The chefs at Rancho Nuevo look to Mexico’s Jalisco region when crafting their recipes. A veritable paradise on earth for the culinary-minded, Jalisco boasts lush gardens filled with chili peppers and freshwater lakes teeming with shrimp and fish. The chefs use all of these and more to whip up soft-shell tacos, overstuffed burritos, and sizzling fajitas, favoring homemade sauces and fresh produce over store-bought mixes and digital holograms of vegetables. The aromas of shrimp, catfish, and crab waft into the sunlit dining room as guests dunk crispy tortilla chips into mountains of guacamole. Between bites, they clink together glasses filled with tropical cocktails, spicy micheladas, and freshly made horchata.
Jimano's Pizzeria's deft dough-tossers craft homemade crusts, succulent sauces, and pies layered with fresh ingredients for an oven-fresh menu of Chicago-style pizzas. Top a thin-crust cheese pizza ($15.80 for a 16") or piñata-pack a pan-baked deep-dish cheese pizza ($17.95 for a 16") with a panoply of ingredients, such as pepperoni, mushrooms, bacon, or pineapple ($2.10 per ingredient for a 16" pizza), ensuring that modest pizzas don't have to arrive at the table undressed. Cooks also create stacked delights such as the italian beef ($5.85) or the crispy buffalo chicken sandwich ($5.99); baby back ribs ($16.99 for a full slab, $14.99 for a half slab) offer carnivorous sustenance coated in a homemade St. Louis–style barbecue sauce. The pizzeria's famed bread sticks ($3.99) satisfy carb cravings alongside a slew of pasta dishes, which arrive with sides of saucy banter and cheesy dialogue.
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.
Adi Mor opened the first Garden Fresh Market in 1980, selling fresh produce from a 1,000-square-foot lot in Skokie, which he would stock by taking 2 a.m. trips to Chicago's South Water market. Today, Garden Fresh Market sprawls over six suburban locations, where fresh produce from apples to zucchinis is still procured daily.
Grocery items range from fresh meat from Midwest famers to a wide selection of ethnic foods and national brands. The deli slices meats and cheeses both domestic and imported, and house-made seasonal salads and main courses make bringing dinner home easier than stealing it from a neighbor's windowsill. Many of the market's online recipes have even made it onto NBC5, giving its cooks their share of 15 minutes of fame.
At South Kawa Japanese Restaurant, sushi isn’t just a delight for the mouth; it’s a feast for the eyes. Bold colors and delicate flavors intermingle as chefs spool fresh fish and rice into more than 40 types of maki rolls, including specialties such as the American Eagle, a mélange of king crab, spicy tuna, asparagus, and two types of roe. Plates of sashimi can be made to order from more than 20 varieties of sea fare, such as yellowtail, octopus, and freshwater eel. Hot starters such as steamed seafood shumai and pan-fried chicken gyoza pair nicely with cool beverages, which diners can bring from home or squeeze from low-hanging rain clouds.
SakeZake's fusion of ancient and contemporary tastes extends from the robust menu of specialty sushi rolls to the artfully minimalist dining-room decor. Executive Chef Ahn Yung Jin's classic nigiri shares menu space with specialty rolls that combine fresh fish with eye-catching ingredients such as tempura flakes, jalapeño, and diamond chips. Mock shoji screens and lacquered red chairs give the dining room the air of a modish teahouse, while the funky hourglass lamps keep things as fresh as the sushi-bar offerings. The lounge-like atmosphere is no accident, as SakeZake is open until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.