“I’m very proud,” says Carlos Aparicio, a chef’s chef whose impressive resume includes the development of the signature baguette at Parc on Rittenhouse Square. “There’s a lot of Mexican restaurants in this city representing my culture, but I just feel like I’ve been training 25 years of my life for this.”
“This” is El Chingon, his all-day BYOB, which opened this week at 10th and Cross Streets, a block off of East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. It’s been more than three years since he and a brother-in-law bought the building, which had a long-shuttered barbershop on the ground floor.
Aparacio, 43, who emigrated in 1994 from the Pueblan town of San Mateo Ozolco, spent the better part of two decades working for others at noteworthy restaurants such as Parc (breads) and Zavino and Tredici (pizzas, pastas).
With Aparicio’s flour-intensive background, El Chingon specializes in cemitas, the singular sandwich (torta) on a crispy, sesame-seeded roll that’s soft and slightly sweet on the inside.
Chingon’s cemitas hold all sorts of fillings, such as adobo pork, cured beef al pastor, chicken Milanese, chorizo, birria, and a vegan portobello mushroom. The taco list includes the familiar al pastor as well as arrachera al pastor (a cured-beef variation), arabes (marinated pork), suadero (confit beef), and campechanos (a suadero with chorizo). Appetizers include memela (an oval corn tortilla with refried beans), lamb meatballs, and elote. Mixers are offered for the BYOBers.
“My vision for this place is to offer something completely different,” Aparicio said. Aparicio spent more than two years developing his signature cemitas, even traveling to Puebla and bringing back what he thought was the perfect recipe that he later determined was not. He did more fine-tuning until he was satisfied. He also makes flour tortillas.
El Chingon seats about 30 inside, mostly at an 18-seat counter. The table seating is snug. Outdoor seating in season will more than double the occupancy. Takeout is another option.
“El Chingon” is a Mexican idiom that translates as someone or something cool or someone who is intimidating. (The restaurant is unrelated to La Chingonita, which opened this summer in Fishtown.)
Aparicio, who is low-key, started working in New York at a family-owned bakery, where he learned to make “pretty much anything, from pastries to cakes to breads,” he said. “I always believed that baking, to me, is super easy. To bake, for me, is actually a passion. I represent myself with my bread.”
His first Philadelphia job was at Buddakan in 1999. He then was opening chef at the former Serafina and spent time at Pod, Blue, and Osteria before joining the opening team at Parc. His next stop was Zavino and Tredici — two popular but now-defunct Italian restaurant brands operated by Greg Dodge.
In 2018, while consulting on what is now an Italian restaurant in Wyndmoor called Enza, he got the urge to open a restaurant.
Initially, he wanted it to be Italian, but realized that the field was crowded.
He turned his attention to Mexican cuisine, which he had never cooked professionally. “I was like, ‘The city needs a place where it can be fun, it can be a little bit different, a little more modern,’” he said.
Aparicio brings his experience to the food, notably the bread, while his sisters Margarita and Berenice do the bases for marinades and make the tortillas. “The core of our food is pretty much home cooking,” he said. “My job is to execute the food in a professional way, because when you make it at home, you’re only making a little bit. My job is to help them be able to do it on a larger scale.”
Aparicio praises his relatives and employees. “Without them, I can’t do anything,” he said. “I built a community for my community and for Philly.”
Nothing came easy in the restaurant’s development. Aparicio said the work on the gas and electric lines took a year, including approvals. “The windows took forever,” he said. “They arrived in the wrong color. I ordered the walk-in [refrigerator] in July of 2021. I didn’t receive the walk-in box until July ’22.” He was told that the air-conditioning units would take a week or so to be shipped from California. Three months later, the company called to advise that they will arrive in December.
For El Chingon’s first month, the doors will open at 9 a.m. for coffee and pastries, with the all-day menu starting at 10 a.m. Closing time will be 10 p.m., later on Friday and Saturday and till 9 p.m. Sunday. It’s walk-in only. Breakfast will follow.