Mixteco Mexican Grill

Exterior
Exterior
Interior
Interior

***** (5 stars)

This counter-serve place is a lot better than many of the sit down Mexican restaurants in the area.

Nachos are particularly good, with a hearty serving of real cheese and plenty of jalapenos.

The fire-grilled quesadilla is also excellent, but beware that the habanero sauce is not messing around!

I also really enjoyed the Al Pastor toca prepared in authentic Mexican style. I prefer my Pastor without pineapple chunks, which is how this is made.

Service was friendly and everything was prepared to order quickly.

Mixteco Mexican Grill
847 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 904-9723
https://www.yelp.com/biz/mixteco-mexican-grill-chicago-3

El Jardin

Exterior
Exterior
Interior
Interior
Chilaquiles Breakfast
Chilaquiles Breakfast
Enchiladas
Enchiladas

***** (5 stars)

This place is divided into a number of varied seating areas, including dining rooms, a bar, and a garden.

The margaritas all seem to be made with lemon juice rather than lime, which is odd; I needed to order a shot of Cointreau to restore the balance.

The appetizers were the best part of our meal. We ordered the nachos without the beans. As described, they came with exactly seven large tortilla chips! They also come with a dab of guacamole, so we really didn’t need the extra order of guacamole, but it was good.

The entrees were less exciting. Chicken enchiladas had a rather odd flavor, and the contents seemed to be ground up. Chilaquiles were also unusual, in that instead of being topped with a fried egg there was a scrambled egg mixed in; the chile verde sauce was good, though.

Service was not particularly attentive considering we were the only table seated for Thursday lunch.

El Jardin
3335 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 528-6775
https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-jardin-chicago

Cesar’s Killer Margaritas – Clark

Interior
Interior
Nachos
Nachos

***** (5 stars)

While the emphasis in the name is on the drinks, the food here is good, too. The free chips are delicious, really crisp and with a strong toasted corn flavor, and the accompanying salsa has lots of cilantro.

The nacho starter was good, if not my favorite style.

Fish tacos were excellent, with grilled fish in double corn tortilla wrappers. The black beans that came with it were some of the best I've had. I also tasted the refried beans, which I normally prefer, but these black beans were amazingly complex and flavorful.

Of course margaritas are the highlight, and there are a dozen to choose from. We went with a pitcher of the Cadillac, a standard lime margarita plus Gran Marnier.

The service was good, and the ambiance is relaxed.

Cesar’s Killer Margaritas – Clark
3166 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 248-2835
https://www.yelp.com/biz/cesars-killer-margaritas-clark-chicago-2

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