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#1
Posted September 1st 2007, 10:11pm
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I cannot believe that we are half way through the GNR nomination season, and nobody has submitted Sol de Mexico for consideration. I guess I will have to step up and do it.

From the very first time that annieb posted about an interesting new storefront Mexican restaurant she had discovered in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, it became apparent to LTH forum members that Sol de Mexico was something special. Dozens (if not hundreds) of subsequent visits by forum members, many of which are documented in this thread, and including an LTHForum group dinner, confirmed that the initial assessment of Sol de Mexico was indeed accurate. From the fluffy handcrafted tortillas, to the quality fresh ingredients, to the complex and deeply flavorful moles and manchamanteles, to the simple but attractive presentations, the care and pride that Carlos and family put into every plate is obvious.

During its brief 14 months of existence, Sol de Mexico has matured into one of Chicago's true culinary treasures. The inevitable start-up problems and service issues have long been forgotten, and it has grown into a smoothly run and efficient establishment, serving some of the better (if not the best) higher-end regional Mexican cuisine in the city. More remarkably, Carlos has managed to keep the prices in a very accessible range. While admittedly significantly more expensive than the average taqueria, Sol de Mexico's prices are much more affordable than its more famous, and some say less authentic, downtown equivalents in the Frontera empire. This has not only made Sol de Mexico a destination restaurant, but also a special occasion restaurant for neighborhood family celebrations. Carlos has opened the domain of fine regional Mexican cookery to a much wider and more diverse audience. I just wish more people would take advantage of this amazing gastronomic resource. I, myself, don't get there often enough.

I don't mean to sell the kid from Oklahoma short. If it were not for Rick Bayless, and his dedication to teaching the American public that Mexican Cuisine goes far beyond tacos and burritos, Sol de Mexico would likely not exist. In fact, it was Mr. Bayless who first recognized and encouraged Señora Clementina's remarkable sauce making techniques through her son, Geno Bahena. Those are the same techniques and recipes that are proudly and expertly employed at Sol de Mexico. When La Doña's distinctive sauces are combined with Chef Carlos' expert culinary skills, the end-product is simply amazing. I can honestly say that every meal I have enjoyed there has been outstanding.

I consider restaurants like Sol de Mexico and last year's GNR winner Fonda del Mar to be Chicago's second generation of fine regional Mexican restaurants. It is a fledgling market that really needs to be nurtured and supported if it is to thrive outside of FronTopo's celebrity aura. I recently entertained some business associates from New York at Sol de Mexico, and they were blown away. They had no idea that Mexican food could be so exquisite, and still talk about the meal.

Hopefully, one day in the near future, Chicago will be known as the place to go (outside of Mexico City) for creative and well-crafted regional Mexican cuisine, just as New York has elevated Italian cooking in America to a higher level of sophistication. In order for that vision to come to realization, it is vitally important that we continue to recognize and encourage restaurants like Sol de Mexico, so that other Mexican Chefs see that there is indeed an audience for food that goes beyond the boundaries of what Americans typically consider to be Mexican food. Therefore, I am not only honored to nominate Sol de Mexico as a Great Neighborhood Restaurant, but I also feel privileged to be part of a group that honors, promotes and fosters such exceptional establishments.

http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=9213

--dave

Restaurant Sol de Mexico
3018 N Cicero Ave
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 282-4119

edited to add address
Last edited by d4v3 on September 1st 2007, 10:46pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#2
Posted September 1st 2007, 10:23pm
Dave, that's a eloquent tribute to a very special place. Thank you for making the nomination.

I enthusiastically second Sol de Mexico for a GNR.

Amata
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#3
Posted September 1st 2007, 10:29pm
I completely thought it already was a GNR.

Anyway, it should be. I've never had a meal that was anything less than very good, and the past few have been superb. I can't imagine going to any other fancy-mexican place in town.
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#4
Posted September 1st 2007, 10:38pm
gleam wrote:I completely thought it already was a GNR.
I did also. I had to check the list 3 times. Turns out that it came onto the radar just as last year's nominations were winding down. It says something about SdM that everyone just assumes it has already won. I guess that's why it wasn't nominated earlier in the process.
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#5
Posted September 2nd 2007, 1:27am
Funny, as I was dining there the other night, I assumed Sol de Mexico was a GNR already. It clearly should be -- fantastic nomination!

