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.
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.
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.
Piñatas and Mexican-style fiber arts lend colorful bursts to the adobe-like walls of Taco Amigo, which have seen more than 25 years' worth of patrons enjoy Mexican eats between them. Chefs serve the classics such as burritos and tacos, with some truly unusual additions to the menu as well. Opuntia cactus and grilled chicken wallow in a red ancho and cheese sauce in the Nopalito con Queso. Jalapeno crème fraiche and dollops of melted cheese decorate the tender chicken of the arroz con pollo. Grilled shrimp and a coconut milk and tomato sauce rest atop the sizzling, mahi mahi-filled Livingston enchilada, served with a side of ripe plantains.