In America, Cinco de Mayo means enjoying Mexican food and sipping on (or gulping down) a few (or several) margaritas. However, Cinco de Mayo, which translates into May 5th in Spanish, is extremely misunderstood and is actually not Mexico’s independence day. Mexico celebrates its independence day on September 16th while Cinco de Mayo honors the Mexican army’s improbable victory over the French on May 5th, 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. It has certainly become an American holiday rather than Mexican. Regardless, it’s a fun day that gives countless Americans who have no idea what the day really means a chance to sample some delicious Mexican food, and drink Margaritas and Mexican beer to their heart’s content. So in honor of Cinco de Mayo 2017 it only makes sense that I review the latest Mexican restaurant I ate at, Cafe El Tapatio.
This medium sized Mexican restaurant sits in Chicago’s West Lakeview neighborhood, extremely close to the Paulina Brown Line L stop. The outside is pretty unassuming with an older neon lit sign displaying the restaurant’s name. Cafe El Tapatio’s interior is a lot of fun. The walls are painted different colors and lined with interesting Mexican trinkets and artwork.
My friend Andy and I were immediately seated without any wait as we were grabbing an early dinner after practice with our band, The Pestering Pheasants. Some fresh made, warm chips were served with a bowl of salsa that had to be one of my favorites I’ve had at a Mexican restaurant in Chicago. The salsa was just the right consistency, not too thick or soupy, and had a great level of heat to it that gave the sauce a terrific flavor without overbearing it with spiciness. Andy and I must have eaten at least two bowls of these chips as our hunger was like that of a pair of ravenous lions. While we did not order any margaritas, I saw plenty of other tables ordering them. They were massive and looked quite refreshing.
The service at Cafe El Tapatio was disappointing. Unfortunately, after 10 minutes of us sitting down no one had come to take our order. It took me asking a bus boy walking by to grab our eventual waiter to come and take our order. Later after our meal, the same issue took place in bringing our check over and taking our payment as well. The restaurant was not extremely crowded at this time so it is something I can’t really excuse. However, the food certainly made up for this lapse in service.
The menu is huge and it was difficult to decide between all the tasty looking tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and main dishes like carne asada. In the end both Andy and I went for quantity and quality due to our extreme appetite with the El Grandioso Burrito Suizo. The burrito included a ton of picadillo (beef hash) in a huge flour tortilla, stuffed with guacamole, sour cream, queso, beans, lettuce, and tomato. It was topped with a sweet salsa and melted queso Chihuahua, served with the standard rice and re-fried beans. The beef inside the burrito was extremely flavorful and had a slight kick to it that combined well with the other ingredients in the burrito. While I can’t say that I’ve explored the Mexican food scene in Chicago to its full potential yet, it is the best burrito I’ve had in the city thus far. I had to take home half of the burrito, but it warmed up perfectly the next day for a scrumptious lunch.
Overall, Cafe El Tapatio is a solid Mexican restaurant with multiple options that should satisfy everyone. It is located in a great part of town and has a colorful and fun ambience inside. Next time I head there I will try something new on their large menu and definitely indulge in a margarita. Here’s to hoping you enjoy your Cinco de Mayo and that you use it as a nice excuse to hang out with some friends and family over some strong margaritas!
-Michael Averbook, Foodie Extraordinaire