I've followed the discussion regarding Sol de Mexico and the questions about the moles (too clean?) and the concerns over the menu (not enough tapas?) To me, Sol de Mexico's moles are pure heaven -- smoky, earthy, robust and complex. Better yet, mind blowing.

In my opinion, true Mexican food is still very unappreciated. Perhaps the Chi Chis that we all grew up on is responsible for this. But in my mind, Mexican food offers some of the most amazing ingredients, colors, textures and tastes on this earth. And if I had to pick the one item of Mexican cuisine that I would search high and low for, it's a good mole.

Thankfully, it was about 20 years ago that Rick Bayless set out to change our minds and he let people throughout the US and here in Chicago know just how good Mexican food can be. Better yet, Rick opened the doors for many amazingly talented chefs whose talents might never have seen the light of day. Sol de Mexico highlights one of those chefs.

In my opinion, if you want the very best Mexican food that Chicago has to offer, you need to try the moles at Sold de Mexico. No one does it better -- whether it's the herby verde, the "table staining" slightly sweet manchamanteles, the traditional Oaxacan mole negro or my favorite, the complex red telaloapense, you're in for a treat . . . a magical journey to the heart of Mexico. And thanks to the wonderful homemade corn tortillas, you won't have to leave a drop of any of the moles on your plate.

Best yet, this culinary journey won't break the bank. Every entree is under $20 and at least for now, it's BYO. My only complaint about Sol de Mexico: I wish it were in my neighborhood.
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#6
Posted September 2nd 2007, 8:10pm
Sol de Mexico is to my mind beyond a shadow of a doubt deserving of a GNR award. Amata, Lucantonius and I have been there several times, once for a special dinner arranged by our friends, RST and annieb, which was a real educational experience. On the other occasions we've been there, we have been consistently delighted with all elements of the dinners we've ordered. And I'll just add that the lamb chops -- be they in black mole or in the chile cascabel sauce -- are one of my favourite meals to be had eating out in Chicagoland. A genuinely enthusiastic expression of support from me...

Antonius
Last edited by Antonius on September 3rd 2007, 10:17pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#7
Posted September 2nd 2007, 10:11pm
Add me to the list of those who thought Sol de Mexico was already a GNR. It is always first on my daughter's list when she comes home from school - she claims to dream about the lamb with mole negro. Carlos and his entire staff are wonderful, charming professionals. BYOB keeps dinner there affordable. I'm a huge fan of the swordfish tostaditas, the cochinita pibil, and the pineapple upside-down cake, which is more like a sticky toffee pudding with a hint of cinnamon. No one has mentioned the decor, which is whimsical and festive, sophisticated and fun. What's not to like?
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#8
Posted September 3rd 2007, 1:24am
Josephine wrote: . . . the pineapple upside-down cake, which is more like a sticky toffee pudding with a hint of cinnamon . . .

I love pineapple upside-down cake, and yet it is their one dessert that I haven't tried . . . guess I need to go back soon -- sounds very good.
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#9
Posted September 3rd 2007, 1:26am
It's been (too) long since I've been back to SdM, I'll note ruefully. Adding my praise of Carlos Tello and Sol de Mexico with strong support for a GNR, I'll refer to my first post and to the subsequent LTH group dinner to document two of a number of greatly-enjoyed personal experiences at SdM during its earlier phases of menu development.

Sol de Mexico, in my mind, is clearly a GNR. It plays a significant role in Chicago by promoting sophisticated instances of a number of exemplars from the constellation of regional Mexican cuisines, combined with a justified sense of pride in its quality of product and execution.

--Matt
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#10
Posted September 3rd 2007, 9:47pm
I've been biding my time, waiting and hoping that someone would nominate Sol de Mexico for a GNR. I've only been there once so I was reluctant to step in and nominate but I wholeheartedly agree with the nomination.

