By Kristin Boza
Americanos, 11060 S. Western Ave., opened recently to a great buzz. The restaurant, located in the spot formerly occupied by Leona’s, offers authentic Mexican food with an American twist and is owner A.J. Castillo’s first foray into a brick and mortar restaurant; his previous endeavor was operating a food truck on the north side.
Castillo is a part of the Firewater Saloon team, which was originally looking at the former Leona’s for their restaurant. While the spot wasn’t right for Firewater (which opened on 111th Street I Mount Greenwood), the owners felt it was a great spot for a different concept, and Castillo’s extensive knowledge and ease in creating original Mexican dishes won out.
“One of my biggest concerns before opening was what people’s expectations were. People were probably thinking we would offer enchiladas, or full plate meals, but instead we serve our food a la carte,” Castillo said. “It’s set up so you can get a little bit of everything and can try a variety of tacos, or split a torta with someone else. We celebrate each taco and torta; each one has different components and they’re all unique in their own way.” Castillo points to the fried chicken torta and brisket taco as two out-of-the-ordinary items.
Castillo is most proud of the Americanos tortas, created by putting his own spin on the typical sandwich people see at other Mexican restaurants, Castillo builds the tortas with a variety of meat and toppings and places them on high-quality bread.
One unique menu item is the agua chile, which is cooked octopus over a bed of cucumber and jicama, with a dash of lime, salt, chimichurri sauce and cholula sauce. “The agua chile is a refreshing appetizer, almost like sushi. It’s one of our statement dishes,” Castillo said.
While the menu is well thought out and unique, Castillo sees himself as an entrepreneur first and a chef second. “When I’d tell my mentors and other people about how I wanted to open a restaurant, they constantly doubted me. As I got older and more time passed, I got more serious about making it happen,” he said. “I was the young dreamer kid on the block; I had to put my head down and work hard to ensure that I’d prove people wrong.”
Castillo credits his mother, Cynthia Castillo, with giving him a love for exceptional food. “When I was a kid, my mom cooked every day and it was expected that something good was on the table every night. That was part of my road to get to where I am today, and she really inspired me,” he said. “My team and I plan to work hard every day to give the neighborhood what they want. We are trying hard to give the neighborhood something special and new.” Castillo’s mom works with her son as Americanos Front of House Manager.
Americanos is open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch will begin in May, and the liquor license will also be approved, so stop in for margaritas with your lunch or dinner.