Every morning, the dough masters at Aracely's Bakery rise before dawn to craft house-made cupcakes, pastries, and sandwiches to bejewel their display cases. Confectionary artists transform dreams into fondant-covered reality by crafting custom cakes for birthdays, baby showers, and Eat a Portrait of Your Boss day. Meanwhile, traditional Mexican recipes lend sweetness to cakes and spice to 11 kinds of sandwiches, whose ingredients include avocado, chihuahua cheese, and secret sauce, and pack flavor into handheld meals.
Though there may be more than one way to skin a cat, there’s only one way to roast a goat—learn from a master. According the Chicago Reader, once John Zaragoza became interested in making birria, he sought out Miguel Segura, a renowned birriero in La Barca, Jalisco, Mexico who roasts his meat in backyard brick ovens. Two weeks studying with Segura taught him the varying cuts of birria and how to cultivate trust at the counter by chopping the meat in full view instead of pinkie swearing to each customer that the knives are clean.
Today, John and his family have their own recipe down pat. Kosher salt seasons the goat, which they seal in a steamer for up to six hours before covering it in an ancho-based mole sauce and transferring it to the oven. The cuts also yield a clean consommé broth that doubles as a garnish, which can be sprinkled on top alongside onions, cilantro, lime, and peppers. Handmade corn tortillas add the finishing touch to a birria meal at both Birrieria Zaragoza locations.
The goat can be ordered bone in or out, on a plate or in a taco—Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine ranks the restaurant No. 2 in the Midwest on a list of The 64 Best Tacos in the Country. For a spicy side, John's son Jonathan brews a signature fire-roasted salsa from scratch. Imported Mexican sodas wash down savory bites, whose popularity causes the Zaragozas to go through as many as 22 goats in a single weekend—more than the average caged T-Rex eats in a month.
Since 1976, La Majada Express has been serving Mexican cuisine that goes beyond the usual burritos and tacos (though they do those pretty well). Diners looking to try something new might start their meal with an order of guacamelon?guacamole with a shot of watermelon?or dig into Mexican chicken wings fried in cornmeal and covered in arbol salsa. For dinner, the house-specialty upside down pizza covers chorizo or adobo pork with cilantro, chihuahua cheese, green peppers, and oregano, while smokey Mexican-style ribs come smothered in a choice of spicy sauces in place of the traditional barbecue. Even the dessert menu offers up some unique offerings, including a fluffy mango mousse and a margarita pie made with tequila and triple sec and served on the rocks.
Melding classic regional Mexican recipes with the spice and energy of a cantina, Alejandra's chefs craft a menu that provides travel-hungry taste buds with a passport to flavor. Jumbo shrimp sizzle with the piquant spices of homemade salsa in the a la veracruzana (a $10.95 value), and the grilled skirt steak tampiqueña satisfies meat cravings with a sliced poblano chile and a cheese enchilada on the side (a $13.95 value). The costillas a la parrilla invite appetites to admire a generous, full slab of Mexican-style barbecue ribs as they lounge saucily on a bed of rice, vegetables, and optional throw pillows (a $17.95 value). Satiate an herbaceous appetite with the chiles rellenos, which offer up a sumptuous stuffing of cheese and corn, encased within a green-pepper shell (a $7.95 value). Or, discover the shredded chicken center hidden beneath the soft surface of classic enchiladas, colorfully topped with cilantro, green onions, melted cheese, and a choice of rojas, verdes, or mole sauce (a $9.95 value). Chilly fruit lends color and a heady sweetness to red wine in the included pitcher of sangria, a vivid and robust concoction perfect for sharing with a date or for distracting a charging bull.
Behind the counter at De Pasada, staffers pack the black chalkboard menu with a mélange of burritos, tacos, and classic Mexican entrees. Stone masks, South American décor, and a flat-screen television lurk in the split-level dining area, waiting to catch hungry eyes in a way that Shakespearean food dioramas never could. During warmer months, overhead fans cast breezes on diners when the cool presence of a frosty Jarritos or horchata isn't enough.
The rhythm of knives chopping tomatoes and peppers for salsa and pans sizzling fajitas fills the kitchen at Bravo Restaurant as chefs prepare an array of traditional Mexican recipes. Patrons share plates of fish ceviche marinated in lime and lemon juice as well as hearty entrees such as tender chicken breast coated in mole sauce and cohinita pibil––marinated pork slowly cooked in banana leaves and topped with a fiery habanero salsa. Behind the full bar, staff members keep up with the tempo of orders with their margarita shakers and glasses of mojitos with fresh muddled lime. On Friday nights, those refreshing cocktails help guests build up the nerve to get onstage and sing karaoke tunes or announce their candidacy for Mr. Universe.