Mario Dovalina and Edwin Ptak established the original Pepe's Mexican Restaurant in 1967 in order to satisfy diners craving authentic Mexican dishes. With more than 40 locations in the Chicagoland area and northwestern Indiana and traditional eats that are sold across the United States and even in Mexico, Pepe's appeases a wide audience with its hearty options. Appetizers such as chips and fresh guacamole made daily or chili con queso ready bellies for veggie burritos bursting with seasonal vegetables. Flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports games or ballerina-wrestling matches dot the spacious walls at many of the chain’s casual eateries, keeping diners in their seats long after their shrimp, pork, or vegetable fajitas are finished.
Framed between two neon cacti, La Quesadilla Mexican Grill's imposing sign leads the way into a nexus of Mexican staples crafted from family recipes. Tortilla shells bundle meats, veggies, and seafood into tacos and burritos that share plate space with grilled 16-ounce T-bone steaks and chicken fillets. Glasses of house-made horchata and sangria dot the casual eatery’s booths and tabletops, and 12 different desserts, such as deep-fried sopapillas dusted with cinnamon, cap off meals better than an edible mortar board.
Miguel Mexican Fusion Grill's chefs combine international dishes and Mexican zest into a fusion menu. Diners can whet appetites with mexican egg rolls, filled with refried beans, chorizo, and cheese ($6), then forge ahead to sautéed shrimp skinny dipping in garlic-butter-lime sauce ($15), their shrimp suspenders and top hats abandoned in the kitchen. Steak-fajita fanatics can pack the carne asada's tortillas with a mélange of meat, sautéed onion, and red and green poblano pepper, topped with a shot of tequila for flavor ($13). Like a dozen identical children, a dozen homemade tamales ($15) are hard to take care of alone, but brave patrons can try. Little ones can order from a menu for visitors 10 years old and younger, and diners can nibble at their leisure from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. or later Thursdays-Saturdays.
Jalapeños Grill's open kitchen and terra-cotta-colored walls please patrons' scanners, and authentic south-of-the-border dishes treat tongues to sweet and spicy flavors. Diners polish taste buds with appetizers such as shrimp vallarta, sautéed jumbo shrimp hot tubbing in chipotle-honey-mustard sauce and melted cheese ($10.99).
El Salto remolds entrenched notions of Mexican fare by twisting traditional recipes into modern from-scratch displays of fresh ingredients. Peepers rove over a large menu that features house specialties such as the burrito California, swollen like a windsock in Tornado Alley, with chicken ($9.25) or grilled steak ($10.50) and garden-reaped fixings. A freshly minted culinary brainchild, the tocino camaron platter clatters to tables with a house sauce and generous serving of seared shrimp bound in bacon manacles ($10.25).
For more than 30 years, owner Art Trevino has loaded tables in Cilantro's dining room and patio with a menu of traditional family recipes. One of 11 children, Art learned to cook and precisely divide a taco into 11 segments alongside his siblings in their mother's bustling kitchen. Veggies add a hint of virtue to platters of cheesy burritos, steak, and chicken in options such as seafood-stuffed portabella mushrooms and chiles rellenos. A bright purple bar marqueed by garlands of colored lights pours 16-ounce "Mugaritas," house-made sangria, and a list of anejo and reposado tequilas designed for sipping through the finest cactus straws.