While vacationing in Mexico, I received an invitation from Mike at Chicago Food Bloggers to participate in a tasting at Mezcalina, along with nine other food bloggers. I, of course, said “si!” in order to mentally extend my vacation. I had been to Mezcalina once before, shortly after it opened in September, 2012, and was happy to return as I was quite pleased with my first visit.
Located in Chicago’s Lakeshore East neighborhood, Mezcalina is often difficult to find for those that have not visited before. However, with the addition of Mariano’s, III Forks, Eggy’s Diner, and the up and coming GEMS World Academy, it is gaining a stronger foothold in the city.
Mezcalina highlights authentic dishes from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Puebla, Jalisco, and Yucatán, amongst others, using a variety of ingredients, including dried and fresh chiles, regional cheeses, and herbs and spices, such as epazote, hoja santa, and avocado leaves. Mezcalina offers more than 140 tequilas and over 70 mezcales, for those looking to imbibe.
Aside from serving great food, Mezcalina supports several non-profit organizations throughout Mexico by promoting Mexican artists of Oaxacan origin. As a result, the restaurant showcases 20 custom paintings on its own walls.
We were welcomed by Managing Partner Ulises Sanchez with an incredible Margarita Mezcalina. Featuring fresh lime juice and a very smooth tequila, this margarita brought me back to the beaches of Mexico.
Our meal then began with the requisite guacamole, chips and salsa. The guacamole, our version loaded with corn and carrots, lacked flavor and could have used some lime juice, but the salsas was bright and refreshing, with a bit of a kick.
Next came a trio of delicious offerings: elotes – corn on the cob covered in queso cotija, cream, chipotle sauce, and chile powder; tortilla soup; and a tequila and watermelon drink which was strong and refreshing. Of this trio, the elotes was my favorite. It was so delicious, I didn’t give two thoughts to the corn kernels stuck between my teeth as a result of digging right in. If only every picnic could serve this treat!
I also tried the satisfying frijol, or black bean soup, made with Mexican tea herbs, and topped with corn kernels.
We were then served two types of ceviche. The first featured mahi-mahi and octopus. I appreciated the sliced cucumbers alongside this dish in place of tortilla chips, but the flavors were muted and nothing stood out to me about this dish. However, the shrimp ceviche was delicious and one of my favorite offerings of the evening!
Mezcalina can adapt its menu to suit any dietary restrictions, and it artfully displayed its talents with a terrific half-vegan/half-vegetarian (one side had cheese while the other did not) flatbread, featuring refried beans, grilled zucchini, and baby spinach. It was wonderful and satisfying. Also offered was a creative version of a vegetarian chile relleno, featuring strips of roasted poblano peppers surrounding a mound of black beans, corn, and a wonderful tomato sauce, and topped with a light corn masa pancake.
We were then served a remarkable mango and tamarind drink that was equally flavorful as it was refreshing. On the rim of the glass sat juajillo pepper, which balanced beautifully against the sweetness of the drink.
The Botana Oaxaqueña is an appetizer platter featuring steak tasajo asado, chicken flautas, avocado-leaf seasoned refried black beans, and imported Oaxaca cheese, amongst other goodies. While I did not personally try any of these items in order to save myself for what was to come, they were quickly gobbled up by the others.
Fish lovers will be quite happy at Mezcalina, with four different seafood options. My favorites were the Camarones Yucatecos – annatto tiger shrimp with pumpkin seed green mole sauce, grilled vegetables and white rice, as well as the Filete de Huachinango – red snapper, chileajo, grilled vegetables, and white rice. Both dishes were cooked and seasoned perfectly. I could not get enough of either one.
While the Pulpo Chintextle – chile pasilla octopus with Mexican tea herb infused oil, and Mahi-Mahi Envuelto – mahi-mahi wrapped in pepper leaves, with pumpkin seed green mole sauce, were decent, they did not rise to the level of flavors that the shrimp and red snapper dishes offered.
My favorite drink of the evening was the Mijito – a mojito made with tequila instead of rum, along with spearmint, club soda, sugar, and lime. This one was dangerously easy to drink. Good thing we were served only tasting portions!
For the carnivores, Mezcalina offers an amazing array of entrees, including free-range chicken breast, Maple Leaf Farms duck breast, adobo pork steak, and lightly cured sirloin steak. The presentation of all of the dishes matched the thoughtful artwork on the restaurant’s walls. The exquisite mole sauces on the chicken and duck dishes were superb; some of the best I’ve tried in the city. And, the mashed sweet potatoes that accompanied the pork dish were completely addicting.
As if we had not already had enough, dessert was then served. We tried the Churros con Chocolate which were freshly fried, light, and heavenly, dipped into an Oaxacan milk chocolate sauce, in addition to the refreshing and moist flan. My favorite was the Sueño de Chocolate – warm flourless chocolate cake topped with a cool gelato. Good thing we were sharing or I would have devoured the entire thing, even after our gigantic meal.
Overall, my meal at Mezcalina was not only delicious, but it was fun. It was wonderful making new friends and meeting fellow food bloggers over a fantastic meal and warm hospitality. Like our experience, Mezcalina is great for groups of friends, or even a casual weeknight date spot. The food is fresh and flavorful and the drinks are thoughtfully created.
Special thanks to Daniela and Ricardo Viera of 2Views1Life for arranging our dinner, and for Ulises at Mezcalina for hosting us.
While my meal was provided gratis, like all of my Chritiques, the views expressed herein are my own.
333 W. Benton Place, Suite 100, Chicago 60601