If you walk into Cafe Salsa at the right time, you might see a patron or two wearing a colorful sombrero. They didn?t dress up just to show their love for Mexican food though?the restaurant makes sure that every birthday boy and girl wear their festive headwear while they dig into their celebratory cake. This playful sense of fellowship permeates every corner of Cafe Salsa, with delicious, hefty margaritas accompanying a sprawling menuof Mexican classics such as tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas. Behind the bar, an impressive collection of fine tequilas offer guests something a little stronger to knock back or fill glasses to the perfect height to attract those people who sip cocktails on the backs of magazines.
Even before the food arrives, El Picante Mexican Grill transports diners south of the border with its bright yellow walls, multicolored tablecloths, and colorful murals depicting Mexican life. Then, guests dig into homestyle eats, such as enchiladas with three different sauces, housemade guacamole, and poblano peppers stuffed with seafood and doused in mole sauce. Even the mezcal is authentic—it's made in Mexico and comes with an agave worm, instead of a piece of spaghetti.
Beginning in Chicago more than four decades ago, Pepe's Mexican Restaurant now offers up a full menu of classic Mexican flavors throughout Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Tortilla-wrapped entrees such as the chorizo quesadilla ($7.50) or the stuffed-taco dinner ($2.65–$3.45) wrap their floury shells around a choice of meat, veggies, and spicy sauces to create dishes flavorful enough to make the mouths of Mount Rushmore water. Broiled steak serves as the centerpiece for fajitas ($13.75), which arrive to tables on a sizzling platter surrounded by sautéed spanish onions, tomatoes, and a colorful assortment of bell peppers. Velvety moles coat tender boneless chicken breast for the spicy chicken en mole ($10.50). Meals conclude with bites of creamy, caramelized flan ($3.50), which sate cravings for a decadent meal-ending treat without coating the check in chocolate.
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.
CiNe couldn't be planted more firmly in the heart of Hinsdale. Standing right across from the Metra station, it fills what used to be the Hinsdale Theater, a movie house built in 1925 when everyone still communicated via title card, and Renaissance Revival architectural features including the custom molding and brickwork remain.
The starring attraction, however, is something a little different for the neighborhood: contemporary takes on taqueria cuisine and other shareable Latin bites, including ceviches. The chefs fill the menu with house-made tamales, fajitas, and a yogurt-enhanced guacamole that "creates a symphony of Latin flavors," according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Tacos are carefully composed, including a veggie version filled with chipotle-spiced potato croquettes and roasted corn relish.
Even with all the historical accents, the dining room exudes a thoroughly modern vibe. Bright orange glass orbs dangle around the massive palm tree sculpture dominating the center of the dining room, and flat-screen TVs light up a few of the walls.
Each week, Salseria’s staff squeezes more than 1,000 limes, collecting the juice necessary for the margaritas they make fresh everyday. The drinks, along with sangria, beer, and more than 40 types of tequila, complement a selection of Mexican food that includes staples such as burritos and tamales. Salseria also honors local Mexican neighborhoods with dishes such as specially seasoned tacos inspired by Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. The restaurant’s signature salsas and seasonings—which flavor grilled eats such as carne asada, shrimp, and chicken with mole sauce—range from mild to hot, in order to accommodate all reckless to anxious taste buds.