Although he was born and raised in Chicago, and now lives in Huntley, Michael Alejandro knows a thing or two about Tex-Mex cuisine.
Alejandro, whose family is from Texas and has been cooking for decades, recently opened Chingon Tex-Mex BBQ in Crystal Lake after running a popular restaurant in Hebron for the three years prior.
The new restaurant is located at 540 E. Terra Cotta Ave., the former site of the restaurant Crystal Lake Rib House, which, according to its website, is currently doing off-site catering and pig roasts while it transitions to a new venue.
Barbecue, Alejandro said, is what he loves: Getting up in the morning, getting his wood set, setting the smoker and then waiting.
All of the barbecue at Chingon – pulled pork, brisket, hot links, ribs and more – are smoked for about 18 to 20 hours. Meats are marinated for two days and are all charbroiled.
“It’s my way of perfecting meat,” he said.
Alejandro’s love of cooking comes from his family and continued through his time in the Marines, where he was a cook and server before going into the restaurant business. Even when he didn’t own a restaurant, Alejandro said, he always catered and cooked on the side.
His children, who would often watch their father cook, soon learned to have a passion for the restaurant industry as well. Alejandro’s two sons and one daughter all work at Chingon, as well as his wife, Eila; his daughter-in-law; and mother-in-law.
“We’re a tight-knit family,” Alejandro said.
Many fans of Alejandro’s Hebron restaurant are from the Crystal Lake and McHenry area, so Chingon already has a following on social media.
On Chingon’s opening night on Nov. 12, Alejandro said, they had almost 800 orders. Saturday was almost double that – despite the fact that Chingon’s outdoor sign delivery has been delayed because of supply chain issues.
“It’s awesome,” Alejandro said. “It’s a great feeling, just having people waiting and waiting and waiting for your doors to open.”
Having so many people come to Chingon when it first opened was overwhelming but exciting, Eila Alejandro said.
On Chingon’s Facebook page, a post noted that the Alejandros’ Crystal Lake establishment will have similar food and the same owners as the Hebron restaurant, just with a different name.
While the name of the Hebron restaurant was based on a nickname Alejandro was given as a child and in the Marine Corps, it is also considered a derogatory term for people of Mexican descent.
Alejandro, who is of Mexican descent himself, said it’s a nickname that’s stuck with him for over 38 years. He said people initially had issues with the name of the restaurant in Hebron, though once people knew the history behind it, the issues subsided.
Recently, however, he noticed the name of his Hebron restaurant was leading to negative reviews online and lost revenue.
“We’re in a different time right now,” he said.
After mulling it over with his family, he ultimately decided to rename his new restaurant Chingon. And with a new name came other changes at the restaurant too, such as the addition of salads and a few vegetarian items.
But old favorites, like the nachos, which are double-layered and served in “huge portions,” and brisket grilled cheese, are here to stay.
“We actually worked day and night just to get this place running,” Eila Alejandro said. “We put every bit of our ourselves in it. … We have accomplished a lot just within the past three years in the restaurant business to get to where we’re at now.”