I was in the mood for some Mexican food on a recent visit to the Northwest Chicago suburbs and I found a couple three on a search through Urbanspoon and Yelp. The one I had at the top of my list was a place called Caliente in Des Plaines. I made my way to Caliente only to find that the place was no longer in business. Sitting there in the car for a moment, I looked at the second one I had on the list - Maria's Mexican Restaurant - just down from my hotel. I put the address in my GPS and took off to Maria's. Thankfully this Mexican restaurant was open.
It turns out that the closed Caliente and Maria's Mexican Restaurant were sibling restaurants under the Luna Restaurant Corporation banner. There is a Maria - Maria Braglia - who heads the corporation which also includes another Maria's location in the Elmwood Park neighborhood of Chicago. Maria and her family run the restaurants.
The Maria's I went to is technically in Chicago on Foster Ave, just off River Road. (see map) It's on a small neck of land that connects Chicago proper with O'Hare International Airport. When I was getting ready to pull onto Foster Ave. from N. River Road, I found myself behind two tour buses. Both buses pulled up in front of Maria's and stopped. I wondered what that was all about and I ended up parking in a lot across the street.
As I walked into Maria's, I was greeted by a hostess. I looked into the colorful main dining room to the right and it was packed. The bar area just in front of me was also packed. I said, "Full house tonight, huh?"
She said, "Yeah, there's gonna be a 15 to 20 minute wait if you want to sit in the dining room, but there are some seats at the bar if you like." That's what the two buses were doing out in front. They were there to pick up the large party that was in the dining room.
It was getting late, I was hungry and I didn't really want to trudge back out into the cold to find the third Mexican restaurant on my list. I took a seat at the bar. She dropped off a menu and I soon ordered a margarita from my bartender/server for the night, Mary. It was rather syrupy and not very good. That was going to be my first and last margarita at Maria's.
Because the dining room was full, so was the bar. It was cramped and sort of uncomfortable sitting at the oddly shaped bar that had an indention toward the middle. A guy seated behind me and facing 90 degrees away kept backing into me. It wasn't going to be a place where I wanted to linger and savor the food.
Typical of most Mexican restaurants, Maria's had the usual dinner entrees of Mexican specialties that included beef, chicken, pork and seafood dishes. Enchiladas, burritos, chile rellenos and tacos dominated the menu along with a handful of steak entrees. Char-broiled chicken, seafood and red snapper entrees with a Mexican flair were also available.
Mary had dropped off some chips and salsa for me to munch on as I tried to finish my rather disappointing margarita quickly as I was looking through the menu. The chips were fresh enough, but the salsa was very good. The salsa had somewhat of a zing to the taste, sort of sneaking up on you after a moment or two. It wasn't so spicy that most people wouldn't like it. But it definitely got my attention.
I've been on a big green chile salsa kick as of late and they had a beef enchiladas verde entree topped with a green tomatillo sauce. You had your choice of beef, chicken or cheese for the filling and I decided to get the beef enchiladas. Mary said that I got a salad beforehand. I was sort of surprised by that considering I can't tell you the last time I had eaten a salad before Mexican meal. I got it with an oil and vinegar dressing.
The salad wasn't large and I was still working on it when Mary showed up with my beef enchiladas verde. It featured three good sized enchiladas topped with the green salsa and finished with melted chihuahua and a dollop of sour cream.
The enchiladas were stuffed with beef, cooked onions and big chunks of sweet red peppers. It was a nice change-up from other enchiladas I've had where they just have seasoned ground beef or shredded beef inside. The sweet red pepper slices livened up an already peppy tasting enchilada. The green tomatillo sauce had a nice smokey and spicy taste that help give the enchilada a snappy taste. It was one of the better - and most unique - enchiladas that I've had in quite sometime.
The refried beans and Mexican rice - along with a lettuce/cilantro mix - were basically throw-away items for me. I had a couple bites of the rice and sort of took a small bite of the beans. They were all right, but the enchiladas were the star of the meal.
Other than feeling somewhat cramped and hurried by sitting at the bar, I didn't have much to complain about with my first visit to Maria's Mexican Restaurant. Well, that and the margarita wasn't all that good, in my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed the enchiladas and I thought their salsa had a nice and subtle kick. If I were to make it back to Maria's, I'd want to sit in the more comfortable dining room. And hopefully it won't be a time with two large buses sitting out front.