WESTMONT – In the midst of the Ogden Avenue fast-food scene, it's Cinco de Mayo every day at Taco Grill in Westmont. Located in a building that housed eatery ghosts Schlotzsky’s and Long John Silver’s, Taco Grill has built a strong and loyal following with good food, reasonable pricing, quick service and family love.
For nearly 14 years, owner Jose has refined a menu that works for American palates while staying true to his authentic Mexican roots. He has also assembled an efficient staff of regular employees who are able to quickly gage the back to work crowd needs versus the sunshine on the patio siesta crowd. And it works!
Daytime visitors will be warmly greeted by Elvia, the third oldest of seven sisters and four brothers and originally from Mexico. Elvia brings warmth, hospitality and customer service to a new level. With more than 20 visits, I have never seen her without the friendliest of smiles and a welcome for everyone. She anticipates your next move or need, serves, cleans and buses all the tables, explains the menu and generally makes everyone feel like family. Named after her mother, she has made her proud! This is my definition of family dining establishment.
Taco Grill features indoor seating and a substantial front porch for patio dining doubling capacity. Tables are easily pushed together for larger groups and several TV’s showcase current sporting events. Place your order at the front counter, deposit your number on the placard holders and sit back and wait for your order to appear.
The wait is short as chips are typically brought to the table as if they are being timed in a sprint. Housemade, lightly seasoned and never a drop of oil, folks have been known to go through several buckets as they pair perfectly with their namesake salsa bar. Consisting of 18 varieties of in-house made salsas, pickled veggies and of course, lime wedges, the salsa bar is a suburban highlight for many – with or without the cerveza. The salsas range from a few mild/medium choices to XXX hot and rotate often from a recipe list of over 50.
Judging by the number of patrons constantly sampling and refilling the little silver cups, this has to be one of the most popular extras in the western suburbs. Make sure to try as many as your taste buds and beverage glass can handle and always save a few for combining with your dining selections to create new flavors. Chips and salsas are a great carry out for snacks and parties.
Depending on party size and appetite, I always begin with either an order of guacamole or nachos. This is my favorite guacamole in the western suburbs and it is always made fresh. Taco Grill’s guacamole is not a powerful mix of flavors, but rather a chunky, fresh tasting marriage showcasing the dominant avocado. Available in small or large portions, it becomes part of a game, as guacamole and salsas are rotated and combined in varying ratios elevating flavor levels to please your individual palate.
With a larger group, nachos become an excellent starter…or a full meal for one! Served in an iron chile dish, nachos are available with cheese, fully loaded and (my favorite), fully loaded with a meat topping. Meat toppings (choose from a list of ten) for most dishes range from steak to vegetarian (zucchini, tomato, onion and green pepper) and include meat choices such as chorizo (Mexican sausage grilled outside the casing), carnitas (marinated fried pork), chicken, al pastor (spit roasted pork), lengua (beef tongue) as well as a few additional beef choices.
If you go all in on the nachos, Taco Grill’s superb chips are layered with beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes and jalapenos along with your meat selection. There’s never a naked chip, a motto we can all live with.
Tacos and enchiladas are standard fair and can be ordered in almost any combination. Corn or flour tortillas are available for all tacos and they can be topped with cilantro and onions (Mexican style) or lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion and sour cream (Tex-Mex style). Remember to mix it up a bit with different salsas.
Several enchilada styles are also available from Suizas (green) to Rojas (red) to Enmoladas (mole) but my favorite and a great way to showcase the kitchen’s dexterity is the Enchiladas Trio. Select your filling and your three enchiladas arrive with different coverings – a spicy, red tomato sauce, a mild, green-tomatillo salsa and a dark, rich chocolate infused mole sauce topped with toasted sesame seeds.
Burritos come small, "Chico" or large, "Grande." Choose from the list of fillings and the usual suspects are rounded up to generously fill the inside of an oversized flour tortilla. Suspects include beans, sour cream, lettuce and tomato. The steak grande burrito can be used for arm curls! Most dishes – tacos, burritos, enchiladas and tostadas – offer a “Special” version which adds in rice and refried pinto beans for a slight upcharge.
Want to scale the burrito down, go for the smaller quesadilla, which is more reasonable in size and price but still provides great flavor. I often enjoy the steak quesadilla with an extra side of guacamole and several salsas for a nice lunch.
Hard shell lover…try a tostada. Your shell is piled high with your favorite ingredients much like an open faced sandwich. Chorizo brings together just the right mix of flavor and heat. The “Special” pairs two with rice and beans. At less than 3 bucks each ala carte, try a few to find your sweet spot!
Tortas or Mexican sandwiches come in several varieties with my two favorites being the Cubana and the Hawaiiana. All of Taco Grill’s tortas are served on a crusty Turano bread known as a bolillo and have refried beans and avocado. The Cubana has the standard Cuban ingredients of ham, pork and cheese while the Hawaiiana creates the ultimate porky sandwich combining ham, roasted pork and al pastor (marinated and spit roasted pork). The pineapple, lime and orange in the al pastor marinade provide the Hawaiian influence and a bit of sweetness complimenting some of the chilies used in the marinating process.
On the hearty side, “Taco Grill Specialties” provides an eye-opening plate of food. Typically, there is a daily special along with four menu options. Carne Asada – grilled skirt steak - is served as a monster cut of steak. This is an exceptional dish from a flavor and budget standpoint. Cooked to order and served medium rare as requested, the accompaniments also share the stage. How often do you see cactus served as a vegetable? Seemingly pickled first and then sautéed, its mild flavor combines well with the steak when wrapped in tortillas. The frijoles de la holla features pinto beans bathed in a well-seasoned broth and dressed with cheese and a bit of sour cream.
Fortachon, meaning strong, tough or brawny is truly a man-sized plate of food. Steak is combined with chorizo, bacon and ham on the flat top grill, topped with cheese and served with refried beans. With the accompanying tortillas, it’s a bit like fajitas as you create the perfect mix. The steak provides texture and chew, while bacon, ham, and chorizo add flavors and saltiness. Add some guacamole and salsas to complete the picture.
Beverages include horchata, a Mexican beverage made with milk, rice, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, served cold and creamy. Pepsi fountain products are featured along with a nice selection of bottled Mexican sodas and beers. An unsweetened ice tea would be a welcome addition for those not wanting sugar or carbonation, perhaps reducing the need for the quarter charge for a full size water cup.
Desserts are simple and perfect for a light share. Churros are Mexican dough sticks, perfectly fried allowing for a crisp outside texture and soft chewy inside. While festival goers will find churros filled with every imaginable flavor, these are unfilled and topped with cinnamon sugar, a chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. Slightly more filling, creamy cheese cake is tortilla wrapped, fried and plated with the same chocolate drizzle and whipped cream. Both desserts are served in bite size pieces allowing for a perfect finish.
Taco Grill is open seven days per week for lunch and dinner. Catering is also available and in multiple experiences, portions are extra generous.
Certainly not under the fine dining category, Taco Grill serves up a wonderful sampling of Mexican food in a comfortable setting that is tasty, hearty, budget friendly and a welcome change from the usual; and there’s the love factor. While Cinco de Mayo comes but once year, you can enjoy Taco Grill whenever the craving returns!
WHERE: 111 West Ogden Avenue, Westmont
HOURS: Sunday – Thursday 11:00am – Midnight, Friday – Saturday 11:00am – 2:00am
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: 630-353-0964 https://www.facebook.com/TACO-GRILL-227498114063590/?fref=ts
NOISE FACTOR: Medium Buzz
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