SOUTHPORT CORRIDOR — By the time you open your 10th restaurant, things tend to run pretty smoothly.
For Josh Rutherford, a co-owner of 4 Star Restaurant Group, it's been smooth sailing as Tuco and Blondie opened its doors in Lakeview on Monday night.
But in case you're not sold on the "Mexi-fun" concept at 3358 N. Southport Ave., Rutherford has a little something to sweeten the deal: Free ice cream cones. And not just for the grand opening — the pink machine behind the front counter is there for good.
"We have great success at Crosby's [Kitchen] and we love this neighborhood," Rutherford said. "So we want that to carry over and create a place where the families can come as well."
Tuco and Blondie will serve free ice cream cones to customers. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Tuco and Blondie, named for the villainous pair played by Eli Wallach and Clint Eastwood in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," incorporates bold Mexican patterns and artwork in its design.
Little remains of the restaurant's predecessor, Justin's Bar — partially because owner Justin Salk auctioned off everything from the bar back to the neon signs.
Design elements drew from La Loteria, a Mexican card game similar to tarot cards, said Jean Dufresne, a Space Architects spokesman who collaborated with fellow Space principal Jay Keller on the remodel.
The restroom area of Tuco and Blondie is patterned with a wallpaper of Spanish loteria cards. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Tuco and Blondie opened Monday on the Southport Corridor, offering up Mexican cuisine on the popular block. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Like Justin's before it, Tuco and Blondie has an outdoor patio for warm weather days. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Tuco and Blondie features bold Mexican-style art, like this mural honoring artist Frida Kahlo. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
With weathered brick, concrete and distressed wood featuring heavily in the design, the dining area is meant to feel sturdy while evoking the nostalgic elements of Mexican neighborhoods. School house-inspired seating, industrial lighting and bold graphic tiles will enhance the effect.
The backyard patio remains, although slightly smaller to make room for an expanded kitchen. Altogether, the restaurant seats 250 people.
The Mexican restaurant will be open for lunch (starting Wednesday) and dinner weekdays, closing at 10 p.m. each night, adding a brunch service on weekends, when it will be open until 11 p.m.
The restaurant has Mexican beers on tap, a wine list "highlighting artisanal domestic producers" and a cocktail list with margaritas and an "unparalleled" tequila selection.
The menu features "neighborhood Mexican," meaning dishes are easily understood and straightforward, Rutherford said.
Specialties include Tuco's fajitas, which range from $14-21 and include chicken, shrimp, steak and vegetable options.
In loving detail, Rutherford highlighted some appetizers as his favorite dishes for customers to try. The $9 guacamole is "amazing" and is served with three salsas in varying heat, he said.
The Holy Grail nachos solve a long-suffered dilemma with most restaurant's nachos, Rutherford pledged.
Tuco and Blondie Holy Grail nachos promise a perfect load of ingredients on every nacho, including ground beef, beans, cheese, jalapeno, guacamole and sour cream. [Provided/Galdones Photography]
The "Bob Armstrong" chile con queso at Tuco and Blondie is made with ground beef, guacamole, sour cream and creamy melted cheese. [Provided/Galdones Photography]
"If you've ever had a plate of nachos, you're always searching for that perfect chip that has the right amount of meat and cheese and onions," he said. "Every single nacho is going to have that."
Drawing from the "Tex" in Tex-Mex, they'll also serve up "Bob Armstrong" chile con queso. The $9 appetizer honors the urban legend of Texas land commissioner Bob Armstrong, who spearheaded the notion of piling ground beef, sour cream and guacamole on queso dip.
Along with taco platters and enchiladas, other entrees include the 10 oz. chili-rubbed carne asada ($25), adobo pork tenderloin ($22) and roasted mahi mahi ($24).
Tuco's fajitas come with chicken, steak, shrimp or vegetables and range from $14-$21. [Provided/Galdones Photography]
Taco platters at Tuco and Blondie are $13-$22 and offer al pastor (pictured), ground beef, chicken tinga, fish and chili-baised short rib. [Provided/Galdones Photography]
For dessert, Rutherford said the best pick is a slice of margarita pie, a play on key lime that subs in some orange custard and lime with a salted whipped cream topping for $8.
Drinks include six margaritas that include a classic version along with black cherry, passionfruit and mezcal versions, plus a couple frozen drinks.
The cocktail list draws inspiration from the 1966 movie namesake, with the El Diablo, a "Shorty" Jackson daiquiri and Angel Eyes among the selection.
The $9 classic margarita at Tuco and Blondie is made with Corralejo Blanco, Cointreau, housemade sour and lime juice. [Provided/Galdones Photography]
Check out the dinner and drink menus below:
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