Luis Barrea, the owner and head chef at Los Chilaquiles, traces his culinary journey back to his family’s kitchen. Even when he could barely reach the counter, Luis was learning how to craft enchiladas and tacos to please the discerning palates of his 10 brothers and sisters. Though he later studied at a professional academy, these early experiences did the most to shape his love for cooking. Today, he brings this love to every dish he makes at Los Chilaquiles. Amidst crackling pans and sizzling grills, Luis and his chefs stuff meats and seafood into tacos and tortas that have earned praise from Chicago's Best. The real draw, however, is their eight different types of chilaquiles, which shower crispy corn tortilla chips with chocolaty mole and tequila-infused sauces. Salsas with varying degrees of spiciness accompany each dish—beware of the ultra-hot diablo salsa, which Luis painstakingly extracts from volcanic lava.
To Jaime Flores, tamales represent two of the world's finest simple pleasures: eating and unwrapping presents. At Tamale Hut Café, he and his staff hand-wrap each tamale with a double layer of corn husks, then steam-cook them to seal in flavor. Jaime derives his methods and his choice of fillings—pork, chicken, pinto beans, and even crab meat with jalapeños—from his aunt and uncle, who taught him how to prep the portable delights in addition to other Mexican foods. He attests that his tamales are appropriate for any mealtime, and even sells steamer pots so that visitors can reheat their leftovers without using a microwave or rubbing them until friction kicks in. The quaint café is a venue for both sitting down for a snack and appreciating local culture. Beneath bulbs that glow inside of hanging tequila bottles, paintings and photographs by local artists draw the eye, and regular readings by visiting authors entertain audiences. To offset the savory bites of tamales, meatball soup, and gourmet salsas, guests can order drinks or seasonal paletas—Mexican fruit popsicles. Sweet tamales tinged with the taste of pineapple, blueberry, and coconut are another creative dessert option.
Meals can go in any number of directions at La Quinta De Los Reyes. From specialty margaritas in tropical flavors such as guava, pomegranate, and kiwi to table-side guacamole made according to each table's preferred spiciness, the menu offers myriad ways for personalizing the dining experience. Traditional entrees such as tacos and burritos share menu space with house specialties, including the parrilladas, a heaping plateful of meats, cheeses, peppers, and grilled onions. Fish, shrimp, veggie dishes, and traditional desserts round out the menu. Diners can chow down to the sweet overtures of mariachi bands on Fridays and Sundays, lend their own voices to the chorus on karaoke Thursdays, or head upstairs to cut rugs at the dance club on weekend nights.
Most of the steak, chicken, and seafood morsels that star in La Majada Restaurant's hearty dinners spend quality time with the grill before taking on equally fiery accents of chorizo, peppers, and chile sauce. Along with dizzying combinations of burritos, tacos, and tostadas, the enormous menu also finds room for less common specialties of Mexican smoked ribs and Pollo Cancun: chicken baked in a paper bag and covered in a blend of spices and tequila. Vibrant paintings peer across the expanse of the brick-walled eatery toward a fireplace whose crackling logs occasionally spook nervous piñatas.
Although Oak Park Avenue may have changed around Margaritas since Rene Roman opened the original restaurant in 1988, the eatery's dedication to classic, home-style Mexican cooking never wavered. The chefs continue to use family recipes as they prepare hearty renditions of time-honored classics. This dedication to tradition is evident both in the presentation?they prepare tableside guacamole?and in the flavors of dishes such as shredded beef flautas, sizzling shrimp fajitas, and chicken simmered in rich mole sauce. Fittingly, Margaritas takes pride in its featured cocktail, which the staff prepares in traditional style or with flavors such as strawberry, guava, and pomegranate.
The decor similarly reflects the eatery's commitment to its deeply entrenched roots. Earthenware tiles line the floors, glowing lanterns hang from the ceiling, and potted plants speckle the space. Sunlight spills through the entryway's floor-to-ceiling windows, causing the dining room's yellow walls to glow even brighter during the day, much like a firefly who is a "morning firefly."