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Favorite Mexican Restaurant?/ Frontera Grill

I am visiting Chicago next week, and would love to know what your favorite Mexican restaurant is. I'm from Indiana, and don't get to experience the type of Mexican food I know is out there (Fort Wayne has maybe one restaurant that I think is consistently delicious). I'm tired of the dumbed-down food I get here to appease the "gringo" palate. I was really interested in Frontera Grill until I read all the bad reviews on CitySearch about the poor service, the price disparity between the online menu and the actual one, and hit-and-miss food. Is it as bad as the reviews claim (like a 3-hour wait and disappointing dishes), or is Frontera Grill a true contender?

I'm looking for a place that is authentic and off the touristy path, and perhaps not as expensive as Frontera. I can afford a $50 meal, but I want it to be fantastic, and if I can get a great meal for less, well I'm all for it! Where do you go again and again?

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  1. Some of the review websites are overwhelmingly negative for ANY restaurant, even the very best. Pick the best place in town and look at reader reviews on Metromix, for example, and you'll find plenty of negatives. I think this is because people are a whole lot more likely to write reviews when they don't like a place than when they do.

    Frontera Grill is very good. A bit cramped but the food is excellent. The waiting times vary; you'll wait longer at 7:30 pm on a Saturday evening than if you get there on the early side or late side, or go during the week.

    Have you considered Topolobampo, its sister restaurant that is a bit more upscale and accepts reservations (on opentable.com )? It's also excellent.

    For comparisons between Topolobampo and Frontera Grill:
    www.chowhound.com/topics/360217

    For information about both places:
    www.rickbayless.com/restaurants

    Another, new option is Tepatulco ( www.tepatulco.com ), which recently opened by Geno Bahena, the owner of two previous excellent regional Mexican restaurants in town. See a review here:
    www.chowhound.com/topics/374842

    As another option, I've always liked Adobo Grill (two locations here) - www.adobogrill.com

    And there are lots of authentic neighborhood type restaurants in neighborhoods with large Mexican/Hispanic populations, like Pilsen, etc, if that's something you would consider. But they may or may not be as unusual as you appear to be looking for.

    One more option is Cuatro, which is more "Latin fusion" than Mexican. It's excellent (in fact, I had brunch there this morning!). www.cuatro-chicago.com

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks for the info! I agree with you that you are way more likely to post a bad review over a good one. I myself am guilty of it!

      1. re: nsxtasy

        My favorite Mexican restaurant is Flamingo's Seafood; it's the best Mexican food I've ever had outside of Mexico. (I didn't mention it in the previous post because I had not yet been there at that time, but I've been there 3-4 times since then and it's been wonderful every time.) It's a new place in Mount Prospect, near O'Hare Airport. The food is just incredible, specializing in creative provincial Mexican dishes. A week ago I ate there and had an unbelievable dish, a special of a huge piece of grilled Chilean sea bass which had been brushed with the same sauce which surrounded it, a guava habaƱero sauce which gave it a wonderful slightly fruity touch (there must have been very little habaƱero as it wasn't very spicy), and topped with crushed toasted pumpkin seeds. You can read about more of their items on the menu on their website. The decor is nothing fancy; it's a converted fast food restaurant, I think, but with some pleasant murals painted on the walls.

        Flamingo's Seafood
        1590 S. Busse Road
        Mt. Prospect, IL
        (847) 364-9988
        www.flamingosseafood.com

      2. Topolobampo is an especially good deal at lunch. The tasting menu isn't available, but you can have a terrific three-course lunch for about $50 per person. There's no lunch on Saturdays.

        1. Adobo Grill and Salpicon, both on North Wells Street, are also very good.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Francophile

            The Adobo Grill in Wicker Park tends to be a little less crowded, especially on weekend nights, but there are a lot more things to do around the Wells St. location. Since you are in Indiana, they also have a location in Indianapolis. If you do go to Adobo, beware the margaritas that don't have the price listed in the menu! A business associate of mine ordered one of those on the reccomendation of the bartender, it cost $75 for the one drink.

              1. re: christina_hunnicutt

                That's such a rip-off.... as if there's a dime's worth of difference between the 5 margarita and the 75 dollar one.... apologies to your friend.

                Especially surprising since it was at Adobo. a Party of 4 can get in and out of there EASILY for less than 75 bucks without drinks. Here your friend is paying 75 for one drink. Ridiculous

          2. I HIGHLY recommend Topolobampo for lunch; especially since you can make a reservation (unlike the attached Frontera Grill). Entrees are in the $15.00-$20.00 range and starters (soups/apps/ceviches/oysters) are appox. $8-$14; plus you get complimentary (and flawless) guacamole and chips. Very easy to stay under $50 for lunch, which you can't really do at dinner. Frontera is also very good, but Topo is on another level altogether...and at lunchtime it is only a couple dollars more expensive than the less-fancy Frontera Grill.

            Metromix and CitySearch reader reviews are often amusing, but aren't good for much else.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Pugman

              Thank you! I might look into Topolobampo for lunch. Since I am not from Chicago and haven't really visited the city much- I come for a day about 3 or 4 times a year and eat at quick places- I don't know how to take these reviews...but Chowhound has helped SO much!

              1. re: Pugman

                Would you still say this was true? I'll be in Chicago next week and I'd already decided on lunch at Frontera Grill( on the day I leave, Tuesday). Would you still pick Topolobampo over Frontera?

                1. re: Calipoutine

                  I was at Topolo for lunch last Tuesday and it was at the top of its game--great food, service, atmosphere, and a real bargain. Frontera is always good too, but--quite apart from some more interesting food--Topolo is quieter (esp. if you ask to be in the back room, further from the entrance) and you can get a reservation.

              2. Add Riques Regional to your list.... 5004 N. Sheridan

                Not one of the "big names" but excellent cooks and interesting dishes.