Bien Trucha offers Fox Valley visitors honest, authentic Mexican cuisine in an upbeat, urban atmosphere.
I was excited to reach out to Bien Trucha co-owner Rodrigo Cano about his restaurant. Ryan and I have eaten at this spot for a few years, and I’ve always wondered about the story behind it. The weather was great on the day that we scheduled to meet for a chat, so Rodrigo and I opted to sit out amongst the guests on the outdoor platform lounge while we spoke.
I dug right in and started by asking Rodrigo what his day-to-day role is at Bien Trucha. He explained it is, well, pretty much everything! As a restaurateur, he strives to know every single detail about every single area of the restaurant in an effort to make his business successful. It sounds like Rodrigo has definitely had his practice being involved – after moving to the St. Charles area from Mexico City at the age of 12, he soon found his way into his family’s restaurant business. He began making drinks behind the bar and working in the prep kitchen to make money for things he wanted to do as a kid. Seriously? If I could guarantee my kid would have a work ethic like that by the age of 12, I might actually consider having kids soon.
Once he got older, he ventured to New York City to attend school for audio engineering. It was here that he realized his love of music would remain a passion, but that he was meant to be in a restaurant full-time. He began working with what he describes as “really cool” chefs in NYC, and when the opportunity came to move back to the area, he and his parents, Ricardo and Dolores, decided to open a restaurant together. Bien Trucha was born!
Rodrigo’s parents had owned another restaurant in Geneva years ago, so choosing a location for their new endeavor wasn’t difficult. When they first opened about 9 years ago, Bien Trucha existed in only half of the building you’ll find on the eastern side of their current setup. The other half, Rodrigo tells me, was a hair salon at the time.
Rodrigo explained that the first few months of business were a little rough – the idea of having a small restaurant was attractive to them, but some visitors didn’t understand their urban concept. Suburban residents were used to having plenty of space, so they didn’t quite get the cozy seating, shared table space, and authentic street-food portion sizes that Bien Trucha offered.
He believes the small space helped them connect with their customers early on, though. The only bathroom for the restaurant was in the back of the kitchen, which meant guests walked through the kitchen and past the chefs on a regular basis. People were able to see they were working with fresh ingredients and saw their honest, authentic way of preparing dishes. They worked to educate their guests about true Mexican cuisine and showed them that it’s not the massive burritos and chimichangas they are used to in the suburbs, but rather smaller portions with rich flavors.
The small restaurant also didn’t allow for a large freezer, so cooling space was limited. Deliveries arrived daily, and all of their items were prepared fresh. Rodrigo said this is reminiscent of many spaces back in NYC, where they had to work creatively with the space they had. Throughout their growth they’ve stayed true to their passion – honest food with fresh ingredients. If you visit their kitchen today, you’ll still find that food items are prepared fresh daily.
It took some time, but people soon became accustomed to the urban experience they were aiming to create and Bien Trucha started gaining attention from major publications. It wasn’t long before the long lines encouraged them to expand into the rest of the building and take over the salon next door. When the patio space and another nearby building became available a few years later, the restaurant grew into what you see today.
Most recently, they’ve added Lil Donkeys, which is a secret burrito concept they offer during lunch. (I learned that burrito literally means “little donkey”). You can go through the side door of Bien Trucha Kitchen, check out the chalkboard wall menu, and head upstairs to the counter to order. While you’re waiting, check out the various hearts that hang on the walls. Rodrigo’s mom loves hearts, so they bring back a new one whenever they travel. You’ll find hearts from places all over the world!
After learning about how their space was developed, I could only imagine their menu has changed over time as well. Rodrigo told me they started with 6 taco options on the menu (most of which remain today as staples they are known for) and slowly began adding additional tacos, other menu selections, and daily specials that you’ll see offered today. The menu is a collaboration between Rodrigo and his parents. He says they all love to cook, but avoid calling themselves chefs because they’ve never been to culinary school. If you ask me, they’ve proven themselves as chefs. The copious amounts of tacos I’ve downed at Bien Trucha are proof they truly understand food and flavor. I don't joke around when it comes to tacos.
Rodrigo told me their approach to food translates to the bar as well. They wanted to stay true to their roots and serve authentic, hand crafted cocktails. In Mexico, he explained, you can walk down the street and find street markets with tons of fresh fruits and fresh juices. At Bien Trucha, you will find the bartenders juice, muddle, and mix quality ingredients by hand for each drink. You’ll never find pre-mixes with artificial colors and other chemicals, and they always use 100% agave tequilas. I’ve always appreciated places that take the time to make a good drink – it can be hard to find spots that value true mixology.
All this talk about tacos and margaritas was driving my stomach nuts, so it wasn't long before I snagged Ryan for dinner. We wanted to sit outside, so our hostess seated us at the end of one of the long bar-height tables on the patio. We met our waiter, who explained the daily specials and gave us a moment to review the menu. Our waters were filled right away by another staff member, and we were brought fresh tortilla chips and warm, homemade bean dip.
I got a little distracted by how good the dip was, and had to remind myself to read the menu so that we had something to order when our waiter came back. After a few minutes, we made a few choices and our waiter took our order. The urban vibe continued when I noticed the waiter using a tablet to take our order - definitely like the city!
I chose the Tradicional Margarita ($10), made with fresh lime, sugar, orange liquor, exotico blanco, and salt. It tasted incredibly fresh and was just what I needed on the hot day we visited. Ryan opted for the Pepino Margarita ($11), which featured cucumber, lime, sugar, orange liquor, exotico blanco, and tajin. I stared at his drink until he eventually offered me a taste, (either he can tell what I'm thinking or he just wanted to stop the creepiness) and found it to be equally as good as mine.
We also decided on the Bien Trucha tacos ($12), with grilled skirt steak, chorizo, chihuahua, and roasted tomatillo salsa. I have to go a little primal here and just say: SO GOOOOD. The tortillas were warm, the steak was tender, and the toppings added a ton of flavor. We've also had the a la Diabla tacos ($13), which are made with sauteed shrimp, butter-mojo de ajo, chipotle lime, and avocado sauce. If you are gluten free, just tell your waiter - the tacos can be prepared to meet your dietary restrictions. Rodrigo had mentioned both of these tacos are guest favorites, and I can understand why. We will definitely order both again!
After we ate we hung around for a bit, finishing our drinks and listening to the lively music that was bouncing around the outdoor seating area. I recalled Rodrigo explaining his audio engineering background and told Ryan I thought it was being put to good use - the music selection he developed was fresh, fun, and something I don't normally hear.
We haven't been to Bien Trucha's sister restaurant, A Toda Madre, yet, so we'll be visiting that soon. A little bird also told me that Rodrigo and his family have a new concept they will be developing in a little spot know as Naperville...