La Casa De Isaac & Moishe

Interior

Bar

Exterior

Chiles Rellenos

Enchiladas

Duck tacos

**** (4 stars)

This is a pleasant family style restaurant serving all the standard Tex-Mex dishes. The place is surprising large, with the dimmer, more intimate area being on the bar side. They did a great job with the decor and acoustic treatments.

La Casa De Isaac & Moishe
2014 1st St
Highland Park, IL 60035
(847) 433-7400
https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-casa-de-isaac-and-moishe-highland-park-2

Pink Taco

Cadillac Margarita

Menu

Interior

Pink tacos

House salad and corn

***** (5 stars)

This is my favorite taco place in River North, and I think I’ve tried just about all of them.

I started with the Cadillac Margarita, which came with a float of Gran Marnier. It was more than a float–it was an entire small bottle! The drink was excellent, but I don’t like my margaritas to be too sweet, so I added some limes to make it perfect.

A great place to start exploring the menu is the pink tacos, after all, they’re the restaurant’s supposed namesake (although we all know better). They were terrific. Obviously handmade corn tortillas were topped with a complex, slightly spicy chicken mixture and marinated onions with a slight habanero kick.

Note that you don’t have to get three of the same taco, although the menu sort of implies this. At $15 for three pink tacos at lunch they were worth it, particularly considering the two generous sides. I had the very good house salad, and an off-menu item recommended by my waitress, a half serving of the off-the-cob street corn, which was in a wonderfully savory cream sauce.

You might assume from its trendy interior that it would have a deafening soundtrack, but actually the music level is just right, at least at lunchtime, and the song choices are terrific.

Service is very attentive, and my server made great recommendations.

Highly recommended.

Pink Taco
431 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 212-5566
https://www.yelp.com/biz/pink-taco-chicago-2

El Cholo

Interior

***** (5 stars)

I’ve been going to El Cholo on Western since I was a child, and it defines Mexican food for me, even if their idea isn’t perfectly aligned with what has come to be known as Tex-Mex, and even if it’s not all authentic Mexican either. I love it.

This location is just as good, if lacking a bit of the small house ambiance. Have a number 1 and original nachos. You won’t be sorry.

El Cholo
1025 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 899-1106
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-cholo-santa-monica-2

Uncle Julio’s Chicago

Ceviche

Benito’s platter

Juanita’s platter

Exterior

Interior

*** (3 stars)

Uncle Julio’s serves pretty good TexMex for a chain restaurant. The place is large and can get quite noisy, but the front rooms and the side patio are quieter.

I really liked my Patron skinny margarita. It was indistinguishable from a regular margarita with only 120 calories. Deal!

I had the Benito’s combo. The chicken enchilada and pork tamale were excellent, but the chile relleno had absolutely no flavor in the breading, the chile itself or the cheese filling. The beans and rice were good.

Service was prompt and friendly.

Uncle Julio’s Chicago
855 W North Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 266-4222
https://www.yelp.com/biz/uncle-julios-chicago-chicago

Barrio

Exterior

Bar

Interior

Guacamole and spicy chips

Red snapper ceviche

Kanpachi Tiradito

Diver scallops

Custom skewers!

Queso fundido

**** (4 stars)

Barrio is an ambitious concept in elevated Mexican food that is an instant hit in River North, and deservedly so.

The food here bears little relationship to traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine, nor it is what you’de have in a modern Mexican fine dining restaurant in Mexico City. Rather, they are using Mexican (and Peruvian) foods for inspiration, and then doing their own thing.

True, there are some nods to conventional Tex-Mex, such as chips and guacamole. They’re very good, but it’s almost a shame to order this when there is so much more to explore.

We enjoyed that guacamole very much, particularly the seasoned, freshly made corn chips that came with it, but the red snapper ceviche was even better. The Kampachi Tiradito (essentially a crudo) was my least favorite thing we tried; it looked great, but had an odd flavor I couldn’t pin down.

Divers scallops were perfectly seared, and had a citrus/pesto topping that blended perfectly.

We finished with the queso fundido. Don’t be put off by the menu’s description of it including salt cod; it was perfectly blended in, and acted more as a seasoning than as a fishy or salty component.

There’s an interesting cocktail list, and a limited selection of beer and wine.

Service was very friendly, although they’d only been open for lunch a couple of days, so the servers were still learning their way around.

Barrio is an exciting addition to River North dining.

Barrio
65 W Kinzie St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 940-9900
http://www.yelp.com/biz/barrio-chicago

Mexique

Exterior

Interior

Ceviche

Corn chowder with chorizo

Caper guacamole beef tartare

Black bean risotto and skate wing

Corn

Pork belly mole

Duck

Poached pear and ice cream

***** (5 stars)

I’ve had lots of Asian-inspired Mexican food, and Lots of French-inspired Asian food, but this is the first time I’ve had French-inspired Mexican food, and boy, was it good!

