All too often, embracing authenticity means sacrificing creativity, but the chefs in San Gabriel Mexican Café’s kitchen strive to incorporate both. They infuse classic tuna ceviche with bites of mango and passion fruit, melding tropical sweetness into the savory dish. They busily wield mortars and pestles all day to grind guacamole to order, while their ovens churn out a continuous stream of fresh-baked tortillas. Those tortillas enwrap tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas, but the chefs’ true specialties lie elsewhere on the menu. They enrich the flavor of pablano-chile sauced chicken with ground huitlacoche, an earthy, sweet fungus that grows on corn. They heartily recommend the molcajete, a traditional bowl made from volcanic stone and filled with stewed meat, three chile salsa, and cactus leaf.
The epicurean alchemists at That Little Mexican Cafe craft authentic Mexican fare that tickles taste buds with balanced spices and the restaurant’s unique blend of fresh salsa. Ingredients from local markets and intergalactic foodie conventions wend their way into tortillas enveloping seafood and meat. Dining-room booths and tables oppose a ceiling adorned with bright decorations, and margarita glasses rise in toasts to the cacti and parrots that peer down from framed wall art.
At first glance, the menu at Tamales Mexican Restaurant seems fairly straightforward—quesadillas, tacos, fajitas. But a second look proves otherwise, as even the appetizer section offers unexpected dishes such as crab cakes in red-pepper sauce. From there, the selection becomes even more original, including everything from pumpkin tamales and goat-cheese quesadillas to duck tacos and salmon burritos. Even classics get savory updates, such as filet mignon dressed in a mushroom-tequila sauce. Those seeking the stuff straight can sample one of the 14 varieties of tequila poured out at the full-service bar, where guests can also sip on glasses of wine or the water their ice magically transformed into.
Brightly painted walls, vivid paintings of Mexican life, and flavorful margaritas lend Las Palmas' numerous locations a relaxed, distinctly "fiesta" vibe. As guests slowly unwind with friends, family, or Twister champions over ice-cold Mexican beers and cocktails, the chefs prepare fajitas, enchiladas, and tacos alongside plates of charbroiled meats and seafood. They also whip up vegetarian-friendly options, such as the signature guacamole and enchiladas banana, which they stuff with fried bananas and smother in mole sauce and melted cheese.
When Isaac and Moishe Nava decided to open a Mexican restaurant, they flew in their mother, Florencia, all the way from their hometown of Huitzuco, just south of Mexico City. She brought her time-tested recipes with her so she could tutor Isaac and Moishe in preparing authentic dishes such as skirt steak and whole red snapper. Today, the Navas continue serving Florencia's dishes while also evolving their menu through ongoing experimentation and studying which dishes guests like most. To further demonstrate their commitment to their family and heritage, Isaac and Moishe opened a grocery store in Highwood, honoring their father's and grandfather's careers as grocers and famous avocado jugglers. The store supplies most of the restaurants' produce, meat, and fish, keeping the stock at optimal freshness.
The chefs at Zapatista cull tantalizing dishes from across the culinary regions of Mexico and spice them with piquant sauces and marinades. Diners nosh on fresh meats and veggies inside the vibrant yellow-, green-, and red-walled dining rooms, which teem with wooden tables reposing under hanging star lanterns and candelabra chandeliers. The spacious interior's rounded archways separate the dining areas, and rough-hewn-stone arches stand guard over myriad liqueurs at the bar like Rumpelstiltskin stands guard over firstborns.
Every four–six weeks, Cemitas Puebla's owner and chef, Tony Anteliz, sends a family member to Mexico to gather ingredients such as chipotle peppers and giant cinnamon sticks. He relies on time-tested family recipes honed in Puebla, Mexico to assemble these imported ingredients into sandwiches, tacos, and salsas that have been praised in the Chicago Tribune and on WTTW 11’s Check, Please!. Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives highlighted the restaurant’s signature cemita sandwich: sesame-seed-bread laden with fresh oaxaca cheese, papalo—a fragrant herb grown in Tony's mother's garden—house-stewed chipotles, and a choice of meats such as breaded pork and carne asada. Inspired by Lebanese shawarmas, tacos arabes begin with layers of pork shoulder and onion skewered on a rotisserie. The stack of meat rotates as slowly as a ferris wheel being ridden by a herd of elephants before a member of the open-air-kitchen staff shaves off tender meat and tucks it into pita-like tortillas.