If you walk into Cafe Salsa at the right time, you might see a patron or two wearing a colorful sombrero. They didn?t dress up just to show their love for Mexican food though?the restaurant makes sure that every birthday boy and girl wear their festive headwear while they dig into their celebratory cake. This playful sense of fellowship permeates every corner of Cafe Salsa, with delicious, hefty margaritas accompanying a sprawling menuof Mexican classics such as tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas. Behind the bar, an impressive collection of fine tequilas offer guests something a little stronger to knock back or fill glasses to the perfect height to attract those people who sip cocktails on the backs of magazines.
Even before the food arrives, El Picante Mexican Grill transports diners south of the border with its bright yellow walls, multicolored tablecloths, and colorful murals depicting Mexican life. Then, guests dig into homestyle eats, such as enchiladas with three different sauces, housemade guacamole, and poblano peppers stuffed with seafood and doused in mole sauce. Even the mezcal is authentic—it's made in Mexico and comes with an agave worm, instead of a piece of spaghetti.
Beginning in Chicago more than four decades ago, Pepe's Mexican Restaurant now offers up a full menu of classic Mexican flavors throughout Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Tortilla-wrapped entrees such as the chorizo quesadilla ($7.50) or the stuffed-taco dinner ($2.65–$3.45) wrap their floury shells around a choice of meat, veggies, and spicy sauces to create dishes flavorful enough to make the mouths of Mount Rushmore water. Broiled steak serves as the centerpiece for fajitas ($13.75), which arrive to tables on a sizzling platter surrounded by sautéed spanish onions, tomatoes, and a colorful assortment of bell peppers. Velvety moles coat tender boneless chicken breast for the spicy chicken en mole ($10.50). Meals conclude with bites of creamy, caramelized flan ($3.50), which sate cravings for a decadent meal-ending treat without coating the check in chocolate.
Diners can practically hear the gulf tides lapping on a Mexican beach as they read the menu at Burrito Mex, whose myriad seafood dishes feature ingredients ranging from red snapper and octopus to oysters and shrimp. Whether fried, breaded, or drenched with spicy diabla sauce, the aquatic creations stop stomachs from rumbling loud enough to trigger lightning. Back on land, the kitchen also crafts traditional Mexican entrees such as burritos filled with carne asada steak, al pastor pork, or—for the more adventurous—tongue. To wash down their feasts, patrons can sip fruity margaritas or feel like powerful diplomats by clinking bottles of domestic and imported beer.
CiNe couldn't be planted more firmly in the heart of Hinsdale. Standing right across from the Metra station, it fills what used to be the Hinsdale Theater, a movie house built in 1925 when everyone still communicated via title card, and Renaissance Revival architectural features including the custom molding and brickwork remain.
The starring attraction, however, is something a little different for the neighborhood: contemporary takes on taqueria cuisine and other shareable Latin bites, including ceviches. The chefs fill the menu with house-made tamales, fajitas, and a yogurt-enhanced guacamole that "creates a symphony of Latin flavors," according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Tacos are carefully composed, including a veggie version filled with chipotle-spiced potato croquettes and roasted corn relish.
Even with all the historical accents, the dining room exudes a thoroughly modern vibe. Bright orange glass orbs dangle around the massive palm tree sculpture dominating the center of the dining room, and flat-screen TVs light up a few of the walls.
Claiming a slew of awards, including Best Chicken Dinner by the Orange County Register, El Pollo Loco fills stomachs on the go with a menu of flavorful poultry inspired by Mexico's kitchens. Enjoy the rich tastes of a four-piece combo—including breasts and wings marinated in herbs, spices, and citrus juices—entouraged by two sides from an expansive selection, including spanish rice, BBQ black beans, corn cobbettes, and mac 'n' cheese ($8.99). For a more portable lunch during parkour breaks from the office, wrap your chicken in the warm tortilla blanket of a twice-grilled burrito ($5.99). El Pollo Loco's innovative salsa bar tickles tongues with fresh varieties of avocado, chipotle, and pico de gallo.