Best Mexican Restaurants
- nsxtasy Nov 25, 2007 01:09 PM
With many kinds of food, there have been extensive discussions with opinions about most of the best restaurants in their category. However, up till now, I haven't seen a comprehensive topic on Mexican restaurants; as a result, it seems like a few of us are posting the same things over and over again. Therefore, I'm creating this topic in the hopes that others will reply with their input and it will become a comprehensive discussion for anyone looking for recommendations for Mexican food in the Chicago area. In addition to places I've already visited I'm including information about some places I haven't been to (yet!) in order to make the listings below as complete as possible. Public transit directions and information on reservations are also included where available. I hope others will add their own opinions and recommendations to this topic (even if they don't agree with mine!), on these restaurants as well as any others I may have missed.
I should also add that it's been fun looking through previous topics about Mexican restaurants, digging up new recommendations. After looking at those topics, and the menus on the corresponding restaurant websites where available, there are now a whole lot more places I'm looking forward to trying!
For purposes of simplicity, I'm excluding places specializing in tacos and/or tortas (sandwiches). We could create an entire, separate topic on those!
A NOTE ON CREATIVE/PROVINCIAL MEXICAN CUISINE
When we Chicagoans mention Mexican food to a lot of out-of-town visitors, their immediate reaction is "but I can get that at home". This is not necessarily true. Chicago has a lot of very creative Mexican cuisine, including regional/provincial Mexican foods, and many of these foods are not all that common in most American cities. We are not talking about conventional, common Mexican foods like enchiladas and carne asada (although we have plenty of those as well, the best of which are listed at the end of this post - and this is admittedly an arbitrary distinction). We are talking about places that have several different kinds of mole, that serve a lot of different kinds of seafood and sauces, and other items that you just don't find anywhere. For examples of some of the more unusual preparations, take a look at menus of the restaurants in the links to their websites below.
CREATIVE MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN AND NEAR "DOWNTOWN CHICAGO"
Several restaurants offer some of our most creative Mexican food, within an easy walk or a short cab/bus ride of the downtown areas where most of the large hotels are located.
Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
445 North Clark Street
Chicago IL 60610
The oldest and best-known of these are Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (sometimes simply called Frontera and Topo). These are sister restaurants, next door to each other, in River North. They are owned and run by Chef Rick Bayless, who won a James Beard Award this year for his contributions there. Topolobampo tends to be more expensive, although prices are somewhat similar at lunch. You can order from either menu at the bar at Frontera Grill. Topolobampo accepts reservations in advance, on opentable.com Frontera Grill does not take reservations well in advance, and seats most of its business on a first-come, first-served basis; waiting times can be long, particularly on weekends. Frontera Grill also accepts a small number of same-day reservations first thing in the morning. (I believe they start taking calls at 8:30 a.m.) Frontera Grill serves brunch on Saturdays. Both tend to be rather crowded and noisy. I like both of them; a majority of reports on Chowhound have been positive, but a significant minority have been disappointed, as you can read in previous extended discussions on these restaurants in the following topics:
1252 N. Wells St.
Chicago IL 60610
Salpicon is a very creative Mexican restaurant in Old Town, just north of the Michigan Avenue and Gold Coast areas. Reservations can be made at opentable.com I like it; a majority of reports on Chowhound have been positive, but a few folks have been disappointed.
1610 N. Wells Street (Old Town)
Chicago IL 60614
2005 W. Division Street (Wicker Park)
Chicago IL 60622
Shops on Butterfield
356 Yorktown Shopping Center
Lombard, IL 60148
Adobo Grill has several locations, including Old Town and Wicker Park, both of which are close to the downtown areas, and one in the western suburbs. Reservations can be made at opentable.com I like it okay, although not as much as Frontera/Topo or Salpicon.
CREATIVE/PROVINCIAL MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN OUTLYING CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOODS AND SUBURBS
Some of our best, most creative Mexican restaurants are located away from downtown Chicago, and can be inconvenient to get to without a car.
1590 S. Busse Road
Mt. Prospect IL
My very favorite Mexican restaurant in the entire Chicago area (heck, the best Mexican food I've had outside of Mexico) is Flamingo's Seafood, in suburban Mount Prospect, near O'Hare Airport. They specialize in Mexican seafood dishes, and always have a large number of daily specials in addition to their extensive regular menu. Last time I was there I had a grilled Chilean sea bass with guava habanero sauce and crushed pumpkin seeds that was to die for. (Unlike the appetizers and mains, which are fantastic, their desserts are okay but not great.) Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Located at Busse Road and Dempster, just north of Algonquin Road. From I-90 westbound, exit at York Road, go north to Algonquin, and turn left. From I-90 eastbound, exit at Arlington Heights Road, go north to Algonquin, and turn right. By public transit, take the Metra UP Northwest line to the Cumberland stop and catch the Pace #208 Golf Road bus, take it to S Busse Road, and walk south half a mile.
Sol de Mexico
3018 N Cicero Ave
Chicago IL 60641
Sol de Mexico is a small storefront restaurant on the northwest side. Many people extol its virtues, particularly for their wide selection of different moles. (Personally, I think their menu sounds great and very creative, but I just wasn't overwhelmed by the food. But hey, we don't have to all agree!) Sol de Mexico is closed on Tuesdays. By public transportation, you can take the west branch of the CTA's Green Line or Blue Line west to the Cicero stop and catch the #54 Cicero bus northbound, or the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line to the Cicero stop and catch the #54 Cicero bus southbound. Using a CTA fare card will enable you to get a low-priced transfer, rather than the separate fares that are charged when paying by cash. Those on the north side can also take the #77 Belmont bus or #76 Diversey bus to Cicero Avenue and walk to the restaurant. More transit info at www.transitchicago.com
Fonda del Mar
3749 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Started by a co-worker of Rick Bayless. Reservations accepted on its website. By public transportation, you can take the CTA's Red, Brown, or Purple Line to Fullerton and transfer to the #74 bus west to the restaurant. Using a CTA fare card will enable you to get a low-priced transfer, rather than the separate fares that are charged when paying by cash. It's also about a mile walk from the Logan Square stop on the Blue Line.
2558 N. Halsted St.
This is the latest restaurant from Geno Bahena, who formerly created Chilpancingo and Ixcapuzalco. It's in Lincoln Park, a short walk from the Fullerton stop on the CTA's Brown, Red, and Purple Lines. There's a report at www.chowhound.com/topics/374842
La Casa de Samuel
2834 W. Cermak Rd.
In Little Village, near the California stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
2753 West 55th Street, Chicago
In Gage Park. Take the CTA's Orange Line to Western and transfer to the #94 bus south to 55th Street.
120 North Genesee Street
Waukegan, IL 60085
One block from the Waukegan stop on Metra's UP-North Line.
San Gabriel Mexican Cafe
2535 Waukegan Rd (just south of IL-22 Half Day Road)
Bannockburn IL 60015
Started by Dudley Nieto, formerly of Adobo Grill. 3/4 mile south of the Lake Forest stop on Metra's MD-North Line, also served during commuting hours by Pace #622 bus from the Deerfield stop on that same Metra line.
700 Main St.
Evanston IL 60202
847 328 2255
I like Lupita's in Evanston a lot (as reported at www.chowhound.com/topics/402980 ), although I know that some here do not share that opinion. I particularly like the creative dishes they serve as weekly specials for lunch and dinner, rather than their more conventional regular menu. Portion sizes can occasionally be somewhat small. Around the corner from the Main Street stop on the CTA Purple Line, and right next to the Main Street stop on Metra's UP-North line.
17 West Campbell Street
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
One block from the Arlington Heights stop on Metra's UP-Northwest line.
5135 W 25th St.
Cicero IL 60804
Mayan cuisine from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. About one mile walk from the Cicero stop on the CTA's Pink Line, or transfer there to the #302 Pace bus to Laramie and 25th St.
20 East First Street
Hinsdale, IL 60521
One block from the Hinsdale stop on Metra's Burlington Northern Line.
410 W. State St.
Opened by Ricardo Garcia-Rubio, former owner of Tia Maria's. About a half mile from the Geneva stop on Metra's UP-West line.
