexico City. In that same vein, the tacos on the menu are not something you'd find in a cheap dive: these are Bakersfield OTR-level tacos (but larger), featuring ingredients like pork belly, house-made chorizo, beer-braised beef, Angus steak, citrus-braised pork and shredded rotisserie chicken.

Tacos come three per order and are served on corn tortillas. A trio costs anywhere from $8 to $10.75. You can choose all of the same type or potentially pay a little extra for a combo variety at $9.50. I'm not sure why anyone would choose three of the same taco --seems to me you'd always want a variety-- but maybe I'm in the minority here. Empanadas, flautas and sides of refried beans, fresh guacamole, mexican rice and a self-serve salsa bar are also available. Two enchilada plates are listed on their board, but not on their website menu.

As we first stepped inside, we noted how similar Chilango's layout is to any neighborhood Penn Station: upon entering, patrons are greeted with a tall chalkboard menu facing their left near an L-shaped bar. The rest of the room is allocated as a shotgun-style dining area.

My girlfriend ordered a taco combo consisting of the Chicken Tinga, shredded chicken in a tomatoey chipotle sauce topped with avocado-tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, queso fresco and crema; the Poblano Rajas con Crema: roasted poblano peppers with onions, queso, crema and cilantro; and the flank steak topped with charred onion, cotija cheese and verde salsa.

I opted for the Cochinita Pibil taco with shredded pork, cabbage slaw, pickled red onion and a spicy house salsa; the Chorizo con Papa with house-made chorizo, potato, queso and verde salsa; and one Poblano Rajas con Crema taco. We also ordered a side of refried beans to share.

There was a slight, ten-minute wait for the tacos, but no more than you'd expect from any of the other popular taquerias in town. The food arrived on two platters with a generous bowl of refried beans. My girlfriend explored the self-serve salsa bar and retrieved an extra container of avocado-tomatillo salsa.

cochinita pibil taco Cochinita Pibil taco
taco trio 1 Flank steak, chicken and poblano tacos

Each taco was made up of a single, sturdy corn tortilla and yet, for all their thickness, they did start to slightly break apart toward the end after the juicy toppings had begun to soak through. Still, we managed to eat all our tacos without much of an issue.

We were both pleasantly surprised at the bright, intense flavors bursting from several of the taco varieties. My favorite was easily the Cochinita Pibil: it showcased a citrusy, spicy burst of flavor paired with a pleasing textural crunch of pickled onion and cabbage. My girlfriend particularly enjoyed her Chicken Tinga, which we both agreed was likely the best-tasting chicken taco we've had of any of the area taquerias, including Mazunte. The chicken was tender, not at all suffering from the dry flavorlessness we often endure with other chicken tacos. Its tomato-chipotle sauce was uniquely piquant and satisfying.

taco trio 2 Cochinita, chorizo and poblano tacos

The chorizo/potato taco was hearty, with an assertive, smoky chipotle element to the meat that became a bit overwhelming toward the end --it needed something acidic to cut through that intensity. I enjoyed the cheesiness of the vegetarian poblano taco, but was surprised to learn it was my girlfriend's least favorite. Bites of the flank steak taco were appropriately beefy and filling with a toasty, caramelized onion finish.

Chilango Fresh Mexican was a pleasant surprise, a hidden gem worth the short drive north of the Fields Ertel exit. We'll definitely be back to explore more of their menu.

Chilango Fresh Mexican Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chilango Fresh Mexican

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. A Mediocre Lunch at Firehouse Grill
    -posted Sunday, October 8, 2017
  2. Southern Indian Impressions: Udupi Cafe
    -posted Saturday, September 23, 2017
  3. New Downtown Korean Restaurant: Haru
    -posted Tuesday, August 29, 2017
  4. Pleasant Ridge Impressions: Nine Giant Brewing
    -posted Monday, August 7, 2017
  5. Mediterranean Musings at Milya Cafe
    -posted Sunday, July 16, 2017
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo: they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Swad Indian:
    @MJ: I heard family members of those who'd run Dusmesh now work out of the former Amol India in Clifton. It's called, Grill of India (
    posted: Thu., Dec 29th, 2016 @ 11:45 PM
  • From mj about Swad Indian:
    It seems Swad has changed hands. Have not see the former Dusmesh owners in my last visit (10/1/2016) and the food is just ok. Wonder where they went this time?
    posted: Wed., Dec 28th, 2016 @ 8:22 AM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design