No one likes to see a restaurant close, especially less than two years after its opening. We were surprised to hear about the closing of Rhyme or Reason in Wicker Park. However, we soon learned that wasn’t the whole story. The restaurant was merely reconcepting under the same management, which we were delighted to hear because we love the team over there. Second time’s a charm, right?
Tuko Cantina is the latest brainchild of the team, and it is a fun, upbeat, and trendy spot that highlights contemporary Mexican-inspired cuisine. The decor inside is vibrant; bright colors are everywhere, and the space is decorated with Mexican tiling, bright lights, and fresh plants sitting atop rustic wood tables.
We arrived ready to indulge in some Mexican-inspired libations. Mas bebidas, por favor! Let it be known that Tuko Cantina offers $25 bottomless mimosas, which we always love. On this particular day though, their house cocktails seemed more exciting to us. One of our favorites was the dirty horchata, a yummy easy-to-drink yet boozy beverage made of dark rum, white rice, cinnamon, almond milk, and evaporated milk. Yum! We especially loved the agave plant-inspired glasses the frozen margaritas came in, accented with agave leaves for a little decoration.
I was especially excited to see if the chef would reinvent Rhyme or Reason’s amazing chicken and doughnuts dish. To my pleasant surprise, he did keep it. Only this time it was a chicken and churros dish – bring it on!
The chicken was fried to perfection, crispy and crunchy thanks to a thick and heavy batter. Let’s just say, watch out chicken and waffles: chicken and churros is a thing, and it’s giving you a run for your money. Plus, it comes topped with fresno chiles for a hint of heat, which was such a perfect addition to the dish.
We couldn’t resist ordering the French toast as well. Thick slices of baguette soaked in a tres leche marinade? That is how all French toast should be made, in our opinion. Creamy, milky tres leches with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg took this French toast to the next level. It came topped with strawberries, cajeta sauce, toasted almonds, and vanilla whipped cream.
For some savory bites and more traditional Mexican cuisine, we opted for chilaquiles and tostadas. The chilaquiles were excellent and presented beautifully; chicken, corn, avocado, queso fresco, pico de gallo, sour cream, and salsa verde. We opted for two fried eggs to get that ooey gooey yolk porn we love so much. The chilaquiles were a large portion and perfect for sharing. This one is a must-order!
We opted for two types of tostadas: chicken and huevos rancheros, which were the perfect Mexican brunch dish. The fried tortillas were topped with frijoles charros, avocado, sunny-side eggs, queso fresco, and a rancheros sauce. Muy bien!
Our bottom line? We like Tuko Cantina and hope it succeeds. The dishes were not only aesthetically pleasing, but they tasted delicious. We weren’t disappointed with the cocktails either.
The downsides to Tuko were few, but worth mentioning. The service was a little lackluster. We brunched there shortly after the restaurant’s public opening,, so service details were still being worked out. Also, Tuko works hard to deliver a fun atmosphere, thanks to the DJ, the lively atmosphere, and the jumbo games in the bar area. There is no doubt that it is a fun place to drink on the weekends, but for brunch, I was kind of confused. Is it a party brunch space? It does not feel comparable to the party brunches scattered around River North, and for that I am thankful. But having a DJ and bottomless mimosas at brunch kind of implies that it is meant to be a party brunch.
I hope that Tuko Cantina succeeds because it is fun and the food is good. If they hit a stride, I could definitely see longevity in the spot. For now though, I am not sure who I would recommend Tuko Cantino to. If you’re celebrating something in a big group and looking for a fun atmosphere, it’s a good fit. But beyond that, we are unsure.
The Bitches say: Three Champagne flutes. This Mexican-inspired Wicker Park spot has some promise, but it needs to figure out how to cater to its brunch audience.
1938 W Division St.
Tuko Cantina serves weekend brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.