AUTHENTIC, MORE CONVENTIONAL MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOODS AND SUBURBS
In addition to the restaurants noted above, there are many authentic, but more conventional, Mexican restaurants in Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. These include the following places:
1515 W. 18th St.
In Pilsen, near the 18th Street stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W 18th St
In Pilsen, near the 18th Street stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
700 W 31st St
In Bridgeport; take the CTA's Orange Line to Halsted, then walk a mile or transfer to the #8 Halsted St bus to W. 31st St.
Restaurante Cuetzala Gro
7360 N Clark St
In Rogers Park. Take the #22 Clark St bus from the Howard stop on the CTA's Red, Yellow, and Purple Lines.
La Casa de Isaac
431 Temple Avenue
Highland Park IL 60035
Across the street from the Highwood station on Metra's UP-North Line.
1116 Madison St
Oak Park, IL 60302
1/2 mile north of the Harlem stop on the CTA's Blue Line, or 1/2 mile south of the Harlem/Lake stop on the CTA's Green Line, or take the Pace #307 bus at either station.
700 Ruby St
I am assuming that this is the correct address, the one they moved TO about a year ago. (It's awfully hard finding correct information when a restaurant doesn't have a website!) If so, it's about two miles northwest of the Joliet station on Metra's Heritage Corridor and Rock Island lines, and you can only get about halfway there from the station by Pace bus (#831 to Ruby and Broadway).
You can find additional, extended discussions on Mexican food in particular parts of the area in the following topics:
"I've never really seen Mexican lamb before"
Wow!!! In Central Mexico... Lamb is king (its not the most commonly consumed meat but after fresh seafood, it is the most sought after Weekend / Celebratory protein)... one of the most iconic places in Mexico City is Restaurante Arroyo which seats about 2,500 hosts amateur bullfighting & rodeo (think of it as karaoke bar)... but most importantly has undeground pits where they do whole animal barbacoas... and go through a couple hundred lambs per weekend, in addition to other types of beasts.
Another iconic dish in Central Mexico is the Lamb Shank Mixiote (Mixiote is a little oven bag made from thin sheets of "paper" that are pulled from a specific variety of Agave plant).
I've seen lamb (and for that matter mutton) cooked in New Mexico and Texas, sometimes in stew (tasty), sometimes roasted. These were always Hispanic or Indian food in NM, I know less about Texas, except that friends of mine used to have a goat roast at their annual campout.
Sheep and goats are raised in Mexico for wool and hair, and I'm sure nothing goes to waste there. I see no reason why these meats wouldn't also be cooked in Mexico.
FYI - I was in Chicago for a day, and after all the praise of Flamingo's, decided to stop by for dinner. It seems it has recently changed ownership, and is now part of a chain of mexican food restaurants.
The food was terrible (giant portion sizes of below average fried food with hot sauce to make it mexican) - probably not worth trying anymore.
As of last month, Jorge Almaraz, the chef/owner, was planning on taking some time off and heading to Europe for an olive oil seminar, after which he was planning to return to town to look for a new location, with his investors. I'm sure we'll see him again, hopefully some time next year.
NS: Impressive write up!
I wont critique the places you’ve listed although I’ve been to several, but would rather suggest that the thread should also include the places that specialize in Taco/Burritos/Tortas (aka Taqueria’s) etc. as they are as relevant to a thread so broadly named as this one, especially if they are standouts. By this inclusion I think your idea will become quite the comprehensive thread on Chicago’s Mexican food scene!
It is also helpful and important to recognize the distinction of the numerous regional representations that are unique to Chicago’s Mexican restaurants. Which has more impact if its called out, such as; Durango, Sonora, Nuevo León, Xalisco, Yucatán, Zacatecas etc. as well as Texas (Tex-Mex), and even New Mexico. All of which have many representations in restaurants around town, I believe that along with the numerous innovative chefs which get so much attention, that one of the other things that makes Chicago such an amazing city in which to experience Mexican cuisine is its sheer variety and diversity from which these chefs draw their inspiration.
This thread covers a growing list of the Lake County Taqueria Mexican restaurants in the far northern suburbs of Lake County, IL: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/456329
Also a very relevant thread on char grilled Carne Asada and places to find it: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/424655
Lastly, one minor correction: Casa De Samuel in Waukegan is no longer; Mi Fiesta, which IMO is better anyway, has replaced it at the same address.
You got my attention, abf005. I live in Minneapolis right now, but lived in Albuquerque NM for a long time. I make trips to Chicago now and then, especially since my daughter's going to stay with me this summer, and her college boyfriend works in Chicago for the summer.
I'm looking for a New Mexican restaurant that offers the simple but tasty stuff I got in Abq. as well as Santa Fe. Carne adovada, New Mexco style posole, stacked enchiladas, and burritos with red or green chile. Maybe even green chile burgers. Talk to me....
You are plumb out of luck. I lived in Albuqueque for a two years. There was a New Mexican restaurant opened in Roscoe Village called Taos, but from what I heard, it's horrendous. You will be VERY hard pressed to find New Mexican food here. Also, there are regional differences that you need to be aware of:
Carne adovada = probably more likely to be called a guisado de res (beef stew,) or guisado de puerco (pork stew)here.
Stacked Enchiladas - do not exist here. Rolled enchiladas are commonplace, however.
Red / Green Chile - Sorry. Just doesn't happen here. You'll get over the cravings eventually. and then, someone out of the blue will bring it up again (like you did) - and the cravings will start again. Nobody uses the hatch chilies either, so you're not really gonna find true red/green chile like you really want.
Posole - Most places here have this on wknds only. You'll do well for Posole, although I do not know what New Mexican style posole is.
NOW FOR THE GOOD PART:
The mexican food options in Chicago are vastly superior to most in Albuquerque. If you go to the right places, and don't go to compare your favorite NM place to it, you will be MUCH happier, and find some GREAT mexican (not NEW Mexican) food. Remember, you're not in New Mexico anymore. This country has vast regional differences for foods.
Just so you know, posole in NM may be made with red chile (the most common variety in Texas and Mexico) or with green chile (not so common).
In NM at least, carne adovada is almost always made with pork and with red chile. I'll remember the local names...
Very little cumin is used in New Mexico food, except for chile con carne ('cause that's the Texas style, and that also means no beans either).
I've been able to find really good flour tortillas (La Banderita) in the Minneapolis area. I'm sure they're available in Chicago also, as the factory is near there. The problem with Minneapolis Mexican restaurants is that they're pretty bland compared to real NewMex and TexMex, so I'm looking for something better in the Chicago area. I don't really like Santa Fe style food, so Mundial (discussed below) wouldn't get it.
Go to any mexican store here, and look for El MIlagro Tortillas Caseras for Fajitas. Should run no more than 1.69. These are really nice mass produced flour tortillas. (they freeze well, too.) You should have no problem finding them in Chicago.
As for Mexican food, you're going to find PLENTY of good Mexican food here, just not NM food.
Unfortunately I have not been there yet and can't verify it's authenticity, but I only know of one place in the Chicago area called Cafe Zia: http://chicago.metromix.com/restauran...
Many of the local Taquerias do offer a breakfast dish with a chile verde called Chilaquiles that is very reminiscent of the Huevos Rancheros dishes my wife's (CO & NM) family makes. It's about as close to a NM green chile as I've found out here.
As to finding smothered buritos in green or red chile, green chile enchildas, or green chile burgers outside of the Rocky Mtn region, well you can fahget about it! But if you should be so lucky enough as to find some good NM cooking, please let me know!
Now I don't want to get hopes up high b/c I never had a green chile cheeseburger but I was at the new place in Lincoln Square - JACK RABBIT and they have it on the menu. The couple at the next table asked about it and the waitress said it was good and greasy. It looked fantastic when brought out and the guy ate every bit. So you may have a chance there. As a side note, I got the goat cheese enchiladas and they were very tasty despite my massive head cold. The place is cheery and the owner was out and about greeting everyone. I would go back again.
4603 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625 773-989-9000
"As to finding smothered buritos in green or red chile, green chile enchildas, or green chile burgers outside of the Rocky Mtn region, well you can fahget about it! But if you should be so lucky enough as to find some good NM cooking, please let me know!"
Those dishes are all so ubiquitous in California, I would never have guessed they would be rare in Chicago. In fact, here we complain when they take up space on the menu instead of something more interesting.
