Janesville, WI - Excellent Mexican - El Jardin
I'll be the first to admit it. I'm a snob about Mexican food. If it's not very fresh and creative, I'm not terribly interested. When my mother suggested a Mexican place just off of Hwy 51 on Janesville, Wisconsin's south side, I wasn't really hopeful. Fortunately, for those in the Illinois/Wisconsin stateline area, El Jardin is a gem.
The food was as fresh as any I've had in California - fresh herbs, right-on spicing, etc. My DH had the beef with the chilis de arbol and he cleaned his plate, albeit with watering eyes. He's a big spice fan and most midwest Mexican places leave him cold. The nachos - something I never usually want to see, let alone eat - were tempting with fresh cheese and avocado slices, not premade goodness-knows-when guacamole. My mother's chiles rellenos were freshly fried and bursting with cheese. Apropos cheeses, they use primarily chihuahua cheese in their recipes - never the yellow or orange nasty stuff. Myself, I had only an al pastor taco - my big dividing line in the taco area - and it was spicy, with a good balance between chili and cilantro, and amazingly non-greasy. The chopped onions were sweet and plentiful. The horchata was delicious. And prices - well, the three of us ate for under $30 including a Negro Modelo for DH. It's a great find and worth the trip.
For what it's worth, the locally popular Sophia's family restaurant, has opened a location between Beloit and Janesville. It's middle of the road and edible, according to my mother, but if you have a choice, pick El Jardin.
I'm a big fan of El Jardin. Their ceviche always tastes very, very fresh and has a great flavor. I think the waitstaff enjoys watching stupid gringos overestimate their tolerance for hot food. I am one such stupid gringo.
Not exactly right around the corner, but El Molcajete in Belvidere, IL has good (and very reasonable) Mexican too. Los Portales in Rockford is worth checking out too.