Midwest Mexican Food Roundup: Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota

That’s right folks, we are finally back.  Seems like the common thread these days is that when we do want to go out to eat it’s usually for Mexican food, and it seems to be a trend that isn’t going away.  Ultimately, I don’t like to pay for food that I could cook at home, but Mexican food remains a mystery to me.  Even if I could figure it out, most of the recipes have been in the family forever, they are complex and require many simmering hours on the stove.  Who has time like that for the off chance that it might taste somewhat similar to what you had? We thought we should share our opinions with you even if you didn’t ask.  You know, before there was a food duo I don’t think the hubby ever even had Mexican food.  He claims he didn’t even like Taco Bell.  Anyway, here’s our list of tops and flops–our entire relationship using Mexican food as the context.

Taco Burrito Mexico: Green Bay, Wisconsin

(Her) My first foray into authentic Mexican food that wasn’t a chain restaurant.  Just a little shack making the biggest burritos ever and all made to order.  The entire menu was a la cart and the fact that I’d bring some back with me to the UW for later eating probably contributed to my freshman 15.

(Him) Perfectly fine Mexican joint as long as you go to the one on Webster Avenue.  Everything else gets a solid “meh”.  I wouldn’t complain if I had to go here again. If this restaurant were a Monopoly property it would be St. James place and the West location would be Vermont Avenue because they charged us for chips and salsa.

El Patron: Downtown Appleton, Wisconsin

(Her) A greek place that couldn’t make it trying to be a greek/Mexican place and not doing either of the traditions well.  Just give up already.

(Him) So they are on the Ave…I’m sure the rent is high however so should expectations on the quality of food. A miserable fail, I can’t help but be harsh as in my years of eating I’ve noticed that Mexican food is hard to screw up. If it’s average then make it fast. This spacious eatery offered neither deliciousness or speedy service on a mundane afternoon. The prices were way too high for what you got. No reason to drop two twenties on a lunch in Appleton unless you are getting a 4 course or something.

Some random food truck : Denver, Colorado.

If you stumble off your plane, through your hotel, and into a waiting limo and then find yourself in the hub of Denver’s mall and think “sure I’ll have the tamale from this food truck and yes, I’ll have the green sauce” DONT. Even though we think of Coloradons as  a bunch of beer drinking hippies, they are truly southwestern and their green sauce is not the mild tomatillo sauce I know and love.  It is a green chili sauce with a pension for heat and no amount of sour cream can save you.

Mr. Taco: Downtown Appleton, Wisconsin

(Her) This was reminiscent of my beloved Taco Burrito Mexico, but without the quality or seasoning.

(Him) A 9 PM visit on a Saturday night and we were the only ones there. It was a little place with counter seating and a very limited menu. The owner was  friendly enough, but all the meats had onions so the menu was further constricted. I had about the worst quesadilla I’ve ever done had. The bean dip was blah. I do not recommend.

Antojitos Mexicanos: Downtown Appleton

(Her) The  current winner of my affection.  You’ll find flavors here that you won’t find at any other restaurant. Antojitos serves  authentic street food  as well as recognizable fare but with  multiple sauces and salsas to choose from and all are done well. Seems to be that many parts of Mexico are represented here. This is one of the few places around town authentic enough to serve Barbacoa and lengua tacos, gorditas (that don’t look anything like they are from Taco Bell), and Tortas.  The pickled vegetables with cactus in them are amazing. They will make amazing guacamole at your table if that kind of thing impresses you.  If so, you should get out more or cook more.  The restaurant is cozy and small and with it’s location off of College Avenue, I’m still confused as to why it’s not always packed.  Definitely a hidden gem.

(Him) Small cozy joint that we almost overlooked.  A pork and pineapple quesadilla doesn’t sound all that exciting, but their spin on it takes it to a whole new level of culinary masterpiece.  High praise, high praise indeed.  I’m at a loss for words because of its greatness.

El Azteca:Darboy

(Him) Our friends the Hs love this place…I’m not sure why. This is a super fast place I’ll give it that. They have good Iced Tea. so they have that going for them. The food is just so-so. Refills come slowly. Good luck getting seconds on chips and salsa even with a big group. They are conveniently located next to the movie theatre so if you are date nighting it up, you could do worse. No reason to go unless you are in a hurry to eat subpar food.

