Guacamole is serious business in our household. As a weekly staple within our dinner menu, it is safe to say that we unabashedly covet Mexican cuisine and often look to expound our acumen of local Mexican dining spots (especially ones that can captivate our two guac-obsessed, rambunctious kiddos). Fortunately, we’ve chosen the ideal time for a taco taste test as Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner.
A translation of ‘the fifth of May,’ Cinco de Mayo is a commemoration of the Mexican army’s significant victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. However, in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into an occasion celebrating Mexico’s heritage, culture and cuisine.
Now that we have a fuller scope of this unique day, let’s consider the ways to embrace the occasion with spirit, vigor, and yes, even margaritas.
73 Green Bay Road, Glencoe, IL
*Open for lunch & dinner
This small neighborhood spot earns its stripes with a huge menu, assortment of tequilas and attentive service. Any parent alive will appreciate the quickly delivered warm tortilla chips, gentle live guitar music (which intrigues my kids versus riling them up) and coloring kid menu with crayons. The guacamole starter with jicama is addictive and the Shrimp Soup is a spicy delight that can warm your bones on a chilly day. Vegetarian burrito, Skinny Margaritas and Carne Asada are our ordering usuals but don’t discount basics like quesadillas, which are excellent. Vegetarians take note, there are tons of options for you here.
1743 Orchard Ln, Northfield, IL
*Open for lunch and dinner
Just listen to these magical words: Taco take-out. When dinner needs to be grab-and-go, then GRAB your wallet and GO to Taco Nano. The menu offerings may be simple but the colorful zest of the restaurant and the flavor of the food are anything but. The guacamole is made to order, creamy and dotted with a lime twist. Parents will delight in the $2 quesadillas for easy kid eats. The Sea of Cortez taco is the standout with beer battered or blackened tilapia, cabbage slaw and chile morita mayo. Footprint of the restaurant is small so be mindful that lunch rush and dinner craze hours may snap up all of the minimal seating. Service is cheerful and empathetic: when my daughter flipped over a basket of chips, we were immediately assisted with fresh ones.
1139 Wilmette Avenue, Wilmette, IL
*Open for dinner
A nice match of scene and substance, Depot Nuevo can be a transportive experience. If you need the sun on your face, a Corona in hand and the light din of a suburban downtown, then head straight to the patio to dine alfresco. The extra crunchy tortilla chips are salty perfection and the drinks exotic (Elderflower margarita, anyone?), but entrees like the smoky salmon or grilled scallops caught the most attention coming out of the kitchen. The number of tequila offerings are gobsmacking so don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. When the place gets busy service can slow up but we didn’t mind because the environment was so vibrant and our kids were thoroughly entertained by it.
431 Temple Ave, Highland Park, IL 60035
*Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with limited hours on Friday (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) and Saturday (8:15 p.m.-11 p.m.)
Family is everything to the Nava family, who opened La Casa de Isaac in 2008 to bring authentic Mexican cuisine to Chicago’s North Shore. Naturally, ‘Mama’s Favorite Enchiladas’ are the best selling menu item. Expect to have your standards raised and your palette enlightened; La Casa de Isaac takes Mexican dining to new levels. Parents will adore the patio seating as it perfectly positions one across from the train station and children can marvel at the glow and zip of the Metra (but not in an unsafe way, trust). Sample the ahi tuna tacos, steak torta, chiles rellenos and the guacamole, decorated with aplomb in a molcajete.
1515 Sheridan Rd, Wilmette, IL
*Open for lunch and dinner
The deal is ‘locally sourced, crafted with love’ and Taco Lago gets a whole lot right with that motto. Located in the historic Plaza del Lago mall, Taco Lago brings an artisanal flair to Mexican cuisine. A vintage cooler holds soda bottles and water, stainless steel communal tables pepper the large entryway and the menu is scrawled on an enormous wall next to a giant fork and spoon. Parents will appreciate this set up so kids may sit amongst many and be social but bear in mind they only have two high chairs total so you may resort to perching a kiddo on your lap while going in for the very family style guacamole. At $9 an order, the quantity is staggeringly large (seriously, my family of four couldn’t finish it). Staff was warm and talkative, cocktails were served in mason jars and the artisanal tacos were sublime. This is your ideal spot for dining in large groups or meeting new friends across the communal dinner table.
770 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest, IL
*Open for dinner (but opening early at 11:30 a.m. for Cinco de Mayo)
Consistency is the key word with Authentico. Once you get into a groove with their $5 Margarita Monday, Sangria Sunday and comfortable, cozy atmosphere, it is easy to find your family making regular drop-ins. To start, opt for the Empanadas de Barbacoa or Elotitos (corn on the cob with mayonnaise, cheese and chili seasonings). Chef Antonio Gutierrez has perfectly crafted Authentico’s homemade corn tortillas made from fresh masa and maintains there is no comparison. Seating is plentiful with booth, table and al fresco which allows flexibility for families looking to get in a meal before bedtime chaos hits.