Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nuevo Leon

Chicago Magazine recently came out with an article about their 12 favorite Mexican restaurants in the city. I found it pretty cool  that I've been to a huge chunk of these including Chilam Balam, Frontera Grill, XOCO, and Salpicon. Well one of my biggest fans, Amy Patel, thought we should try another one of her favorites from that list, Nuevo Leon. Along with her friend Jeanutter Butters we headed out to Pilsen last Friday for a celebratory lunch after our final.

At first I was looking all over the place for parking, but it ends up that Nuevo Leon has a lot a block over from the restaurant. It was amazing that the second we got out of the car that the air just smelled of delicious Mexican food. They don't take reservations, they're CASH ONLY, and they get packed. We got there just before a huge lunch rush and were very lucky. From large Mexican families to whole construction crews on their lunch break, a large line had formed that almost put people waiting out in the frigid cold.

We got sat at a table with another group because they were trying to be efficient, which I appreciated since it meant less waiting time for us. The service was great, especially considering how busy it was. Maybe the best quality was how inexpensive it was. Gigantically portioned entrees were $6-10 with appetizers at $3.50 and Horchata for $1.

The Food
To begin with, I've got to talk about the chips and salsa. The chips were a decent consistency and came out warm which is always a plus. I wasn't really a big fan of the salsa which tasted a little watered down. What I did like were the pickled jalapenos and carrots that also came with the chips. In addition to the free chips and salsa, everyone gets some kind of small appetizer for free. Sometimes it's soup (which Amy was passionately hoping for), but this time we got a Potato-Filled Flauta with a tomato sauce and chihuahua cheese. It was pretty tasty, but it was my first of many introductions during the meal to a stewed tomato sauce that rubbed me the wrong way. We also all ordered Horchata to drink.

The Potato Flauta

 The Chips, Salsa, and Pickled Carrots

The Horchata

We had to get Amy's favorite appetizer which was the Nachos Dias. Basically it was a platter of cheese quesadillas covered in the tomato sauce, sour cream, and guacamole. It was a great appetizer considering that all I wanted was something to thoroughly clog my arteries, but again the tomato sauce threw me off a bit. It was a little runny and acidic. Still the guac was tasty and the pretty large sized plate of food was $3.50.

 The Nachos Dias

For our entrees Amy got the Bistec A La Mexicana (a stewed skirt steak dish), Jeanutter Butters got the Combination Platter (1 beef taco, 1 tostada, 1 tamale, and 1 enchilada), and I got the Chicken with Mole Sauce. The Bistec tasted very much like my mom's beef stew but with some Mexican spices. The combination platter more than anything else was just a ton of food for $6. My Chicken was really well prepared and the mole was rich and complex. Also, I know this is something simple, but they had fantastic rice and beans. They were warm, had interesting texture, and in general just seemed like they weren't from a can.

The Chicken in Mole

The Combination Platter

 The Bistec a la Mexicana

A friend once told me that Nuevo Leon is the gringo place in Pilsen, but that was not the case when I went. There were tons of Pilsen natives that clearly frequent this place all of the time. The food for the most part was pretty well prepared stuff at really low prices. I really didn't like the stewed tomato sauce that was on a lot of the dishes, but when I got past that everything else was spot on. I'm giving Nuevo Leon 3 out of 5 Pearls.

Nuevo Leon on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants


  1. It's pretty funny that you posted this today... Last night one of my roommates and I wanted an authentic Mexican meal, so naturally we headed to Pilsen. We were deciding between Nuevo Leon, Abuelo's Pilsen Grill, and Fogata Village.

    Nuevo Leon looked a bit over-Yelped, so we chose Fogata instead, which was just a couple blocks away on Ashland/18th St. I got chicken with mole sauce, and he got a steak dish. The mole was very rich and chocolatey, with a spicy finish that wasn't too overpowering. And the salsa was well-blended and some of the best I've had in recent memory. The homemade tortillas were good as well. My only complaint would probably be about the service. Our waitress wasn't very attentive, but it didn't detract from the overall experience.

    And talk about authentic--we had to communicate with the host/waitress completely in Spanish. I enjoyed that part.

    Definitely a place to check out if you're ever back in that neighborhood. I plan to go back and try some of the other restaurants nearby--Nuevo Leon included (which also has a bakery on 18th Street).

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