The food is nothing short of spectacular, and defies all your expectations for either Mexican or French cuisine. It’s Mexican-influenced modern dining.

The essential thing is to get the tasting menu. It offers six of the menu’s highlights in small portions that give you an idea of the vast range of the kitchen’s skills. On off-nights, or if you go early enough, you can ask for an eight-course tasting menu that is even better.

The people around us were ordering two courses each, and the servings were huge, and ended up costing almost as much as what we paid to taste our way through much of the menu.

The wine list is quite short, but the selections are reasonably priced and perfectly chosen to accompany the food. Our server was extremely knowledgeable about the wines, and did our wine pairings herself. Each wine perfectly matched the accompanying course. I can’t remember such a consistently excellent set of pairings. And yes, there were eight wines to match the eight courses, with about a two-ounce pour of each.

At $80 for the six-course ($100 for the 8-course) tasting menu, it’s a great deal. And the $40 wine pairing ($50 for 8) is a no-brainer.

The sleek space seats at least fifty, and the quietest tables are toward the front.

Mexique
1529 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 850-0288
http://www.yelp.com/biz/mexique-chicago

Leña Brava

Interior

Upstairs

Cured salmon laminados

Lena ceviche (albacore)

Hiramasa laminados

Chesapeake wild striped bass aguachiles

Huarache

Plantains

Short rib

Duck

Artichoke

Blueberry tart

*** (3 stars)

This is an interesting new concept from Rick Bayless that is different from his other restaurants, and anything else in town, too.

The menu is almost entirely plates intended for sharing, divided up somewhat arbitrarily into groups such as ceviches, aguachiles (which were a lot like the ceviches), cockteles (which were a lot like the ceviches), laminados (more like sashimi), etc. All four of those categories are mainly raw fish prepared with different sauces. We tried four of them and found the sauces interesting but the fish inferior in quality to what you would expect in a good sashimi bar. The salmon, in particular, was largely inedible, with a third of each piece so tough and stringy it could neither be cut nor chewed. Sure, we could have sent it back, but it should never have been served in the first place, as it was visibly flawed.

More successful were the two wood-fired dishes. The duck had a nicely lacquered coating and excellent flavors. Short ribs were less interesting, as the sauce and the accompanying mashed cauliflower were quite bland.

The Huarache was one of the best dishes. It was a sort of corn flatbread with what can best be described (but wasn’t so described on the menu) as a vegetable mole.

Two sides were pretty good: the artichoke hearts were nicely cooked al dente, and the plantains were nicely caramelized.

Both the corn crisps and the tortillas that accompanied several courses were quite good.

Perhaps the best thing we had was the blueberry tart, a large, hand folded pastry with a nicely charred crust, served with ice cream.

The wine list offers a very eclectic selection of wines by the bottle and glass. It’s eclectic enough that I’ll wager you’ve never heard of 90% of the producers.

The restaurant is divided into a number of smaller rooms, with the outdoor seating and upstairs the quietest areas. Service was efficient.

Leña Brava
900-902 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-1975
http://www.yelp.com/biz/le%C3%B1a-brava-chicago-2

Moe’s Cantina- River North

Ceviche

Chicken Mole tacos

Interior

Nachos

**** (4 stars)

I went a long time without trying this place because the name is similar to a chain I despise, but there’s no relationship.

The cavernous space is neat looking, and has pretty good acoustics from what I could tell, although I was there during a fairly quiet lunch hour. The are several long bars and some tables big enough for large groups.

We really enjoyed the nachos we started with. They are definitely non-standard, almost more like a salad in some ways, with lots of pickled onions, lettuce and jalapeno. We got them without the beans, which I think would have just made them messy.

The menu is mostly tacos, and I enjoyed the chicken mole variety I tried, although I would have liked a variety rather than four all the same. My companion liked her ceviche.

Service was friendly and attentive.

Moe’s Cantina- River North
155 W Kinzie St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 245-2000
https://www.yelp.com/biz/moes-cantina-river-north-chicago

Tallboy Taco

Cheese crisp

Interior

*** (3 stars)

This counter serve taco bar is literally at the bar inside National 27. There are a variety of taco fillings on offer, all served on a traditional corn tortilla.

I thought the salmon taco was a bit fishy, and the pastor a bit dry, but both were fine.

The chips were a highlight, obviously homemade, quite crunchy, and well salted. The salsa that came with the order of chips was a thick puree that tasted a bit like enchilada sauce. It was improved by adding some pico de gallo from the salsa bar.

Ceviche was quite good.

The “cheese crisp” was essentially an open face quesadilla, and not all that crisp.

Prices are excellent, and the food comes out from the kitchen quite fast.

Tallboy Taco
325 W Huron St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 488-4917
https://www.yelp.com/biz/tallboy-taco-chicago