When I first ate at an Uncle Julio's location in Atlanta, I thought it was pretty good Mexican food (see that post here). In doing research for that entry, I was surprised to find out that there was one in the western Chicagoland suburb of Lombard. Since I'm in Chicago quite a bit, I knew that I wanted to go try the Uncle Julio's there at some point. When Cindy and I were in Chicago earlier this summer, I took her there for lunch one afternoon.
Although Uncle Julio's is a chain of now 16 locations, it's only found in five markets - their home base of Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington D.C., South Florida, Atlanta and now two in the Chicago area including a new one in the city on North Ave. (see map). The Lombard location is located in the Fountain Square shopping and entertainment area, in between Yorktown Center mall and the OakBrook Center mall (see map).
Cindy had wanted to stop at Yorktown to look for some shoes at Von Maur and it was getting to the point that we either had to eat lunch or start thinking about dinner. We had a lot of options for lunch in the area, but then I remembered that Uncle Julio's was just down the road. I said, "Do you want Mexican for lunch?" She said that was fine and we got to Uncle Julio's from Yorktown in less than five minutes.
It was a beautiful afternoon, one of the best days of the summer, and there was next to no one in the Mexican hacienda-style dining room. We had our choice and, of course, we decided to sit outside on the veranda.
The outdoor veranda had rolled up windscreens and heaters to keep the heat inside during the cooler days and evenings, but it certainly wasn't needed that particular day. The hostess left off menus with us and later a waiter came by with chips and salsa.
The chips at Uncle Julio's are made fresh and in-house with their unique automatic tortilla maker. They take flour balls and stick them in the top of the machine. They're flattened, cooked and then cooled as they slide down a spiral pathway to the bottom. While it takes the romance out of the way handmade tortillas are made, they can usually make a dozen of them in a couple minutes. For a high traffic place like Uncle Julio's, that's a big time and money saver.
Our waitress came out and immediately began to pitch us on the lunch specials, margaritas, appetizers and some other signature items Uncle Julio's has to offer. It was sort of a quick and hard sell on some items, but we did sign up for margaritas as it was a perfect margarita day.
Knowing that we would be eating somewhere in downtown Chicago that evening, I didn't want to load up on food. They had fish tacos on their lunch menu - the good kind where they aren't breaded. It was not only a good day for a margarita (I downed the first one in about five minutes), but a warm Summer day is the perfect time for grilled fish tacos.
Cindy was torn between a couple things - one of the featured specials was "Camarones a la Parilla", basically shrimp fajitas. The other thing she was looking at was something that caught my eye right off the bat, the El Campo, that allowed you to choose from either beef or chicken crispy taco and an enchilada with either beef, chicken or cheese. Following my lead, she took the seafood route and went with the shrimp fajitas.
Like most Mexican food, it didn't take long to get the food to our table. My fish tacos came with a spicy avocado sauce on the side, along with shredded red cabbage and black beans. That was a nice touch, I thought. Most fish tacos will come with regular cabbage and you usually get refried beans at most Mexican restaurants rather than black beans. The fish was fresh, as were the tortilla shells. With a little of the avocado sauce and some of the red cabbage, the fish tacos were delicious.
Cindy was amazed at the amount of shrimp that she got with her meal. She said, "Oh, my God! There's like a pound of shrimp here! I won't be able to eat all this!" She made a significant dent in the pile of shrimp, however, and let me finish off what she had left. The shrimp were grilled with a sort of cumin, chili spice that gave them a little bit of a spicy bite to their taste. Actually, they were damn good.
While we're not big on chains, I don't know if I can really classify Uncle Julio's as a "national" chain. It's more of a local chain that happens to be in five areas of the U.S. Like the one in Atlanta, the food was good - surprisingly good. I thought the service was a little pushy toward some items on the menu - probably high profit products for them - but, overall, the experiece we had at Uncle Julio's was overly favorable. While it's still more of an Americanized-Mexican restaurant, they do have some authentic Mexican dishes throughout their menu. Uncle Julio's is a suitable Mexican restaurant if you want a little better food with a good menu selection.