I had a factory guy from the U.K. in Chicago for some training sessions earlier this summer. After a long day of sessions we invited a couple guys from the dealer to go out for dinner. Both were on a tight schedule due to family obligations later in the evening, so they wanted to go somewhere close and relatively fast. One of the guys suggested a Mexican restaurant not far from their store. We ended up going to Mas alla del Sol in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood on the north side of the city. (see map)
Adan Moreno was born in Mexico and enjoyed his family's traditional Mexican food. While he was a young boy he helped out his mother in the kitchen developing a passion for cooking. Eventually making his way to Chicago, Adan worked in a number of upscale restaurant in the area including the kitchen at the Palmer House hotel and Wildfire in River North. He met a young lady, Mirella, eventually marrying her. They soon fulfilled their dream of opening a small restaurant - Los Nopales - in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood in 2005.
Things were initially tough for the Moreno's - they didn't have enough plates to serve food upon, and Adan was forced to continue to work two jobs as Mirella ran Los Nopales. Some days Morella would only bring in $35. When things looked the bleakest for the Moreno's, they decided it was time to swim or sink. Adan quit his jobs and started to cook at Los Nopales full time. The only problem was that he didn't remember how to cook Mexican food. He eventually went back to his family's recipes that he remembered as a child and started from scratch.
Adan began to thrive and hit his stride in the Los Nopales kitchen. Business began to grow and their personal gamble worked - Los Nopales became a hit. So much so that they received a Bib Gourmand rating in the 2013 Michelin Guide for Chicago. The Moreno's were soon serving up to 225 people on a Friday or Saturday night.
Chicago 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman was already a fan of Los Nopales when he approached the Moreno's about the possibility of taking over a vacant building on N. Broadway. Adan Moreno was intrigued, but he knew he had to do something different than what the many Mexican restaurants in the immediate area were doing. The Moreno's bought the building in late 2012 and opened their new venture - named after a song by Mexican singer Joan Sebastian - in March of 2013. (Mas alla del Sol means "Beyond the Sun" - it was Mirella Moreno's favorite song.) The food at Mas alla del Sol is a step up from the fare at Los Nopales with Adan Moreno's culinary creations still coming from traditional Mexican recipes with a contemporary flair.
We found a parking spot on Broadway just down from Mas alla del Sol. Going inside, we were met by a young man who sat us toward the back of the restaurant. The somewhat large bar along the side of the dining area housed a large number of tequilas. The place wasn't large, but it was comfortable.
We were given menus as we sat down and immediately got some chips and salsa. The salsa had a nice spicy bite and reminded me somewhat of the salsa that I've had over the years ago Raul's in Des Moines. (Click here to see the entry on Raul's.) We also asked for some guacamole right off the bat and I ordered a pitcher of margaritas with Cointreau and Herradura with lime juice - a nice combination that my wife likes to drink.
Most of the items on the menu are not what you'd find at most Mexican restaurants. This was more of an upscale Mexican place featuring Costillas - Mexican baby back ribs, lamb shank, and a grilled skirt steak served with a chile morita and tomato sauce, along with frijoles borrachos, slices of seared panela cheese, with fried cebollitas and finished with an avocado relish. There were also a number of seafood entrees on the menu including a grilled shrimp and creamy chipotle dish, grilled shrimp with sauteed verdolagas (a Mexican succulent that is used for exotic cooking there, but it known more as an obtrusive weed in the U.S.), and whole pan-fried red snapper fish served either with a butter/garlic sauce, or with jalapenos, peppers, onions, cilantro and Spanish olives.
They also had traditional Mexican food such as fajitas, enchiladas, carne asada tacos and panela cheese stuffed chile rellenos. I was looking at the steak enchiladas for my food of choice that evening. I had a choice of a mole, suiza (cheese and sour cream) or chile verde sauce to go on top of the enchiladas. I went with the chile verde sauce. The three enchiladas were topped with drizzled sour cream and came with Mexican rice and refried beans. The steak enchiladas - especially with the somewhat spicy verde sauce - were excellent.
My guy from the U.K. went - surprisingly - with the lamb shank. Surprisingly, in that he usually will go for beef when he's in the U.S - especially in the Midwest. But he said that lamb shank was "wonderful". And it looked wonderful. The lamb meat pulled easily from the bone and it was served in a light tomato/chipotle sauce with corn mashed potatoes that were topped with verdolagas leaves.
One of the guys from my dealer got the skirt steak and shrimp combo. He was the one that had eaten at Mas alla del Sol before and said he wanted to try the skirt steak at some point. He got his wish - and he was happy. The skirt steak was thicker than skirt steak that I get at Mexican meat shops.
The other guy got the Carne Mas alla del Sol - the restaurant's signature dish. There was a lot happening on the plate. The visual was mouth watering. I don't know if I did the dish justice with the picture above right. My dealer was extremely happy with his meal. "This is great," he said when prodded on how good the Carne Mas alla del Sol was.
The experience at Mas alla del Sol was absolutely wonderful. The food was very good and exquisite. The service was very good, as well. Specialty pitchers of margaritas just helped add to the experience. If you're looking for something a little different in terms of Mexican food, Mas alla del Sol will probably not disappoint.