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Restaurants & Bars 4

Cancun, Mexican Waldorf salad and other wonders

JeffB | Jun 5, 200311:30 AM

Before taking my small children for ice cream with a side of ironic, disaffected youth in the musty attic of forgotten toys that is Margie's, we stopped by the (apparently) new Mexican seafood specialist Cancun. It's on Western in the same stretch as Lazo's and Arturo's. The parking lot and the bright blue sign drew us in.

From what I can gather, this is a new concept for an old restaurant, Rosa's, I think. The decor is standard stuff for a certain kind of Mexican restaurant-- blindingly bright, shiveringly cold, clear plastic on the tables, ceramic tile on the floor, mirrors everywhere, and an impossibly loud and unpredictable Banda jukebox. Becomes a "night club" after hours. No big deal if the food is good (see Kermes, La Quebrada, et al.) But there are differences.

They have no beans. No meat. Little cheese. They are seafood specialists in a very strict sense. Maybe a dozen soups, eight or ten "cazuelas," mariscadas (the shellfish tour-de-force featured at La Quebrada), fish tacos in the mysteriously appealing Ensenada style (take note, Californians), "empanadas" (which are what they call quesadillas made w/ flour tortillas), chiles rellenos de mariscos (sounded like the best option, but were 86'd that night), and many, many permutations of shrimp, "mojarra" (you never really know, but it's us. not mojarra), and huachinango (snapper). Then there are the various cocktails, including both a Campechano and a Campechana, the difference apparently being oysters in the masculine form.

Sounds somewhat better than it is. The fish tacos and the shrimp empanadas were pretty good, and the Campechano had more than a fair share of fresh oysters. But there was krab everywhere as filler(cleverly spelled jaiva on the menu, the v fulfilling the selfsame role as the k in our ersatz krustacean).

Also, everything was swimming (ha) in butter. There must have been half a stick in the empanada alone. Pretty tasty, in a way, but seemingly more New England than Nuevo Leon. And everything came with "Mexican potato salad" a sweet, mayo-heavy concoction that featured apples, maraschino cherries and lima beans in addition to the potatoes. Lots of iceburg, too.

It seems that at some level, all of this must be quite authentic, as absolutely nothing and no one seemed oriented toward the possible gringo customer. Maybe this is the domestic Mexican version of something like Schaumberg Chinese, a dumbed-down, beach town, tourist trap cuisine the way the make it at the Shore somewhere in Mexico. No english spoken, no English menu. And beachside ambiance is multiplied by no fewer than 3 small children peddling chicle and other candies, and a quick-talking guy with a mobile silver jewlery display. (BTW, the classic Mexican beach scene with the same food/diversions -- empanadas from buckets, mango enchilada on a stick, cheap inflatable toys) happens here at Montrose Beach in warm weather, so get ready.)

I'd love to hear an explanation of this strange new (for me) cuisine.

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