I’ve eaten hundreds of burgers over the past six years, but I’ve never encountered anything quite like the pamburguesa at Con Todo Cantina y Cocina in Logan Square.
From a few feet away, you’d have no idea it was a burger. Instead, the dish looks like a pambazo, a traditional Mexican sandwich coated in a dark-red chile salsa and toasted in a pan with oil, singeing the salsa to the crust.
Yet, look between the slices of bread and you’ll find a burger that shows striking similarities to a certain iconic dish from a fast-food empire headquartered in Chicago. You won’t spot any lettuce or sesame seeds, but you will find two all-beef patties, a sauce referred to as salsa especial, American cheese, pickles and sliced white onions. Bite in, and you’ll catch the crackly crunch of the bread, plus a tinge of heat. Then you’ll encounter the juicy, savory middle, which is punctuated by crisp onions and pickles, and a tart and creamy sauce. In other words, imagine if a Big Mac vacationed in Mexico and ended up loving it so much it stayed.
The pamburguesa sums up Con Todo fairly well. This is a kitchen unafraid to take the time to do things the hard way — making corn tortillas from scratch, cooking the al pastor over charcoal — yet which also isn’t afraid to cast aside the traditional for whatever sounds most exciting.
Most of the menu was designed by Jonathan Zaragoza, one of Chicago’s most promising young chefs. He grew up helping out in his father’s Southwest Side restaurant, Birrieria Zaragoza, where the art of roasting goats is taken as seriously as any place I know. But Zaragoza also spent time in various kitchens around the city, and has consulted for restaurants all over the world.
Zaragoza should offer his consulting services to Gordon Ramsay. When I reviewed Gordon Ramsay Burger, I mentioned how the elote dip was greasy and bland. But at Con Todo, the starter is bulked out with a sweet corn purée, so each bite stays creamy, yet tastes lighter and has more corn flavor. Even better is the silky smooth rendition of sikil p’ak, a blended pumpkin seed, tomato and habanero dish from Yucatán.
But while Zaragoza crafted the menu and was the focal point of most of Con Todo’s press before opening, he just announced last month that he is no longer involved with the restaurant. I figured something was up after talking to him for this review, since Zaragoza was clear that he planned to be less involved. “(Con Todo) needed some help on the culinary side of things, and I had the time,” Zaragoza said. “I do have another project lined up.”
While Con Todo is hardly the first restaurant to go this route, part of me worries that we are going to see more restaurants following suit and hiring a famous name to create a menu and buzz, before he or she leaves after a few months. It might be lucrative for the chef in question, but without constant involvement, can we expect great things from this type of arrangement? I have my doubts.
So the worst thing I can say about Con Todo is that it’s not the ambitious Zaragoza project some of us were hoping it would be. But with Zaragoza out, it’s also easier to see Con Todo has its sights set on something different. Essentially, Con Todo is like a refined version of Big Star: a great place to down a few tacos and cocktails, but with a bright Mexico City vibe instead of a chaotic whiskey-soaked honky-tonk one.
The owners, brothers JC and Edgar Castañeda, certainly have Mexican restaurant experience to spare. Both grew up in their family’s Mexican restaurant, Lalo’s, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021. Edgar went on to help run both Zocolo and Taco Joint, while JC spent years working as a bartender for the Boka Restaurant Group (J. Parker, Momotaro, Cabra) and RPM Italian.
For Con Todo, which means “with everything” in Spanish, JC and Edgar traveled around Mexico City for inspiration. “We wanted to bring the ethos of Mexico City taquerias to this restaurant,” JC said. That includes little details, like serving tacos on the same colorful plastic plates that are common in the city.
The star of the taco lineup is the al pastor, made by marinating slices of pork, stacking them on a vertical rotisserie known as a trompo and then grilling until the pork is crispy. Unlike most places in town, Con Todo cooks the meat with charcoal instead of gas. This means that each bite has an intoxicating aroma of smoke that lingers in the background. Topped with a generous splash of salsa verde, this is a fine way to start any meal.
The sweet potato sopes might sound like a consolation for the vegetarian crowd, but the masa base is golden brown and crackly, while tender roasted sweet potatoes are balanced by salsa macha — a chile, nut and oil mixture that’s becoming increasingly popular around the city.
Con Todo also serves a couple larger dishes, including a very good Sinaloa roadside chicken. Rubbed with an adobo chile mixture and then grilled, the half chicken is impressively juicy and only moderately spicy. It’s also a lot of food for $24, especially since it comes with pickled vegetables, salsa and freshly made corn tortillas.
Dessert is limited to a pineapple upside-down cake, which gets a boost of flavor from grilled pineapple and what’s referred to as a burnt cinnamon whipped cream.
Cocktails manage to be both approachable and fascinating. I particularly liked the Piña, which pairs Uruapan Charanda rum with fresh pineapple, lime and orgeat, an almond-flavored syrup. I also admired the Jamaica, which mixes smoky mezcal, pungent ginger beer and a dark red tea made with hibiscus flowers, water and sugar.
It’s also thrilling to see an all-Mexican wine list. It might surprise some that Mexico has been making great wine for hundreds of years in the Baja California state. “Representation is really important,” JC Castañeda said. “It’s just really hard to source Mexican wine from major wine distributors. But they are out there if you look hard enough.” If you’re not sure where to start, try the 2019 Acrata Tinta Del Valle from the Guadalupe Valley, a lively red wine made mostly with grenache.
Likewise, the beer is either made in Mexico or by Mexican Americans in Chicago. That includes a couple of offerings by Casa Humilde, a promising local brewery run by another set of brothers, Javier and Jose Lopez. “They are fantastic brewers and couldn’t be kinder people,” JC Castañeda said.
Zaragoza may no longer be involved, but as long as the Castañeda brothers keep the quality as high as it is now, settling for a thrilling taqueria with great cocktails, fascinating Mexican wine and top notch al pastor tacos is more than a consolation prize.
2853 N. Kedzie Ave.
Eat. Watch. Do.
What to eat. What to watch. What you need to live your best life … now.
Tribune rating: Between good and very good
Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Prices: Starters, $5 to $20; main course, $15 to $24
Noise: Conversation friendly
Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible, bathrooms on first floor