This is one that I didn't know whether to put it in the "Restaurants" category, or in the "Grocery Stores" category. So I put it in both. Actually, this place was more of a grocery store that served food than a restaurant that was a grocery store.
During my last trip to the Chicagoland region I was in a number of Mexican supermarkets, or mercados, looking for chili paste for a recipe that Cindy found in a magazine. I figured that Mexican grocery stores would have chili paste, but none of the three or four I looked in had it. (Cindy thought it was Asian in nature, but I wasn't certain about that.)
I was in northwest suburban Crystal Lake and I passed this place - La Rosita - in the downtown area that looked like a pretty substantial Mexican grocery store (see map). I parked the car and went in. As I went in, I looked to my left and there was a small restaurant within the store.
Now, some of the best Mexican food I've found over the years has been in Mexican grocery stores. There's a couple of them that Cindy and I found over in Muscatine, IA (which sports a large Hispanic community) that have outrageously great Mexican food. Actually, I don't know if those places are still open, we haven't been back here for a few years. There's not much to Muscatine - other than the food - to keep us going back.
Anyway, I noticed that a lot of people were in line to get food from this little restaurant. It had 8 booths and a little cooler that held a lot of Mexican made drinks (including Mexican Coca-Cola - much better than the American version of Coke).
The two guys cooking the food were moving quicker than a tourist with Montezuma's Revenge. They were flinging soft corn taco shells, throwing meat on the grill, making tacos right and left. I watched them for awhile, then went looking for the chili paste.
As with the other two stops I made, this place didn't have chili paste. In fact, when I asked a girl at the check out counter if they had chili paste, she looked at me like I was from Mars. "We have chili powder," she said in a helpful manner. "We have red and green chilies in cans, too." Sorry, not what I'm looking for.
During all of this, people were still coming in to the restaurant part of the grocery store. It was around lunch time and I was kind of hungry, so I thought I'd join the line and see what all the excitement was about.
I ordered two tacos carne asada (steak) with everything (which is onions, goat cheese, lettuce, guacamole and sour cream). I got a Mexican Coke (which comes in a distinctive green-tinted bottle) and waited for my order to come up.
I got my tacos and took 'em to a booth. The steak was a little over cooked for my liking. They leave the chunks of steak on the grille after they've cooked them. A little dry, but nothing that Mexican Coke couldn't help wash down.
At La Rosita, they have two different types of salsa. The red sauce was pretty bland and didn't have much of a bite to it. However, the green sauce, which was an avocado blended sauce, had a great little burn to it after about five seconds. It was absolutely killer! I put some of that on my tacos and they were just great!! Some of the best I've ever had.
With the Mexican Coke ($1.50 for a 12 oz bottle) and the two tacos, it was around $5.50 plus tax. It was well worth it.
I'm always looking for new places to eat when I go into Chicago, and I think I just found one at La Rosita.
(Update - La Rosita closed at the end of March of 2011.)