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Chef Johnny Leach to Open Playful Mexican Spot Chalino

A pair of Stray Dogs and Xico alums rethink Mexican on North Williams this winter.

By Karen Brooks October 26, 2016

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Johnny Leach (left) and David Haddow (right) at Mercado de Sonoro in Mexico City. 

Image: Matt Brown

We’ve been hungry to hear what chef Johnny Leach, half of the brain trust behind crazy hot dog pop-up Stray Dogs, would do next. Now, Eat Beat has the skinny: Leach will open Chalino, a playful, Mexican-inspired spot—seasonally attuned and, of course, willfully inauthentic. Think littleneck clam tostadas, shrimp cocktail “al pastor,” and black cod tinga poblano. Those are just a few ideas on the drawing board right now. If all goes well, the 45-plus-seat restaurant will drop in the next few months on the bottom floor of the Courtyard at One North, a new, architecturally mod office complex at 1 North Fremont Street, right near the North Williams New Seasons Market and People’s Pig. (Willamette Week reported on the new operation's liquor license filing earlier this month).

Leach, a Beaverton-born boy who made his bones as chef de cuisine in David Chang’s New York empire, is opening the project with longtime chef friend David Haddow, an alum of Xico and New Orleans’s Cochon Butcher. 

A sneak peek at the dry-run menu shows about 20 dishes, including tostadas, ceviches, roasted meats, and unusual vegetable/fruit mash-ups, plus a serious salsa mix and a small list of amped-up snacks, like guacamole and toasted spiced pepitas. Mexico is the jumping-off point, with an emphasis on lighter (and light-hearted) dishes and a strong vegetable focus. Leach simply calls it: “food we think is delicious. It’s tethered to the Mexican palate and techniques. We’ll cook close to season but we’re not trying to be hard-core local.” Leach comes by his playful approach honestly: his mother and grandfather are Hispanic, but, he says, meal times were never strictly by the book.

I’m excited to find out what ocean trout ceviche tastes like with brown butter, roasted rice, and saw leaf. Tartare is suddenly the next big (old) thing, and Leach’s vision right now features puffed amaranth, “sour jalapeno,” and sweet soy. I’m also curious about a dessert called “Boston cream concha” (a filled pastry shell). Take note: Leach’s wife, the talented Helen Jo, holds down the pastry department at Le Pigeon. Let’s hope he’s been taking notes at home.

A chef’s counter will figure prominently in the space. Leach and Haddow plan to warm up the floor-to-ceiling glass-wrapped room with a very open floor plan, plenty of beer and mescal, and Mexican garage band music. 

Chalino doesn’t have an opening date yet, though construction is under way. Leach is optimistic: “I’m going to do a rain dance when we get off the phone and hope for mid-December.” Stay tuned.

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