With many kinds of food, there have been extensive discussions with opinions about most of the best restaurants in their category. However, up till now, I haven't seen a comprehensive topic on Mexican restaurants; as a result, it seems like a few of us are posting the same things over and over again. Therefore, I'm creating this topic in the hopes that others will reply with their input and it will become a comprehensive discussion for anyone looking for recommendations for Mexican food in the Chicago area. In addition to places I've already visited I'm including information about some places I haven't been to (yet!) in order to make the listings below as complete as possible. Public transit directions and information on reservations are also included where available. I hope others will add their own opinions and recommendations to this topic (even if they don't agree with mine!), on these restaurants as well as any others I may have missed.
I should also add that it's been fun looking through previous topics about Mexican restaurants, digging up new recommendations. After looking at those topics, and the menus on the corresponding restaurant websites where available, there are now a whole lot more places I'm looking forward to trying!
For purposes of simplicity, I'm excluding places specializing in tacos and/or tortas (sandwiches). We could create an entire, separate topic on those!
A NOTE ON CREATIVE/PROVINCIAL MEXICAN CUISINE
When we Chicagoans mention Mexican food to a lot of out-of-town visitors, their immediate reaction is "but I can get that at home". This is not necessarily true. Chicago has a lot of very creative Mexican cuisine, including regional/provincial Mexican foods, and many of these foods are not all that common in most American cities. We are not talking about conventional, common Mexican foods like enchiladas and carne asada (although we have plenty of those as well, the best of which are listed at the end of this post - and this is admittedly an arbitrary distinction). We are talking about places that have several different kinds of mole, that serve a lot of different kinds of seafood and sauces, and other items that you just don't find anywhere. For examples of some of the more unusual preparations, take a look at menus of the restaurants in the links to their websites below.
CREATIVE MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN AND NEAR "DOWNTOWN CHICAGO"
Several restaurants offer some of our most creative Mexican food, within an easy walk or a short cab/bus ride of the downtown areas where most of the large hotels are located.
Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
445 North Clark Street
Chicago IL 60610
The oldest and best-known of these are Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (sometimes simply called Frontera and Topo). These are sister restaurants, next door to each other, in River North. They are owned and run by Chef Rick Bayless, who won a James Beard Award this year for his contributions there. Topolobampo tends to be more expensive, although prices are somewhat similar at lunch. You can order from either menu at the bar at Frontera Grill. Topolobampo accepts reservations in advance, on opentable.com Frontera Grill does not take reservations well in advance, and seats most of its business on a first-come, first-served basis; waiting times can be long, particularly on weekends. Frontera Grill also accepts a small number of same-day reservations first thing in the morning. (I believe they start taking calls at 8:30 a.m.) Frontera Grill serves brunch on Saturdays. Both tend to be rather crowded and noisy. I like both of them; a majority of reports on Chowhound have been positive, but a significant minority have been disappointed, as you can read in previous extended discussions on these restaurants in the following topics:
1252 N. Wells St.
Chicago IL 60610
Salpicon is a very creative Mexican restaurant in Old Town, just north of the Michigan Avenue and Gold Coast areas. Reservations can be made at opentable.com I like it; a majority of reports on Chowhound have been positive, but a few folks have been disappointed.
1610 N. Wells Street (Old Town)
Chicago IL 60614
2005 W. Division Street (Wicker Park)
Chicago IL 60622
Shops on Butterfield
356 Yorktown Shopping Center
Lombard, IL 60148
Adobo Grill has several locations, including Old Town and Wicker Park, both of which are close to the downtown areas, and one in the western suburbs. Reservations can be made at opentable.com I like it okay, although not as much as Frontera/Topo or Salpicon.
CREATIVE/PROVINCIAL MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN OUTLYING CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOODS AND SUBURBS
Some of our best, most creative Mexican restaurants are located away from downtown Chicago, and can be inconvenient to get to without a car.
1590 S. Busse Road
Mt. Prospect IL
My very favorite Mexican restaurant in the entire Chicago area (heck, the best Mexican food I've had outside of Mexico) is Flamingo's Seafood, in suburban Mount Prospect, near O'Hare Airport. They specialize in Mexican seafood dishes, and always have a large number of daily specials in addition to their extensive regular menu. Last time I was there I had a grilled Chilean sea bass with guava habanero sauce and crushed pumpkin seeds that was to die for. (Unlike the appetizers and mains, which are fantastic, their desserts are okay but not great.) Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Located at Busse Road and Dempster, just north of Algonquin Road. From I-90 westbound, exit at York Road, go north to Algonquin, and turn left. From I-90 eastbound, exit at Arlington Heights Road, go north to Algonquin, and turn right. By public transit, take the Metra UP Northwest line to the Cumberland stop and catch the Pace #208 Golf Road bus, take it to S Busse Road, and walk south half a mile.
