The sponge-painted walls of Wholly Frijoles recall a sunset of orange pastels—the kind that one could imagine seeing at dusk in the Mexican countryside. Chef J. Carmen Villegas needs not create such a rough facsimile of Mexican cuisine, as he draws on more than 17 years of experience to deliver the real thing. Chef Villegas and his staff stay busy throughout the day, tossing coconut shrimp and grilling legs of lamb before accenting them with grilled mango, chipotle pepper broth, and a garnish of piñata candy. Their catering services include enchilada and fajita trays for groups of 12 or more.
Yolo Mexican Eatery serves Mexican cuisine the traditional way, meaning less cheese and more peppers. The chefs keep plenty of water in their kitchen to ward off the flames that sometimes erupt from their cache of habanero, pasilla, serrano, morita, arbol, and poblano peppers. Such a variety might seem excessive, but they use every last one to brew the sauces that cover their grilled chicken breasts, marinated shrimp, and fried-plantain enchiladas. To temper the heat that lingers post-meal, guests can crack into BYOB beers or try the homemade vanilla flan, a staple that the Chicago Sun Times calls “irresistible.”
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.
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.
When you get your first plate of Taqueria Los Comales’ signature Mexico-City-style tacos, you might be surprised by their size. Each double-wrapped taco is small enough to fit into your hand, a fact owner Camerino Gonzalez specifically had in mind when first making them in Chicago’s Little Village in 1973. Rather than have clients try just one of his signature meats, he wanted to allow guests to sample a wide variety of different options. Cooks stuff the soft tortillas with al pastor served in a secret marinade as well as more adventurous taqueria staples such as tongue or beef tripe. The restaurants’ homemade salsa and their own signature mix of pickled carrots, cauliflower, and jalapeños enhance these flavors, making meals as satisfying as the discovery that you’re tax exempt because of your cool haircut. Alongside the traditional tacos, chefs grill up meats for tortas, burritos, breakfast, and dinner platters, all of which can be paired with the shop’s glasses of creamy horchata or a range of Mexican and domestic beers.
It began with three sisters leaving their home in the San Luis Potosi region of Mexico. For their trip, the trio packed up their all their belongings, their arsenal of traditional Mexican recipes, and the desire to prosper in their new home of Chicago. They named their new venture El Jardin, which was quite prophetic as their little taqueria grew faster than most gardens, and now they serve authentic Central Mexican cuisine at numerous sites around Chicago under the management of the next generation.
The staff still specializes in tender carne asada, which is so popular the restaurant offers to ship it in vacuum-sealed packs to customers’ homes. The carne asada also appears in the shop’s superburrito dinners, fajitas, and quesadillas, as well as other traditional meats such as tilapia, chorizo, chicken, and shrimp. Chefs begin crafting the fare as early as breakfast and help clients celebrate late into the night with their classic and specialty margaritas that feature more than 40 styles of tequila.