I went with a big group of LTH'ers so I got to taste about eight dishes and everything was delicious. I hated to leave a drop of sauce on anyone's plate but managed to maintain a shred of self-control and decorum.
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#11
Posted September 3rd 2007, 9:50pm
comradelaura wrote:I hated to leave a drop of sauce on anyone's plate but managed to maintain a shred of self-control and decorum.


At your next LTH event, please feel free to leave your self-control and decorum at home :)

Sol de Mexico opened practically days after the last round of GNRs closed. As soon as annieb introduced Carlos and his moles to this group, they became an instant classic. I've been a fan and booster ever since, and I can't imagine a restaurant more deserving of a GNR.

Excellent choice, Dave.

Best,
Michael
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#12
Posted September 16th 2007, 8:49pm
Thank you for nominating Sol de Mexico! It is very much deserving of the GNR designation, and moreover is in a neighborhood sorely lacking in other great restaurants. I am wishing for their perfectly grilled skirt steak as I write this.
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#13
Posted September 19th 2007, 12:56pm
I have been to Sol de Mexico three times, and have enjoyed it immensely each time. If it were closer to me, I would go more often. They handle steak very well -- I still have cravings for the steak that was on their "tapas" menu earlier this year. The staff is welcoming, the decor is eye-catching and the food excellent. Add "BYO" to that and I'm happy. I wholly support a GNR for Sol de Mexico.
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#14
Posted September 21st 2007, 12:53pm
As I mentioned in the La Pasadita thread, we were at Sol de Mexico for dinner on Wednesday night: another superb meal, the menu substantially different from our last visit so presenting new temptations along with the old standbys. (I went with ostrich in the Teloloapan red mole.) Sol de Mexico hardly needs more votes of confidence at this point in the GNR process, but, really, it's a fabulous place.

And, seeing d4v3 with a friend at the next table was a nice bonus, too. (This happens to us a lot, running into LTH-ers when we go out...)
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#15
Posted September 21st 2007, 1:13pm
Amata wrote:As I mentioned in the La Pasadita thread, we were at Sol de Mexico for dinner on Wednesday night: another superb meal, the menu substantially different from our last visit so presenting new temptations along with the old standbys. (I went with ostrich in the Teloloapan red mole.) Sol de Mexico hardly needs more votes of confidence at this point in the GNR process, but, really, it's a fabulous place.


Indeed, another fabulous meal at Sol de Mexico...
Ostrich in red mole...
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Duck in green mole...
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Carne asada, holy moly!
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Antonius
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Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
- aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
________
Na sir is na seachain an cath.
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#16
Posted February 16th 2009, 5:19pm
I was certainly late in discovering Sol de Mexico (I have no idea what it used to be like), but I've greatly enjoyed my recent visits. I would absolutely be in favor of renewal.
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#17
Posted February 16th 2009, 5:53pm
As Sol de Mexico is actually in my neighborhood, and has been consistently excellent, I feel strongly that it should be renewed as a Great Neighborhood Restaurant. We go to SdM about once a month, as it is the favorite restaurant of my 4-year-old daughter, who just piped up "I like the duck!". She likes the chips and and the apple soda, and the way the servers treat her as a special little lady. The caramel lollipops by the door don't hurt either.

The food is wonderful-- I almost always order the Tampiquena, which is grilled skirt steak. It is outrageously delicious and has always been perfectly cooked. My husband gets a black or red mole, sometimes with pork, sometimes with duck. The moles are indeed "all that", from black and red through green. The black beans that accompany the steak are great-- just a touch smoky. Also they have delicious margaritas-- although I miss their BYOB days, I do love a good margarita!

SdM is also starting to become an actual resource for our neighborhood-- we had an outing with our neighborhood group there last month and many of my neighbors have started going there for "date nights". Go and check it out if you have not been-- the service is friendly, professional, and prompt, and as of late, it has been (a little too) easy to get a table.

Cheers, Jen
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#18
Posted February 17th 2009, 11:22am
The swordfish at Sol de Mexico made my 10 best of 2008 list, and I eat out a lot. I love the place, and fully support renewal.
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#19
Posted March 9th 2009, 12:07pm
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#20
Posted September 19th 2011, 4:56am
This place is up for renewal of its GNR. Please post your comments here until 10/10/11.
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Steve Z.

