March 13, 2013
Who eats: Mostly businesspeople and a few tourists.
Why eat: This recently opened Near North outpost of the Dallas-based chain draws big crowds at lunchtime by serving up moderately priced, upscale Mexican food.
Ambience: Sleek and modern, the massive space at State and Illinois streets oozes hip. Walls of stone, brick, wood and marble create a bright if somewhat sterile atmosphere. Gas fireplaces sprinkled throughout add some much-needed warmth. Black booths and chairs surround polished wood tables. A bar in the middle serves mojitos, margaritas and all manner of tequila.
Dress code: There were plenty of folks clad in business wear on a recent Wednesday, but you won't feel out of place in jeans and a shirt.
Noise factor: It's a tad noisy, with jazzy music playing overhead and the din of conversation creating a bit of a buzz.
Overheard: "Someone just emailed me and said the executive producer -- is terrible and needs to be let go."
Service: Our server was all business -- in a good way. He was unabashed about what dishes were his favorites and promised that any item on the menu could be customized to our tastes. Food was delivered hot and fast, and the server was attentive but unobtrusive. He stopped by our table several times to check on us, but we never felt rushed, or that he was trying to make us order more.
Cellphone reception/Wi-Fi: Full cellphone reception and Wi-Fi.
Reservations: Can be made at 312-955-0014 or at opentable.com.
Menu: Mexican, ranging from the ordinary (fajitas, tacos, enchiladas) to the more adventurous (quail with apple-pecan stuffing topped with plum sauce, or homemade tamales filled with brisket, artichoke, sauteed spinach, red pepper and cheese).
Reliable options: The Top Shelf Guacamole ($9.99) is made at your table by a server wheeling around a guacamole cart. You decide what ingredients are included, and the server cuts the avocado, adds the vegetables, peppers and spices, and mixes it up while you watch. Ours was delicious and plentiful. The Carnitas ($13.99) included two large bone-in pork shanks, slow-cooked and extremely tender. They were topped with chipotle-wine sauce and served with rice and cooked zucchini. Other popular items include the Tacos De Pescado ($13.99) which included three mahi-mahi fish tacos, topped with marinated vegetables, queso fresco and chipotle aioli. The tacos were flavorful and had a slight kick. The Enchilada De Carmones ($11.99) was one large enchilada stuffed with shrimp, cheese and vegetables and topped with a sour cream poblano sauce. It looked almost too pretty to eat, but we did. For dessert, the Mango Tres Leches ($7.29) was delicious, but not as dense as many tres leches cakes.
Expect to pay: $40-$60 for two.
Contacts: 312-955-0014, or cantinalaredo.com.
-- Jon Yates