WHERE: 1400 S. Neltnor Blvd. (Route 59), West Chicago, off Michael Browning Way, leading back to eastbound Route 38
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
DRESS CODE: Casual
Celebrating Mexican dishes on its own food pyramid with unexpected fusion twists is Changarro Cocina, a hidden gem in West Chicago well worth seeking out.
Like its stylized Aztec bird logo, it has a semi-hidden perch along Route 59 on the overpass above Roosevelt Road, tucked on the west side of a modern commercial building.
Inside the minimalist contemporary space is a tequila bar at the ready for Margaritas, Spanish wines and imported beer. Cocktails regularly are reinvented, and the menu shakes itself up with new specials like the recent duck confit tacos, pairing the French recipe with a Brazilian corn salsa.
But friends had recommended the grilled tilapia and guacamole tacos topped with threads of lime-infused red cabbage for a burst of bright flavor. It was delicious, and I'm just hoping the duck will be back on the menu soon for another visit.
A Chicago TV spot recently focused on Changarro's chicken enchilada soup, and I second the recommendation. I split a cup with my dining companion, discovering it to be a richly complex concoction of chicken, garlic, onions, sizzled corn, cheese and lusciously giant slices of ripe avocado in chicken stock flavored with enchilada sauce. It's just mildly spicy, which suited me to a tee on a snowy night.
The casual dining room feels airy with a high, industrial style ceiling, and warm color palette, with one wall accented with a straight line of luchador wrestling masks. In the evening, the tables are linen covered. Our server was friendly, efficient and knowledgeable about which dishes are vegetarian. The menu also pinpoints gluten-free items.
Launching the meal were complimentary chips and two wonderful salsas, including a creamy salsa verde with great mouthfeel and manageable kick.
We opened with a guacamole appetizer prepared more like a chopped salad than a traditionally mashed dip, and boasting generously sized chunks of avocado. The menu notes every order is made fresh, and it shows.
My dining companion tried Picadinho de Carne: Brazilian beef with carrots, green beans and bacon on homemade corn flatbread with chipotle beans, Chihuahua queso, cilanto, onions and sour cream.
"They have taken flatbread to a whole new level; I'm coming back," he said.
Every dinner menu item comes with a choice of black beans that are pork and bacon infused or pinto beans infused with chipotle pepper, both accented with shredded cheese. Also served is a choice of red or green rice, the former tomato based, while the latter, my preference, has a smoother texture and subtle broccoli base.
Our vegetarian friend ordered a hefty burrito bursting with artful layers of hot peppers, cheese, lettuce and tomato.
“This is a very nice burrito – well-balanced,” he said.
The menu includes an array of Mexican dishes and sandwiches, homemade tortillas and seafood, even an Angus, marinated burger with chipotle mayo. Specials are featured Thursday through Sunday.
Our server suggested we save room next time for the Brazilian passion fruit mousse, adding the chef is always planning something new and different.
The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Suburban Life Media. The diner's identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive dining experiences will result in published reviews.