Four Star Restaurant Group already has a strong foothold in the Southport Corridor in the form of Crosby’s Kitchen, the perennial spot beloved by stroller-pushing fams throughout Lake View. In late September, Four Star will take another step toward conquering the block with Tuco and Blondie (3358 N Southport, no phone yet). It’s a playful take on “great American Mexican food,” per Four Star’s executive chef Todd Stein.
“We’re not trying to be Frontera Grill, and we’re not trying to be an authentic taqueria,” he says. “This place is all about creating a neighborhood place where locals can go for a good time.”
The space attempts to hit the familiar notes of stateside Mexican joints—with all the charm and energy that entails. Expect distressed wood, graphic tile, and “schoolhouse-inspired” seating for more than 200. The patio—a mainstay of the building’s previous incarnation, Justin’s—features a fireplace to keep diners warm on those crisp fall nights. If catching the big game is a priority, fear not: There will be flat screens inside and out on the patio.
As for the food, Stein says Tuco and Blondie will be all about the sauce. “The marinades and salsas … those are the central focuses of our dishes,” he says. The house fajitas—choice of steak, chicken, shrimp, or poblano-mushroom veggie—each get their own rub. Other menu highlights include a chile-rubbed pork tenderloin, and a fish entrée with traditional leanings: the catch of the day is served up Veracruz-style, with tomatoes, olives, and raisins.
For dessert, Stein appeals to the nostalgia of diners who, like him, spent childhood lusting after the fried ice cream at Mexican chains like the now-defunct Chi-Chi’s. Tuco and Blondie’s version features a ball of super-chilled vanilla rolled in egg and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (rather than the traditional corn flakes) and toasted over a fire to set. “If you can transfer people back to their childhood, you are doing a good job.”
Also on the sweet side: Margarita pie (a playful spin on Key lime, with hints of orange and tequila), not to mention plenty of margaritas—frozen and on the rocks—at the bar. A specialized machine will keep those frozen margs at the perfect icy viscosity.