Most of Chicago's Mexican community has origins in central and southern Mexico. Anything from the northern tier of Mexican states or SW U. S. has little to no representation. An easily observable symptom is that most grocery stores catering to the Mexican population stock very many more corn tortillas than flour tortillas.
I'd say Mundial is anything but traditional, but I don't think it fits in with Frontera et al, either. It's more like french/italian preparations with mexican flavors. For instance, the "Risotto crusted halibut with spicy tomato fennel ragout, and red wine huitlacoche sauce" or the "baby spinach, frisee, oven roasted tomatoes, and jalapeno goat cheese fondue tossed with a smoked lemon vinaigrette."
I've liked the place on my visits, but it's not a corner taqueria in terms of menu or prices.
Thanks for the clarification about their menu. I was at a disadvantage in trying to classify a few of the restaurants, such as ones where I have never been, and Mundial Cocina Mestiza was one of those. I tried web searches to find their websites or find other sites (e.g. menupages) where I could locate their menus. In the absence of a restaurant's own website, it's a lot easier to find their address and phone number (and figure out transit information) than to find out what their menu is like for categorization purposes.
From the couple of dishes you mention, it sounds like Mundial Cocina Mestiza is a mixture of global cuisines and influences (as its name implies) in a contemporary vein. (You would never expect them to be Mexican from the description in their Metromix listing!) Now that I found their complete menu, I agree - it's hard to categorize, somewhat Mexican but not strictly so, and certainly not your standard "enchiladas and carne asada". Their menu can be viewed at
Thanks again. Gotta try that one, too... ;)
I ate at Mundial Cocina Mestiza a couple of months ago, and it was wonderful! The atmosphere was very nice, more of an upscale bistro type place. The food was great!
They have a website at www.mundialcocinamestiza.com with their address and phone, but it is still under construction; in the meantime, you can use the menupages link above to view their sample menu.
Last night two of us went to Mundial Cocina Mestiza, and dinner was just wonderful in every way. We had two appetizers, two mains, and two desserts, and all six dishes were pure heaven! IMHO this is now as good as any Mexican restaurant in the Chicago area. And that's high praise indeed.
Mundial has a few daily specials in addition to their regular menu. Note that their regular menu changes from time to time. Last night's regular menu was quite different from the one on their website, and none of the dishes we had were the same as on the website menu. The website menu is a good representation to give you an idea of their culinary style and prices. However, if there is a particular dish there that catches your eye, it's quite possible it won't be on the menu (and conversely, there will be dishes on the menu that catch your eye even though they aren't on the website menu). Note that their website is now complete with menus for all meals, which it wasn't at the time of my previous post.
One appetizer was steamed mussels; the mussels were fresh and tender and perfectly cooked. They were mixed with strips of poblano pepper and bacon. This dish was more than excellent; it was amazing! The other was tender artichoke hearts stuffed with shrimp and cheese on a bed of spinach. One main course was grilled sea scallops, served with a side of baked potato stuffed with beans. The other was the only daily special we ordered, grilled striped bass with spicy green beans, tomato confit, and braised leek. One dessert was pecan flan topped with herbed mascarpone and a piece of fried plantain on the side. The other was goat cheese fritters with mango slices. My descriptions really do not do the dishes justice, either; for example, in addition to the caramelized liquid surrounding the pecan flan, there was also a small amount of a somewhat sweet syrup with tiny flecks of spicy pepper in it. Every dish was just sublime!
The staff mentioned that they will be offering beer and wine starting in a couple of weeks. (They served us alcoholic sangria last night.) Up till now they have been BYOB and I didn't ask whether they will continue to offer that option.
If you love Mexican food, you should really try Mundial Cocina Mestiza. It's one of our very best. It's in Pilsen on 18th Street, a block west of Ashland and a block east of the 18th Street station on the CTA Pink Line. www.mundialcocinamestiza.com
There's a better way to get to Flamingo's Seafood in Mount Prospect via public transportation than the route mentioned above. Take the CTA Blue Line to the Rosemont stop and there catch the #606 Pace bus, which goes up Algonquin. Get off at Busse Road and Flamingo's is a few doors north. You can find a map and schedule for the #606 bus on Pace's website at www.pacebus.com
We ended up going to Salpicon when I was there and did the chef's tasting menu w wine. I'd love to be able to run down the list of what we had, it was all pretty good, nothing blew my mind though. Unfortunately we had a few drinks before dinner and found ourselves trying to piece the courses together in the morning. I will say the restaurant has a nice spring-like feel to it and the service was very attentive although they didn't have a lot of information on the food other than what was on their "script".
A few quick notes from my lunch earlier today at Fuego...
They served very good (albeit conventional) chips and salsa when we were seated. We started with the sopes, corn masa boats. The portion size was three and they were happy to provide one of each of the choices (chicken, beef, or chorizo). All the fillings were tasty, and the chorizo was nicely spicy. Sopes I had had previously (at Chilpancingo and at Sol de Mexico) were small and golf-ball-sized, also soft and easy to cut, so they were easy to manage. The bottoms of the ones at Fuego were the shape, size, and consistency of an English muffin. This was good, in that it meant a lot more to eat; however, they were a bit tough to cut into bite sized pieces (even with the steak knife provided by our server).
I had the tilapia in mole for my entree. The tilapia was good and the mole was very good. One note is that there was a lot of mole sauce, which is good if you like mole (I do) but it did tend to overwhelm the taste of the tilapia.
For dessert I had their very good pastel de tres leches. To drink, I had an excellent horchata early in the meal and a chocolate caliente at the end. The chocolate was rather weak (i.e. not a lot of chocolate flavor).
All in all, it was a good lunch - tasty food, efficient and friendly service, reasonably priced. By way of comparison, I think the fish is better at Flamingo's; OTOH I liked the tres leches cake better at Fuego.
"One note is that there was a lot of mole sauce, which is good if you like mole (I do) but it did tend to overwhelm the taste of the tilapia."
FYI... that is the way its supposed to be.... Mexican dishes tend to come into versions...
1) Dry... say a Deep Fried Fish lightly seasoned, served with a bunch of Salsas & Condiments. The important thing here is the Fish... and the condiments are merely flavor enhancers.
2) Saucy... a big puddle of Mole with a bit of meat, vegetables or grains sitting in the middle. The sauce IS the entree... the rest is just meant as a vehicle for the sauce... and at best it should enhance the sauce. The Pre-Hispanic definition of Mole is uncannily parallel to India's true meaning of Curry... its a thick amalgamation of many ingredients... where the important thing is the whole and not some central ingredient (as is typically the case in European cuisine).
The saucy approach is more common in areas with deep Agricultural traditions & good land... the important thing is leverage just a little bit of animal based products but the bulk of the cooking involves produce... and usually in a complex amalgamation of flavors.
The dry approach is more common in areas with poor Agricultural production, or those that are particularly suitable for harvesting large quanitities of seafood, beef, pork etc.,
I've been to Fuego Mexican Grill at least once since my post above, about my lunch there. I remember that I wasn't sure whether to have the mole poblano (always on the menu) or the yellow mole ("mole de la semana", i.e. mole of the week) so the server brought a sample of both! I tried both, with chips, and loved both.
Fuego just opened a second location, this one in the city, in the Logan Square neighborhood, near Wicker Park and just a block northwest of the Western station on the CTA Blue Line:
Fuego Mexican Grill
2047 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
>> Fuego Mexican Grill has closed its original location in Arlington Heights.
As with claims regarding Mark Twain, rumors of their demise are exaggerated! :) According to today's Daily Herald, they have changed the name of the restaurant in Arlington Heights to Cocina Fuerte; the menu, the recipes, and the employees will all remain the same. www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=358258
The name of the restaurant at the original Fuego location has changed, and is now Salsa 17. I ate lunch there yesterday and it was exactly the same as it was as Fuego. If you liked Fuego, you'll like Salsa 17.
They now have a website at www.salsa17.com and they're accepting reservations on Opentable.com There's no sign on the outside, though. And they're doing a pretty good business; about 85 percent of the tables were occupied at 1 pm.
