Homemade: Birrieria Zaragoza continues family tradition, success with award-winning birria

Tanja Babich Image
Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Homemade: Birrieria Zaragoza continues family tradition, success with award-winning birria
Chef Jonathan Zaragoza says the family business began after neighbors called the police thinking they were dealing from their basement.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Family-owned restaurants are the heart and soul of Chicago's restaurant scene.

This week, ABC7's Tanja Babich visited Chicago's Southwest Side to tell the story of a literal homemade business.

Chef Jonathan Zaragoza started cooking meals for his family when he was 9-years-old.

Jonathan's mother, Norma Zaragoza, would say "quítame a este niño de la cocina!" Which in Spanish translates to "get that kid out of the kitchen."

Zaragoza's family is from La Barca, Jalisco, México. It was his father's love for birria - which is a traditional Mexican recipe for braised goat - started the family business.

"I was, like, the waiter, the sous-chef, everything." Jonathan said. "To me it seemed normal. You know, I remember the days where I'd have to, like, clean the basement, set up the tables and host people."

First, they hosted family and friends, until one uninvited guest that started the shift away to an underground eatery.

Customers would go into the family's basement and eat the only dish on the menu - birria.

At one point, neighbors called the police thinking they were dealing illegal items from their basement.

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"I gave him the taco," Jonathan's father Juan Zaragoza said. "I gave him a sample and he said, 'wow! This is delicious. You should put up your own restaurant!'"

And so they did. Birrieria Zaragoza was founded by Juan and Norma Zaragoza in 2007.

The restaurant was a family affair, everyone helped.

Chef Jonathan Zaragoza worked for the restaurant on and off, as he apprenticed under several respected Chicago chefs.

He eventually found his way back home in 2017. He took with him the practices he learned in his time away.

"I remember calling my parents and I'm like, 'we got a James Beard nod!'" he said. "They're so funny, because they're like 'what's that?'"

Today, Jonathan is a hired consultant for restaurant groups, industry brands and he stages pop-up restaurants in cities across the globe.

When asked what was next, Chef Zaragoza said he wants to open up his own spot in Chicago.

"I feel like I have a lot to say about Mexican food and I want to share that with people and hopefully it resonates with them," he said.

To learn more about Birrieria Zaragoza, click here.