Altiro’s tapa and taco recipes are creative blends of different types of cooking from a range of Latin countries. It offers guests a unique taste and a pleasant and relaxed dining experience with a warm welcome from the servers and owners of this family business.
Right in the heart of Roscoe Village at 2116 W Roscoe St. stands the bright and cheery
Altiro Latin Fusion, among several other trendy and popular restaurants and cafes.
Right in the heart of Roscoe Village at 2116 W Roscoe St. stands the bright and cheery
With their first branch having opened in Geneva three years ago, co-owners and brother-in-laws Miguel Villanueva, Javier Mendez, Roberto Avila and Jose Trejo opened here in Roscoe Village six months ago. Upon arrival, I first had the pleasure of meeting Mendez, who is also the bartender at Altiro’s Roscoe branch. We chatted away as he polished the cocktail glasses, getting things in line for the day ahead. The restaurant’s decor is simple and fresh with its red-on-white color palette and small wooden tables centering around the slick, stylish bar.
Next, the equally personable and gregarious Villanueva arrived straight from Geneva, smiling from ear to ear. Manager Villanueva went over to greet and serve the first customer of the day. This is standard practice in Altiro Latin Fusion. The owners can always be found serving the tables, mixing the drinks or cooking in the kitchen on any given day. Meeting the owners on the frontline of the customer service is a very nice touch. They have built up a good relationship with their guests in Geneva’s community and wish to do the same here in Roscoe Village.
CUSP Magazine sat down with Villanueva and head chef Avila to hear more about this growing restaurant and the origins of its innovative family recipes.
Q&A – CUSP Magazine & Altiro Latin Fusion
CUSP Magazine: How is business in Chicago, particularly in Roscoe Village?
Miguel Villanueva: Like our location in Geneva, it has a lot of families in a very friendly neighborhood. Even if it is in Chicago, it still feels a little suburb, like Geneva. So that’s why we decided to come here. We felt that people would like it, and people like it!
CM: What type of food and drink do you offer?
Villanueva: The food is a Latin fusion: a little bit of Mexican, South American, Spanish and Italian cuisine all infused with innovative Mexican influences and served tapas style. We offer craft cocktails. We make them from fresh ingredients, and we use organic fruit and organic nectar. In our margaritas we use organic 100% blue agave tequila.
CM: How would you describe Altiro Latin Fusion’s brand?
Villanueva: It is modern Latin cuisine with a real Latin vibe.
CM: Why did you decide to set up Altiro Latin Fusion initially?
Villanueva: We’ve been working in the restaurant industry for about 15 years. We worked for different kinds of restaurants. We decided to take a little of the essence of each different place that we used to work at, like Italian, Spanish, French, Mexican and South American restaurants and put it all together.
CM: Can you tell us about your background in Mexico City?
Villanueva: We grew up in Mexico City. We came up here when I was 17, and Roberto came up here when he was about 30. We’ve been here for almost 15 years, living in the suburbs. We first lived in Geneva and started working at all the places around there. From a busboy, to a server, to a chef, we worked our way up until we decided to open our own restaurant.
Roberto Avila: We didn’t really know a lot about cooking when we lived in Mexico, but when we came to this country we started to work in different restaurants, and after that we started to create different flavors. Every Sunday or Monday after working, we would make food for our families. Again, we would make food from the different restaurants we worked in, and we would try to include, in all of them, Mexican peppers and Mexican spices.
CM: Can you describe your signature dishes?
Avila: Firstly, we have the Altiro Tacos. It’s pan-seared tilapia with a tequila reduction, a little bit of micro-arugula, cucumber, our mango salsa, fresh chipotle aioli and Altiro vinaigrette. Next we have Al Mejillon: the Italian mussels. It’s a marinara, but we make it with fresh tomatoes, chistorra tequila reduction, lime juice and garlic. You have the infusion of Mexican spices with chile de arbol and Spanish spices with chistorra. There’s bread on the side. The third one is the Al Poblano: chicken pan-seared with tequila, lemon juice and organic cilantro served with risotto. You can call it risotto or rice — two different cultures, two different flavors, Italian and Mexican. The risotto is mixed with serrano peppers and real corn. We use chili Poblano salsa, roasted Poblano salsa with heavy cream and a little bit of Chihuahua cheese. We top it all off with pomegranate seeds. Also, we have a very popular appetizer: the Papa Brava. It’s roasted potato wedges topped with a sunny-side-up egg. It has several different seasonings from Spain and from Mexico, including ham and chipotle aioli and avocado aioli.
