Tapas-style Mexican cuisine in West Chicago
Al Arroz Verde
Many Mexican restaurants offer such predictable (read: safe) menus that it’s hard to distinguish one from the other.
But that’s not the case with Al Chulo Restaurant in West Chicago.
Thanks to the creative instincts of chef-owner Roberto Avila and his associates, Al Chulo is in high gear as its first anniversary draws near. The 60-seat restaurant offers bold flavors in a classy but comfortable environment where the service is impeccable and two can dine for less than $40, excluding alcohol.
While tacos, freshly made guacamole and ceviche are familiar menu items, at Al Chulo these dishes stand out. Diners call it tapas-style with a twist. High-quality ingredients make a difference, as do unexpected garnishes such as microgreens.
A recent meal at Al Chulo started with a shareable order of al arroz verde. Poblano chilies imparted a green-flecked appearance to the rice. Other components of the dish that add flavor included creamy corn, Chihuahua cheese, sour cream and epazote, a popular Central American herb that imparts a touch of muskiness.
A perfect mélange of flavors awaits diners who try al esquite (roasted corn). This savory dish, prepared in chicken broth, brings together serrano peppers, onions, epazote and queso Cotija, an artisan cow’s milk cheese.
Both of these small plates would partner well with tortilla chips.
Eight seductive versions of soft tacos (four to an order) are available, with fillings varying from marinated pork tenderloin, to beer-battered tilapia, to pan-seared lemon herb chicken.
Especially tasty was the fundido — large shrimp sautéed with garlic, Chihuahua cheese, pickled red onion and cilantro-lime oil. Al Chulo’s interpretation of this classic is hard to resist.
A disk of fried masa (ground maize) forms the base of al sope which, at first glance, brings to mind an unusually thick tortilla with a vegetable and meat topping. The campechano at Al Chulo is served three per order and has chipotle bean puree, shredded skirt steak, homemade chorizo, sour cream and salsa — a delicious package. Only a single dessert was on offer, but it was a welcome one. Flan, the lightly sweetened egg custard, ranks as a traditional favorite.
Al Chulo — its name loosely translates to “good looking” — has a full bar with a number of tequilas ready to make your acquaintance. Servers can walk diners through the drinks list; beside margaritas, mojitos and sangria, take time to discover the specialty cocktails.
Customers sit at banquettes and tables in Al Chulo’s light, airy and high-ceilinged dining room. As the place fills up, be prepared for the decibel level to escalate proportionately.
Two sister restaurants — Altiro Latin Fusion in Geneva and Chicago — also tempt diners with a variety of tasty small-plate choices. A fourth is expected to open in Oak Park this spring.
1400 S. Neltnor Blvd., West Chicago
Al fundido (taco)
Al campechano (sope)
$6 to $8
Shareables: $6 to $11
Mon - Thur 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Fri - Sat 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Full bar, parking, reservations. Other locations: Altiro Latin Fusion in Geneva, Chicago and coming to Oak Park