Taco Loco #2:Beloit

(Her) see previous blog.  Still a contender with high ranks.

El Rey:Milwaukee
(Her) see previous blog dedicated to this place.  This is still one of my favorite due to the authenticity of the surroundings.

(Him) I was impressed with this Mexican supermart and taqueria upon entry. The produce section was bar none and had so many items you can’t find around here. The meat section has meats sliced so thin you can read your comic books through it. How can you not like a place that has all the tripe your heart desires? The taqueria is the old school equivalent to an old Kmart eatery from the 70s.  The servers speak very limited English, and trying to engage her in a conversation about onions was futile.  I pointed to the flautas on the menu and she brought me Fajitas, but to her credit there were no onions. It was ok.

Masa:Minneapolis

(Her) We only went here because the hubby had won a gift certificate.  I really wished the food would have matched the upscale atmosphere, but in retrospect I should have ordered something different than tacos. We ordered three different desserts, and the crepes with goat’s milk caramel and pecans was orgasmic. We ended up dipping everything in the amazing chocolate sauce from the churros.  The tweens we brought along were a little overwhelmed by the fancy atmosphere, but we didn’t feel uncomfortable having them there.  They really liked the fancy bathroom with an infinity sink, and thought it was funny when the servers would rush and pick up their napkins when they left the table.  I guess we are all just a bunch of Wisconsin hicks!  They perked up during the dessert course.

(Him) Good time, free food is always great.  I had some amazing slow roasted pork shoulder in banana leaf served in all its glory; without all the garnishes and what not. Could not have been happier, feeling like a high falootin’ Minneapolite.  My drink of blood orange juice was so good I ordered two.  So glad they accommodated us since we didn’t have reservations.  Definitely the Park Place of Mexican joints. Perhaps Pennsylvania Avenue if I hadn’t been drinking.

The list definitely goes on with Mexican places that we have eaten at and then never returned for one reason or another.  (Mostly onions) But honestly if these places would have been good, I would have pushed to go back.  like Chinese food, I often get the impression that Mexican food has been dumbed down for our American tastes.  I sometimes feel that other ethnicities are laughing at us going ape shit over fresh and local trends since it is what they have always done.  The places we seem to enjoy are the ones who give the finger to the Americans and serve what they want to eat. We felt that Masa deserves a review all it’s own (especially since the hubby has such a good draft of one waiting in the wings) so we’ll post that separately.

Mai’s Deli: Appleton, Wisconsin

(Her) I finally got a chance to visit this place which I’ve been curious about for awhile now.   Since my initial visit, I’ve been to Mai’s about 5 times and talked it up to people probably more times than I’ve visited.  Continue reading

Charlie’s Drive In: Hortonville, Wisconsin

Image(Her) We have driven past Charlie’s Drive In a few times and it always seemed to be at the wrong times seasonally speaking.  So when we heard we were going to be in Hortonville for a show we thought about them right away.  We decided to sit outside and got immediate service from the Charlie’s man himself-Carl Mann who also happens to be Charlie’s son.  Carl was outgoing and friendly and brought us some reading material and some menus so that we could really appreciate the place’s history ourselves. Continue reading

Sai Ram Indian Cuisine: Appleton, Wisconsin

(Her) I feel slightly guilty for waiting this long to pay homage to one of our favorite restaurants ever.  We have after all, traveled through snow storms from Oshkosh to get there, and one of the happiest moments about buying our house in Kimberly was it’s proximity to Sai Ram.  I would venture to say that we have been frequenting this restaurant almost as long as we’ve been together (ten years).  And let me clarify that when I say “frequent” I mean multiple times in one week.  Continue reading

Mark’s East Side-The new addition edition

(Her) Back at Mark’s East Side with Chris (the guy) and Kris (the girl) and their son, Not Chris because the hubby has a no peeking gift certificate that can bring you anywhere from $5 to $50 towards your meal. Also, because the last few places we have been have been so lackluster and un-blog worthy that we need to go somewhere where the odds of a good meal are better. Continue reading

Coaches Corner in Buchanan, Wisconsin

(Her)  My first impression of this place was “holy crap it’s cold in here!”  I mean so uncomfortably cold that I couldn’t uncross my arms.  It used to be a place called Charcoal grill and they don’t seem to have done anything different to make it Coaches Corner.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they even kept the original dirt.  Continue reading