CM: So far, what kind of clientele have you had here? Younger people, older people, students, families?
Villanueva: We get a lot of young families, mid 30s. Mostly young families. The location, Roscoe village, is an up-and-coming neighborhood. Most of the students and younger crowd generally live a little farther from here in Bucktown or Lakeview. In Geneva, we get a young crowd too, but so far here we are developing our customer base and hoping the young people will find out about us here too.
Villanueva – “We’ve been working in the restaurant industry for about 15 years. We worked for different kinds of restaurants. We decided to take a little of the essence of each different place that we used to work at, like Italian, Spanish, French, Mexican and South American restaurants and put it all together.”
CM: How has setting up a family business and working with family been?
Villanueva: I find it a personal way to work. Our wives work with us too. We trust each other a lot. We know what to say to each other and what to expect, so we work very well together. Family taking care of family. Our family works in all areas of staff: managing, office work, bartenders, servers, cooks. We do everything pretty well.
CM: Do you have vegetarian options?
Villanueva: We can accommodate a lot of vegetarian options. The tapas can be made without meat, and then we have our vegetarian tacos, pretty much all our appetizers are vegetarian. We do salad too.
Avila: Also we have the Que Tal tacos, made with mushrooms, red onions and peppers, seasoned with chipotle and topped with a slice of fresh avocado.
CM: Can you tell us about your popular drinks?
Villanueva: One of our most popular drinks is our pineapple margarita with a homemade pineapple-chipotle ice cube. We use organic nectar and 100 percent blue agave tequila. The second most popular is the blackberry Ala Moradita cocktail that we serve in a martini glass.
Roberto: It’s got bourbon whiskey in it. That’s very popular now, in the general area, so we wanted to make a drink with bourbon, fresh blackberries, lemon and lime, egg whites and organic agave. It’s really, really good. People love it.
CM: What do you feel makes Altiro Latin Fusion unique?
Villanueva: The concept that you can find Italian, Mexican, Spanish and South American cuisine all in one restaurant.
Avila: When we first opened the restaurant in Geneva, a lot of people came and expected that we just served tacos. But it’s not. It’s tacos and tapas. People started to order the tapas and now they love it. Now people say, “You guys are unique because you have different flavors. You’re not just like a Mexican taste.” No, we have a different flavor in our food. That’s why it’s unique. People say that. We work really hard with the decoration of the plates all the time, because the first impression of your meal is your plate. If the plate is really pretty, it makes you want to eat it. If the first impression is good, then you’ll try it and say, “Wow! I really love it.”
CM: Do you offer any daily specials or drink deals?
Villanueva: We have a margarita special. On Tuesdays the house Organica Margaritas are $4.99. On Wednesdays Sangria is $4.99, and on Thursdays select bottles of wine are $19.99.
CM: What other restaurants in Chicago can you recommend for us at CUSP Magazine to check out?
Villanueva: We really like Hutch, an American bistro. They do great meatballs and salads. I would highly recommend that.
Having tasted the artfully presented signature dishes, I can confirm that they are indeed delicious and satisfying. I recommend ordering and sharing at least three of the more-ish tapas between two people. It’s a great way to try a variety of different dishes in one sitting, which is a big plus, particularly for those who find it tough to make a choice when eating out. The creamy Al Poblano chicken dish with pomegranate seeds is particularly enjoyable. It fits the bill for a pleasing lunch or dinner.
The craft cocktails are also a strong pull factor here. Crafted with the utmost care and attention to detail, these cocktails are full-bodied and strong, but you can’t tell from the blend of tastes. The Ala Moradita’s bourbon base is smoothed by the egg white, masked by the tart yet sweet blackberries, and its rich taste is balanced and mellowed out by the graham cracker crust on the glass’s rim.
Although a passionate and creative approach to cooking is apparent in the unique recipes and craft cocktails, this hearty, family-run restaurant is approachable and wholly unpretentious. If you make a trip down to Roscoe Village to experience what this new, suburban-born, Latin cuisine has to offer, you won’t regret it.