If there's a prix fixe menu, we've never been there.

Cincinnati Bites
Blue Ash Chili Pancakes

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. Sandwichy Impressions: Fond: Lunch & Deli
    -posted Tuesday, April 3, 2018
  2. Our first look at Cooking with Caitlin's restaurant
    -posted Monday, March 26, 2018
  3. Chicken Impressions: Revolution Rotisserie & Bar
    -posted Saturday, March 17, 2018
  4. Seitan Worship: Losantivill3
    -posted Wednesday, March 7, 2018
  5. Chinese Impressions: Kung Food Chu's AmerAsia
    -posted Monday, February 26, 2018
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Leslie about El Trio Mexican Grill:
    El Trio closed last week :(
    posted: Tue., Apr 3rd, 2018 @ 3:19 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Bourbon Smokehouse:
    Best pulled pork in town: webbs bbq in Newport, open ONLY on Fridays. and cheap.
    posted: Thu., Feb 1st, 2018 @ 12:39 PM
  • From Natasia Malaihollo about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thank you for the review and background on the restaurant history! I was a huge fan of huit and super disappointed when they “closed.” Was wondering what’s going on with this musical chairs of a restaurant strategy so thank you for clarifying!
    posted: Fri., Jan 26th, 2018 @ 6:50 PM
  • From Jeff about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for the thorough review! It honestly does seem like a new restaurant is opening every other day..but the thing about the wait staff..they might be getting paid a higher hourly rate because they are only open for lunch. I’ve worked at a restaurant where I was paid $10 an hour but the owner kept the tips, it sucked but sort of made sense for the lunch shift.
    posted: Fri., Dec 22nd, 2017 @ 9:00 PM
  • From heather about Wild Eggs:
    we liked it too - things are fresh and made from scratch and high quality - good experiences all around
    posted: Wed., Dec 20th, 2017 @ 10:55 AM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for writing, Heather. I definitely like their other restaurants. Lalo's pazole and fish taco are better than Mazunte's, I think. But I agree they are definitely hit-or-miss. I'm still rooting for them, though. There's talent there. :)

    posted: Mon., Nov 20th, 2017 @ 1:30 PM
  • From Heather JOhnson about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    I tried Huit & Lalo and they were both expensive and so mixed - one thing great - another thing barely mediocre. More of the same it sounds like - hits and misses for a really expensive lunch. Nope on Dope.
    posted: Sun., Nov 19th, 2017 @ 12:41 PM
  • 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
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design