Upon walking through the front door at Antigua Real, diners are immersed in colorful artwork and decorations that personify the Latin cultures the chefs draw from for their dishes. The hallway leading to the main dining room surrounds guests in a vibrant mosaic, and art pieces from Central America cover the walls, save for the space taken by the lit fireplace and one coin-sized hole that reveals another dimension. One would think that the allure of the dining room would steal the attention, but Antigua's chefs ensure their menu of spicy dishes prepared to authentic Mexican standards, or inspired by the flavors of Spain, Cuba, and the Caribbean, steals the show. Eclectic flavor combinations, such as savory chili sauces dusted with roasted almonds, tease taste buds into wanting more. A lounge area with a full bar also entices guests to stop in after stressful days and enjoy smoothies and milkshakes.
The neon lights and bright colors at Grande Jake’s Authentic Mexican Grill’s three Chicago-area hubs hint at the menu’s dedication to spicy eats. Chefs scoop grilled steak, chorizo, and chicken into burritos, then douse them in melted chihuahua cheese and salsa ranchera. Homemade tamales burst with pork or chicken, and the pollo asada al carbon tops a 12-ounce char-grilled chicken breast with mole or green sauce. Refried beans, spanish rice, and chips serve as supporting actors to entrees, and the creamy Mexican-style custard in flan finishes dinners more sweetly than a dinner mint delivered by a troupe of newborn kittens.
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.
Gus’ Mexican Cantina serves up a sizzling menu of Mexican-American fare, accompanied by cool splashes from a full bar. Diners can stave off ravening appetites by heaping nachos with cheese, jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, peppers, black olives, and beef ($7.95) or chicken ($8.95). A vegetarian taco salad invites herbivorous nibbles ($6.50), and deep-fried chimichangas, loaded with meat, cheese, and sour cream and served with beans and rice, attract starved stomachs ($8.95). At the Friday fish fry, guests can take a culinary dip into the Gulf of Mexico with beer-battered cod ($10.50) paired with Gus’ specialty margarita, made with a secret recipe pinched from the files of James Bond.
Taqueria El Indo's menu boasts a bevy of authentic Mexican palate-pleasers and newfound tastebud seducers, all prepared from scratch. Prime protein contenders, including steak, grilled chicken, chorizo-potato, and tongue, don lucha libre wrestling masks and duke it out for a coveted spot in a traditional onion-and-cilantro-adorned taco ($2), cheesy quesadilla ($6), or burrito ($7). Dinner specials include the Shrimp Empanizando, in which shrimp plied with chipotle beer batter are deep fried and laid down to recover on a bed of rice and beans ($12.95), or a plate of three enchiladas filled with chicken, beef, grilled veggies ($8.95), or shrimp for an additional $2. For proper meal punctuation, reward taste buds or break in new bibs with a dessert of Tres Leches Cake ($3.25), fried ice cream ($3.25), or sips of a domestic ($2.75) or imported ($3) beer.
The chefs at Rancho Nuevo look to Mexico’s Jalisco region when crafting their recipes. A veritable paradise on earth for the culinary-minded, Jalisco boasts lush gardens filled with chili peppers and freshwater lakes teeming with shrimp and fish. The chefs use all of these and more to whip up soft-shell tacos, overstuffed burritos, and sizzling fajitas, favoring homemade sauces and fresh produce over store-bought mixes and digital holograms of vegetables. The aromas of shrimp, catfish, and crab waft into the sunlit dining room as guests dunk crispy tortilla chips into mountains of guacamole. Between bites, they clink together glasses filled with tropical cocktails, spicy micheladas, and freshly made horchata.