Chilitos: What Mexican Dreams are Made Of

Chilitos has no fixed home. It is a pop-up concept by Chef Alvaro Montes de Oca. Every other weekend, he can be found cooking up Mexican brunch items including his famous tamales at Carp Sushi. He also just completed another stint at Bar Tartare, a wine bar and bastion for restaurant-less chefs, as the basis of its culinary program is pop ups.

Chilitos: What Mexican Dreams are Made Of

Popping Up as Chilitos

One of the advantages, and perhaps part of the allure, of the pop up model is that chefs get a chance to experiment. The menu can change depending on need or whim, and a chef like Alvaro can shift from brunch to dinner and back again.

The first time I stopped in to try the brunch at Chilitos, I loved it so much that I went back the next day. This is another allure of the pop up, its ephemerality. I loved the Huevos Con Chorizo which were simple and delicious served with flour tortillas by Los Gueros but I had no guarantee they would be on the menu next time. The Agua Fresca changes weekly too. The first one I tried was cucumber and lime and it was so thirst-quenching and fresh that I debated about asking when I came back on Sunday if I could buy however much was left (if any). I should note that I did once try to sample Chef Alvaro’s brunch before and he was sold out so I would recommend stopping by shortly after he starts serving at 10:30 am.

Chilitos: What Mexican Dreams are Made Of

The Chilaquiles, made with chips by Chancho Tortilleria, is another favourite dish. There is an appearance of simplicity to Chef Alvaro’s dishes but the depth of flavour present belies the effort and skill put into every dish. His sauce and salsa work is impressive. He is also serving succulent Brisket Barbacoa as well as his Tamales which you may remember from his time at Ubuntu Canteen. It was during his time at Ubuntu when he broke his ankle sliding down a slide with his daughter and was out of the kitchen for six months. Rather than re-entering a kitchen full-time, he started doing pop ups with the help of his wife, Fernanda Da Silva.

Chilitos: What Mexican Dreams are Made Of

The Chance to Change

Two weeks passed and Chilitos was back at Carp, the small sushi place on Prince Edward St and E Broadway, across the street from the BuyLow on Kingsway. They have their own great reputation in Mount Pleasant for their sushi and weekly specials that include Japanese curry. This time, the Agua Fresca was pineapple and lime which was also very tasty. This time, my favourite dish was the Huevos Rancheros, another seemingly simple dish made delicious by the ranchero salsa and flavourful refried beans. Chef Alvaro’s mole that day was also exceptional and made with a base of almonds.

Chilitos Does Dinner

Then, with much excitement, I got to try the Chilitos dinner menu. Chef Alvaro popped up at Bar Tartare from March 13 to 16. When day turns to night, The Birds & The Beets cafe becomes Bar Tartare, a natural wine bar. Owner Lindsay Otto curates an ever-changing selection of wines which is why having an ever-changing food menu to match makes so much sense.

Visiting chefs get a stint in the open kitchen and the opportunity to do what they wish with the menu. I’m sure they are mindful of and inspired by the natural wine menu served by Bar Tartare; indeed I’ve noted some chefs trying some particularly adventurous and exciting dishes.

Chilitos: What Mexican Dreams are Made Of

The Chilitos dinner menu started with B.C. Oysters that came with carrot aguachile and guajillo oil. Chef Alvaro demonstrated his experience in Japanese food with the Ahi Tuna Tostada. Before Ubuntu Canteen, he spent six years at Hapa Izakaya in Yaletown. The textures of the Tostada were lovely and the flavours were Mexican with Japanese influence that could be tasted in the use of soy and the addition of wasabi to the avocado. The Seared Scallops with bone marrow salsa were also fantastic. The fatty richness was perfect for sopping up with flour tortillas. Another dish we enjoyed with Los Gueros’ flour tortillas was the Hopcott Farms Beef Cheek Barbacoa. For dessert, we had to try Fernanda’s own Pineapple Cake after seeing others at Bar Tartare enjoying it. It was light, fluffy, and topped with coconut cream and toasted coconut. Suffice it to say, Chilitos is serving delicious Mexican food be it brunch or dinner. Check out Chef Alvaro’s Instagram to see when Chilitos will be popping up next.


About Bronwyn Lewis 63 Articles
Bronwyn Lewis is a food writer for the Vancouver Guardian. She’s also a screenwriter and producer. Born and raised in Vancouver, Bronwyn lives in Mount Pleasant and you can follow all her food adventures on Instagram.