From food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant, Chameleon Cuisine is making changes.
This past Friday, the eatery opened on East Walnut Street in Springfield, Missouri, in the former Aviary Cafe location. At the new digs, customers can still get bestsellers, including the Komodo Dragon (a housemade burger patty mixed with chile paste and topped with bacon, caramelized onion, blue cheese and pepper Jack cheese) and the Madagascar (a crispy grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with gooey mozzarella, tomato, basil, pesto and a splash of balsamic vinegar).
Owner Yoni Vargas is constantly thinking up new takes on old classics. “I want [to serve] something different, bright, flavorful,” he says. “Not just the same old burgers and wings.”
Vargas has also added new items to the menu to celebrate the debut of the brick-and-mortar location. Try the lobster tacos featuring lobster meat sautéed with garlic, butter and rosemary, nestled in a warm tortilla and topped with cabbage slaw, cilantro and a housemade creamy Sriracha sauce. There are also options for vegetarians such as The Iguana, a toasted bun piled high with barbecue sauce-smothered jackfruit and black beans.
“These are flavors that need to be tamed,” says Vargas.
Vargas entered the restaurant industry as a dishwasher at age 16 and has dreamed of owning his own place ever since. Now 40, the California native is thrilled to share his vision with the Springfield community.
The Chameleon Cuisine food truck actually started in California in 2017, but Vargas moved it to Queen City when his wife was accepted to a nurse anesthetist program there. That was right before the pandemic hit Missouri, but the vibrantly colored food truck and creative fare still managed to amass a following.
“Springfield has been amazing to us,” says Vargas. “We have found a new home here.”
Like the food truck, the interior of the restaurant has an eye-catching mural of a chameleon, plus purple, yellow, red and blue tables and chairs. The “tree” in the center of the space remains, its tips lit with purple lights.
This is a new opportunity for Vargas. In California, he was slammed in the winter, but Midwest winters are a different animal. He found it challenging to drive the truck on the snow and ice, not to mention the fact that business basically evaporated in the cold weather.
So he started looking for somewhere to put down roots. “Everyone says downtown [Springfield] is the place to be,” he says. “We talked to other business owners, and they said business is booming. So we thought that it was time to take a chance.”
Chameleon Cuisine, 400 E. Walnut St., Springfield, Missouri, 417.429.8010, chameleoncuisine.com