Sol de Mexico
3018 N Cicero Ave
Chicago IL 60641
Sol de Mexico is a small storefront restaurant on the northwest side. Many people extol its virtues, particularly for their wide selection of different moles. (Personally, I think their menu sounds great and very creative, but I just wasn't overwhelmed by the food. But hey, we don't have to all agree!) Sol de Mexico is closed on Tuesdays. By public transportation, you can take the west branch of the CTA's Green Line or Blue Line west to the Cicero stop and catch the #54 Cicero bus northbound, or the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line to the Cicero stop and catch the #54 Cicero bus southbound. Using a CTA fare card will enable you to get a low-priced transfer, rather than the separate fares that are charged when paying by cash. Those on the north side can also take the #77 Belmont bus or #76 Diversey bus to Cicero Avenue and walk to the restaurant. More transit info at www.transitchicago.com
Fonda del Mar
3749 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Started by a co-worker of Rick Bayless. Reservations accepted on its website. By public transportation, you can take the CTA's Red, Brown, or Purple Line to Fullerton and transfer to the #74 bus west to the restaurant. Using a CTA fare card will enable you to get a low-priced transfer, rather than the separate fares that are charged when paying by cash. It's also about a mile walk from the Logan Square stop on the Blue Line.
2558 N. Halsted St.
This is the latest restaurant from Geno Bahena, who formerly created Chilpancingo and Ixcapuzalco. It's in Lincoln Park, a short walk from the Fullerton stop on the CTA's Brown, Red, and Purple Lines. There's a report at www.chowhound.com/topics/374842
La Casa de Samuel
2834 W. Cermak Rd.
In Little Village, near the California stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
2753 West 55th Street, Chicago
In Gage Park. Take the CTA's Orange Line to Western and transfer to the #94 bus south to 55th Street.
120 North Genesee Street
Waukegan, IL 60085
One block from the Waukegan stop on Metra's UP-North Line.
San Gabriel Mexican Cafe
2535 Waukegan Rd (just south of IL-22 Half Day Road)
Bannockburn IL 60015
Started by Dudley Nieto, formerly of Adobo Grill. 3/4 mile south of the Lake Forest stop on Metra's MD-North Line, also served during commuting hours by Pace #622 bus from the Deerfield stop on that same Metra line.
700 Main St.
Evanston IL 60202
847 328 2255
I like Lupita's in Evanston a lot (as reported at www.chowhound.com/topics/402980 ), although I know that some here do not share that opinion. I particularly like the creative dishes they serve as weekly specials for lunch and dinner, rather than their more conventional regular menu. Portion sizes can occasionally be somewhat small. Around the corner from the Main Street stop on the CTA Purple Line, and right next to the Main Street stop on Metra's UP-North line.
17 West Campbell Street
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
One block from the Arlington Heights stop on Metra's UP-Northwest line.
5135 W 25th St.
Cicero IL 60804
Mayan cuisine from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. About one mile walk from the Cicero stop on the CTA's Pink Line, or transfer there to the #302 Pace bus to Laramie and 25th St.
20 East First Street
Hinsdale, IL 60521
One block from the Hinsdale stop on Metra's Burlington Northern Line.
410 W. State St.
Opened by Ricardo Garcia-Rubio, former owner of Tia Maria's. About a half mile from the Geneva stop on Metra's UP-West line.
AUTHENTIC, MORE CONVENTIONAL MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOODS AND SUBURBS
In addition to the restaurants noted above, there are many authentic, but more conventional, Mexican restaurants in Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. These include the following places:
1515 W. 18th St.
In Pilsen, near the 18th Street stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W 18th St
In Pilsen, near the 18th Street stop on the CTA's Pink Line.
700 W 31st St
In Bridgeport; take the CTA's Orange Line to Halsted, then walk a mile or transfer to the #8 Halsted St bus to W. 31st St.
Restaurante Cuetzala Gro
7360 N Clark St
In Rogers Park. Take the #22 Clark St bus from the Howard stop on the CTA's Red, Yellow, and Purple Lines.
La Casa de Isaac
431 Temple Avenue
Highland Park IL 60035
Across the street from the Highwood station on Metra's UP-North Line.
1116 Madison St
Oak Park, IL 60302
1/2 mile north of the Harlem stop on the CTA's Blue Line, or 1/2 mile south of the Harlem/Lake stop on the CTA's Green Line, or take the Pace #307 bus at either station.
700 Ruby St
I am assuming that this is the correct address, the one they moved TO about a year ago. (It's awfully hard finding correct information when a restaurant doesn't have a website!) If so, it's about two miles northwest of the Joliet station on Metra's Heritage Corridor and Rock Island lines, and you can only get about halfway there from the station by Pace bus (#831 to Ruby and Broadway).
You can find additional, extended discussions on Mexican food in particular parts of the area in the following topics: