When Chago’s Cantina threw open its doors in March 2011, chef and owner Chad Head was aiming for a funky, fun space paired with a menu that reflected his favorite culinary traditions. The smoke wafting off a whole-hog roast out front was more than enough to draw people in for the kind of carnitas that Head perfected in San Diego — and then they were introduced to favorites from his other duty stations, like the shrimp Creole from New Orleans.
Five years later, Chago’s is a well-established Belmont Boulevard mainstay with a devout community of regulars who praise Chago’s lively happy hour, addictive tacos, impressive tequila selection and fresh, made-to-order entrees. Head and staff have marked the anniversary with soft aesthetic changes and a few new menu highlights, careful not to deviate from what patrons fell in love with in the first place.
“We took spring break and made some tweaks, particularly in the back lounge, where there’s this chill beach vibe. You can feel the Baja in the decor, but the restaurant has the eclectic mid-century feel that brings out all of our favorite places and things,” he says.
Alongside fish tacos, plantain dishes and carne asada burritos are braised pork belly, fresh salads and an extensive vegetarian selection. But ask anyone what they think of when they think of Chago’s, and the answer will likely be the “forever changing” piggy taco–such a staple that it’s now featured in the restaurant’s logo.
“I still cook a whole pig out front just about every week. Sometimes it’s smoked and sometimes it’s roasted, but we use seasonal vegetable toppings that rotate every couple of days,” Head explains.
“This isn’t an authentic Mexican restaurant, and we’re not trying to be. We’ve taken things from our past and put them together. I grew up in three different places and made something special that blends those experiences.”
Head has expanded the in-store offering to include catering and house parties, and he’s glad to do a pig roast anywhere he can set up the pit.
And whether it’s tacos and margaritas or multi-course, multi-cultural meals, Chago’s has earned its reputation. It’s an authentic, unpretentious experience — like what you’d expect to find around the corner in a coastal village. For Head, it’s a personal dream come true.
“This place looks, feels and tastes like home,” he says with a smile. “I’m just excited to get to share that with people every day.”