"Why should I eat a carrot when I can eat pizza?" - Dan Janssen
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#21
Posted September 19th 2011, 11:10am
I strongly support the renewal of SdM's GNR status. SdM has all of the key ingredients: delicious food, wonderful staff, and comfortable ambiance. The high-quality moles are consistently delicious and inventively paired with beautifully paired meats-- for example, the perfectly cooked venison my husband had there 2 weeks ago. Also, the house-made tortillas are, as I have said before, fresh, warm, and toothsome. Carlos and the other staff members are very welcoming, providing for your needs without being intrusive and are always considerate of my 6-year-old. Speaking as a resident of the neighborhood around SdM, a neighborhood that is relatively poor in fine-dining opportunities, this restaurant fits a unique niche.

If you haven't been to SdM recently, go check it out-- it is as good as ever.

Jen
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#22
Posted September 19th 2011, 2:25pm
Sol de Mexico has a special place in my heart. I have had wonderful dinners there, but I am certain that there is more to it than the memories of good times with dear friends.

Looking back over the threads cited above by stevez for the purpose of the renewal process, I am reminded that this is a kitchen that has some competent direction. Carlos Tello is constantly revising and refining the menu, offering tastes that may be new to his clientele, responding to his fans. This was evident from the first meal I had there, which featured ingredients little seen in restaurants: a hard-to-find green vegetable that tiny green knobs on branches(name?), deep-fried and eaten by stripping the green from the stem, and fresh nances (blue cheese and papaya-tasting to me). Also served were corundas, a specialty tamal in banana leaf that I have only had elsewhere at the home of a friend from Michoacan.

That the moles are praiseworthy is well known. I was reminded of how excellent they are when I recently tasted a mole negro elsewhere that did not stand up to the one at SdeM. The mole negro is on par with my friend's, and she is her family's and neighborhood's go-to-person for mole negro.

Last Saturday, I enjoyed the sweet-savory Chiles en Nogada, a one-day special for Mexican Independence Day. The accompanying salad with tomato had a note of orange (zest?), an unexpected bonus that was a simple, fine example of the kitchen's attention to detail. My husband had the Venison in Green Mole, a new-to-me item recently suggested by an lth-er whom I cannot credit, since I can't find the post. The meat was the best example of venison I have had in years, perfectly cooked, and the green mole an inspired accompaniment. Regarding the new-to-me menu, I am eager to try the stuffed calabacita. It's great when a vegetarian entree is something beside the usual boring afterthought. I was not too sorry to see the ostrich go, though others seemed to enjoy it.

We were too full for dessert, but I was delighted to see that the pineapple upside-down cake from an early SdeM menu has returned. I posted this in 2007:
Josephine wrote:In fact, I am ready to bet that the pineapple upside down cake will surely rank as one of the ten best things eaten by me in 2007. Eating such a dessert is always bittersweet for me, because, in spite of my aspirations to amateur pastry-chefdom, I know I cannot replicate this dessert. This is partially because I cannot fully decode it. It seemed to have a spice in it-- but which one? Is there another bark-- perhaps a variant of cinnamon-- that tastes of orange? The pineapple was marinated in tequila, perhaps, then layered on top of pecans that emerged caramelized from the oven. The cake itself was almost as moist as a sticky toffee pudding and served with vanilla ice cream. 10 out of 10. Save room for dessert!

Sol de Mexico has expanded its physical presence as well, adding a bar and a second room. To celebrate our recent marriage, my husband and I asked Carlos to prepare a meal for friends and family. From start to finish, it was clear that he was invested in our enjoyment of the event. At every turn, he delivered more than we asked for, even welcoming our guests, serving drinks, and coordinating the service himself. We asked for one filling for the sopes appetizer, and received three. We asked for tamales de elote as a side, and he offered what basically was a second entree on the plate with the main course (chicken breast with mole negro). We packed the party room, and even with dinner service next door, all went smoothly. The food showed no signs of pre-preparation and holding. All was moist and delicious. As it turned out, the guests who were unfamiliar with Mexican dishes beyond tacos were the most enthusiastic. My beloved pineapple upside-down cake felt celebratory. It is back on the menu now. (Perhaps my entreaties had an impact. I like to think so, anyway.) Finally, on a cold night, we did have a few folks who could not make it at the last minute. Carlos generously refused to accept payment for their meals (He vigorously insisted. We made certain the servers received the same amount as a bonus.) I would highly recommend Sol de Mexico for a small to medium-sized special occasion party. Carlos even offered to open up the place for dancing, and DJ himself, but we were too worn out to take him up on it. Don't think that this is special treatment for regulars, as I had been living outside Chicago for several years, and we presented to Carlos as new customers.

