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.
Rudy's Mexican Grill serves up generous portions of uniquely tweaked Mexican cuisine doused in house salsas, sauces, marinades, and seasoning mixes made from scratch. Large mortars filled with house specialties such as the seafood paella ($14.95) erupt from the kitchen like a seafood-powered steam engine running on mussels, shrimp, octopus, crab meat, and calamari. The parrillada de carnes ($25), served family style, satisfies the liberal meat leanings of two people with an arsenal of skirt steak, chicken, marinated pork, and smoked sausage capped with grilled vegetables. Homemade flan ($2.50) molds corn and vanilla custards for a soft and sweet dessert-menu sampling.
All too often, embracing authenticity means sacrificing creativity, but the chefs in San Gabriel Mexican Café’s kitchen strive to incorporate both. They infuse classic tuna ceviche with bites of mango and passion fruit, melding tropical sweetness into the savory dish. They busily wield mortars and pestles all day to grind guacamole to order, while their ovens churn out a continuous stream of fresh-baked tortillas. Those tortillas enwrap tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas, but the chefs’ true specialties lie elsewhere on the menu. They enrich the flavor of pablano-chile sauced chicken with ground huitlacoche, an earthy, sweet fungus that grows on corn. They heartily recommend the molcajete, a traditional bowl made from volcanic stone and filled with stewed meat, three chile salsa, and cactus leaf.
When Isaac and Moishe Nava decided to open a Mexican restaurant, they flew in their mother, Florencia, all the way from their hometown of Huitzuco, just south of Mexico City. She brought her time-tested recipes with her so she could tutor Isaac and Moishe in preparing authentic dishes such as skirt steak and whole red snapper. Today, the Navas continue serving Florencia's dishes while also evolving their menu through ongoing experimentation and studying which dishes guests like most. To further demonstrate their commitment to their family and heritage, Isaac and Moishe opened a grocery store in Highwood, honoring their father's and grandfather's careers as grocers and famous avocado jugglers. The store supplies most of the restaurants' produce, meat, and fish, keeping the stock at optimal freshness.
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.