An assortment of tacos, cemitas, and burritos await at Gringo and Blondie, located 7514 W. North Ave. in Elmwood Park. The new Mexican street-food spot is brought to Restaurant Row by Massa Café Italiano owner, Angelo Lollino and his wife and business partner Giovanna Lollino.
Angelo Lollino, the North Avenue gelato genius, had always dreamed of opening a Mexican restaurant in Elmwood Park. Seven years ago, he and his wife hired Robert Nunez to run front-of-the-house operations at Massa Café Italiano. The Lollinos supported Nunez’s aspiration to attend culinary school and after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, Nunez took over back-of-the-house operations at Massa. Before long, he was helping his bosses conceptualize the menu for Gringo and Blondie.
Nunez has been cooking for as long as he can remember — even as a young child he was hands-on in restaurant kitchens.
“We didn’t have a babysitter, so my mother would bring me to work at the diner with her,” says Nunez. “I was 11 years old and cooking hash browns on the flat top.”
Exposure to a restaurant kitchen transformed into a lifelong passion. After working his way up through Massa Café, Nunez is now the head chef at Gringo and Blondie.
“I am grateful for this opportunity,” he says, “and I know Anthony has put his faith in me.”
The duo collaborated to develop a thoughtful, colorful and authentic menu with creative flair. Today Nunez executes the dishes with confidence. Gringo and Blondie is getting great feedback on their menu and attention to detail.
Everything is cooked to order at Gringo and Blondie and Nunez is particularly proud there is no held meat in the restaurant.
Cooked on a rotating spit topped with fresh pineapple, al pastor is a daily favorite at the Elmwood Park taqueria. Served in tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, the slow-cooked pork is a standout menu item in any form.
“It took us a while to get the marinade right, but we finally did,” said Nunez, “it’s not overpowering and has lots of citrus flavor.”
Gringo and Blondie receives a daily fish delivery ensuring their popular shrimp and fish tacos are cooked and served at the peak of freshness. The seafood marinades include epazote, an herb similar to basil with its own distinct flavor.
Modelo beer-battered cod is fried to golden brown and topped with a vinegar-forward Mexican slaw and jalapeno crema, while the shrimp at Gringo and Blondie is served spiced and grilled.
Rather than peddling commonplace tortas, Gringo and Blondie serves up cemitas to folks with a sandwich craving. Cemitas make use of traditional torta fillings but use a specialty bread with a slightly sweet flavor profile, fluffier texture and signature sesame coating.
In fact, Gringo and Blondie takes their love for cemitas a step further by having their local baker make rolls and loaves from the cemita dough. While the rolls are used for sandwiches, the loaves are transformed into French Toast a la Mexicana for brunch. Cinnamon, caramel, candied pecans, whipped cream and seasonal fruits make the dish a standout on the thoughtful Sunday brunch menu. Traditionalists will find Huevos Rancheros, Chilaquiles, and Pozole among the Sunday brunch fare.
“I think having a sense of community in a restaurant is important,” says restaurant manager, Jimme Gallegos, “and Gringo and Blondie has accomplished that in a short time.”
The experienced manager knows the Elmwood Park community was eagerly awaiting the opening of the North Avenue restaurant. After being open for five months, Gallegos is happy to report customers feel happy and comfortable dining at the colorful taqueria.
Guests will be able to savor grab-and-go tacos and margaritas in the sun soon enough. Gringo and Blondie will be bringing an outdoor eating area to the restaurant this spring.
“When people make a choice to eat at Gringo and Blondie they are supporting the local community,” says Gallegos.” This is not a chain — this is a family-owned restaurant.”