One point I would like to make... is that I don't consider the Mexican offering in Chicago particularly creative with some exceptions. For the most part, all Bayless, Bahena, Satkoff and gang are doing is bringing traditional dishes that are more representative of Mexican cuisine than what the old school Mexican-American places did. So this is key.... old school Mexican-American is NOT particularly representative of Mexican... Chicago's Mexican restaurants (beginning with Bayless) are opening many minds as to what Mexican cuisine really is... and I think this is much more powerful than the argument that Chicago has creative Mexican.
With that said... there is clearly some creativity as Bayless and gang adapt to local, sustainable ingredients & stay current with American style presentations they are creating dishes that are different in Form... than what is traditional Mexican. I can discuss all these differences but the best way to understand it is just to get down to Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz etc., and see if for your self.
There is alot of creative, modern cuisine going on in Mexico City... at a level which hasn't crossed the border yet.... mostly because we are busy just trying to establish a truer interpretation of Traditional Mexican... than has existed in the past... with that foundation set... I would expect the Bayless, Bahena & Satkoff's of the world to start doing more creative stuff.... and I see Chicago as the most ripe city in the country for this to happen.
Anyone interested in Contemporary Mexican cooking should get down to Pilsen and other Mexican neighborhoods to snap up cooking magazines... check this thread out for a little snippet of Contempoary Salsas:
Eat_Nopal; Well written response!!! You said;
"For the most part, all Bayless, Bahena, Satkoff and gang are doing is bringing traditional dishes that are more representative of Mexican cuisine than what the old school Mexican-American places did. So this is key.... old school Mexican-American is NOT particularly representative of Mexican... Chicago's Mexican restaurants (beginning with Bayless) are opening many minds as to what Mexican cuisine really is... and I think this is much more powerful than the argument that Chicago has creative Mexican".
I've been saying it for years that Mexican food in Chicago is Americanized and really closest to what is considered to be Mexican Fast Food. Yeah, I don't think I ever laid eyes on a burrito both at home or in Mexico during my numerous trips until those late late late night trips to the local Chicago burrito house back in my college years...the burrito house of choice at that time was Arrandas (Yuck) on Division and Ashland as well as the location on Belmont under the el. I'm sure that many of you remember Arrandas.
We have Bayless, Bahena, and Satkoff...plus a few others, to thank for introducing Chicago and FOOD TV viewers all over to creative and often authentic renditions of traditional Mexican Cuisine.
Definitely one to add to this list.
Hey, Amoncada - I finally made it to La Casa Del Pueblo!
And, it was gooood! Muchas Gracias!
The tamales were good. They are pretty close to the ones I make at home. I will say, however, that Tamale Hut Cafe tamales are better than La Casa Del Pueblo's, although THC's product costs a LOT more. A better value is LCDP.
We tried Costillas de Puerco in salsa verde:
I liked the salsa a lot. The meat was a little bit on the salty side for me.
This was WONDERFUL!! The s/o already said we'd be going back for it. I'm not sure it was tinga, the ever so helpful lady at the counter just called it "Pollo in salsa Roja" but it was shredded chicken in a smoky red salsa. Where I'm from, we call this tinga. They had tinga on the menu, so I'm just assuming that was it. It was really, really good.
Pollo en mole:
Not BAD, but kind of uninspired. Probably a mole paste, or some sort of prepared mole. I've had worse. Again, it was not bad at all, better than I thought it would be actually, but nothing mind blowing. Better than 'meh.'
S/o was liking these a LOT!. A winner here. S/o is a pretty harsh judge on Chile Relleno, so I owe you a big thank you again.
Definitely will be back, and I urge others to give this place a try. Neat little place for homestyle take out at a very reasonable price. We paid 25.00, and will have enough for three meals at least, and we are decent eaters, trust me. I ordered too much (as usual) because I wanted to try a little of everything.
25.00 got us a dozen tamales, and half pint containers of the tinga, costillas, pollo en mole, rice, and two chilles rellenos. One turn off I normally have to mexican places with stews and soups is the salt content. Didn't seem to be much of an issue here at ALL. Even the tamales were not oversalted.
BIG thumbs up from me, Amoncada. Thank you again for letting me (us) know about this little place every time a new thread about Mexican food pops up.
La Casa Del Pueblo
1810 S Blue Island Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
I have yet to eat at a Nuevo Latino place that actually does any interesting fusion... all the attempts I have seen thus far just come across as Contemporary Mexican cooking with a coastal influence.... probably because there isn't very much unique in Puerto Rican or Cuban that doesn't exist in say Veracruz or The Yucatan.
Not quite a "restaurant," but I think any "comprehensive" discussion of the Mexican eating experience in Chicago would be incomplete without mention of Maxwell Street's Sunday morning market, one of the best sites for Mexican street cuisine in the Northern Hemisphere. For more, check out:
or search on Chowhound.
We had a wonderful dinner at Fonda del Mar this evening. We started with two appetizers, the sopes de huitlacoche (corn masa boats stuffed with black mushrooms) and calamari, which were very good. The mains were outstanding - salmon de chileatole (grilled salmon with a tomatillo sauce, topped with onion straws), braised pork with huitlacoche on a tamale leaf, and mojarra mojo del ajo (a whole tilapia stuffed with lots of garlic). For dessert, we had the coconut flan, natillas, and pastel tres leches, all of which were excellent. Highly recommended.
Fonda del Mar has opened a second restaurant, this one in North Center:
FDM Mexican Cuisine & Lounge
3908 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60613
It's a five-minute walk from the Irving Park stop on the CTA Brown Line, and the CTA #11 Lincoln Avenue bus goes right past the restaurant.
In the category of "authentic, more conventional Mexican restaurants", we had dinner at Jesse's Mexican Grill in Rogers Park this evening, and it was excellent. We loved everything we ordered - chiles rellenos, carne asada, pozole (a daily special), and pastel tres leches (another special) for dessert. The PTL was the very best we've had lately.
With the obligatory chips, they bring three delicious salsas to the table. They are three unique flavors and vary in spiciness, although all are at least somewhat spicy. One is a pico de gallo type, based on chopped tomatos and cilantro. The green sauce is tomatillo based. The star of the show is the red salsa, which is made from guajillo. It has an incredibly full flavor - not just spiciness, but flavor - and is slightly sweet, not sweet like in an Americanized Mexican restaurant, but more like the subtle sweetness you find in mole. It is quite hot indeed, too, hotter than most. It's wonderful.
Also, a note about portion sizes: they're huge. The pozole is a huge bowl, at least a quart of soup if not more. We barely touched it (it's in our refrigerator and will be dinner tomorrow). I ordered the large horchata and it was like a Big Gulp at 7-11, at least a quart and maybe more.
Oh, and the bill for all of this (before tip) was $37 - immensely reasonable.
They don't have a website. You can view their menu on grubhub ( www.grubhub.com/chicago/jesses-mexica... ) but it's not entirely up to date; for example, the sweetbreads and short ribs shown there are not on the current menu.
This is a great place. The food is conventional Mexican fare, extremely well prepared and the ultimate in freshness. Highly recommended.
Jesse's Mexican Grill
6950 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60645
tel: (773) 856-6050
Oops, I see I forgot to mention public transportation directions to Jesse's. Take the CTA Red Line to Morse and transfer to the #96 bus west to Western, or else take the CTA Brown Line to Western and transfer to the #49B bus north to Jesse's.
I also just read about Mixteco Grill, another new entry in the creative Mexican category, and it's on my list to try. The chef has experience at many of our top places in that category (Topolobampo and Fonda del Mar, also two places that have closed, Chilpancingo and Platiyo). Their website isn't ready yet, but here's their information for anyone eager to try it out:
1601 W. Montrose Ave.
It's a five minute walk east of the Montrose stop on the CTA Brown Line, or you can take the Red Line to the Wilson stop and transfer to the #78 bus which goes past the restaurant.
I should have also mentioned that Mixteco Grill is BYOB, with no corkage fee.
I went there not long ago, and the food and service were excellent. It was not quite as upscale as some of the places mentioned above, but it was a nice neighborhood type place, and not quite as storefront-ey (?) as some, either. At the time I went there, they were getting significant waiting times for seating. They expanded their space since then, and I'm told they also accept reservations, so I don't know if that is still a concern or not.
