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Aug 17, 2011 09:41 AM

Mexican Restaurant in Chicago

What would all of you experts out there think about a Mexican meat restaurant in the Chicago area? Are there any in the NY / NJ area that are successful?

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  1. There used to be on Pratt Ave in Chicago 20+ years ago called Casa Hadassah - when it first opened up it was excellent - food was fresh and teasted greatand it was always packed - then it seemed the Chicago tack for a kosher restaurant - quality of food went down hill and the prices went up - I believed it closed in less than 10 months - I know if another opened upI would go

    I went to one in Elizabeth, NJ that was good - called Tacos and Things -

    1. It's interesting how few Mexican kosher places I can think of - anywhere. In a country that is full of non-kosher ones. I can't think of a reason why they hardly exist.

      Unless, maybe, Mexicans don't make good sushi. ;-)

      5 Replies
      1. re: AdinaA

        No I have been to decent sushi places where some of the sushi checfs are hispanic -

        I think the real reason is too many of the mesican dishes cross the meat/dairy divide

        I think the big reason is too much of mexi

        1. re: weinstein5

          I think that Adina was joking about the apparent recent impossibility of getting a hechsher, or perhaps just a kosher-keeping clientele, without serving sushi.

          1. re: GilaB

            Indeed. And "sushi" as most places serve it (are there any places that don't?) won't lure non-observant customers in.

            1. re: ferret

              I was joking.

              But form a business point fo view; all the steak-and-sushi kosher places reflect the reality that kosher restaurants usually have to pitch to two markets to survive.

              Go stand near Mendy's Grand Central at lunch time. There's chick line (dairy) and a guys and goyim line (deli)

              Stand there at breakfast, and chicks and guys, goyim and Jews line up for bagels with cheese.

              Mendy's, even in food court, even in a densely Jewish location, needs Jewish and non-Jewish customers to make its monthly nut. Just like steak places need to serve sushi because the guy wants steak and the girl wants sushi.

              And you have pizza and falafel shops, Persial/Moroccoan restaurants. Israeli grills that also offer a Chinese menu.

              My favorite model is something like Milk Street, where a Jewish family makes a good living by serving kosher food to non Jews.

              But the serious point I could have made instead of the joke is that Chicago's kosher community may not be big enough to support a dedicated Mexican place. But a dual menu (say Mexican/Moroccan), might fly.

        2. re: AdinaA

          I think that your resonse about sushi may be the best post ever on Chowhound! thanks for the laugh.

        3. The Carlos and Gabby's mini-chain (5 towns, Riverdale, and I think a few others) seems to be doing well, although I've never been myself.

          1. Are you thinking of opening one up?

            I happen to love mexican food and I think it would be a great idea since I live in chicago. I really don't think the frum community of chicago would support it though. I think that it might be a little too outside the box in this community.

            9 Replies
            1. re: kosherdoc

              You'd definitely need to "dumb it down" to the point where you have no non-observant customers visiting. Usually the kiss of death.

              Ken's and Slice of Life have both dabbled in "Mexican" offerings, which is about the only way you can make it work here.

              1. re: kosherdoc

                I’m not considering it but I know of someone that is. I agree that the frum community is not very supportive of restaurants. That's why I wanted to get the opinion of all you "experts". the person is not Jewish and he is from Mexico and already has a restaurant in the far north suburbs, so he hopefully knows what he is doing.

                1. re: chicago maven

                  I would be careful. The stereotype of the frum community of Chicago is that they do not spend nearly as much on eating out as New Yorkers do. I have not been to Chicago in several years but the churn rate of kosher restaurants s there seems to be very high and the successful ones tend to be places like Ken's which is a sort if simple place.. Also you would need to check if the COR gives hasgacha to a restaurant owned by a non jew: The Five towns Vaad for example will not give without a Frum partner.

                  1. re: chicago maven

                    Casa de Isaac?

                    As I said above, I doubt that such a narrow focus can be successful after the first few months of curiosity end. Look at Tein Li Chow and compare their menu to nearly any Chinese restaurant in the area. They have a very narrow range of offerings, mostly Americanized and some American-deli-ized (hot dog??? Salami fried rice - which I happen to love). Even then their prices are higher than non-Kosher and portions are smaller. Non-observant people may order from there, but that may possibly be due to the grocery location.

                    Mexican is even harder because of the meat/dairy expectations of non-observant and the middle-of-the-road palate of the observant. I would love to see it work (and often daydream of a Kosher taco truck) but the realist in me who has seen 40+ years of failed ventures in the area wouldn't want to invest $10 in a restaurant like this.

