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".