Their website has been under construction for a while now. You can view their menu on Menupages at http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...
Made a return visit to La Casa Del Pueblo after jonesing for the tinga again. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but this place is a great spot for a takeout mexican food dinner/lunch. You can also eat in, large seating area, but for quick, good mexican fare, this place rawks!
Tinga, chile relleno, guacamole, pico de gallo, 6 tamales, and a piece of chicken in black mole. 20.00 perfect dinner for two with definite leftovers for a complete meal the next day.
Rumor has it that the tamales a few doors down at El MIlagro are VERY good. I went at 4pm yesterday, and El Milagro was out of ALL of their tamales. :-(
Thanks again, Amoncada.
Hello fellow CH.... on the way from Lombard to Midway... I spotted at least one Rosticeria (Rotisserie Chicken + daily changing Sides type place) with somekind of reference to D.F..... whats the deal with Rosticerias... not much mention on this thread... are they rare / popular... good / bad?
The Rosticieria is one of the quintessential Mexico City blue collar experiences.
They are FANTASTIC! In downtown Melrose Park on Lake Street there are about two or three El Pollo Rico and even the California chain El Pollo Loco has a spot on Mannheim too. I eat at several in the Round Lake and Waukegan area as well.
They typically offer up the chicken either char grilled (al carbon) or rotisserie or both, commonly either styles is sectioned whole chicken, served with a stack of tortillas and several options for sides; rice, avocado, beans etc.
This is great stuff although the chicken can be overcooked and dry if not not done right. A "MUST HIT" on every Mexican food afficandos list.
In addition to Tepatulco, which remains open in Lincoln Park, Geno Bahena has opened a second restaurant, this time in the Logan Square area:
2451 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
In the Logan Square neighborhood, halfway between the Logan Square stop and the California stop on the CTA Blue Line, and roughly a couple blocks down Milwaukee Ave. from either one.
Geno Bahena has opened another restaurant, Los Moles, in Lakeview. They always have red, green, and black moles, and others appear as specials.
3140 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
No website yet AFAIK; the Metromix listing is at http://chicago.metromix.com/restauran...
It's just south of Belmont. A ten minute walk from the Southport station on the CTA Brown Line, and the #11 CTA Lincoln Avenue bus goes right past the restaurant.
Mexique, a creative upscale Mexican restaurant with a subtle French influence, opened in West Town last year.
1529 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
They are closed Mondays, and the other six days they are open for lunch (brunch on Saturday-Sunday) and dinner.
By public transportation, from downtown Chicago you can take the CTA Blue Line to the Chicago stop and then walk 1/2 mile west (or transfer to the #66 bus west for 1/2 mile). Alternatively, you can take the CTA Pink Line or Green Line west to the Ashland stop and then walk 1/2 mile north (or transfer to the #9 bus north for 1/2 mile) and turn right at Chicago Avenue. Those on the northwest side can also take the CTA Blue Line inbound to the Division stop and then walk south 1/2 mile on Ashland (or transfer to the #9 bus south for 1/2 mile) and turn left at Chicago Avenue. More transit info at www.transitchicago.com
Tonight four of us had dinner at Mexique, in West Town. It was excellent!
We arrived on time for our 6:00 reservation and were seated. Mexique occupies a narrow storefront, so the restaurant is long and narrow - all the more so with the short bar along the left side of the restaurant, which permits only one row of banquette seating alongside it, although the restaurant opens up at the rear where the bar ends. The room is beautiful, with a décor that is warm and contemporary while understated (not at all stark or "in your face contemporary"), with a nice combination of some accent fixtures in bold browns and oranges over a cream-colored background. It was designed by chef-owner Carlos Gaytan's wife, and she did a great job; it's a gorgeous space.
We started with three appetizers. The "Pescamal" is a seafood mousse tamal cooked in banana leaves stuffed with crab meat fricassee, with a tomato-based veracruzana sauce. It wasn't exactly what I expected, but it was excellent nonetheless; what was served was primarily the seafood mousse, with a small amount of crabmeat, no sign of the banana leaves (I assume they were used and removed), and no corn masa layer (at least, not that I could find), with plenty of sauce. We also had the "Trio of Sopes" - one with escargots and chimichurri butter, one of shrimp provencal with avocado mousse, and the third of sweet plantains, young coconut, and Xico mole. I loved these! The only downside was that they were a bit on the small side, but thoroughly delicious. The mole was strong, similar to mole poblano (black mole), and although it tended to overwhelm the other flavors on that particular sope, the mole was so delicious that that was just fine, in fact, the best of the three (although all three were very good). The third starter was the "Cochinita Rillettes", which consisted of achiote/tequila braised pork shoulder rillettes, crostini, purple pearl pickle onion, and rustic celery salad and mango-habanero couli. I liked this a lot, a nice combination of VERY strong flavors competing with each other in the dish. The rustic celery salad was actually very spicy/hot, so it stood up well to the tiny amount of equally hot mango-habanero sauce on which the two tiny PPP onions were placed. If you're keeping score, that makes three appetizers, three winners.
We then had four entrees. Two of us had the "Costillas", the braised short ribs with a hibiscus flower glaze, served over a celery root slaw, with truffle oil pomme frites (French fries). It was EXCELLENT, one of the best short ribs I've had in Chicago. The way Chef Carlos Gaytan prepares them is, it's a boneless piece of short rib, which he braises, and then puts it on the grill to sear in the hibiscus flower glaze. This adds a super-thin, crispy layer to the outside of the tender, melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, and it was wonderful. The meat was slightly fatty but amazingly tender, and full of delicious flavor. The hibiscus flower glaze was interesting - a very mild flavored glaze, although it was very dark (as dark as mole poblano) and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The celery root slaw was nice, slightly sweet (perhaps from the cranberries in it and I think there was also a bit of crushed pineapple in there), and the pomme frites were very good. This was a wonderful dish.
Another entrée was the "Cordero". This consisted of an herb crusted rack of lamb and coffee braised lamb shoulder barbacoa sope, and ratatouille. This too was outstanding! While all the components were excellent, I really loved the barbacoa/sope portion. It was served as a sope, i.e. a corn masa shell the size of an English muffin; piled on top was the barbacoa, which was a lot like a "pulled lamb barbecue". Every bite was wonderful!
The fourth entrée was the roast pork tenderloin. I forget how this was prepared - some of the dishes match the descriptions on the website menu, others are slightly different, and I forget the specifics on this one, other than that it too came with ratatouille, a slightly different one from the ratatouille which accompanied the cordero. The pork tenderloin was slightly dry, not terribly so, but a bit, and overall, this particular dish was just okay, not as impressive as the rest of the meal. So let's call it three entrees, two winners, one just okay.
We split two desserts. One was the apple tart, with caramelized green smith apples on a puff pastry shell, with a scoop of cajeta and vanilla bean ice cream on top. This was one of the very best apple tarts you'll find everywhere (I think the Trib's Phil Vettel said the same thing). The other was the "Enchiladas", which were crepes filled with chocolate ganache, toasted walnuts, topped with a chocolate sauce, with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side. This was good, but a bit on the bland side, one more dish that was just okay. So two desserts, one winner and one just okay.
Count 'em up, and you'll find we had eight different dishes; six of them were outstanding, and two were just okay. That makes for an excellent dinner, in my book. In fact, there were a lot of other dishes on the menu that sounded equally great, and I'd love to return soon to try all the things I didn't get to taste (although it would be hard not to order the short rib again).
The service was excellent; our server, Victoria, was enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and helpful. Chef Carlos was present in the dining room throughout much of the meal, and we were able to chat with him briefly on our way out, despite the fact that the restaurant was getting quite crowded from about 7:30 on, with a crowd of people waiting at the bar and the host stand. He was friendly and has every reason to be proud of his restaurant!
The four of us were comfortably full after our three appetizers, four entrees, and two desserts. Our check, also including three beers ($4.50 each for Negro Modelo), three non-alcoholic beverages ($2.50 each), and tax, came to $43 per person before tip - and that's quite reasonable! (Note - the Trib review mentioned that bottles of wine are half price on Tuesdays.)
