“Crunchy outside, soft center, golden brown and delicious” – that’s how Aldo Rios, owner of El Churro Shop in Little Village, describes the perfect churro.
The crispy fried sugar-kissed dough sticks brought to Mexico by Spaniards (or the Portuguese, depending on who you ask) are a familiar indulgence to many. But even on 26th Street, churros fresh from the fryer are a rarity.
At El Churro Shop, Little Village native Rios is taking the sweet snack back to its Mexican roots.
“A lot of people grew up with the idea, their knowledge, their perception of what a churro should be, is stuffed,” Rios said. “Traditionally it was made by hand. It was made fresh. It was fried dough and it wasn't really stuffed.”
Rather than filling his churros, Rios offers house-made sauces and toppings to add adventure to his traditional treats.
Before opening El Churro Shop, 3536 W. 26th St., in July, Rios had worked in kitchens for his entire professional life. When the pandemic shutdowns caused his hours to be cut in 2020, Rios suddenly had one crucial ingredient that he had always been short on before: time.
“It gave me enough time to think of something that I could do on my own, and for some reason churros came up,” he said.
Rios developed a recipe and set up a deep fryer on the sidewalk at 26th Street and St. Louis Avenue, where he discovered the old way of making churros was new to many Little Village residents.
“People started coming up, they really didn’t know what I was doing. They thought I was frying fish for some reason,” he said. “Once they saw that I was actually making churros, seeing it being made by hand with a piping and scissors and cutting it and frying to order, it was like ‘Wow, is that really how you make like a churro?’”
Not long after, Rios also began making churros in pop-ups and at private events. But even though people loved his product, he says opening a brick-and-mortar shop didn’t occur to him until he and his wife were looking for a spot for a coffee and a chat.
“We were just driving up and down 26th Street, wanted a place to sit down, have coffee, just like, have a conversation and just hang out. And we didn’t find that, we didn’t have a space that we could actually do that,” he said.
Now, Rios hopes he’s found the secret sauce for success by creating a place for community in Little Village.
“Everybody is welcome to come and sit down, have a conversation. If you have no internet at home, you’re welcome to use it here, have your computer, work on an assignment, do research, whatever it is and enjoy a hot beverage, enjoy a churro, enjoy something that like we’re trying to present culturally, traditionally,” Rios said.
Rios said he sees an untapped market for more businesses like his in the community.
“We have a young crowd here – let’s keep them here,” he said. “There’s plenty of potential to do a lot of stuff and keep it within the neighborhood and keep it ours.”