Down Mexico Way: Glencoe’s Guanajuato

Ever since we first heard of its opening, my family has been arguing over the pronunciation of Glencoe’s Guanajuato restaurant.

Most helpfully, as we pulled up for a visit, it was spelled out for us on the sign: “Juan-a-wotto.”

Guanajuato is a state in the central highlands of Mexico, and it is the birthplace of Executive Chef and Co-owner Margarita Challenger. Her new restaurant features contemporary Mexican creations as well as established standards.

Invitingly, the room is filled with bright Talavera pottery and tile accents, rustic wood tables, exposed brick walls and warm colors, all inspired by Challenger’s homeland.

The bar offerings include 40 hand-picked tequilas, 5 flavors of margaritas, and white and red sangria. Coke fanatics, take note: They serve Mexican Coke here, sweetened with real sugar instead of corn syrup. The red sangria was very refreshing and the margaritas are made with fresh lime juice, not sour mix. An auspicious start!

We delved into the “Aperitivos” with gusto, starting with creamy, fresh guacamole ($6.50, $8.50 with crudités). Coctel de Camarones ($10.95), a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail with lots of chopped shrimp tossed with avocado, onion, cilantro and jalapeno in a tangy tomato sauce, hit the spot.

Salsalito Tamales ($6.50) are available with chicken or pork filling. The poblano sauce was memorable.

The jaw-dropper entree was “El Molcajete” ($15.95), a classic dish from the Mexican countryside, filled with grilled cactus, onions, black beans, steak and salsa. The meat was tender and flavorful, although the presentation is a little daunting, with all of the garnishes strewn over the top and huge cactus paddles draped over the serving dish. Definitely worth the effort.

The Tilapia Tacos ($13.95) were a little sloppy but tasty. We also loved the Enchiladas Poblanos ($12.95), available with cheese, chicken or steak, and smothered in dark, rich mole poblano sauce.

Our only quibble came with the Mar y Tierra ($17.95), a Mexican surf and turf. The sautéed garlic shrimp were served split and in the shell, making it difficult to eat. They appeared to be grilled rather than sautéed, and a bit overdone.

Desserts were a sweet finish to the meal: we savored the creamy Coconut Flan ($4.50), and the crunchy Sopapillas ($5.50). Guanajuato also serves unusual homemade ice cream flavors, including avocado, cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), cheese, corn, mole and tequila.

Service was iffy. Our waiter, who appeared to be a recent high school grad, was well intentioned, but clueless. Hopefully, in a few weeks he’ll be as well seasoned as the food!