One of the interesting things about Mexique is that it's really a different slant on Mexican cooking from the other creative/provincial Mexican restaurants in town. Rather than serving provincial specialties in their classic preparations, Chef Carlos has taken provincial Mexican dishes and modified them in creative ways, using the influence of French techniques and ingredients; in some cases, he has also taken classic French dishes and modified them by adding Mexican techniques and ingredients. All of which has precedent that's both historical and personal, since France invaded Mexico in the 1860s and the army brought with them their chefs and techniques/ingredients, and since Chef Carlos trained at several places including Bistro 110, the French bistro right off the Mag Mile here in Chicago. The French influence is also where the restaurant gets its name, which is the French translation of "Mexico".
Chicago is full of excellent Mexican restaurants of all kinds. Mexique is a lovely space serving outstanding food, and is unique in its combination of French influences with its Mexican menu. I enjoyed my dinner there and I recommend it!
Sabor Saveur is another new restaurant that, like Mexique, combines the cuisines of Mexico and France. It's in Wicker Park, 1/2 mile west of the Division stop on the CTA Blue Line and 1/2 mile south of the Damen stop on the same line. Their brunch was just mentioned in today's Tribune article on intriguing new brunch spots ( www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/... ).
2013 W. Division St.
Quite extensive list here. Thanks for the info!
I do have a question however...Sometimes we just want a simple (perhaps somewhat Americanized?) version of Mexican food. We used to love La Choza in Rogers Park. Their Kamoosh was heaven on a tortilla. Also loved Lindo Mexico in Logan Square and then on Lincoln Avenue. Are there any places like those around anymore? I have eaten at Don Juans but usually get the specials when I go there. The specials (fish and such) are better than the Mexican food in my opinion. We like Adobo Grill before 2nd City. Espec. good for guac and margaritas. Have wanted to try Fuego. The Michoacan place on Elston (near Milwaukee) was disappointing. Nice folks but SO bland! Any suggestions for us?
Sure! Even though more creative/provincial Mexican cuisine has grown in popularity recently, there are still plenty of the more conventional Mexican places, featuring the more well-known foods such as enchiladas, carne asada, etc. (Although I have fond memories of La Choza too!) Some of these are listed above under the heading "AUTHENTIC, MORE CONVENTIONAL MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOODS AND SUBURBS" (although I erroneously listed Mundial Cocina Mestiza in that section - it's a great place, and right now my favorite Mexican restaurant in the Chicago area, but it belongs in the creative/provincial section). Probably the best known, and one of the best, restaurants featuring the more well-known Mexican cuisine is Nuevo Leon, in Pilsen. I really like Jesse's Mexican Grill on North Western Avenue on the far north side of the city; it's not at all fancy, but the food is good and the prices are reasonable. (I *love* their complimentary guajillo salsa!) El Tipico in Skokie is another good choice, slightly more upscale though. I'm sure there are many more good places featuring conventional Mexican cuisine in many city neighborhoods and suburban towns.
Thanks. You are always so helpful nsxtasy.
I like the regional stuff but sometimes I just want a simple enchilada mole or suiza. I might try another place near Milwaukee and Ballard Taquaria Los Comale
9055 N Milwaukee Ave
Niles, IL 60714, I'll try to post back here if I do give it a go.
Are there any Oaxacan places around? I remember that Sylvester (from La Choza) was from Oaxaca...Maybe someone out there makes Kamoosh???
Los Comales has several outposts. I know a few ppl that like them. I've never been enthralled with any of their food - if you find something noteworthy when you go, please report back. I've never heard of kamoosh, but if you are interested in a Oaxacan place, I can think of few as good as:
Taqueria La Oaxaqueña
3382 N. Milwaukee
It has Oaxacan stuff on the menu, but also some other regional styles. I think they do most of their menu quite well.
> I've never heard of kamoosh
The only place I ever heard of it was at La Choza, which was on North Paulina just a few doors north of the Howard Street el stop. If my recollection from many years ago is correct, kamoosh was a dish consisting of tortilla chips covered with cheese and beans, similar to today's nachos. Anyone who remembers better, feel free to chime in!
I first had kamoosh in the late 1960s at Acapulco Restaurant in the 900 block of Belmont and later at La Choza. Mi Casa Su Casa in the 2500 block of North Southport may also have served it although my memory is a bit fuzzy on that one. All of these restaurants are long gone.
My memory is that a little bit of avocado was put on top of the cheese after it came out of the oven or broiler. I am not 100 percent sure of the spelling although phonetically kamoosh is dead on.
Perhaps this is redundant.: After doing a bit of research, I am wondering if tlayudah (Oaxacan specialty) and "kamoosh" are the same thing. It's been so long since I've had Kamoosh I can't really remember what it was like, only that we liked it. Some describe it as Mexican pizza. Time will tell.
Add one more restaurant to the list of creative provincial type places. This one was opened by a chef who had previously been at Mundial Cocina Mestiza.
4559 S. Halsted St.
By public transportation, take the CTA Orange Line to the Halsted station and transfer to the #8 Halsted bus southbound.
Last night I had dinner at Amelia's, and I really enjoyed it! The similarity to Mundial Cocina Mestiza is striking; the menu at both places is a contemporary bistro version of Mexican food. Everything was excellent. My favorite dish was an appetizer of artichoke fritters with a spicy green sauce (I don't remember what kind - tomatillo, maybe?). I also had the soup of the day, a silky smooth corn poblano chowder. My entree was an excellent potato-encrusted trout. My companion had a tasty shrimp in pipian mole (a nutty green sauce). For dessert I had a chocolate tres leches cake.
Amelia's seems like it's in the middle of nowhere. It's in the Back of the Yards neighborhood; that stretch of Halsted Street is semi-industrial. Plenty of on-street parking right in front!
Amelia's is BYOB; there is a large Fairplay supermarket right across the street. It has a nice selection of beer including many that are in the refrigerator case. There are some decent wines (red and white) - nothing really high-end, but serviceable enough for most of us (and if you're really into wines, you probably want to bring your own anyway). One thing to be aware of is that they don't have any of their decent white wines in the refrigerator case.
Amelia's now has its own website: www.ameliaschicago.com
The owners of Amelia's just opened a second restaurant, called Fogón, in West Town:
1235 W. Grand Ave.
There's nothing on the website yet, but there's some info on the Metromix listing at http://chicago.metromix.com/restauran...
A lot of great names mentioned on this list, many I am hoping to try. I have some recommendations of my own:
4544 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
This is a wonderful family owned operation. They are very gracious, and if they ever make a mistake, they will more than take care of you. It's also a BYOB, so bring a bottle of Mencia or vinho verde to go with your meal. The prices are very reasonable, and you will feel like you got away with something after leaving. It is that good.
3908 W Touhy Ave
Lincolnwood, IL 60712
All I can say is good luck getting a table. They don't need anybody's recommendation, believe me. This is another great value, and the food is top notch. The lamb with mole sauce is out of this world.
Another one, a nice cheap eats kind of place:
Huaraches Dona Chio
1547 W Elmdale Ave
Chicago, IL 60660
Peterson becomes Elmdale east of Clark.
The specialty here is the huarache, which is like a Mexican pizza. One really interesting ingredient here is huitlacoche, otherwise known as Mexican truffles. It grows on the ears of corn. They were very helpful to me in explaining everything. Definitely worth a trip.
I 3rd Los Nopales. Their camerones a la diablo are to DIE for. I crave them like every day. Delicious, spicy, such great depth of flavor, on a fluffy perfect bed of rice with the most amazing cactus salad you've never had on top. Yumm.
Off to check the website to see when they close tonight... :)
I stopped at Wholly Frijoles last night for dinner. We were a group of 4. The line waiting for tables at 7:30 p.m. was out the door. Luckily, one of my dinner companions had called ahead, at 5:30 and asked to be wait-listed. The first time open was said to be 7:30. This was my 4th or 5th trip to the restaurant, all of which have been enjoyable.
For persons unfamiliar with the restaurant, there are two rooms, one large and one small, and a very small kitchen that does a fantastic job keeping-up with the orders. Service is attentive, experienced and not intrusive.
Two of us had Sopa de Tortilla which was rich, flavorful and true to the presentations I find of the same thing in Mexico. One in the group had chicken soup with potatoes and the other had a nice salad.
