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Sea It to Believe It

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What’s up, foodie adventures!  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  I know it has been too long between posts, and I really do apologize.  However, summertime in Chicago can make a man very busy, busy but very hungry.  Naturally, my stomach loves to roam from country to country, but somehow it always manages to roll south of the border to get that sweet sweet Mexican food.  Luckily the Chicagoland area has plenty to offer in terms of Latino cuisine, and Casa Margarita in La Grange is a competent, but not extraordinary, representative of tex-mex cooking.

I’ve had my fair share of Mexican food whether that be in the form of enchiladas or tacos at better restaurants, but Casa Margarita is a middle of the road establishment overall when it comes to la comida mexicana.IMG_3316  It has both indoor and outdoor seating which served us perfectly on the beautiful evening we visited Casa Margarita.IMG_3314IMG_3315  While it allowed us to people watch and make friends with plenty of meandering poochies, that was also the downside since they crowded too many tables on the sidewalk.  Plus, their round tables didn’t allow for my mom, dad, and I to sit comfortably.  It would be a better experience if they utilized square tables.  While sitting down at the table, we also noticed that it was taking quite awhile to bus off our table.  My mom noted the “Help wanted” sign in the window, so that explained everything.  Luckily our waitress was a superwoman who seemed to be doing ten different things at once while still being quite cheerful.  Perhaps it was the delirium of running all over the place though.  Either way, she made up for the shorthanded staff by hustling and starting us with the typical complimentary basket of tortilla chips.IMG_3317  They thankfully weren’t super salty, and the salsa was more of a smoky, peppery salsa that was a welcome change from the typically bland, tomato salsas provided with the Latino version of the bread basket.IMG_3318  They had a full drink menu including wines, beers, non-alcoholic beverages, and surprise surprise, margaritas!  I started with a Pacifico beer ($5) since I was in the mood for a lighter beer.  This Mazatalan brew was a clear but uninspired lager that was jazzed up with a spritz of lime juice.IMG_3320  The Mexicans aren’t exactly known for their beer culture beyond the uber-popular (personally, I think gross) Coronas, and the Pacifico was a pedestrian compliment to my main platter.IMG_3323  Their menu is extensive complete with appetizers, soups, seafood, chicken dishes, beef platters, fajitas, and tacos to name a few sections.  I went with the fish tacos ($8.50).  Why fish tacos?  Well, I’ve heard many good things about them, and I’m all about trying new foods.  I’m not the biggest seafood guy, but I decided to make the plunge.  Before I began my deep-sea culinary adventure, our waitress came out with mini-bowls of chicken soup.IMG_3324  Overall, I was more of a fan of the broth than the ingredients since the “chicken” seemed like an odd intermediary between tuna and chicken. IMG_3326 I know the former is known as the latter of the sea, but I’d prefer my meat to taste like what its advertised as.  When they came out, the tacos looked quite delicious, and this book’s cover adequately represented what was under the surface.IMG_3327IMG_3328  While the tortillas weren’t as corn-laden as I expected, they were light and strong enough to keep in all of the delicious flavors.  The plentiful pieces of grilled Tilapia were buried underneath a refreshing, tangy pico de gallo and a drizzling of a slightly spicy guacamole sauce.  Taken all together, the fish gave the taco plenty of body with a clean flavor that was further embellished by the aforementioned latin elements.  I requested some hot sauce to jazz up the tacos and satisfy my need to feel a kick in the old tastebuds.  They indulged me with two of my favorite hot sauces. IMG_3336 The red Tapatio (Spanish for someone from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco in Mexico) sauce is moderately spicy with a slightly more sour flavor compared to the fiery Yucateco sauce.IMG_3334  This verdant sauce from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico ratchets up the Scoville units with that hellish heat synonymous with habanero peppers. IMG_3333 While they’re not like the ulcer-inducing fritters I tried at Salvador Molly’s, it will drop a lighter on your tongue and walk away while putting on its sunglasses and listening to your tastebuds exploding in a ball of flame.  These two condiments took this plate to another level.  I also used them to enhance the dry Mexican rice on the side and the dreary refried beans.  I also tried a bit of my mom’s shredded beef enchiladas.  IMG_3330While I’m more of a fan of cheese enchiladas, these juicy beef strings were quite succulent.IMG_3335  By the end, I was stuffed and satisfied with my mouth-watering tacos and topped off the night with a visit to my friend in the neighborhood, Truffles the bear at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.IMG_3341

As I said at the beginning of the post, there are plenty of better Mexican restaurants in the Chicagoland area, but if you’re in the La Grange area, you might as well try Casa Margarita’s fish tacos.

