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.
Taqueria El Indo's menu boasts a bevy of authentic Mexican palate-pleasers and newfound tastebud seducers, all prepared from scratch. Prime protein contenders, including steak, grilled chicken, chorizo-potato, and tongue, don lucha libre wrestling masks and duke it out for a coveted spot in a traditional onion-and-cilantro-adorned taco ($2), cheesy quesadilla ($6), or burrito ($7). Dinner specials include the Shrimp Empanizando, in which shrimp plied with chipotle beer batter are deep fried and laid down to recover on a bed of rice and beans ($12.95), or a plate of three enchiladas filled with chicken, beef, grilled veggies ($8.95), or shrimp for an additional $2. For proper meal punctuation, reward taste buds or break in new bibs with a dessert of Tres Leches Cake ($3.25), fried ice cream ($3.25), or sips of a domestic ($2.75) or imported ($3) beer.
Fiesta Mexican Grill's chefs dish up generous portions of authentic Mexican classics. Dinner combinations serve to assault taste buds with a cornucopia of different textures and flavors, as duos such as enchiladas and tacos arrive in time to battle their alter egos, chile poblano and enchiladas, and stop them from destroying the moon. Lunch ushers in similarly crafted pursuits, as chile poblanos, tacos, and burritos vie for placement next to beans and rice, with sightings of guacamole salad. Mouths anxiously awaiting the arrival of satisfying entrees can step away from the edge with appetizers such as guacamole, cheese, or bean dips, while nachos available in different toppings send tiny tortilla planes to taxi on tarmac tongues.
Upon walking through the front door at Antigua Real, diners are immersed in colorful artwork and decorations that personify the Latin cultures the chefs draw from for their dishes. The hallway leading to the main dining room surrounds guests in a vibrant mosaic, and art pieces from Central America cover the walls, save for the space taken by the lit fireplace and one coin-sized hole that reveals another dimension. One would think that the allure of the dining room would steal the attention, but Antigua's chefs ensure their menu of spicy dishes prepared to authentic Mexican standards, or inspired by the flavors of Spain, Cuba, and the Caribbean, steals the show. Eclectic flavor combinations, such as savory chili sauces dusted with roasted almonds, tease taste buds into wanting more. A lounge area with a full bar also entices guests to stop in after stressful days and enjoy smoothies and milkshakes.
Senor Tomas’s dining room—aptly titled the Blue Room—houses walls, tables, and chairs blanketed in blue hues and golden suns inspired by the art of Frida Kahlo. The Alarcon Family complements their eatery’s festive decor with an eclectic menu of family burrito, enchiladas, and fish recipes. Guavas grown in a volcanic region are churned into a paste and infused with ginger before chefs slather the sauce over salmon or tilapia for a burst of flavor. They also grill steak over an open flame and douse the slab in a roasted ranchero sauce to stuff into the el ranchero burrito. After meals, patrons can wander into the adjacent room and gaze at the work of local artists and crafts from Latin America, or take a short hot-air-balloon ride upstairs to the café and sip margaritas and custom martinis.
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.