Raul Arreola's first job after working with Bayless was at Fonda Del Mar, a regional Mexican seafood option in Logan Square. But his latest restaurant is even more popular, serving some of the same moles and sopes you'd find at fancier addresses. He's now paying homage to his roots, near Oaxaca.
You know you're in a serious Mexican kitchen when it's one woman's job just to make the tortillas; from corn, naturally. But Mixteco Grill, which hugs a busy corner in southeast Ravenswood, is no newcomer to authentic flavors. Chef and owner Raul Arreola spent more than a decade working at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo downtown.
"Little different changes and little different touch, you know, I put in different, my mother's recipes and my creation or my guy's creation, too," said Arreola.
One example is the Baja-style fish tacos. Fried tilapia filets are topped with crunchy cabbage and an avocado-serrano mayo. Pico de gallo adds additional crunch. Uchepos feature two soft corn tamales doused in creamy poblano sauce and charred corn. His ceviche features lime-marinated marlin, tossed with serrano chiles and cilantro, for a citrusy punch. Another great starter is the plate of sopes - three corn masa boats filled with a savory assortment: shredded pork with vibrant tomatillo; mushrooms laced with pasilla chiles and shredded chicken doused in deep, red mole.
"Not fancy restaurant, but more casual restaurant with wonderful moles; and then the name Mixteco I put on the restaurant because I love the Oaxacan food," said Arreola.
And nearly half of the dishes are inspired by that Mixteco region in Oaxaca. Carne asada, or wood-grilled ribeye, is served with guac, black beans and a guajillo salsa. Pescado en mole verde is a garlic-marinated, grilled catch of the day served with traditional Oaxacan green mole.
Garnished with giant white beans and chochoyotes - essentially dumplings - while the fish is covered with shredded fennel, zucchini and carrots. One of the stars is the cochinita pibil - a slow-roasted pork shoulder marinted with achiote and sour orange juice. It comes with black beans and is topped with pickled red onions; take one of the warm corn tortillas, and make your own gourmet taco, adding the smallest amount of tear-inducing habanero salsa if you dare.
Arreola says it's getting easier to serve authentic, regional Mexican food in Chicago.
"I very surprised by many people very knowledge about moles and about Mexican recipes and Mexican ingredients," he said.
Another plus: the restaurant is BYOB for the foreseeable future, so definitely bring in a bottle of wine or some Mexican beer to go with your meal.
1601 W. Montrose Ave.