LAKE ZURICH – Tucked away behind drapes in a Lake Zurich shopping center, at 95 South Rand Road, is a little piece of Latin American paradise.
Julio's Latin Cafe offers an intimate, casual dining experience with handcrafted Latin American, Mexican and Caribbean dishes.
Stepping into Julio's on a Thursday evening, my date and I were seated immediately. A handful of other parties dining included a few couples, friends catching up over tequila drinks and a family exclaiming that their child's chicken nuggets were to die for.
It was evident that Julio's draws repeat, devotee customers. The friendly staff knew many diners on a first-name basis.
Browsing appetizers, we ordered a plate of guacamole to accompany our chips and perfectly spicy salsa that had been brought out on the house.
The waitress told us the Thursday special was margaritas made with freshly-squeezed lime juice.
"We don't use any sort of pre-made mix," she said.
The guacamole was just as fresh. It was overly salty or filled with a heavy garlic powder. Diced tomatoes sat atop perfectly ripe, mashed avocados.
We took a moment to take in the decor. The colorful dining area, elegant beverage glasses and cloth napkins made the experience feel very upscale, however certain touches like the paper tablecloth allowed us to kick back and chat about our weeks without worrying about a little salsa splash here and there.
Discussing what we wanted to order for dinner, another diner raved about the black bean soup – laced with Spanish sherry (fortified wine), finished with onion, cilantro and sour cream.
"Most nights I come here just for the soup," she said. "If I could make it at home every night, I would. It's just too good."
Julio's has dinner options for just about everyone – finger food for children, separate gluten free and dairy free menus, soups and salads; meat, fish or veggie dishes.
Agreeing that sharing plates would bring the best of both worlds, my date requested the Blackened Basa Tacos. I couldn't refuse the Acapulco Margarita Salmon.
Most restaurants have some sort of salmon on their menu whether it be a cedar plank salmon or honey-glazed fillet. This dish was completely original – grilled, not overdone, with a light orange-tequila sauce. The salmon was served atop a poblano-corn potato cake and grilled vegetables.
The potato cake was just as delicious as the fish – resembling a crab cake, filled with corn and slivers of pepper.
I swapped half of my salmon for one of my date's fish tacos – a move I don't regret. Three soft corn tortillas were filled with blackened basa fish and mango-jicama slaw. In my opinion, jicama adds the perfect crunch to any dish. I doused my taco in the yummy salsa that had been served earlier.
Served alongside the fish taco trio were frijoles charros (pinto beans stewed with garlic, onion and bacon) and Spanish rice.
The service was exemplary. Everything was brought out right on cue and our waitress was ever so attentive. Weekends are likely a bit more busy for Julio's but the staff seemed to be highly experienced. I would gladly return even given a wait.
Although we both settled with fish, Julio's had some interesting meat dishes including BBQ pork quesadillas, spicy steak pizza; chicken, steak and bacon fajitas, and a spiced brown sugar and coffee seasoned porterhouse pork chop.
Julio's is open for lunch and dinner.
If you go:
What: Julio's Latin Cafe
Where: 95 S. Rand Rd., Lake Zurich
When: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; Reserved for private parties Saturday and Sunday afternoons; Closed Monday
Info: Visit www.julioslatincafe.com or call 847-438-3484 for information.