Mas, Por Favor! Hay Caramba! in Park Ridge

This charming restaurant garnered our good will from the moment we walked in. No reservation, Senora? No problem.

We were ushered in to a welcoming, sun-filled room with a two-story glass atrium. The tables were covered with bright, colorful cloth, and the walls with murals and paintings inspired by Mexico.

Service was friendly and efficient. It takes a village to run a restaurant well, and by that I mean at some point during our meal, every single person who worked at the restaurant stopped by every table, whether it was to refill a drink, take an order, or bring the food. It was very much a group effort.

One waiter took our appetizer and drink order, as we were still perusing the large menu and struggling with our decisions. The Diet Cokes and Gold Margarita ($8.25 for a virtual swimming pool of the concoction; the regular Margaritas are $6.25) were quickly brought to the table, and the sodas were constantly refilled, as was water.

The Guacamole ($7.25), creamy ripe avocadoes blended with pico de gallo, was quite tasty, as was the spicy and smoky house salsa, but the chips were just so-so. On the other hand, the Coctel de Camarones ($9.75) knocked our socks off. Filled with plump, juicy shrimp, onions and avocado, the cocktail sauce was flavored with fresh orange juice, so it was both piquant and sweet without being cloying. Muy bueno!

Also grooved on the Queso Asado, a grilled hunk of Caribe cheese blanketed with sautéed onions, mushrooms, jalapeno and epazote, served with corn (or flour) tortillas. The texture was just right, melty but not too messy, and the sautéed veggies were yummy, especially all wrapped up together in a fresh corn tortilla.

The owner, Josefina Saavedra, took our order for the main course and was most helpful, offering a taste of the Mole Estilo Teloloapan, letting us know that while many guests enjoyed it, some found it too spicy. We found it more bitter than spicy, and were grateful for the opportunity to sample before ordering.

So we moved on to the Enchiladas Verdes ($9.95), and loved the tangy tomatillo sauce with herby notes of epazote. We tried all three fillings – ground beef, cheese and chicken – and the chicken was definitely the winner, although the subtlety of the minced beef grew on us. Topped with cheese and a drizzle of sour cream, these were a hit.

Chicken Fajitas ($12.95) are easily shareable and are served with salad, rice, beans, guac, sour cream and choice of tortillas. The chicken strips, moist and tender, were sautéed with green peppers, onions and tomatoes with a hit of spice.

Since the chef, Daniel Torres, hails from Tampico, I ordered the Carne a la Tampiquena ($15.75), a marinated and butterflied, broiled skirt steak accompanied by a cheese enchilada, guac, rice and beans. The meat was a bit chewy, as skirt steak can be, but satisfied the red meat imperative.

The only true disappointment was the Tacos de Pescada ($15.95). Though the portion was generous and the tilapia (or salmon, if you prefer) well seasoned and prepared, they were not the Mexican fish tacos that haunt my dreams. These were unadorned – simply the fish in a tortilla with a little lettuce and tomato, and I missed the chipotle crema and shredded cabbage.

Dessert choices are limited (flan, rice pudding, sopapillas and fried ice cream). We went for the Hay Caramba! Flan ($4.25), a light caramel custard, standard issue, and the Sopapillas ($4.25), with the tortillas cut in triangles, fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and honey. I prefer the big puffy sopapillas; these were flat and dense. Coffee was strong and fresh, which cut the sweetness of the desserts.

Although the food was a tad inconsistent, I can see why people are drawn to the restaurant. The spirit of the staff and conviviality of the room make up for any shortcomings. I can picture myself this summer sipping a margarita on their outdoor patio, enjoying a shrimp cocktail and those chicken enchiladas, kicking back and letting the world roll by.

Hay Caramba
Park Ridge