Sonora’s is the name of a new Mexican concept slated to open at 2124 N. Farwell Ave., at the former site of Simple Cafe, which closed in summer of 2021.
Behind the concept is Chef George Ortiz, a Chicago native, and longtime educator who changed gears to pursue his culinary degree at Kendall College. After graduation, he worked in a variety of places, including the Arlington Race Track in Schaumburg, Illinois. When the pandemic hit, he took a job as a corporate chef in the Milwaukee area.
In getting to know the city, Ortiz says he's explored local restaurants, including cafes and taquerias, and experienced the collegiality among chefs in the area. He also decided he'd like to put down roots in the Cream City.
“I’ve put everything I have into this concept,” he says, “With the hope of bringing something new to the neighborhood and the city. I want it to evoke all the smells and feelings you get when you walk into a home kitchen in Mexico."
The restaurant is named for Sonora, a desert state in Northern Mexico, which is known for its emphasis on beef (thanks to the cattle that thrive in the area) as well as flour tortillas, a staple in the area where the Spanish influenced the cultivation of wheat (rather than corn).
The concept itself is largely inspired by Ortiz’s travels to Mexico where he gathered recipes and techniques from climes including Mexico City and Oaxaca, along with ideas and art which he'll use to create the aesthetic for the former cafe space.
A glimpse at the menu
The menu, which Ortiz says is still a work in progress, will focus on rustic Mexican street fare that changes with the seasons. He also hopes to introduce Milwaukeeans to a few dishes that can’t be found elsewhere in the city.
“There’s nothing like going to a place when you are hungry and coming away disappointed,” he says. “So my goal is to deliver on consistency and excellence, offering balanced portions at an affordable price."
Among Ortiz’s favorite items which will be featured on the menu are suadero tacos. The tacos are named for a specific cut of meat, generally taken from the middle of a cow or pig, between the belly or sirloin and the leg. But, what makes the taco special is that the meat is braised or confited in lard or other fat before being crisped on a grill. The result is a taco featuring mouthwateringly tender meat. Ortiz says he will offer the tacos with both the traditional suadero cut, as well as brisket.
“The brisket works very well for these tacos,” he says. “It’s really flavorful, juicy and simply delicious."
Guests can also expect the similarly prepared carnitas and tamale tacos, a unique taco which Ortiz says he is contemplating making with a smaller version of a housemade tamale, which can be nestled inside of a tortilla with creamy slaw.
While he’ll be bringing in corn tortillas for the restaurant, Ortiz says he will make his flour tortillas in house.
“In Northern Mexico, they use flour tortillas because the corn doesn’t grow there,” he says. “My mother always made flour tortillas, so I grew up eating them.”
In keeping with the seasonality of the menu, Ortiz says summer will bring fresh, bright salads to the menu, but as the months grow colder, he’ll introduce items like warming soups, which can be enjoyed alongside his selection of street tacos. That includes pozole, the hominy based stew, which will be offered on weekends.
As for beverages, Ortiz says he will make good use of traditional agua frescas made with seasonal fruit. Guests can drink them as-is, or enjoy them spiked with rum or tequila. He will also design a menu of unique cocktails made with rum, tequila and mezcal, including a pineapple mimosa made with fresh pineapple juice that he says he experienced while traveling in the Dominican Republic.
Summer days on the patio
At Sonora’s guests will also find a unique outdoor patio which Ortiz says will pay homage to the outdoor taquerias found in the small towns in Mexico.
“They’re beautiful spaces where you can stop in and enjoy tacos,” he says. “And I hope to recreate that for customers right there on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.”
He also hopes to add a dessert station featuring fresh fruit cups along with shaved ice in flavors including passionfruit and tamarind.
Once open, Sonora’s is expected to be open for both lunch and dinner service.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.