A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Upscale Mexican

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Upscale Mexican

Alex and I both love Mexican food. Lucky for us, there are a ton of restaurant options here in Chicago serving up everything from casual a la carte tacos on the go to Michelin-rated high end cuisine. There is definitely something for everyone in this city!

Previously I have told you about some of our favorite more low key options like Taco Joint, Antique Taco, and Big Star. Today, I want to focus on finer Mexican dining. These two restaurants are great choices if you're looking for Mexican flavor in a more upscale environment. Buen provecho!

West Town

You would never know it from its unassuming location in Chicago's up and coming West Town neighborhood or from the casual atmosphere of this cozy restaurant, but Mexique is kind of a big deal. First off, it was awarded a Michelin Star, so you know it has to be good. Additionally, Executive Chef Carlos Gaytan is one of the few remaining competitors on this season of Bravo's Top Chef. The restaurant has been on my radar for a long time, but after watching Chef Gaytan's progress on the show I figured that we'd better stop in before he wins (??) and reservations become more scarce. Well, we went and it was quite a treat... we even had a Chef Gaytan sighting that night!

The menu at Mexique is described as Mexican-French fusion. It's definitely not your standard taqueria, but classic Mexican flavors and ingredients really dominate the menu here. They do offer a tasting menu, but Alex and I decided to order a la carte during our visit.

We started with drinks and Alex was excited to see that Mexique serves several of local brewery 5 Rabbit Cerveceria's beers here. We also shared two small plates: One more for Alex and another, more for me. Alex's choice was the Tinga de Pollo, delicious and spicy little bite size chicken tostadas. The chicken was super tender and flavorful and these were perfect little bites.

For our second small plate, I chose the Betabel. It was a really lovely deconstructed salad made up of sweet and creamy honey mascarpone, roasted beets, beet "guacamole," and a little orange-flavored foam on the side. Roasted beets and creamy cheeses like mascarpone are a great marriage to begin with, but the additional flavors and textures incorporated here really elevated this simple small plate.

The entrees at Mexique were really special. Alex opted for their version of surf & turf (a.k.a. Mar & Tierra): perfectly cooked pork belly and smoky seared scallops over a vibrant celery root puree with hibiscus glaze. He inhaled the whole plate very quickly!

As soon as I spotted the pork entree on the menu, I pretty much knew I was ordering it. When our waiter recommended it as one of his top picks then it was a done deal. It was incredible. Pork cheek was rubbed in a chile and cocoa mixture and cooked until it was fork tender and served in a delicious rich mole sauce. To make it even better, the pork was served over pumpkin risotto with a side of Brussels sprouts and some pickled butternut squash. The flavor combination was amazing and this dish alone is worth another trip to Mexique.

And then we had to end our meal with a little something sweet. That night Mexique was featuring a special holiday- inspired dessert that we decided to share: a flourless chocolate cake served with eggnog ice cream and macerated strawberries. It was rich, but the perfect size for sharing after a filling meal. And I don't even like eggnog, but the homemade ice cream really shined and was my favorite part of the dessert.

Overall, it was a wonderful meal and experience-- upscale, but not pretentious and a take on Mexican cuisine that you won't find anywhere else in the city.
Mexique on Urbanspoon

Cantina Laredo
River North

I have walked by Cantina Laredo several times since it opened about a year and a half ago and have wanted to give it a try. It is actually one of a chain of restaurants specializing in modern Mexican cuisine. The menu isn't the only modern aspect of Cantina Laredo though. The look and feel of the restaurant is the first thing that will really strike you when you walk into this place. The foyer is tall and glassy with this amazing sleek staircase that made the architect in me squeal a little. It is quite well done and makes a great statement in the entry. But enough about the stairs. Let's talk about the food, shall we?

My family was visiting recently and one of my little sisters is a big Mexican food fan and requested that we have that for dinner one night. So, I obliged and looked for a restaurant that was nice, but not super fancy and that had a pretty varied menu so that we could find something for everyone. Cantina Laredo fit the bill-- and we really enjoyed our meal here. We started out by sharing some of the fresh guacamole that they whip up tableside according to how spicy you like it. We were so famished that I forgot to take a picture of the guacamole, but I did get a shot of the tableside dessert prep. They're all about presentation here, which is super fun.

For my entree, I ordered the Enchiladas Veracruz. I'm a huge fan of enchiladas-- especially when they're made with quality tortillas and a fresh sauce. These enchiladas were filled with chicken, spinach, and cheese in a delicious tomatillo verde sauce. The filling was perfect and the whole thing was super spicy, but topped with a cool crunchy Mexican-style veggie slaw which rounded the whole thing out perfectly. The enchiladas were served with a side of rice and sauteed zucchini, which was a nice and light alternative to the heavy black beans (that I love) that you typically see.

And if you have any room after the guac, queso, and enchiladas then you should probably try a dessert here. Because they are pretty amazing. The nice thing about going with a few people is that you can order several desserts to sample among the table. We ordered a Mexican apple pie, a Mexican brownie, and my favorite: the mango tres leches cake. I love a tres leches cake to begin with, but the addition of floral fruity mango sauce here was so perfect with the rich cake.

Cantina Laredo is a great place for a girls' night out, to bring a big group, or for a date night that will impress, but isn't too uppity.

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon


  1. I first visited Mexique during Restaurant Week last year -- I loved everything, but the Tinga de Pollo really made me happy. I definitely need to get back there soon! http://preview.tinyurl.com/nyedts8

    1. I'm ashamed that it took me so long to try it. It was so good! And agreed, would order the Tinga again in a heartbeat. But Starr, the pork and pumpkin risotto... wow! Try it next time!

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  3. Your description of the food you got served at the Mexican restaturants makes me wish that I lived there too and could one day try these out!!

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