Zocalo Restaurant and Tequila Bar prides itself on updating the traditional flavors of Mexico. Adding to the wide-ranging menu of food and dessert are over 130 tequilas and mezcal, while the wine list, surprisingly and happily, lists not a single wine from the U.S.A., making it more likely you'll be drinking something you haven't tried before! The only bummer is the list has no Mexican wines, an unfortunate oversight. I was also pleasantly surprised that Zocalo has a "Plato Vegeteriano" listed as a regular option.
Zocalo Chicago is located in the River North area of Chicago, within a few blocks of a beautiful park on the Chicago River. Earn your dinner by taking a walk to the park and around this humanly-scaled neighborhood, then opt to sit inside or out for good food and drinks.
The restaurant is beautifully designed, with both homey and industrial touches throughout. The decorations range from empty bottles arranged in rows to milagros to folk art paintings in the Mexican idiom, with dark wood furniture and blankets for curtains. Though a bit dark, it has a very relaxing and comfortable vibe for relaxing throughout the meal.
Course 1: I started with the Casteller Cava (Spain), while Laima opted to try the organic margarita, both excellent choices. The Trio de Guacamole came first: a typical guac, a spicier version, and a fruity option were paired with corn, malanga, and plantain chips, each one complementing a particular guacamole.
Course 2: First up, Empanadas con Plátanos Fritos, a most unusual turnover which we've never tried before. Plantain dough was the unique aspect, with a tasty filling of black beans, cheese and fried plantains. I would have liked to see one more textural component to the dish, either crunchy or chewy, but good nonetheless. I continued my wine exploration with a Mapema Sauvignon Blanc (Argentina), tasty and tart, like many I've tried from South America. The Ensalada con Queso de Cabra is a salad well-worth ordering, with myriad textures and flavors.
Course 3: Along with her Tacos en Cazuela (choice of 3 tacos: Barbacoa, Cochinita Pibil, Tinga de Pollo, or Carne Adobaba), Laima ordered the Araucano Pinot Noir (Chile). I opted for the Plato Vegeteriano, that night a stacked pair of tostadas made up up of roasted veggies, chihuahua cheese, black beans and more, pairing it with the Tomero Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina). The Pinot was a perfect match for my vegetarian plate, and also complemented Laima's trio of tacos, a versatile wine. Equally tasty was the Cabernet, which we both agreed also stood on its own, not just with the food.
Course 4: Dessert was the Mexican Dessert Platter, a choice of three desserts from their menu. We ordered the Crepas de Cajeta (caramelized apple crepes), Pastel de Chocolate (flourless chocolate cake), and Churros y Champurado. Our server, who until that moment had performed flawlessly, accidentally brought the Pay de Queso (upside-down cheesecake) instead of the Pastel. When we informed him of the mistake, he immediately brought the Pastel for us to try. To our benefit, the Pay de Queso was one of our favorites -- while tasty, the Crepas were missing a textural component that would have elevated it above simply good.
Zocalo Chicago is worth the visit, be it for a casual outing with friends (Tuesday was half-price tequila night), a romantic dinner for two (as in our case), or a place to bring a large group. The restaurant is laid out to accomodate all of the above, along with a generous seating area in the bar. Recommended!
Disclaimer: This meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of Zocalo Restaurant. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.
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