February 25, 2013
Who eats: Business folks, West Loop neighbors
Why eat: Great Mexican food, moderately priced
Ambience: With its hardwood floors, wooden seats and benches backed by what appear to be headboards, De Cero oozes a simple, rustic feel. The walls are adorned with brightly decorated skulls and splashes of color. There's nothing formal about the place, but it is upscale enough that conducting business there would not feel uncomfortable. It draws a young, urban crowd.
Dress code: Mostly casual business attire but there were a few suits.
Noise factor: When the dining room is packed (which seems to be often) it can be pretty loud, the din of conversation bouncing off the wood with nothing to soften the sound.
Overheard: "I'm trying to get more work on retainer."
Service: It took a while for our server to take our order, and when he did, it took even longer for the food to arrive. He saved the day by recognizing that things were taking too long and offered us chips and a free bowl of tomatillo verde salsa. He was far from touchy-feely but seemed to know the menu well. And the employee who cleaned our table was incredibly nice, asking us repeatedly if we enjoyed our food.
Cellphone reception/Wi-Fi: Full cell
Reliable options: Though six entrees were listed, our server told us only one was available for lunch: ancho chile & rosemary peach chicken barbacoa ($10.75). Like the rest of the menu, it had just the right amount of spicy kick without being overpowering. The chicken could have been roasted a bit longer ¿ the meat didn't quite fall off the bone ¿ but it was tasty. The guacamole ($7.75) was filled with big chunks of avocado and accompanied by perfectly salty house-made chips. The stars , however, are the tacos, which come in more than a dozen varieties, from chipotle chicken to battered shrimp to black bean. We tried the platter of eight, ($28), a sampling of four varieties. All were excellent, including the duck confit tacos, which were stuffed with succulent duck and corn salsa, and battered catfish, bathed in spot-on Mexican slaw. The chorizo sausage tacos were also fantastic and lacked the greasiness sometimes associated with chorizo. Even better, the taco platter came with a choice of three salsas. The tomatillo verde was probably the best thing on the table, a bright green sauce that was almost creamy, with a fire that builds slowly. We also tried the combo of three tamales ($10.25) all of which were solid, but not quite on par with the tacos. The pulled pork tamale was the best of the group, the soft cornmeal casing packed with rich, tender pork.
Expect to pay: $15-$20 per person
Contacts: decero.hellotacos.com; 312-455-8114
-- Jon Yates