Casa Margarita on Urbanspoon

Livin’ La Vida Salsa

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Once again in my quest for exotic and authentic cuisine from all around the world, I arrived at Taco Grill which is located at 111 West Ogden Avenue, Westmont, IL.  I’ve been going there for years now, and it truly is one of the hidden gems of the Western suburbs for authentic Mexican food and beverages.  At first sight, it may seem to just be a Latino version of a greasy spoon diner:

Ground Zero for Comida Buena (Good Food)

However, when you get inside it is quaintly decorated with Mexican pottery on the walls and various painting from Mexican artists.  It has the warmth of a family owned restaurant and not the cold, plastic feeling that you just walked into a corporate  Mc-taco chain restaurant.  The staff is always cheerful and willing to explain anything on the menu if the description doesn’t do the dish justice.  There is plenty of variety in terms of selection such as:  tacos, tortas, huaraches, enchiladas, and tamales.  All of these dishes can also be made vegetarian for anyone who has specific dietary restrictions.  I normally order either the enchiladas verdes with cheese or the tacos al pastor (tacos with a type of pork roasted on a spit with pineapple mixed into the meaty melange).  However, one day was certainly different in terms of the taco filling I chose.

My inner culinary daredevil was scanning the menu when I saw that they had tacos de lengua (roughly $7 for three)…or for those who don’t habla the espanol, lengua=beef tongue.  I was pretty nervous when ordering the tongue tacos because I was wondering whether or not they would chop up the tongue to make it a bit more palatable or would I end up having to French kiss my taco in order to eat it?  During the waiting time, I paid a visit to the most comprehensive salsa bar I have ever seen in a Mexican restaurant.  There are over 20 different types of toppings ranging from the mildest pico de gallo to some sauces/relishes that would call for a colostomy bag for those uninitiated to spicy foods.  Personally, I always go for the XXX.5 or the XXXX (the spiciest) salsas, a salsa verde (green sauce) and queso fundido (melted cheese), respectively.

Upon sitting down at my table, like clockwork, the staff brought the complementary, bottomless tortilla chips that are warm from the oven and are a great bargain/compliment to the freshly made salsas.  I must emphasize that the amount of food that you get at this establishment is definitely inversely proportional to the price as I soon found out when I was face to face with my tacos de lengua.

Who knew tongue tacos would be finger licking good?

Thankfully they diced up the beef tongue into small cubes, but at the same time it was quite a shock to still see the taste buds on the individual pieces of meat (quite a surreal experience).  As shown in the picture, the tacos also had chopped onions and a good amount of cilantro with a slice of lime to provide a nice zesty aftertaste.  The actual flavor of the tongue was quite savory which I would liken to a rich hamburger, but I think eating such a meal is more of a test of mind over matter due to the texture of the meat.  I have found that many American consumers are turned off by the mere texture of a dish, i.e. the chewiness of the tongue in this case, which may not be the same problem in other cultures.  It was aptly summed up by Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain, “If the typical American eater has to chew the food more than three times, then it will be labeled as being gross”.  To compliment the tacos, I got a jarritos tamarindo (tamarind is a common flavoring in Latin America which I can only liken to a variant of iced tea flavor) which is soft drink commonly found  in Mexico.  By the time I finished, I was stuffed, satisfied, and thinking about my next adventure as a gourmand.

So many flavors…so little time

So if you’re tired of getting the typical bland burrito bowls from Chipotle or the guilty pleasures from Taco Bell’s late-night drive through (though you can never go wrong with the cinnamon twists), hurry on over to Taco Grill in Westmont for simple, authentic, but delicious food at pedestrian prices.  This establishment truly is a testament that you should not judge a restaurant solely on its paint job.

In Mexico we have a word for sushi:  bait.”  ~José Simons

Taco Grill & Salsa Bar on Urbanspoon

Taco Grill & Salsa Bar on Foodio54

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