Armed with family recipes and more than 17 years of expertise in the Chicago restaurant scene, chef Marylou Marquez fills Caliente Mexican Restaurant's bustling kitchens with dishes inspired by Guadalajara, Jalisco. Veracruzana tomato sauce lends filets of fish an earthy tone, and spicy chile de arbol and ranchera sauces complement enchiladas and tender grilled steaks. Fruit-filled cinnamon-sugar tacos, and flan with Mexican eggnog top off gustatory forays as diners admire the dining room's photo mural of rustic kitchen scenes and tropical fruit.
Before a wall hung with sparkling silver tinsel, karaoke singers, salsa dancers, and Mexican guitarists take the stage throughout the week, serenading diners and besotted tostadas alike. Caliente also caters special events and wraps up entrees for handy to-go ordering.
Though Giuseppe, the cofounder and namesake of Giuseppe’s La Cantina, passed on in 2005, his children still helm the restaurant in his honor. As a result, it’s no coincidence that the restaurant pulsates with a homey ambiance. The 50-year-old eatery has been in the Brunetti family since 1963, boasting menus and recipes passed down from family members in their native Italy. An appetizer of Italian antipasto leads diners to family specialties, such as eggplant giovanna topped with mozzarella and lasagna layered with ricotta and ground beef. Each day the Brunettis’ offerings continue to tempt locals with the family’s rich sauces, succulent meats, and seafood so proud to be on the menu it enters the oven willingly.
Danny’s Cafe warmly serves what co-owner Carl Dote described as “Italian peasant food” on Danny’s Check, Please! feature. Their cooking aims to comfort, from generously stuffed artichokes to their signature fried-meatball sub. The hefty sandwich, highlighted on WGN, comes to fruition after staff members hand-form fresh meatball mix into patties and pile on fried peppers. Co-owner and chef Paula Dote told ABC’s “Hungry Hound” that when she and her husband bought the restaurant, she wanted to make exactly what she made at home, and indeed, she uses recipes from her mother and mother-in-law in all of her cooking and homemade volcano experiments. She ladles vodka sauce and crumbled sausage over homemade rigatoni, and layers provolone, parmesan, mozzarella, and ricotta in the four-cheese lasagna. Pork neck bones, one of Danny's more unique dishes, are served twice a week and praised by Hungry Hound for the tender meatiness resulting from hours spent simmering in spiced tomatoes. The eatery has also spawned relatives—appropriately named “Cuzzin’s Cafe”—that serve similar dishes in Des Plaines and Orland Park.
Taco Village's menu reads like a love letter written to fresh, authentic Mexican fare decorated in signature sauces and spices. The taco plate partners refried beans with rice ($7.95) and loaded nachos banish hunger while wearing a crown of refried beans, jalapeño peppers, melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream ($6.50). Taco Village chefs are well-versed in classic dishes, such as cheese quesadillas ($4.75), pork tamales ($1.95), and tortas ($5.95), all of which can be painted with six freshly prepared salsas for edible art. Stomachs suffering from black holism can be finally filled with the approximately 20-inch, 5-pound El Jefe burrito. If El Jefe vanishes in less than 10 minutes, wallets get off scot-free. Breakfast options are available all day, and homemade horchata slakes thirst ($1.59).
Chefs imbue Zakuro Thai Sushi Cuisine's intimate dining room with the aromas of traditional Thai noodle dishes, fried rice, and seven types of curry. For dinner, they craft specialties such as deep-fried soft-shell crab with basil sauce, served with vegetables and a choice of white, brown, or fried rice. At the sushi counter, chefs hand-roll maki including the Hollywood, layering spicy tuna and shrimp tempura inside kelp or soybean paper and topping the bundle with fried onions and seared Cajun albacore. The softly lit restaurant boasts wood floors, Asian figurines, and tall, twig-like accents that are lit from beneath, casting spindly shapes on the walls like two saplings making shadow puppets.
Bangkok Belly’s menu draws on sources from Thailand to Japan with sushi, noodles, and curries. More than a dozen sushi rolls represent Japan, running the gamut from traditional California rolls to the deep fried spicy tuna topped with asparagus and fried onions, and Japanese hallmarks such as egg rolls and tempura start dinners off as sacrificial offerings of thanks to the chef. Curries from Thailand simmer with spices over rice, while noodle dishes such as pad thai or lard na collate different spices and ingredients into a sauce-covered stir fry. Pra tu nam rice dishes are also served steaming from the kitchen. Bangkok Belly’s three locations span across the Chicagoland suburbs, with delivery, dine-in, or take out options.