Sort of a ritual with guys in our company on our first night together when we meet up at a trade show is to go out for Mexican food. Not far from our hotel in Buckhead was a Mexican restaurant by the name of Uncle Julio's. Even though the name just screamed, "American-ized Mexican food chain!", we still decided to give it a try.
Uncle Julio's is a chain, but not a huge one by any stretch of the imagination. It started in Dallas in 1986 and it is one of the more popular Mexican restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Founder and CEO Todd Conger has expanded into Washington D.C., Atlanta, Florida, and - to my surprise while I was researching the restaurant - they have two locations in Chicago. I've more than likely passed both of them during my many travels in and around the Chicagoland region, but have never recognized them. In all, there are 15 Uncle Julio locations.
Since we all ate lunch in the middle of the afternoon at Canyon's Burger Company, we didn't go out for dinner until late. It was a warm night in Atlanta and we took a table outside on the patio. The interior and exterior of Uncle Julio's was a classic Mexican theme with soft lighting and large tables. It was definitely nice both inside and out. My colleague, Ian, who travels to Atlanta as part of his territory said, "I've been past this place a million times, but have never come in."
Margaritas were immediately ordered by our group and we were given menus to look over. From the description of items on the menu, I recognized that this was not another bland Mexican chain restaurant. Uncle Julio's had a number of what you'd expect to find on a standard Mexican restaurant menu, but they added a number of items with some flair to them. Such as:
Mesquite-grilled marinated frog legs.
Slow-smoked mesquite pork ribs with a chipotle barbecue sauce.
Mesquite-grilled marinated quail.
Honey-chipotle mesquite-grilled salmon.
Fruit sides topped with sweet cream.
It was interesting, to say the least.
My colleague, Ian, decided to try the quail entree. I said, "I'm not certain I've ever seen quail on the menu at a Mexican restaurant."
He said, "Me neither, that's why I want to try it."
There were so many interesting items on the menu, my head was spinning. Well, that could also be because of the very strong Classic margaritas at Uncle Julio's. My colleague, Jon, is sort of a tequila aficionado and he said Uncle Julio's Classic margarita is the most authentic margarita there is. They take one shot Patron Silver tequila, one shot Cointreau, one shot water and one shot fresh lime juice and mix it all together. It wasn't cheap, but Jesus Jones, it was damn good. (We've since made this at home and I have to tell you, I may never be able to drink a margarita with triple sec again.)
I decided to just go basic with Juanita's Platter. It consisted of two enchiladas (choice of meat), a crispy taco (beef or chicken) and a tamale (pork or chicken). I got beef enchiladas, a beef taco and a pork tamale. Sides of refried beans and rice came with the dish. I needed food because the first two margaritas went down very quickly and I was just finishing my third one when the food arrived.
And there was a lot of food on my plate. I definitely wasn't going to finish my whole meal, that was already for sure before I took my first bite. The enchiladas were good, but not outstanding. I did like the crispy beef taco, especially with some of Uncle Julio's salsa added to it. And the pork tamale was also good, but not the best I've ever had. I'd rate the meal as above average, but still not as good as some authentic Mexican restaurants I've eaten in.
By the way, Ian declared his quail as "excellent". He said, "They must marinate it in lime juice as it was very tender and had sort of a citrus taste to it." Everyone else at our table said their meal was good to very good. Even my colleague, Chris, who grew up and lives in Arizona where there are tons of authentic Mexican restaurants, said that his carne asada el jardin was "surprisingly good."
Now that I know there are a couple Uncle Julio's in the Chicago area, I'll have to stop in and give one of them a try on a visit to the city. There were a couple of other things that I wanted to try - the cheese and jalapeno stuffed jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon; and the fresh rolled tortillas for tacos al carbon were choices two and three for me. I can't say Uncle Julio's was the best Mexican I've had. But for a chain-type restaurant, it outshines a lot of the other ones that are out there.