This uber-taqueria spices up the Chicago dining scene with an inventive menu of passionately created Mexican fare. In a hunkered down setting reminiscent of an old bandito hideaway, colorful Mexican tiles and the massive black and white photos of Mexican revolutionaries adorn adobe-colored walls. Chef Dudley Nieto dishes out time-honored Latin cuisine amplified by an urban panache that's sure to pique your curiosity.
Start with the dos tamales appetizer: two corn-wrapped spears, one stuffed with poblano peppers and fresh cheese, the other smothered in pumpkin seed mole. The shitake- and portobello-stuffed quesadilla del norte is another fine choice. Dripping with salsa and mild Chihuahua cheese, it's spicy and sweet and not likely to be served at the local pub during Bears games. Letting natural flavors shine, Neito goes easy on sauces, but servers are more than willing to bring some extra chipotle salsa.
Zapatista's entrees may look a little rustic, but it's easily one of the most eclectic displays of Mexican cooking in the city. Take, for example, the elegant salmon tikin-xic, a delicacy that boasts only a few ingredients (beans and jicama-papaya slaw) but is as unique as anything Rick Bayless has to offer. For $16.95, it may not be a steal, but it's well worth the price. Another solid, albeit pricey entree that is greater than the sum of its parts is the carne a la parilla: a 12-ounce grilled sirloin with guacamole, cilantro potatoes and chili sauce. On the lighter side, Zapatista offers several original salads the best of which is the aptly named, "chopped revolucion," which consists of chipotle chicken, beans and avocado.
Even quotidian meals excite. Fajitas are served in primordial stone pots and roasted tomato cascabel burritos find their niche next to tangy pico de gallo, both for less than $15. And like any good Mexican restaurant, Zapatista doesn’t skimp the tequilas. They stretch beyond the Cuervo monopoly, offering so many different brands of tequila that Emilio Zapata himself couldn't keep up.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Adam White