Early on in the existence of the restaurant, there were some questions about handling crowds. In my recent experience, these are a thing of the past. In contrast, I have found the service attentive on weekend nights. Weeknights still appear to be a bit empty there, which is a shame, because for anyone who can easily jump on 94, the location is excellent. Friends from the northern suburbs who are unfamiliar with the city have been pleasantly surprised about the restaurant's location. In fact, the location can be an advantage on Saturday night, when other, more central locations are packed. (A friend recently gave up and drove home after looking for parking one Saturday night in Lincoln Square.) If this place were located in Lakeview or Lincoln Square, it would be impossible to get in.

A final plus for Sol de Mexico is the festive, yet softly-lit dining room. I love looking up at the masks and the Diego Rivera arranged along the deep orange walls.

To me, Sol de Mexico is the quintessential GNR. I support its renewal.
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#23
Posted October 2nd 2011, 4:40pm
With sincere respect to my fellow LTHers who sing the praises of Sol de Mexico -- especially the lovely lady who posted above me -- I do not support renewal. My last meal here, back in June, was not very good. The food seemed tired and the service seemed indifferent. I really want to love this place because it has charm and a distinctive menu but based on my lone visit since their last renewal, I don't love it and I cannot support renewal. :(

=R=
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#24
Posted October 2nd 2011, 6:58pm
The wife was in a show out by Sol de Mexico in the last year so I was able to get back a few times following a long absence. It remains one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the city and I strongly support renewal.
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#25
Posted October 9th 2011, 1:13am
I support renewal. I get a hankering for odder things in mole every once in a while, and Sol de Mexico not only has quail, quality lamb, and ostrich on the menu, but it's ordered enough so that it's always in stock and very fresh. While Casa de Samuel has higher potential on some dishes, stock and execution (and availability of homemade tortillas) don't always live up. I find myself recommending Sol de Mexico more often, to good results.
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#26
Posted October 9th 2011, 10:39pm
A recent birthday dinner brought me back to this place after a couple of years hiatus. They are still doing sauces very very right. My mom had the venison in mole verde which was piquant and delicious. I had the pork loin in huitlacoche sauce. While my sauce did not taste much like the corn fungus it did have a sneaky heat and fruit that were addictive. The sauces were good enough to make us both overlook slightly overcooked meats.

They also have a 5 course tasting menu (chef's choice) for a very reasonable $40, if you want to sample a number of different moles. I think they are performing just as highly as a few years back. I support renewal and won't let another 2 years pass before I'm back again.

Oh, and they have just changed over their seasonal menu, so anyone who dined through the end of September, you now have a number of new choices to try.
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#27
Posted October 9th 2011, 11:23pm
The last time Sol de Mexico came up for GNR rewewal, I couldn't support it for the following reason:

I quit going to Sol de Mexico a few years ago when they removed the small plates/tapas from the menu. I always felt that these little tastes were the strength of SdM and when they disappeared form the menu, the place lost its appeal for me.


Nothing has changed this opinion. Also, the last two times I ate there, the food was poorly prepared and everything seemed like it was being phoned in. I still can't support SdM for GNR renewal.
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#28
Posted October 10th 2011, 7:50am
Forgive me for not having posted on my last meal at Sol de Mexico - which was nearly three months ago - but I'll simply say that it was as good as any of my past meals there. The lamb in mole negro was particularly wonderful . . . perfectly cooked lamb, and a mole as earthy and delicious as could be hoped for. If there's a better place for mole in Chicago, I haven't found it and this remains my go to place in that regard. And I've always felt like this is a true family joint that values its customers. An easy "yes" vote for me.
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