George Lopez’s grandmother “Bennie” was passionate about cooking. He pays tribute to her with Chingon Kitchen, the second of which opened at Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino in Laveen last month.
The eatery is meant to share the traditions of Mexican cuisine, while creating an experience worth remembering.
“It has an identity, unlike other restaurants,” Lopez says.
Surrounded by dignitaries, Lopez cut the grand-opening ribbon for his restaurant during Cinco de Mayo weekend with fanfare that included performances by Metalachi.
Chingon Kitchen gives guests authentic Mexican food, while providing a creative environment and rich cocktails.
“The quality of the stuff is good,” Lopez says. “It’s fresh. It’s almost like a conveyor line where you can pick out what you want. It’s just a great spot.”
The concept is simple. Guests choose tacos, burritos, bowls, Cabo stuffed potatoes, tortas or Mexican Caesar salad. Then, they pick a filling like wood-fired carne asada ($10.50), crispy carnitas ($9.50), citrus chile chicken ($9.50), shrimp Mazatlán ($9.50) or vegetables ($7.50). Finally, it is finished with a variety of salsas and toppings.
Lopez’s favorite is the menudo.
“You don’t see menudo every day,” Lopez says. “So, here they’re going to have menudo every day.”
Chingon Kitchen offers traditional Mexican beverages like agua frescas, horchatas and bottled Mexican beer. He says, however, the cocktails—the Chingon Michelada, San Manuel’s Bloody Mary, sangrias or margaritas—are the perfect accompaniments to meals.
Lopez enjoys the blackberry sage margarita, a cocktail he’s longed for.
“My grandmother never let me have black cherry or blackberry, so as soon as I got older, I said, ‘I’m going to make a blackberry margarita.’”
Chingon Kitchen Chef Ben Lerose calls Lopez laid-back, relaxed and down to earth. He says the restaurant is special not only for its variety fo entrees and cocktails, but the way the food is prepared.
“Our carnitas are actually braised in Dr. Pepper instead of the traditional Coke so you get the sweetness, but you get the spice,” Lerose says.
To round out his family’s flavors and traditions, Lopez decorates Chingon Kitchen with art representing Mexican culture. Dia de los Muertos skuls and lucha libra fighters are the keys to the décor and the ambiance complements the food.
“The vibe here you get is not something you can get at any other place I’ve ever been to in Arizona,” Lerose says. “It’s relaxed and casual, but at the same time, fun and inviting.”
Lopez will continue the franchise with a new spin—he’s opening restaurants in select airports. The Valley location was an obvious choice for Lopez, who formerly lived in Chandler and spent plenty of time performing here.
“The first time I ever headlined was the Days Inn on Camelback during the late ’80s,” Lopez says. “I play golf here. I have a lot of friends here. It’s always great to come to Arizona.”