A Mexican Oasis in Bucktown

A week or so ago my family and I happened to be in Bucktown trying to get food. Specifically, we were hoping to go to Piece, the pizzeria owned by Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick. Not because I loved the band when I was 10, although I did, but because I’ve been trying to get here for ages. It was Saturday night, there were final four NCAA games on, and there was no chance we were going to get food for at least 45 minutes. We were hungry.

Enter Las Palmas. Yes, I know, there’s a chain in the Chicago area with eight suburban locations, called Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant & Bar. I rather like that Las Palmas, which some consider boring and I consider to be easy, inexpensive and decent. Especially since we get coupons every week in the mail and the margaritas are not bad at all. But this Las Palmas is a couple of steps above and beyond, an elegant oasis just a short walk away from the super-crowded, lively atmosphere at Piece.

We were seated in the back, a far cry from the bustle of North Ave. You can’t tell this from the front, but Las Palmas has this lovely glass-enclosed back area that leads out to a patio for use in the nicer months. It’s a very pleasant place to have a meal, with sunlight streaming in and bits of greenery, along with art pieces hanging on the walls.

Las Palmas is one of those restaurants that brings out the big guacamole setup for preparation right at your table, although we didn’t actually do that since I live with two boys who don’t like avocados (sigh). My husband did, out of character for him, order me some nice fresh guacamole, though, which I was then able to take home and hoard all to myself.

There is a kid’s menu, and my son ordered a four-cheese and maraconi plate that he said was the best ever-but he’s a very enthusiastic kid and he says that about a lot of things. I tried some, though, and I can attest that it was quite good. It came with a few spears of asparagus and grilled carrots, which I mostly ate because my son is currently anti-vegetable (another sigh).

My husband and I both ordered vegetarian options, so that we could share (there’s also one vegan option on the list). I got the Enchayotadas, which are basically enchiladas stuffed with grilled chayotes, carrots, portobello mushrooms, and crispy corn chips in a creamy jalapeno-tomatillo salsa with Chihuahua cheese, crema Mexicana, queso añejo, and some mixed greens with a garlic vinaigrette. I will say straight out that these are the best vegetarian enchiladas I’ve ever had. Wow, were they tasty. I have no idea what chayotes are, even to this day (Google is now telling me it’s a type of squash), but I’m in love.

My husband ordered the La Calabaza Rellena, an oven-roasted acorn squash stuffed with artichokes, peas, wild mushrooms, chile de árbol and a flavorful saffron risotto. I had a few bites, enough to be impressed, but I still liked my enchiladas better. He also had a margarita or two, a necessity when we visit a Mexican restaurant, and I have no complaints about that either.

Only my son was hungry enough afterwards to want dessert, so he chose a trio of sorbets. As I recall the flavors were guava, coconut and prickly pear-a nice combination, fresh and light and fruity. Yum.

One of my favorite things about Chicago is discovering new restaurants, so I’m happy we stumbled upon Las Palmas. The restaurant apparently serves up a fine Sunday brunch, so perhaps that will be our next trip here. I think this will become one of our favorites in the future, whenever we happen to be in the area. Unfortunately, Chicago has so many great eateries, it’s hard to limit yourself. I mean, fortunately.