My choice of entree was a combination platter of 1/2 dozen grilled shrimp and a tender and flavorful marinated skirt steak, accompanied by chipotle mashed potatoes and rice. My skirt steak was cooked to perfection - medium.
Entrees selected by the others in my party included: grilled whitefish and lamb and each person complimented the taste of their choices. Portions are generous.
I've no doubt the BYOB policy of the restaurant is one of the reasons for its popularity, but the food quality is high and the variety of offerings provides something for just about any palate and that's why the people have been packing the house here since the doors opened.
Gabriel was our waiter and he did a very good job. Cost of the meal including tax and a generous tip was $20 p.p. (we equally split the bill and paid our proportionate share. I brought some Mexican beer to drink - Pacifico brand, from Mazatlan, Sinaloa Mexico. Others bought white wine, scotch and other mixed drinks.
3908 W Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood, IL 60712
We've been regulars for nearly as long as it's been open (and if you think it's tough to get a table now, you can imagine what it was like back when it was just the small room). Over the years the food has remained consistently good and it's always been a great value. Looking forward to the chilled fruit soup selections this summer.
I agree with your consistency and value comment. While someone dropping by on the spur of the moment may have to wait a long time to be seated, if you can plan (call) ahead, even just several hours, I've found the waits to be as short as 5-minutes on a Saturday night.(my most recent visit).
3908 W Touhy Ave, Lincolnwood, IL 60712
A couple additions for the creative side:
Las Palmas in Bucktown is a touch pricey, but the quality is superb...not to mention the fantastic outdoor dining in back. Service was VERY knowledgeable - loved the infused tequilas.
Mixteco Grill served up the best scallops I've ever tasted - coconut milk cools the spicy heat of the dish. Nice that it's BYOB too.
Las Palmas Restaurant
1835 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
1601 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613
I tried out Las Palmas recently with some friends and have to say - not that great. My carne asada could have been used as a doorstop. The flavors throughout were almost cloying. The margarita was blah. None of us wanted to complain at the table - it was a birthday dinner, after all - but afterwards I discovered that everyone else disliked their food as much as I did! Too much good Mexican food out there to both with this place again.
We ate dinner at Yolo in Skokie tonight. It was WONDERFUL!!!
Yolo is located in a small storefront in downtown Skokie, a few doors west of Village Inn Pizza, on the side street (Brown). I counted 26 seats, with two booths seating four each, and seven square tables with two of them set for four and the others set for two. The décor is pleasantly contemporary and understated.
As we were seated, our server brought us complimentary chips and salsa. The chips were good but fairly standard; the salsa was the first tip-off that this is a very special restaurant! They change salsas from one day to the next; yesterday's was guajillo, and tonight's was piquin, a bright orange, fairly mild salsa that was just superb.
As we perused the menu, we noticed that many of the dishes had unusual sounding sauces. We regretted that we couldn't try everything on the menu, they sounded so good! This chef has a great way with sauces, which make many of their dishes unique.
We started with the Tlacoyitos Veracruz. This reminds me of the corn masa boats (sopes) served as appetizers in some other Mexican restaurants; however, at Yolo, this dish is served over wheat flour-based pancakes rather than corn-based "boats". There were three: one with steak strips, one with chorizo, and one with mushrooms. They were accompanied by sides of sour cream and a really interesting and spicy/hot tomato pico de gallo. And they were yummy, as good as any sopes I've had in Chicago.
We also had our beverages at this point. Tonight's aguas frutas frescas included jamaica (hibiscus) and pineapple, so I ordered the latter, and it was very good. My companion ordered the Mexican hot chocolate. Compared with others I've had, Yolo's was somewhat mild in chocolate flavor, and they added real vanilla to it, which made it very nice indeed, with the mild chocolate allowing the vanilla to come through. Excellent.
The main courses came next. I had their Oaxaca Mole, which was a chicken breast covered in black mole sauce (mole poblano). The menu says it's "bone in", but what arrived was boneless. And it was delicious, very moist and flavorful. I'm a big fan of mole poblano, and theirs may be the very best mole poblano I've ever had! It was very spicy/hot, more so than most, and it also had more chocolate flavor than most, but without being overly sweet. My companion had a chicken breast with a pipian (pumpkin seed) sauce that was also delicious, thick, and creamy.
For dessert, they were out of flan, which they normally have; they had two desserts made on site, one an apple crostada that is usually on the menu, and the other a nightly special of plantains or bananas (I forget which) cooked in brandy. They also had a tres leches cake that was bought from a bakery; I ordered the latter and it was actually pretty good, as it turns out.
I really wanted to try some of the other entrees - the salmon in creamy sesame seed sauce, the cochinita pibil, the plantain enchiladas, and a bunch of others - but I'll just have to wait till next time.
Prices are moderate, with entrees in the low teens. They are currently BYOB.
We were chatting with our server; the restaurant is owned by her, her husband, and her uncle. Her uncle is the chef and was formerly an experienced chef at restaurants in Mexico. They decided to name the restaurant Yolo, a shortened and easier-to-pronounce form of "yolotl", the Aztec word for heart. They hope to have their own website up within a month. Yolo is open six days a week starting at 12:00 noon for lunch and dinner, closed Sundays. (We looked at the lunch menu before leaving and it sounded pretty good, but the most creative dishes with the most interesting sauces were those on the dinner menu.)
Yolo has been open for four months. Right now it reminds me of Mixteco Grill before they expanded - a very small restaurant with a very talented chef serving amazing Mexican food, the kind of place that you just KNOW is going to get more and more business as word of mouth spreads, that will eventually need a bigger space. They're actually doing pretty well already; about half the tables were occupied when we were there tonight, on a cold winter weeknight. This is a true neighborhood gem, and a convenient option for anyone who lives in the northern suburbs. Try it and I bet you'll share my enthusiasm for it!
Yolo Mexican Eatery
5111 Brown St (just west of Niles Center Rd & Lincoln Ave)
Skokie, IL 60077
We went back to Yolo again this evening and it was every bit as excellent as our previous visit. One important thing to note, however: the restaurant was fully booked with advance reservations this evening (a Saturday) and they were turning away potential walk-in customers without reservations.
The three of us split two appetizers: the Tacos Mulin chaai, soft-shelled tacos of shredded chicken with their mole negro, just wonderful, and a repeat performance of the Tlacoyitos Veracruz (see above).
For mains, I had the chiles rellenos, and I had them substitute their wonderful mole negro for the sauce (for an extra $2 charge, that's fine with me). The chiles were interesting; the peppers were your standard poblanos, but the ground beef filling on one included some small pieces of diced carrots and potatos rather than the more common rice, and the chicken filling was chicken finely shredded. It was an excellent dish. My companions had the pork tenderloin in a creamy poblano pepper sauce, served with mixed vegetables and sweet potato puree, which was okay although somewhat mild and maybe a bit overdone, and a repeat of the excellent chicken breast with pipian sauce (see above).
We skipped dessert in favor of their delicious Chocolate Con Leche (hot chocolate), which I really love (see above; the balance of the somewhat mild chocolate with the added vanilla is phenomenal).
This was another wonderful dinner, and for an extremely reasonable price (the bill for the three of us was $78 including tax, before tip). The ability to BYOB added to the value.
Here are more updates for restaurants in the creative provincial Mexican category.
Raul Arreola, of Mixteco Grill, has opened another restaurant in Logan Square:
2515 N. California Avenue
Chilam Balam, specializing in Mexican "small plates", has opened in Lakeview:
3023 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
773 296 6901
Xni-Pec has moved, to west suburban Brookfield, across the street from the Brookfield Metra station:
3755 Grand Blvd.
Brookfield Illinois. 60513
Tepatulco has closed.
I went to Chilam Balam last night. It was very interesting, with very unusual dishes. I liked it! I started with a pate made with mole, then had their flautas, followed by fried sweetbreads served with a small scoop of poblano ice cream. Dessert was a small chocolate mousse with a goat's milk center.
It's a very small place (44 seats) a few steps down from Broadway. They get very busy even during the week. They take a small number of reservations but try to keep some of the place available to walk-in traffic from the neighborhood. If you can snag a reservation, do so.
>> Raul Arreola, of Mixteco Grill, has opened another restaurant in Logan Square:
>> Rustico Grill
I have heard that Mr. Arreola is no longer associated with Rustico Grill.
