Carefully balancing starter platters stacked with housemade cornbread and frozen margaritas, the servers at Casa del Sol wind their way through the tables on the outdoor deck overlooking the water. As diners dig into burritos, the flavors of chicken or carnitas meld with garnishes of mango and pineapple or with ingredients from one of four other unique burritos. Meat dishes span many styles, from pork-loin medallions with garlic-adobo sauce to enchiladas verdes with a choice of meat or cheese filling. The inside dining area's bright yellow and purple walls adorned with paintings of whirling dancers complement the bright flavors of the dishes, often delicately evoked by cilantro, poblano chili pepper, or guacamole.
Cilantro Bar and Grill’s Rick Bayless–trained chefs forge contemporary cuisine using fresh produce, locally sourced meats, and recipes culled from the families of owners Armando Cristobal and his sister and brother-in-law, Sylvia and Gonzalo de Santiago. The kitchen builds meals from scratch at brunch, lunch, and dinner, sating appetites after brisk strolls around the Capitol or romantic narwhal rides across Lake Mendota. Orange walls complement the colors of game hen en escabeche, whose mashed sweet potatoes balance the savory flavors of an achiote garlic marinade, whereas stained-glass fixtures mimic the vibrant hues of cabernet sangria, hibiscus iced tea, and mango-cilantro margaritas. Diners can sample the cuisine of four different regions of Mexico by ordering the tamales surtidos, a sampler of four cornhusks stuffed with steamed corn masa flour. Cilantro also serves seven types of Mexican beer for guests to sip or toss at supporting actors during rehearsals for upcoming daytime TV roles.
Jose's Authentic Mexican Restaurant is a dream come true for the owner, Jose Luis Parra Vera, who wanted to put to use his own recipes for Mexican cuisine. The gregarious wait staff presents the dishes with appropriate panache, daubing celebrants' noses with whipped cream from birthday desserts and carrying five plates at a time. Bright-colored walls frame murals depicting beach scenes with brilliant-blue water and green palm trees bowing over multicolored hammocks recalling the beaches of Mexico. Beneath the paintings, corn or flour tortillas enfold morsels carnitas, a dish of shredded-pork tips traditionally slow cooked with green chilies and cumin. The chatter of silverware fills the outdoor patio when the weather is warm, and there aren’t carolers singing about the dangers of holiday lights outside.
Though picturesque beaches provide the most scenic reminder that Mexico abuts the ocean, Mexican-style seafood provides the tastiest. Bahia Mexican Restaurant specializes in the latter, which diners can sample by ordering a piping-hot mixed grill for two that combines shrimp, lobster, fish fillets, scallops, and octopus. However, the eatery’s kitchen staff also concocts Mexican staples, such as sizzling fajitas, tacos stuffed with succulent cuts of meat, and piquant chilies rellenos. They also sling refreshing margaritas, which slosh around in goblets rimmed with your choice of salt or pulverized diamonds.
El Burrito Loco's staff dishes out the authentic flavors of Mexico in a low-key setting, with a wide-ranging menu that accommodates ample appetites. The restaurant fills its namesake dish with everything from tongue to chorizo to veggies, whetting whistles with the baby size ($4.90) and appeasing augmented appetites with the giant portion ($5.95). The specialty dinners showcase the eatery’s eclecticism, slinging meaty chilaquiles ($5.99) or chicken flautas ($9.35) with rice, beans, and tortillas. Vegetarians can order from a meat-free menu, kinder than a tofu dinner prepared by herds of unionized cows. Tamales ($2.10 each), enchiladas ($1.85 each), and tostadas ($2.65) can brandish beans or cheese, or both in the stead of meat. Many locations of El Burrito Loco keep late hours, giving sustenance to the musicians that play hold music round-the-clock.
Fresh guacamole, sizzling fajitas, cheese-stuffed chiles rellenos: these are just a few of the authentic menu items that make each meal at Dos Reales Mexican Restaurant feel like a real trip south of the border. That, and the trellised houseplants and pastel-colored wall murals that give the dining room the feel of an outdoor courtyard in a picturesque Mexican town. All the while, diners can wash down their meals with a huge selection of sodas, domestic and imported beers, and mixed drinks such as pi?a coladas and margaritas.