                    1. re: ferret

                      Tein Li Chow's better than nothing (read: whatever it that attempted kosher meat Asian a couple of years ago on Touhy). But it's closer to 70's stye "Jewish Chinese" than remotely what's available at one of the Lao restaurants in Chinatown.

                      On the other hand, I'd go to a place that had chicken with chestnuts in a red wine sauce that happened to be kosher (literally, it's something on the menu of a Lao restuarant, and I'd think could be made to be kosher). But how many other people would?

                    2. re: chicago maven

                      I've written extensively about Carlos & Gabby's in NY on It has 4 stores (RIverdale, Queens, Brooklyn, 5Towns). Everyone was raving about it and when I tried it, I was hooked. I stopped going to Burgers Bar (after a negative experience- although I loved it). I agree with whomever said it earlier, you need to dumb it down. Carlos and Gabby's has a very minimal Mexican menu. The rest of it is a cross between great sandwiches, sauces, salads w/meat, with an offering of tacos and burritos. It works for them, and people love it.

                      1. re: yeahthatskosher

                        Chicago's Jewish population is anywhere from 1/7 to 1/8 that of NY - assuming the proportion of Kosher-observant is consistent, then we could support 1/2 a Carlos & Gabby's. Sounds about right.

                      2. re: chicago maven

                        I think the Chicago community is supportive of a restaurant when it is good and consistent -examples Taboun and Ken's - and I think a Mexican restaurant would go over well - just based on the Casa Hadassah restaurant from 20 years ago - it was packed but then the quality of service and food dropped and it was empty.

                        1. re: chicago maven

                          Logically, the only way that a kosher place serving non-Middle Eastern, but remotely interesting food could survive would be if it drew non-observant Jewish clientile that _might_ bring their non-Jewish friends to it, and then build a word of mouth business. IMHO the few kosher meat places cater to their existing (meaning: non-challenging) clientile with what they want: large portions for larger families, with price points that match those portion sizes. In that context, with less dining out than among non-frum, it can work as a "once every so often" thing. The exception is Shallots, which seems to be trying to go for a special occasion and events niche.

                          It's the rest of us that don't find that as appealing as what's available in NY, LA, North Miami etc. where there's a larger singles base to draw on with more of a need to spend money (read: friends getting together and folks on dates). Let alone a place like Paris, where there's a relatively large percentage of 20-somethings to keep those places busy. You go there, and you'll find Chinese, contemporary French, as well a plethora of couscous places that all serve meat. One of the oddities for an American Jew is finding out that at least some of them they serve shabbat dinner - you have to pay before Shabbat, but it also helps that the sunset on a Friday night in January is closer to 10 PM than 4 PM! But these are Sephardic places, with a different tolerance for observance than Ashkenazim are accustomed to.

                          We don't keep strict kosher, but like a few people here we'd go to a Mexican kosher meat place that didn't have dairy dishes, as long as it didn't dumb down to food to a Tex-Mex level. I'd think you could offer a modified version of what, say, Xoco does with the right mix of dishes. But it would take a LOT of effort and marketing beyond simply the Jewish frum community to make it work.

                          Personally, I'd love to see an Indian kosher place. Even using non-dairy creamer as a replacement for yogurt or cream, there's a whole set of Indian cuisines that don't involve dairy: South Indian (based on coconut milk), Pharsee, Keralan come to mind. Heck, take a look at this:
                 And that's just one example.

                          Even Mexican isn't _all_ cheese and dairy based: think regional food like Oaxacan, Mexico City tacos, and the like that are more "indgeneous" and less "Spanish-oriented". But they would have to only use the kosher status as a reason for being, and not and end-all.

                          I agree that it's a heroic tack in a region that seems fixated on pork belly as its favorite meat in new restaurant cuisine. But if anyone can pull it off, it's those folks in the northern suburbs.

                      3. You'd have an easier biz model to put together with a Milchig(Dairy) approach to Mexican Cuisine. While there are any number of fantastic meat and chicken substitutes on the market, not to mention a whole slew of fish options (sea bass Veracurz, numerous ceviches or Seared Tuna Tacos just to name a few), Cheese and sour cream are arguably much more important to the bulk of Mexican Cuisine then is Beef or Chicken. Not only would your menu options be far wider, you could also double up your market by reaching out to the entire Vegetarian community as well. I would, in a second, frequent any restaurant where I could get an amazing watermelon Gazpacho shooters, Tortilla Soup followed by Chile Rellenos, or Green "Chicken" Enchiladas, a cold Dos Equis and Creamy Flan to finish.

                        Let me know when we should book our tickets to Chicago....between Romanian and a good Mexican Meal....they'd be worth every last mile.