Several of us ate there (Rustico Grill) last night. It was very good. The menu's resemblence to Mixteco Grill was obvious. There were several standout dishes. I loved the uchepos gratinados, which were slightly sweet corn tamales. For the main course, I loved the mahi-mahi; the red pepper almond sauce on it was exceptional. In fact, all of the sauces were exceptional. We ordered the side dish of "moles", which consisted of three sauces (mole negro, mole verde, and a red pumpkin seed mole); they were great, although the sauces the dishes came with were also good, so we had a lot of great sauce, maybe should have ordered more chips to put them on. The flan del dia was coconut, and this was another exceptional dish, with just a subtle hint of coconut and a very nice creamy texture. Misses: the rack of lamb was way WAY underdone, even the second time, after we had sent it back; and the pastel de tres leches was rather dry for this usually-moist dish. And a note: the calamari appetizer was in the form of a salad, so the calamari itself was lukewarm, not hot. Service was spotty; it took a while for the server to show up to take our food orders, and the entrees arrived when we were just finishing our appetizers. The place itself is delightful, with a contemporary Mexican decor that reminded me of Mexique, outdoor sidewalk seating, and large windows that were open on this pleasant evening. (Note the interesting gourd-based chandelier in the main room.) All in all, the food was mostly excellent, and it was an enjoyable dinner.
One more note - for whatever reason, the restaurant was not accepting reservations on Opentable.com where they are listed. But they are definitely open.
If you are a real Mexican you will be dissapointed with Topo and Frontera. The portions are dwarf size and the prices are too high.
Perhaps you mexican food addicts can help. Last november I came to chicago and ate at a very authentic mexican restaurant which was a train ride away from downtown. It was a family place which consisted of two storefronts (very long , not wide stores) and had the best chicken mole poblano ON THE BONE (as it should be to be authentic). No bells and whistles, no tourists , just mexican families and good food.
Returning and forgot the name/address. Or if anyone can recommend a similar family authentic place with chicken mole poblano on the bone, please....
Fonda del Mar is back at 3749 W Fullerton Ave. The website is fdmrestaurant.com ph. 773.489.3748. BYOB, no corkage. Be careful at the website; the link takes you to the Lincoln location, not the Fullerton one.
The seafood is excellent and the main focus, but there are very good meat dishes on the menu too.
We have been there several times in the past year and never had a bad meal.
Tonight we ate at Dorado, in the Lincoln Square area, and it was very good indeed! Dorado serves Mexican cuisine with French and American influences. This is not conventional Mexican cuisine - no enchiladas or tacos! - but a more contemporary, upscale take on Mexican cuisine.
We arrived early at 5:00 without a reservation, and this was not a problem. (They were only about one quarter full when we left around 6:30.) Dorado is BYOB (with a small corkage fee of $2/person) and we brought a bottle of beer with us.
We started with a round of three appetizers. The Croquetas de Cangrejo (two crab cakes over fresh guacamole and smoked chipotle tomato sauce) were perhaps the most unusual crab cakes I've ever had. They had a lot of crab in them, there was a nice thin blackened coating on both sides, and were VERY VERY HOT/SPICY. I liked them a lot, for the balance of the flavors of crab, hot pepper, and char, but I would recommend them only if you enjoy foods that are very very hot/spicy. The guacamole underneath was also rather spicy and very good. The sauce was okay but this was a dish that did not need a sauce. The Chipotle Shrimp Quesadilla (marinated and grilled shrimp quesadilla served with tomatillo and tomato chipotle sauce) was good, a decent quesadilla served with two different sauces; the tomatillo sauce was superb. This dish was mild and the tomatillo sauce was only slightly spicy, the tomato chipotle sauce not at all. The Sopa de Elote (roasted creamy corn soup garnished with fresh crab meat and scallions) was delicious, smooth and rich. It too was a mild dish.
For the main courses, my companion had the daily special of a grilled beef tenderloin, topped with a portobello mushroom cap, served over a bed of chipotle mashed potatos with a cherry sauce. The beef was excellent (also it was a very large cut, sliced thick), although the cherry sauce was a bit sweet and didn't really add anything. This too was a mild dish (even the potatos). I had the Chiles Rellenos de Mariscos (poblano peppers stuffed with shrimp, diver sea scallops, crab meat, green rice, and lobster shrimp emulsion). This too was excellent; unlike most chiles rellenos, these were roasted/baked, rather than the usual battered and fried. The seafood inside was done perfectly, moist and tender, and the sauce (emulsion) was similar to a very good lobster bisque. The filling was mild, but the peppers themselves were quite hot/spicy.
We split a dessert of pastel de tres leches. This was one of the best tres leches cakes I have ever had, and complemented the rest of the meal perfectly with its lightness. The cake itself was a light sponge cake, less dense than most, and the soaking liquid was lighter than most. Just perfect after a meal full of strong (and rather spicy) flavors.
The service was excellent. The room itself is very pleasant. Oh, and they accept MC/Visa but not AmEx.
Overall, we both thought this dinner was very good, and we would be happy to go back. Two tips before going: Since it's BYOB, don't forget to bring alcohol if you want it with your dinner. And those who don't enjoy VERY SPICY foods should ask their server about levels of spiciness when ordering, so they can avoid the very spicy dishes.
2301 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60625
Despite the similarity in concept, there were some definite differences from Mexique. Mexique has a full bar and seems like a much more lively, festive place, whereas Dorado is BYOB and it seems like people are there primarily for the food. (However, that could be because I ate at Dorado so early.) Dorado is dinner only, whereas Mexique is also open for lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. Dinner prices are comparable, but Dorado will save money for those who take advantage of its BYOB option. The food at Mexique seems a bit more French, whereas Dorado is a bit less so (you can compare both menus on their website). Although the food at Mexique is full of flavor, I have not eaten anything there that was anywhere near as spicy as the crab cakes at Dorado. The sauces seem to work better with their dishes at Mexique. And of course, there may be issues of geographical convenience, depending on where you're living or staying.
If I had to recommend one of those two and geography didn't matter, it would be Mexique. But as I said, Dorado was still very good and I'd be happy to go back some time. I have not yet been to Sabor Saveur, another Chicago restaurant featuring a fusion of Mexican and French cuisines.
Incidentally, I see on Mexique's website that they are now open Mondays for dinner, at least for a limited time. That's new and different. Most of the provincial Mexican restaurants in town are closed Mondays.
Last night I ate at Las Palmas in Bucktown. I was very impressed.
I started with their hibiscus margarita from the daily specials menu,it was delicious. Light, fruit, not at all sweet or cloying. The color (a very deep purple) was a little offputting at first, but then I remembered what hibiscus actually looks like - it had been a very long day - and like I said, it was delicious.
My mother and I shared the ceviche, very good. We ate it on the house made chips, which have a hint of lime flavor. The salsa (served with the chips) had amazing flavor, deep and rich, multi-layered, but was surprisingly spicy. It left a nice "burn" in the mouth after eating, not painful, but present.
For our main courses, I had the lamb with mole sauce, arrepas, and asparagus. Everything was perfectly cooked. The mole sauce was among the best I've tried. Arrepas were sweet, but again not overly so, and balanced the earthiness of the lamb and mole.
My mother had grilled skirt steak in a tequila pineapple marinade with plantains and a mango salsa. The single bite she let me try was very tasty, and as she completely cleaned her plate, I'd say it was very good!
We considered dessert, but the menu was off-putting, beginning with lava cake and creme brulle. It didn't seem to fit the rest of the menu, ore the atmosphere at all, so we skipped dessert, having eaten our fill anyway.
I really enjoyed Las Palmas and will be back.
Las Palmas Restaurant
1835 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Since La Casa de Isaac in Highland Park does not have its own thread, I wanted to use this thread to give it some props, since it is one of the places mentioned above.
We had Isaac cater our company holiday party, as we had a Feliz Navidad theme. He brought a make-your-own-taco set-up with chicken and steak and all the fixings, plus three kinds of burritos, including vegan offerings. The food was enough for twice the number of people we had. He delivered the food himself and it arrived hot. All kinds of extras such as different kinds of salsa with chips. People really enjoyed it. The Nava family are great people!